Thursday 30 September 2010

Biblical Studies Carnival

There is a new BS Carnival here at Steven Demmier's blog, one that is new to me. The carnivals give an idea of who's around in the Biblical Studies and related areas.

The Reception of Psalm 137 in Jewish and Christian Tradition

10-09-23 20:30 Presenter Sue Gillingham
Respondent: Jonathan Magonet
Post #24 of a series on the Oxford Psalms Conference

From the abstract: In reception history, it is generally assumed that one of the contrasts is that Jews apply a David centered reading and Christians apply a Christ centered focus... this paper suggests that Psalm 137 speaks most forcefully of human crises, common ground for anyone whose security is threatened... The paper argues for that Psalm 137 offers an ideal paradigm for a life-centred reading, because attention either to David or to Christ is minimal in its reception history. ... In Jewish tradition the emphasis is seen to be more corporate, physical, and political, achieved by creating layers of 'meta-narratives' to the psalm... In Christian tradition the emphasis is seen to be usually more personal and spiritual, concerned not so much with temporal realities as eternal ones, where 'Jerusalem', the heavenly city, is a symbol of a pilgrim faith. Instead of a 'meta-narrative', the psalm is given various allegorical interpretations...

Sue considers that the psalms cited in the NT are limited to 40, of which 4, 2, 22, 110, 118 are prominent and 16 others, with the Fathers also using 1, 8, 34, 45 and 17 others.

A page from the Parma psalter
It is curious to note that psalm 137 has no Davidic heading in the Hebrew but does in the Septuagint. The first strophe of this psalm is corporate and shares the same recurring 'nu' sound as Psalm 44. The second strophe is individual and an oath. The third strophe is perhaps a third voice (per Magonet). The first and last are tied together by the word Babylon and each strophe include the word Remember.

We went through at lightning speed: Babylon and Edom as cyphers for Rome, interpolated Targumim, Kimchi - Titus and the Romans as Edomites, the Parma Psalter, Rossi influenced by Monteverdi, the influence of Allegri on Jewish music in polyphony, Zavel Zilberts 1923, Konrad Schaefer 1948, Abraham Cohen, Abram Chaim Feuer, the Chagall War Tapestry Knesset 1961

Then Christian readings - Jerome, Babel as confusion, harp as pleasure, the tree as the cross. Babylon vs Jerusalem, Origen, Luther Babylon as the church of Rome.

We continued - Babylonian captivity of the church, Griffin of Gloucester Abbey, Coverdale, Milton, By the waters of watertown! forbid it Lord that those who sucked Bostonian breasts...! Byron 1851, Nabucco, Swinburne 1871, Walton Belshazzar's Feast, Rastafari Melodians 1969, John Harbison Four Psalms 1999.

The keywords above do enable a search. It was difficult for me to take the paper in with its examples in order to grasp the nettle of the thesis of the abstract. The number of examples is large - and there are many more even for this one psalm. Clearly the psalms have had a great impact throughout our social tradition. Reception history needs time to be received. I have extended my reporting here with a link to two films that use psalms 137 - The Usual Suspects and Apocalypse Now.

Rabbi Magonet's reply was short and to the point: Don't leave out the anger. The vow in 5/6 is unique in the Bible. Happy occurs 25 times in the Psalms - more than in all the other books put together. In the three parts of the psalm do we have three voices and three memories? Enclose the personal oath with religious voices (strophes 1 and 3).

Can we express anger in a liturgical context? Anger must be offered to God so that it does not turn into a military solution. We are not nice - we need liturgy to deal with these emotions. Do these verses (e.g. also Psalm 79:6) release or fuel anger?

Reading and writing - at the Library

A part of the summary page for Psalm 110:5-6
In the morning I spent another 2 hours with Childs and in the afternoon I looked at and sampled several books on the psalms. I started with the bottom corner of a shelf and worked my way right to left to the next corner. At the beginning of the shelf was Text and Concept Analysis in Royal Psalms (2003) by Randy G. Haney. This is a detailed structural approach, an inventive description of the role of each lexical unit in Psalms 2, 110, and 132. He has a 2 page note on the crux of Psalm 2 - נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר kiss the son. He dismisses all the reconstructions including Holladay's suggestion (VT 28 1978 pp 110-12 which I had just read) of rearranging the spaces between the letters to spell "you who forget the grave". Haney eventually agrees with Craigie (Word Biblical Commentary) and accepts the Aramaic 'bar' for son.

I saw there the complete Les Psaumes Redécouverts - all three volumes where U of O only has one short summary. And all three volumes of the Word Biblical Psalms Commentary where UVIC only has volume 1 - O what riches. They process from 1000 to 1500 new books a week and the place has been hopping each day I have been there. I even bumped into Richard Bauckham three times the first day whom I met in St Andrews - and he kindly gave some advice when books can't be found.

I read in detail Holladay's short essay on translation in The Psalms through 3000 years p 316-329. He shares many of my concerns over typical translations of Psalm 1 including the request to keep the word order for the closure it indicates. And he has an intriguing suggestion of a Janus parallel in Psalm 137. A Janus parallel is a pun that allows simultaneous parallelism through multiple meanings with prior and following cola. He suggests that בְּתוֹכָהּ (betokah) could be read as 'in her midst' or 'in her oppression'. (see BDB p1063, Ps 10:7, 55:11 (Hebr 12)). For other examples of Janus parallelisms see this article on Job.

