Monday 29 November 2010

CEB Psalm 3 and victory or the shopping-list Bible

I guess that some things that I consider important are not important to others. E.g. in Psalm 3, God and salvation are a pair of recurring words - verse 3(Hebrew 2) and 8(7) - and note verse 9(8) where salvation is from YHWH. It is the first time we have heard the designation God. And a first for salvation / victory / rescue also.

The CEB uses three different words: help, save, rescue for the three words related to salvation so the framing of the poem is rendered practically invisible.

What should one do here? Am I wrong to pick salvation for my gloss to rhyme with the verb to save?

At least - or so I think - the same root could be used three times. rescue, rescue, rescue. That would allow the poet's thought to be heard and seen.

Maybe my ways of seeing are less than interesting. Maybe these are not the same roots. (But they are)

Why do I bother looking for and pointing out structure? Because it often surrounds a key concept that I would otherwise miss. OK everyone knows that YHWH is God so no need to point out that the poet implies this connection here.

Here's another small point. Is there such a thing as a space between the lines? A space in which we are encouraged to hear a special word for us?

I lie down and I sleep
אֲנִי שָׁכַבְתִּי וָאִישָׁנָה
I awake for יְהוָה sustains me
הֱקִיצוֹתִי כִּי יְהוָה יִסְמְכֵנִי

I lie down, sleep, and wake up
because the LORD helps me

The second is a list of actions with the 'and' connecting the second and third in the list. The first has a pause where there is not a list. Am I at liberty to convert a non-list into a list?

Technically, the first is very close to the Hebrew. I did not note the separate personal pronoun as I often do, since it is not repeated in the poem. It might be emphatic, or it might just be there to equalize the syllable or word count on the consecutive lines. If the Hebrew is poetry, then the first follows the poet's selection of phrases.

This is a battle I will not win. But I have no intention of winning. What was it that verse 9 (Hebrew 8) reads?

Anyway, it's time to watch Mystery.

CEB Psalm 1

The first verse
The truly happy person
doesn't follow wicked advice
doesn't stand etc
These persons love the Lord's Instruction
They are like a tree
replanted ...
which bears fruit
That's not true for the wicked
They are like dust

I want to illustrate what I think is important that is missed here. Though I realize that my translation is often stilted, I wonder about other modern translations and what we have lost in our sensitivity to our own language.

Verse 1 - misses the chiasm a-b,b-a,b-a in the trio of thoughts. I am glad they kept the singular at least in verse 1. The opening 'truly happy' is a false sequence in human thought. What do you think - is happiness a consequence or a prevenient grace? A sequence - do this and you will be happy, or a mystery of the interaction of hidden dimensions?

(skipping the complex 'instead of doing these things', an explanatory gloss in a poem)
'These persons' -  the switch to plural here is potentially a misreading of the Psalter. In any case, it is not yet plural.

replanted - what's wrong with transplanted or just planted? Transplant is surely a very common word for trees.
The tree is singular, 'they' is plural. What does that do to the English agreement of relative pronoun and verb?

'dust' - this misses the harvest image. It is arguable that harvest (psalm 67) is a centrepiece of the Psalter. So missing the image here is unfortunate. The chaff is a necessary part of fruitfulness.

Friday 26 November 2010

On Conversation

A conversation is empty
when the verse is without a reader
when the con is by itself
without with
when there is no one hearing the converse

A few years ago, I had a conversation with Iyov, whom I miss. Here is the conversation reworked.

About 165 years ago the Reverend J. M. Neale D.D. began a comprehensive collection of the interpretations of primitive and medieval commentators of the psalms. His work, he writes "is not, in the slightest degree, critical. My acquaintance with the Hebrew is far too limited to enable me to offer anything of value in that way." He strives rather to trace "above all things, their mystical meaning." Yet a paragraph later he also says that "not one single mystical interpretation through the present commentary" (2400 or so pages) "is original; and (if I may venture on the term) that fact constitutes its chief value."