Here's a tidbit from him (mimenu) on Psalm 103:12 - the Hebrew for 'from us' מִמֶּנּוּ (mimenu) also means 'from him'. The spelling and the pointing are identical. So when we read

as east is far removed from west
so far removed from us/him are our transgressions

they are also removed from him - both senses should be included in the 'meaning' of the one word. The key is to hear the 'us' as inclusive of 'him'.

Here is a little of St Ambrose commentary on 12 Psalms. Having introduced the consequence of sin...
...David put his mind to studying how he could repair the wrong and so shape us anew. Using his gift of heavenly Psalmody he commenced in us a form of conversion... Anyone who reads this book has the means of curing, by special remedy, the wounds of his own passions... This prophet alone among all others foretold what the Lord himself preached in the Gospel.
I also scanned some introductory books (Anderson, Crenshaw, Tanner).

My essay on Translating Biblical Poetry

Beloved - do we know what we are doing?

It is frequently the case in translation that we do not know what we are doing. To pretend otherwise is to be in error. But - not to despair - the Spirit comes to us in our weakness.

Re not knowing - must I list my authorities? I already mentioned Rosenberg and Zlotowitz. Robert Alter has plenty of similar warnings. And if you read a half-dozen grammar books, you will quickly notice that there is considerable discussion on verb forms and not a little confusion of nomenclature. They say some things are untranslatable - and so it is true - for translation betrays as that Italianate phrase (traduttore traditore) goes. But perhaps also translation should trick - that we might fall into joy. So untranslatable is the least of the problems.

What are the problems?

At base there is no one-for-one gloss or word choice between the host and the guest languages
  • no knowledge of some words - since perhaps there is only one usage in the corpus that we have
  • no native speakers so no insight into nuance
  • no knowledge of idiomatic usage
Secondarily - all consequences of the above
  • difficult to agree on the precise sense of the grammar
  • difficult to be concordant where sound or intertextual allusion is needed - We must learn similar uses of a root and the history etc to learn to hear such potentially distant echoes.
  • easy to get a false sounds-alike - e.g. if one uses 'one' as a pronoun, what does one do with the pregnant meaning of 'one' as in shema Israel, adonai elohenu, adonai echad where 'one' is not a pronoun.
  • word play is lost
  • jokes are obscured
Thirdly - our bias is imposed
  • our worship of words
  • our piety
  • our politics
  • our religious persuasion
Enough for the moment - just try it. You will soon encounter the problems and the many decisions made for us by translators.

  1. my translations are personal (not individual but personal - a person formed in this age for this time and purpose). They are me. To rephrase Chagall, "when I translate, I am in a prayer". They are from me to God and through me from God to you. So it is that you are addressed as Beloved.
  2. my translations look for sense, sound, shape, structure, silence. They do not look for modern shibboleths like accuracy or naturalness - but I care for every letter.
  3. I cannot pretend to have authority - I just do it. I know my cultural difference with my ancient guests, poet and redactor. I try to receive the text as one who has learned hospitality. I am aware that I am a late-starter, a child, and I make mistakes.
  4. re word choices: structure is vital - hear and see it, gaps are vital - don't fill them in. Untranslatable? - coin or transliterate. Voice, point of view, idiom, figure of speech - be open to hearing. Politics - don't translate into a defect in the host language. The distortion is simply too great to bear. If you publish - footnote both uncertainty and allusion. Be prepared for revisions, so let yourself change your mind and in love revisit all your prior decisions. Watch with him one hour.
Notice that I did not use a single square letter in these notes. I am learning that communication in English is also OK and puzzles have their end.


Can one make a rule about translating a particular root?  Let's start this in an easy way - with just a few words.

nephesh - literal meaning throat, typical 16th century translation, soul, - what is it? the "I" in me, my life, my being, my inmost-being, myself, my self? It is pervasive and common in the text that we have.

shalom - peace, well-being, wholeness, soundness, welfare, completeness

yara - fear, reverence, terror

chesed - lovingkindness, mercy, rebuke, covenant love

I don't think I can make a rule for any of these. If I did, I would be stuck. Take the first two: our presenter presented a slide with nephesh as inmost being and shalom as well-being.

Problems: immediately there is a false sounds-like connection between the two words. [but there is an assonance in the Hebrew! - did it take you 4 years to figure this out?] [Yes - but equally] I would have to translate the first occurrence of shalom in the Bible as "you will go to your grave in well-being" - sorry - that's not going to work. [too many syllables :)] While concordance (same gloss in English for the same lexical word in Hebrew) is more often than not desirable, it is desirable only within limits: where the sound is repeated for effect, and where some degree of intertextual reference is intended. Otherwise, the translator is free to find the gloss suitable to the context.

What about fear - reverence - terror. In Job, there is a stanza that has differing words for fear in the Hebrew - so we must find differing words for it in English (see my post here.) And fear of Hashem is a legitimate start to wisdom - it is not reverence but fear - for this is not a tame lion.

What about chesed? Suppose you made the decision to transliterate and not find an English gloss? You would be stuck - how would you deal with chasid the adjective as applied to God, or how would you deal with chasidim, the plural as applied to the targets of God's chesed?  I think when our language is defective, we may need to coin a word. So if chesed is mercy, chasid is merciful and chasidim are the mercied - the ones who are the target of the loving kindness mediated in covenant with Hashem. (now that's a mouthful).

I have noted already that chasidim are the plural counterpart in the psalms to the singular unidentified ish (man / woman / person) in verse 1 of psalm 1. The singular turns to plural - one righteous produces much fruit - the produce of the earth, the vine of Israel.

Get it?

Four more considerations:

Can one transliterate sometimes? I think so - but I did it only with the word for the tetragrammeton (YHWH) and I preferred to leave it in the Hebrew characters - a thought that I gleaned from John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry. Doing this saves a lot of grief in English since a Name behaves better grammatically than a Noun.

Now what about gender inclusiveness. When the host language is defective, it must be changed. Or one must have a disclaimer. English is defective politically. So sometimes I use human instead of man, and earthling or child of dust or the like and sometimes I use 'it' and 'its' for third person common pronouns - works very well in Qohelet especially in the style of Dr Seuss.

In so many ways, I am indebted to the folk at BBB (you know I don't believe in better) and to Kurk Gayle at Mind your Language and to Joel Hoffman at God Didn't Say That - because they have all sorts of commenters who talk about these questions so I don't have to - I can just do it. Kurk has more fun than the lot of them put together.

Translating the Psalms

10-09-24 10:30 Presenter: Nancy deClaissé Walford

Rosenberg, Martin and Zlotowitz, Bernard, The Book of Psalms, 1999 was the first book that dealt with translation that I read in 2006. What good fortune to have immediately an indication that there are bits of the poetry that no one can translate and say it is accurate. Perhaps it was just their opinion, but I thought it was honest to say - we really don't know what this word means or this phrase or what the antecedent is of this pronoun.

Nancy had excellent handouts so I could write many posts on what she presented - and will probably remember her lecture better than many of the others. I have several points of disagreement with her choices and will perhaps come to a few of them. But to be able to disagree is a tribute to the accuracy of her presentation and teaching style.

First - what do you think of this rendering of Psalm 3?

Almighty, my adversaries are countless!
They rise up like weeds in a garden
-one moment they are not there;
the next moment, there are twenty to each flower.
Each weed howls tauntingly,
"God might as well be a fairy-tale for you.
God will not give you help."
But you, Gardener, weed them out.
You deepen my roots in rich soil and moisten my petals with the honeyed dew of morning.
I lean toward you, the Great Sun, and bellow to the Heights.
You answer me from your Holy Place on high.
I lie my body down in deep slumber and then awake.
I have all my energy, no longer facing twenty weeds but tens of thousands!
Awaken, Gardener, and come to my rescue.
Break every weed-stalk in half and pull each one out by its roots.
True liberation comes from God, the Gardener.
His blessings shower His people, His flowers.

This is from a draft for the voice project - the draft was not accepted as the final which I won't type in since it is quite ordinary as translation - whereas, as I typed this, I realized in hearing how much it is like those visual illuminations that I wrote about yesterday. More to come on this lecture. (here) Plus what I think are the problems and characteristics of translating. (here)

From 2010-09-24
Philip Johnston of Cambridge briefly replied - recalling the Italian confession traduttore traditore - translation betrays and noting that there has been an explosion of translations since the early personal ones like Moffatt 1926 and Phillips Letters to Young Churches 1947. Also there is an influence of commerce - always true of books - what will sell?

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Modern Art in Interfaith Dialogue

The windows at Tudeley, picture of a picture on a screen!
Chagall writes that he "entrusts the Hebrew Bible to the Christian worshiper" - he also entrusts his art to us even to the placement of a piece in Sankt Stephen Kirche Mainz (English). The image at the link is lovely - be sure to visit.

Chagall - the Exodus at Notre Dame de Toute Grace
"St. Stephen’s is the only German church for which the Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985) created windows. Born in Russia, the artist spent the longest period of his life in France. Blue light shines through the stained glass into the interior of St. Stephen’s, and not only angels but other Biblical figures move apparently ethereally in this light."

There is a full essay in pictures of Notre Dame de Toute Grace here including some of Chagall's sketches for other images of the psalms.

From 2010-09-23
The presenter for this topic (Sept 23 15:45) was Aaron Rosen seen here talking to Susan Gillingham prior to the talk.

From the abstract:  In 1973 at the opening of his Musée National Message Biblique in Nice, the octogenarian painter declared: "Ever since my early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me and still seems that it is the greatest source of poetry of all time. Since then I have searched for its reflection in life and in art. The Bible is like an echo to nature and this secret I have tried to convey."

A day at Ely

If I were any good at movies I would show you one of the five I tried at Ely today - but it was too dark and my movements were too random. Still here are some pictures from the Ely visit - what a marvelous place to be in. I never tire of taking photos in that building. The girls choir under the direction of Sarah MacDonald did evensong this afternoon, St Michael and all Angels - prayers for all those in trouble. They sang the Dering Duo Seraphim, a setting of the text from Isaiah 6. I recall the year 1994 when we sang The Company of Heaven by Britten under the direction of Bruce Pullan - on or near this feast day.

Liturgical Psalters in Medieval Europe

Elizabeth Solopova is a research fellow at Oxford with interests in Old and Middle English language and literature; metrics; stylistics; theory and history of authorship; runic inscriptions; the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien; medieval liturgical and biblical manuscripts.