Christians read and hear that word mystical in the prayer that follows communion: that we are members of his mystical body. Mystical and incarnate. Mysterious and flesh. Mystery and body.

It seems to me that what is there in the psalms is the same as what is in the New Testament, the offer and the reality of relationship, mysterious and incarnate, now as then and for ever. In this I find myself unable to consider many discussions and studies as approaching the mystery. Explanation will not do as a substitute for understanding. To the extent that discussion separates the doing and the hearing, the form and the action, the obedience and the presence, to that extent, the discussion becomes a substitute for the reality of relationship. And it is then a distraction.

I like the Reverend Neale's approach, collecting the record. But since we can only come to the record gradually, we must learn something more foundational and secure than a collection of memories or opinions or even confessional truths. But will Neale's appeal to the mystical do? Many would not agree especially since he and most of his collection appeal only to a New Testament Christological view of the psalms.

Applying an adjective to this will prove to be difficult. There are more than two ways of understanding and even the many ways can be distracting. But bear with the catalogue, for it may be useful when the fire starts. If we are to express the mystery of our participation in covenant, we must learn many languages and find how to refine our use of the term Christ, a word derived from the Greek for Anointing.

Harry Caplan in "The Four Senses of Scriptural Interpretation and the Mediaeval Theory of Preaching", Speculum, Vol. 4, No. 3. (Jul., 1929), pp. 282-290 lists nine methods of expanding a sermon from a late Dominican tractate professing the influence of St Thomas Aquinas:
  1. through concordance of authorities,
  2. through discussion of words,
  3. through explanation of the properties of things,
  4. through a multiplication of senses,
  5. through analogies and natural truths,
  6. through marking of an opposite,
  7. through comparisons,
  8. through interpretation of a name,
  9. through multiplication of synonyms.
He then subdivides number 4: "Senses are multiplied in four ways:
  1. according to the sensus historicus or literalis, by a simple explanation of the words;
  2. according to the sensus tropologicus, which looks to instruction or to the correction of morals.
  3. according to the sensus allegoricus... a sense other than the literal.
  4. the sensus anagogicus, used mystically or openly, 'the minds of the listeners are to be stirred and exhorted to the contemplation of heavenly things.'"
A list of nine items with the fourth subdivided is like a long board supported by one leg and is inherently unstable. Of the making of many taxonomies there is no end, but hierarchy and subdivision are useful for visualization and understanding.

Here is another saying: on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets distinctly organizes for us, the hearers, a challenge to interpret the instruction (law) and the prophetic corpus in terms that are subordinate to love of God and love of neighbour. At the same time, we are told that love of God is to be with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that the second great commandment is like the first. So here we have a laminated board supported by two broad legs or perhaps three if we include the psalms and the other writings. This is a stable and unified structure. One can not only sit under it but one can stand on it with some degree of safety. (I say some degree for the degree must involve learning which will involve both study and correction.) One can also liken the saying to the identification of a pair of handles with which we can lift the canonical texts and watch the hanging pieces as one can watch a mobile in a child's bedroom.

Point 3 above, the sense of allegory, is apophatically defined (a sense other than the literal) in such a way as to allow us to make "anything out of anything" as J. M. Neale puts it in his Dissertation on the Mystical and Literal Interpretation of the Psalms. (p 429 Commentary on the Psalms, Neale and Littledale 1860/1874.)

The problem of subdivision is one I have spent my life with as a student and teacher of data analysis. Theology and Biblical Studies require a similar distinction of difference. Data is notoriously difficult to pin down. When are two classes of thing different? When will they subdivide into three? How does one balance a useful subdivision? The emphasis, for the limited time we have, must be first of all, useful. Our birth and death make usefulness a necessity. To be useful, a taxonomy needs to be understood and retained by our limited memory. So we frequently find subdivisions into 4. These are common in teaching. For example the medicine wheel of North American native tribes subdivides many concepts into the four directions, and animals, colours, and so on are used as imagery for pedagogy. This teaching encourages a metaphorical view of life and its many problems and mysteries.