Her online picture is much better than the one I took and her interests wider than the psalter. But medieval Psalters have some lovely images in the first letter of each psalm - very widely varying. As the abstract for this talk indicates, "Psalters were produced in relatively large numbers and attracted the best artistic talent... There is evidence that often it was the only book that a person might own, and which accompanied them throughout their life." Psalms were known in the Latin by their opening words.

Much of the talk was around miniatures taken from the New Testament and inserted into the psalm's first letter.

Entry into Jerusalem
from here
I have 52 circled in my notes but it refers to the English numbering and has a picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem - the image intrigued me and what I saw in that psalm were the words of the 13th verse: But I am like an olive tree, green in the house of God, and I was reminded of the words Jesus spoke to the women: if they do this in a green tree what shall be done in the dry? Unfortunately among the 1000s of images online and the few in our DVD of images, I can't find this particular one. But it is typical of the devotional importation of New and Old stories into the initial letters of the psalms.

You can find images online by googling medieval Psalters, initial letters, and variations. There are lots online at the Bodleian e.g. here. There are many more online that are less fuzzy and without copyright notice.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Qumran Examples - the remaining 4

This is the last of the detailed handout - its not a bad record of copying - that there are so few differences over 1000 years.

144:2 peoples or my people - looks like a letter was dropped
MT חַסְדִּי וּמְצוּדָתִי מִשְׂגַּבִּי וּֽמְפַלְטִי לִי מָגִנִּי וּבֹו חָסִיתִי הָרֹודֵד עַמִּי תַחְתָּֽי
11QPs1-a חסדי ומצודתי משגבי ומפלטי לי מגני ובו חסיתי הרודד עמים תחתי
My loving kindness and my fortress
my high tower and my deliverer
mine, my shield
and in him I have sheltered
subduing peoples under me

38:20 (19 English) enemies vigorous or without cause
MT וְֽאֹיְבַי חַיִּים עָצֵמוּ וְרַבּוּ שֹׂנְאַי שָֽׁקֶר
4QPs-a ואיבי חנם עצמו ור[בו שנאי] שקר
but my enemies are without cause and they are strong
and those hating me falsely are many

49:12 does not understand or cannot remain
MT וְאָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל־יָלִין נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמֹות נִדְמֽוּ
4QPs-c ואדם ביקר בל־יבין [נמשל כבהמ]ות נדמו
but the precious dust doesn't get it
proverbial as beasts, they are undone

also compare with the last verse - there might have been a play on words here - that's what I thought when I noted the one letter difference. But the correction to an exact duplicate of the verse seems more sensible.

37:28 the ayin strophe - this looks like a repeated word was skipped. It still does not make the wicked acrostic perfect. The [ ] usually means that a word was reconstructed - so I am not sure what the handout is saying in this case.
MT כִּי יְהוָה אֹהֵב מִשְׁפָּט וְלֹא־יַעֲזֹב אֶת־חֲסִידָיו
 לְעֹולָם נִשְׁמָרוּ
 וְזֶרַע רְשָׁעִים נִכְרָֽת
4QPs-a כי יהוה אהב משפט ולא־יעזב את־חסידיו
 עולים לעו]לם נשמרו]
 וזרע רשעים נכרת

for יְהוָה loves judgment and does not forsake those of his mercy
for ever and ever they are kept
but the seed of the wicked will be cut off

Qumran Examples - three similar scribal differences

These next three all appear to be a scribal substitution of a yod י for a vav ו. In each case the difference looks like it is only a matter of a half stroke or a full stroke.

22:16 (17 MT) lion or pierce
MT כִּי סְבָבוּנִי כְּלָבִים עֲדַת מְרֵעִים הִקִּיפוּנִי כָּאֲרִי יָדַי וְרַגְלָֽי

For dogs circled me
An assembly of evildoers enclosed me
like a lion my hands and my feet

XHev כי סבבוני כלבי]ם עדת מרעים הקיפונו כארו ידי ורגלי]

[For dog]s [circled me]
An assembly of evildoers enclosed me
They gouge my hands and my feet

This is a sensitive verse and has been the source of polemic and blame. A detailed analysis is here - curious that this page has just appeared. The home page appears to be dated today.

102:24 (23 English) my or his strength
MT עִנָּה בַדֶּרֶךְ כחו קִצַּר יָמָֽי
4QPs-b ענה בד[רך] כחי קצר ימי

The MT already recognizes this scribal problem as a necessary change. What is written (ketiv) is vav, what is read (qere) is yod.

145:5 they or I will speak - here, although the same class of problem, the context of the psalm would (perhaps) prefer the plural rather than the singular and there is no recognition of a ketiv/qere (written/read) pair as above. The Qumran text of the psalm also has a refrain: Praise יהוה and bless his name always and for ever. Note the spelling difference too.

MT הֲדַר כְּבֹוד הֹודֶךָ וְדִבְרֵי נִפְלְאֹותֶיךָ אָשִֽׂיחָה
11QPs-a הדר כבוד הודכה ודברו נפלאותיך אשיחה
Honor, glory, your vigour they speak
and of your wonderful works

I don't understand everything - but I read the handout - so bravo for the conference speaker for having one.

Qumran Psalms - 7 more examples

There was a very fine and detailed handout for this lecture. So I can summarize several examples of texts from Qumran that allow one to see variances and some decisions on what another version of the text might have been. It is interesting to note the Biblical translations that have used these variants or not used them. 17 recent translations were part of the study. I will post more on these individually later.

This grid shows which translation took what action with the subject verse
Q=Use Qumran version, *=Footnote, I Idiomatic translation, blank - ignore Q use traditional MT

TranslationDate updated145:13 the missing nun22:16 lion or pierce102:24 my or his strength144:2 peoples or my people38:20 enemies vigorous or without cause49:12 does not understand or cannot remain145:5 they or I will speak37:28 the ayin strophe
Amplified1987Q Q
Complete Jewish1998Q
English Standard Vn2005QQ*QQ*
God's Word1994QQQ
Holman Christian Std2004QQ*Q**
Tanakh JPS1985QQ*
New American1991QI*QQQQQ
New American Std1995QQ
New English Tr NET2005I*QQQ
New International Vn1984QQ*QQ*Q*
New Jerusalem 1990QQ*QQ*QQQ*
New King James1982Q*Q**
New Living Tr 2nd Ed2004QQQQ
New Revised Std Vn1989QIQQQ*
Revised English1989QIQQQ*Q*
Revised Standard1952QQ*QQQ
Today's NIV2002QQ*QQ*Q*Q*Q*

Late crocus and mowing the quad

It would not do to fail to be observant on my way to and from the library - so here are a few more images
The University Library
leafless crocus
the quad at Selwyn
From 2010-09-28

Elizabeth rose outside the chapel
web - lite
wet garden
dry garden - same one
From 2010-09-27From 2010-09-25

Four hours or so reading at the library

I had my introduction to Brevard Childs this morning - 1 hour on his psalms chapter in the Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, and then 2 or so hours with his Old Testament Theology in a canonical Context. My notes from these chapters are much more readable than the ones from the conference. He appears to me, through the idea of 'canonical criticism', to be drawing attention to a tool for criticism and also responding to the excesses of earlier forms of Biblical criticism of the past 200 years.

Having read John Sandys-Wunch - What have they done with the Bible, I was not too surprised at what I read in Childs and later in a couple of books on the NT that I scanned: Richard Hayes, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul - this seems a very nice book, putting the texts in some accurate contexts, and James Sanders essay on Habakkuk in Qumran, Paul and the Old Testament. This is a fine essay that shows that God's action with respect to justification by faith was a current topic in Qumran theology and not simply Paul's invention. It also points out the elasticity of the text. Even in the New Testament, the Greek is different in the three places that Habakkuk 2:4 is referenced.

The multiple ways of understanding 'my righteous one will live by his faithfulness' have remained with me ever since I looked at the Anchor Bible Commentary on Habakkuk several years ago. There is no magical original autograph. The reality of salvation and faith is much more difficult than that. It requires stillness, listening, and following of God. I know - without the text or without tradition or without the Church, all sorts of 'enthusiams' are likely to emerge. But ultimately - who's in charge, and who's got the power? Is it the dominance of a human hierarchy, or of a wordy confession, or of "that's the way its always been done"? Or is it the living God, the fire of the Spirit, the Anointing that was fully present in the Incarnate Jesus, the risen Christ who is in charge? I am convinced that this One will use tradition, Scripture, and hierarchy creatively and will also undermine false certainties and enable an assessment that is the perfect curriculum for each one who finds this faithfulness to live by. But who am I to say? Just another voice delighting in the children of dust and rendering thanks for time redeemed. After a few more psalms conference summaries, perhaps I will return to these notes on Childs and report some more for those who may not have read him.

Monday 27 September 2010

Theodicy and the Psalms

Sept 23, 2010 High Noon: Bill and Dirk face each other
Presenter: Bill Bellinger (Baylor) left
Respondent: Dirk Human (Pretoria) right
Very cheerful looking folks to have to take on this subject.

Both speakers were clear and interesting. Strangely, this section was not as much about theodicy as about the shape of the psalter as we find it today, i.e. about what I have been posting on over the last 8 weeks - and here I found some helpful critiques, notably that I must examine each book on its own for its own coherence (e.g. Psalm 107 and 140 to 143, also 146 with the perspective on the poor). Writers like Wilson and Bruggemann have identified their pivotal psalms (89 and 73 respectively) - 89 the great lament about the failure of the Davidic monarchy, 73 an individual confession of continuing faith, and so divided the psalter in two. This is helpful if a bit oversimplified.

Some lovely phrases arose in the talks. From Bill: a hermeneutic of curiosity within the acceptable practices of form critical studies, Childs' canonical approach, and reading the psalter as a whole. Many scholars who have written books on the psalms were mentioned: Wilson, Bruggemann, David Mitchell, McCann, Nancy de Claissé Walford (tomorrow's lecturer on translation), Hossfelt (tomorrow's wrap up lecturer) and David Zenger (d 2010).  I browsed an Eerdmann publication today by Samuel Terrien with some very nice diagrams and moves on prosodic structure. And what about Susan Gillingham, John Day, or Goldingay, or Allen, or Crenshaw, or Holladay, The Psalms through 3000 years (which I also browsed today and which has much detail on Qumran of which more later when we deal with the shape of the psalter on its stages through history). The difficulty with having a lecture that is a list of books is that if you haven't read them, they go in one ear and out the other. (But tomorrow I am going to find Childs and start reading.) What I learned was that there was an overwhelming amount of knowledge present in the room.