We can see by the title of Neale's dissertation that he is dividing the Interpretations into the Mystical and Literal. His twofold division would not be understood the same way today, for his Mystical is largely Christological and Typological or as he later notes 'spiritual' and his Literal encompasses today's historical critics rather than those who might be named literalists today.

What an enormous problem! Nine items is too long a board for one leg, but everything with only two legs, the mystical and the literal, is equally problematical. Where will we find a 'useful' decomposition?

Neale lists the same fourfold decomposition cited by Caplan which was, he writes, "well known from very early times: Litera scripta docet: qui credes, Allegoria: quid speres, Anagoge: quid agas, Tropologia." So he says "S. Gregory the Great composed his Morals on Job, keeping his skeins of meaning separate."

Let's wonder how we can put new things into the skeins without their breaking and spilling whatever skeins might spill.
  • Docet is teaching, from the written letter. This summarizes the whole.
  • Allegory: similarity, metaphor, image, applicability. These invite consideration: of bread to teaching, of yeast to power, of escape, of promise, of making present an ancient event, of participation, of love. I would seriously question, however, the necessity of allegory for belief. But certainly, such creative work can express the engagement of faith.
  • Anagogy is hope
  • Tropology: this too is figurative but is used of action and moral edification.
It will be seen immediately that this is not a fourfold subdivision but is governed as a whole by the issue of teaching. It is really a threefold division. But surely it is too simplistic to identify, as Neale does, the allegorical with the spiritual! Words are so slippery, and so creative. How will the word slip into us creatively? How will we learn? Our own human limits of comfort in complexity react pleasantly to a fourfold subdivision. But we demand clarity! It will not do to make "anything out of anything".
Caplan has another fourfold division:
  1. Peshat, plain meaning
  2. Remez, allegorical meaning
  3. Derash, homiletic (or midrashic) meaning
  4. Sod, mystical (or hidden) meaning
There are corresponding meanings in traditional Christian exegesis as well. When Neale says "mystical", he means primarily "allegorical" or "homiletic". But today, when we speak of mysticism, we are more likely to refer to the level of "hidden". What if the “hidden” is “incarnational”?

Can we put 8 legs on our table? If I attempt a quick translation: Peshat and Derash are closely related. One is a seeking out of the other. What is plain is not obvious. This is clear from the last 200 years of division among the literalists alone! That means that the allegory related to the plain is hidden and must be sought out. Horrors! The legs are not divisible. The touching skeins have refused to separate their leathery surfaces and become separate legs to truth.
Caplan points out that Augustine had a different four: historia, aetiologia, which considers causes, analogia which studies the text from the point of view of congruence of the Old and New Testament and allegoria. Aquinas subsumed these first three under the 'literal' or plain meaning. Apparently Aquinas escaped into the concept of 'subtype'. This is a common escape from normalization in database design also.

What is an effective subdivision of meaning? Caplan moves onto a seven fold subdivision from Angelon of Luxeuil:
  1. historical,
  2. allegorical,
  3. a combination of the historical and allegorical,
  4. the intimation proper of tropical (sic) of Deity,
  5. parabolic, where one thing is written in Scripture but something else is meant,
  6. with respect to the two comings of the Saviour
  7. moral and figurative
Regrettably, these animals are not well named. Adam! Really!
Here's another one
  1. litteralis, historicus
  2. allegoricus, parabolicus,
  3. tropologicus, etymologicus,
  4. anagogicus, analogicus,
  5. typicus, exemplaris,
  6. anaphoricus, proportionalis,
  7. mysticus, apocolypticus, diuinis atque ineffabilis
  8. boarcademicus, primordialis
(Compendium of the history of doctrines, Karl Rudolf Hagenbach‏)
I would be hard-pressed to follow these as a means of organizing a treatise, even if I could translate them! There are too many to remember. We almost got to the original nine from Aquinas (though on inspection, some of those merge into or become subordinate to others.)