Some questions were posed: what is the impact of the shape of the book on the reading community? Example - (which comes up later in Elizabeth Solopova's lecture on medieval practice) - the division of the psalms into three groups of 50 with Vulgate numbering  is a very different structure from the focus on a single pivot or the 30-line summary I posted two weeks ago. Instructively- 3 50s is a hermeneutic of simplicity which takes faith and practice for granted. The careful intellectual analysis is still in reaction against a post-enlightenment hermeneutic of skepticism, not exactly curiosity.

I noted some other claims:
  • that the psalter's core is the royal sequence from 93, and 96-99. 
  • that the sequence from 102 to 106 confirms coming to terms with exile and suffering.
  • that 73-89 make the exile very present.
I remain unconvinced of the adequacy of these statements. That יְהוָה is king is evident, but the royal responsibility of those to whom יְהוָה has shown mercy is also evident with the emergence of the chasidim. The closing sequence of book 4 is much greater than the exile. Exile unifies books 2 and 3 - not just book 3. The corporate lament of psalm 44 has been noted before. Exile in book 5 is limited to Psalm 137 - a reminder and a closing bracket. Psalm 107 was noted as reflecting the exile, and it could be related to it, but it seems to me to have a more general reach to all sorts and conditions of trouble that people get into through various means.

More authors mentioned: Robert Cole, Why and How Long (is that a book?) honest dialogue that persists through the process. Crenshaw - Defending God (available at UVIC - a good read), Tilley - evils of theodicy - no theory required. Need an emphasis on protest - work in process and experiment.

And that was just the end of Bill's lecture. Dirk responded more briefly - at least my notes are briefer: He began with Leibnitz who coined the word theodicy, and who said that God had created the best of all possible worlds. (Maybe there's where we went astray - is 'good' enough?) Another author noted: Lindstrom re God and the petitioner - is God doing something? is God inactive/silent? Psalm 93:5 Nice short psalm ending with verse 5:
your testimonies are very faithful
holiness fits in your house יְהוָה
to the end of days

Book 5 is hymnic at the end has a liturgical orientation and emphasis on David. Psalm 73 is the 'Job' of the psalter. Psalm 150 has 10 imperative summonses - praise carries the scars of life. (Reminds me of Valiant for Truth from Pilgrim's progress - my marks and scars I carry with me, a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder) - If you got this far there is a reward.
  1. Issues of theodicy are not always clear
  2. lament as a protest vehicle stimulates catharsis - need further motivation IMO
  3. maybe the relationship between lament and hymns need more reflection
  4. God is not justified in the psalter for his absence - kingship is very much greater than all other powers
  5. we are invited to participate in this kingship (be wise O ye kings ...)

Another blogger on the Psalms Conference

Phil Sumpter at Narrative and Ontology has posted on the conference. It looks like we're it for comments following this event. I am now up to 13 posts and I expect at least another 10 - I spent the afternoon in the University library boning up on the Qumran psalms so I will have a bit more meat on the bones of the few verses that I have yet to share from that handout. Besides these verses from Qumran (most of which are interesting but not news) also still to come are

  • Theodicy and the Psalms, 
  • perhaps another post on Chagall, 
  • Liturgical Psalms in medieval Europe, 
  • Susan Gillingham's reception history and 
  • Jonathan Magonet's response, 
  • Klaus Seybold on the History of the Psalter as a book,
  • a post on translating poetry
  • graduate abstracts and
  • Hossfeld's wrapup - which has some good words

That's 9 + 1 - not a bad guess. I am enjoying Cambridge and almost feel like a student again. But I have not had to pass an exam or write a paper for over 40 years, so it doesn't really count. I only have had to stay in business, one which hopefully continues as I enjoy my holiday.

The Psalms and Sumerian Hymns

Second presenter: The Psalms and Sumerian Hymns
Presenter: Erhard Gerstenberger (University of Marburg)...
From the abstract: comparing the 200 hymns with the psalms; apart from incantation prayers and sapiental compositions. Coinciding phenomena and theological insights?

I am continually impressed with the care that the Hebrews took to preserve their poetry. Other ancient poetry from the period has not fared so well but is 'in debris'. I think it is Harold Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose, a book I read a few years ago, who writes of a similar record of fragmented love songs from the surrounding cultures.

Sumerian figures praying 
I have to say that now - a few days away from the conference - I am feeling just a little more critical of the presenters. Almost all of them read their papers and a large percentage of them had no handout. In this paper, it meant that the word being repeatedly spoken (tsa me?) as an invocation of the deity in Sumerian had no visible means of reinforcement with respect to the hearer. I think this, combined with too little time for questions, made the intense stimulus of the conference less valuable overall. (I do have points of great praise for this large and complex undertaking - but as a teacher of both adults and children, simple and complex things, I think the importance of learning from a presentation cannot be underplayed.)

Anyway, I will rapidly forget Sumerian, even if it was the archaic Latin of its day for the period 2600-1900 BCE. There is lots about Sumer on the web - to be taken with the usual grain of salt. But one thing I found here was this sentence - "One of the key concepts of Sumer life was their belief in something called me (pronounced may)".