As I noted above, the Eucharistic prayer combines mystical and incarnate. What do we mean by mystical? Is there a subdivision of meaning that we can apply to the Scripture? And to the psalms that we might read them with a new clarity.

When I am involved in data analysis, there are a few questions that help: what are the object classes? how are they distinct? how are they related? what are the elements? does an element describe or identify an instance of an object? does an element run the risk of morphing into an object? What event happens that creates an instance of an object? Once created, can I find it again? If I update it, will that change affect other instances? Will it affect other objects? Can it be deleted? If an event does not happen, what then?

These are the events that give rise to our theological thinking: birth, death, initiation into covenant, failure. Teaching. There must be a better way! Hope, engagement with the presence, time, forgetfulness, hurt, recovery, sin, judgement, a reliable record, love.
As the Magi noted in the poem by T. S. Eliot, 'we had seen birth and death but had thought they were different'.
  1. I think I must retain the historical. This is the Peshat, the plain meaning. 'There was a Birth, certainly'. So there is a plain meaning, a surface which divides the waters from the waters.
  2. I think I must retain the figurative. This is the Remez, the allegorical meaning. I am 'no longer at ease' with the merely historical.
  3. I must retain the hidden. This is the Sod, the mystical meaning. It encompasses the moral but is not itself moral in the sense that we can define separately. I will put it down to encounter and presence. 'I should be glad of another death'. If I use the word mystical, think hidden, and ask.
I would hope to give some regulation to the figurative so that we do not make "anything from anything". But above all, I would decline to say that the hidden is without respect to our historical and literal, material life. And I think all three: the plain, the figurative, and the hidden meaning require seeking out. This is the Derash, the homiletical meaning.

In this fourfold division, I operate then
  1. as an observer and scientist: The text before us is to be considered in all its historical, cultic, and linguistic reality. Historical-criticism is acceptable and useful.
  2. as a reader of poetry: I am attuned to the figurative, and I may apply the poem to the anointed king, to Israel as elect and anointed, to Jesus as beloved and anointed (Christ), to a priest or prophet, to any of the tribes of Israel, to an individual anointed or elect or one who fears God.
  3. as one who expects a response from God: I expect engagement and knowledge from what is beyond me.
  4. as one who searches, I let the questions stand and enter into them, seeking fuller questions.
This is a hermeneutic of faith

What's what with theology

From Eric M. Vanden Eykel, via James McGrath, I read this little bit of catechism. And more here.
According to Cyril of Alexandria, the humanity of Jesus had no other subject than the second person of the Trinity, the Word (λόγος); namely, Jesus’ body never existed apart from the Word, and thus the body of Jesus was in fact the Word’s own body. Now, a qualifier is needed, which is provided by Ephesus 431. That is, although the body of Jesus never existed apart from the Word, the Word did exist before the body of Jesus. That is, the second person of the Trinity has always existed, but the man Jesus has not.
Do I get this based on my experience of God in the Scriptures and through the death of Jesus?  Is this necessary to my salvation? Or does this sort of thinking arise from the human desire to tidy things up and express truth in a span of words about something?

Theology is a tongue and requires interpreting. Virginity is an image that requires seeing. Sex is a problem but it is not sin.

Sunday 21 November 2010

It's chilly here

Warming up without and with flash:

Bugs and Spirit - a year later

I came across this post from a test blog where I don't publish. It is too funny and still too true. (The next major version of the famous program has fixed a few errors in right to left and left to right but still manages to print the right to left words correctly on the printer and then reverse them when printing to Portable Document Format  (.pdf) - so it is useless with this error.)

Here's the original post.

I wonder if the next generation will be able to handle the inheritance of software from the previous. How often will they mutter at the errors and shortcomings of their forebears. Forbearance may be in as short supply as knowledge.

For the record, software taught us our fallibility. I suspect it will continue so to teach. Most recently, besides following up and taking responsibility for my own errors, omissions, and accidental oversights, I have had the opportunity to see how confused left and right can be in the management of words on the page. How can I define the problem when successive versions of famous programs cannot handle the terrible complexity of left to right and right to left processing in the same document.