The thesis of our presenter was that the Hebrew hymns are in the stream of Ancient Near Eastern hymnody. This thesis seemed to be combined with the sense that praise activates the deity. I read from my notes - mostly untranscribable - that Psalms 19, 29, and even 139 stand in this tradition. Also Psalm 22 - "But you are holy, seated on the praises of Israel." Praise is seen as "active interference in the power structure of the world".

The claim was made early in the lecture that Sumerian praise "includes the one who is articulating praise thus empowering the one who is praised". This is an interesting self-referential way of reading. I suppose one could try it and see if there is any response from the deity. Would one then measure success by seeing if there are any Sumerian worshipers left in the world? (Just kidding).

Is this how praise works in the psalter? Are psalms 19 and 29 the "active involving of the adorants to ascribe power to יְהוָה?" Psalm 19 doesn't even come close to this thesis. Silence is the operant word. Psalm 29? The operant word is voice - the voice of יְהוָה in creation. The response of "the adorants" in each case is the obedience of faith. In psalm 139, the operant word is knowledge. It is not a knowledge that is possessed by the "adorant", but rather it is a knowledge that produces the adoration.

Yes it is worth trying - but not as if it is like pressing the on-switch on יְהוָה though it might press our on-switch and actively interfere in the power structure of our world.

Psalm 104 and Akhenaten's Hymn to the Sun

Presenter: John Day (University of Oxford)
From the abstract: the dependence of Psalm 104:20-30 on the heretic pharaoh (14th c BCE)

A small segment of the text of this hymn is online here. I see from the wiki article that C.S.Lewis compared this hymn to the Psalms some time ago. A more complete text is here. I note that the comparison we were given is in English. The source of the Hymn is hieroglyphics and the text of Psalm 104 is Hebrew - so grammatical similarity is not something I can comment on.

There is less agreement with the glosses I have chosen than with the traditional glosses for English translation. There is a series of parallels in the ideas in the hymn and the psalm. But on close inspection of two English translations of the Hymn to the sun, the sequence of ideas is not as many as 6 but closer to 4.

One wonders therefore if there is a good case for some dependency of the later on the earlier. No doubt the Hebrew is the later by some 500 years - at least. (Personally, I doubt there is any dependency given the human tendency to reflect on primal actions of sleep and waking, on sea and land, mediated by the diurnal cycle of darkness and light. My theory would be proven if one could find in some unrelated culture another example of these ideas in one poem and in the night-day-birth-food-land-sea concept. The mention of lion and ship is not convincing to me - they are common observable things in the period and culture.)

The ideas are expressed in sequence as follows.  The middle column has the key words of the ideas with the line number from the Hymn to the Sun

Psalm 104 HebrewverseHymn to the sun line / keyword 
(red = out of sequence)
Psalm 104 English
תָּשֶׁת חֹשֶׁךְ וִיהִי לָיְלָה
בּוֹ תִרְמֹשׂ כָּל חַיְתוֹ יָעַר
25 The earth is in darkness like the dead
31 All Serpents [creeping things] they sting
you make darkness and it becomes night
in it creep all the lives of the forest
הַכְּפִירִים שֹׁאֲגִים לַטָּרֶף
וּלְבַקֵּשׁ מֵאֵל אָכְלָם
2130 Every Lion comes forth from his den, the young lions roar at their prey
and seek from God their meat
תִּזְרַח הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ
יֵאָסֵפוּן וְאֶל
מְעוֹנֹתָם יִרְבָּצוּן
2234 Bright is the earth when you rise in the horizon.the sun appears
they pride themselves
and in their dens they make their home
יֵצֵא אָדָם לְפָעֳלוֹ
וְלַעֲבֹדָתוֹ עֲדֵי עָרֶב
2341 Then in all the world they do their work.the human goes forth to his work
and to his services till evening
מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יְהוָה
כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ
מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ
2468 How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
74 whatever is on earth 
how many your works יְהוָה
all of them in wisdom you have made
the whole earth is your possession
זֶה הַיָּם גָּדוֹל וּרְחַב יָדָיִם
שָׁם רֶמֶשׂ
וְאֵין מִסְפָּר חַיּוֹת
קְטַנּוֹת עִם גְּדֹלוֹת
2553 Your rays are in the midst of the great green sea.There is the great sea and wide of hand
there organisms
and there is no number of those living
small with great
שָׁם אֳנִיּוֹת יְהַלֵּכוּן
לִוְיָתָן זֶה יָצַרְתָּ לְשַׂחֶק בּוֹ
2649 The barges [ships] sail
upstream and downstream alike.
52 The fish in the river leap before you.
there go the ships
Leviathan that you formed to play there
כֻּלָּם אֵלֶיךָ יְשַׂבֵּרוּן
לָתֵת אָכְלָם בְּעִתּוֹ
27[indeterminate line number]
When the fledgling in the egg
chirps in the shell
You give him breath to preserve him alive.
77 You supply its necessities
all of them look to you
to give their food in its time
תִּתֵּן לָהֶם
תִּפְתַּח יָדְךָ
יִשְׂבְּעוּן טוֹב
28... To chirp with all his give to them
they glean
You open your hand
they are satisfied with good
תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ
תֹּסֵף רוּחָם
יִגְוָעוּן וְאֶל עֲפָרָם יְשׁוּבוּן
29the translation on the web does not
allow any further gloss highlights.
you hide your face
they are disturbed
you will gather their spirit
they expire and to the dust they return
תְּשַׁלַּח רוּחֲךָ
וּתְחַדֵּשׁ פְּנֵי אֲדָמָה send out your spirit
they are created
and you renew the face of the earth

Cambridge, Sept 27, the chapel at Selwyn College

It's a cold and wet day and too early for heating - so fingers type slowly
 but I think a hymn to the sun probably won't work.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Occam's Razor and competing models of the universe

I was at the history of science museum at Oxford last Tuesday. These lovely armillary spheres of the solar system compare the Ptolemaic (left) and the Copernican (right) views. Made c 1700, "no serious astronomer would have doubted which was true." (stimulus for this post from James McGrath here.)
An orrery c 1800 2010-09-21

The Music of the Bible

The videos etc which I had here are no longer available. You will find several sample performances on the music page.

You will perhaps have noticed that I have started to annotate my translations with the music I have performed all my life. One reason perhaps why the music of the te'amim was lost was to allow the flowering of the music of the Gentiles, surely a marvelous result.
The video above is the same theoretical reconstruction of music as we heard together with the music of Tallis and several other composers to the present day at an evening 45 minute presentation in the chapel at Worcester College Oxford, Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm.

Here is one example of a performance of psalm 137 and another of psalm 148. There are several more online. See also here for more on the music after reading some of SHV's book.

Above: The inside of the Worcester Chapel
Left: the ceiling
 - from the album 2010-09-21

וּפְדוּיֵי יְהוָה יְשֻׁבוּן
and the ransomed of יְהוָה will return
וּבָאוּ צִיֹּון בְּרִנָּה
and come to Zion 
 with a joyful ringing cry (songs)
וְשִׂמְחַת עֹולָם עַל־רֹאשָׁם
and gladness everlasting on their heads
שָׂשֹׂון וְשִׂמְחָה יַשִּׂיגוּ
joy and gladness they will take hold of
וְנָסוּ יָגֹון וַאֲנָחָֽה
and take flight will grief and groaning
Sorrow and sighing are fine too - but I sometimes render sighing for nacham (comfort or repent - esp. of God). Grief and groaning are not a good combo since in this case there is no alliteration in the Hebrew. To avoid alliteration in this case, perhaps sorrow and groaning might be preferable.

Medieval Answers to Modern Questions

Adele Berlin
Presenter: Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) with response from Corinna Körting (Norwegian School of Theology)
From the Abstract: a tour of the most famous medieval Jewish exegetes on Psalms: Saadia, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, David Qimhi. 1. How do they balance peshat with midrash? 2. Who wrote the book? What is their theory of the meaning of words?

Adele had women impersonating men in nice contrast to Shakespearean practice. Each actor had a sign indicating who they were:
  • Saadia (882 Egypt, anti-Karaite and inter-Jewish polemic (sic)) never casts aspersions on David
  • Rashi 1040 France - his Bible commentary was the first printed Hebrew book
  • Abraham Ibn Ezra - Spain
  • Qimci (c=x=ch) Provence 1160
(More on Karaites later when we come to the original music of the temple which we heard recreated in the Worcester chapel - perhaps I will be able to put a track online - or even better perhaps the university will give us a link to the recorded service.)

A good introduction and commentary on medieval Judaism is in Uriel Simon's book Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms (1982, tr. from the Hebrew 1991) - available at UVIC library for readers in Victoria.

(The following are almost direct from my notes without confirmation.) Generally these four were against Christian interpretations and Islamic accusations and held that the Bible and its language were no less perfect than the Koran. 

Rashi - Christian as enemy. You are my son refers to David or the eschatological Messiah. In answer to the question "who wrote the psalms" he would note that there were the 10 psalm writers as inscribed, and Adam and Melchizedek.

Saadia maintained that the psalms are not prayers and can only be used liturgically outside the temple.

Ibn Ezra maintained that all the psalms are contemporary with David.

No note on (David) Qimci - still trying to pronounce the name! Good summary of the family here

Response: Corinna (1 and 2 below)

Rashi criticized Psalm 105:15 - re anoint I ask - how to recognize when we can go beyond parochialisms?
Luther called the psalms a prayer book that the believer should take up and read. Gunkel claimed there was no order at all. Now - study and meditation.

Re 1. divine/human - no contradiction among them. Hillel and others note that the Bible speaks in human language.

I recall my superscription for Bob's Log - unchanged since 2006:


The study is for joy - the correction is remarkable - not so much correcting my translation - that's part of study, but correcting me by the one who plays the music in the spaces. Anyway - enough - I think the experience is not lacking in anyone - I just happened to become more intensely aware of it through the psalms and I don't shy away - like the horse that needs bit and bridle, as you might have noticed.
a very long squash

Corinna's second note: how to bring ancient interpretation into the present. (in my notes, I cannot always distinguish my response from the lecturer's points. There may have been moments of jet-lag.) In the 1960's - 80's there was no pre-modern mention at all re "the one true meaning". Now tradition is too wide. Our response is to cherry pick or pick an approach - out of context.

There was a time when I reduced the faith to three prayers: thanks, sorry, help. I think I must add listen / act to those. When the squash is so long, it cannot be eaten at one sitting.