But let's give credit: they have tried - even though copy and paste sometimes reverses words, sometimes does not, and sometimes reverses letters. And having landed in the target document, the host program (vintage circa 2007-2008) sometimes cannot tell the difference between one word and another. Double-click, which usually selects a word, selects part of one word and part of another. The left hand part of the software is not letting the right hand know where it is!

To which hand do I submit the error report? To the source (which is correct in its apparent form) or to the target? And if I dared find the right forum, how long would it take to get a resolution?

I reported a problem some time ago to a major vendor. After dozens of clarifying emails, they finally 'got it' and said they had corrected the font spacing error. Well, I guess it depends on what platform you are using. It has never worked for me. I gave up. I still use the old run time where it works. Of course, all these combinations of complex cultural mixes are bound to create difficult software problems and mutual incompatibilities in format of the clipboard, and tables about fonts that refresh on some platforms and not others.

Even for the local single supplier of software, the process of managing and correcting software changes and fixes is one that has to be passed on to the next generation. What is it like? I think it is more like learning a language of courage than like following procedures. Procedures are important. Copy management is important. Knowing the history (source libraries) and the definitions (data models) are important. But there is no substitute for courage, learning, experimentation, patience, empathy, forbearance and discrimination - all features of the human enterprise that are of the spirit.

Saturday 20 November 2010


Beloved reader, I am working very hard to focus what will be a new book in some form. I will be blogging lightly  but hopefully a little. What I have noticed after 2 weeks concentrating on Psalm 1 is that style and focus are sometimes lacking in my online writing. This is because blogging is necessarily part of a time-conditioned ongoing conversation, not a determined scope of a writing of a more 'permanent' type.  Books are so difficult. Every comma, every nuance, every word, every omission, commission, and acknowledgement is measured. But books have the advantage of allowing a record of a particular purpose.

Dare I say that I want to communicate the joy of the psalms in a more disciplined form? Yes, that is it, more or less. Each of the 150 sections will include the following

  • A translation - sparse, readable
  • A construction - how is the psalm constructed
  • Themes in the psalm
  • Notes including such issues as gender, word play, variations in translations
  • and a personal application

I think it is this last that will distinguish my book from the academic, though I will do my best not to be academically foolish. There will be some but limited Hebrew. My target audience is the church-going public. To turn them on to the beauty in which I have begun to be known. Some of my conclusions even I find surprising. The wholeness of the Shema is not compromised by the New Testament, but such wholeness is not followed by many of the readers of the New Testament. I hope I can point in the direction of a deeper reading.

I am willing to share with anyone who so desires and with a few whom I will ask. If you are interested - especially if you would like to criticize or proof read, you can let me know via a comment on this post or send me an email at bobmacdonald at gx dot ca. You don't have to hurry. This is a long project - circa 3 years.

I hope I do good work while hibernating. My existing blogs will remain live and occasionally I will correct the odd post or post a new thought.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Simplifying and equalizing volumes

It's better to keep things simple and just write about a sequence in sequence - so here's a division into 7 pieces respecting the existing 5-fold division in the text. Seven roughly equal sized volumes.

1 Psalms 1-23 Book 1 - part 1 - 2599 Hebrew words in this pile.
2 24-41 Book 1 part 2 - 2650 words
3 42-72 Book 2 - 4036 words - less commentary or thinner paper :)
4 73-89 Book 3 - 2777 words
5 90-106 Book 4 - 2433 words
6 107-119 Book 5 - part 1 - 2479 words
7 120-150 Book 5 - part 2 - 2602 words

Each part will have the following sections

There will be a structural introduction to the psalms in the volume in relation to those in other volumes. Then for each psalm:
  • the text in English footnoted where necessary :)
  • images of how the text is constructed and where the play is
  • relationship of the text to other texts - e.g. Genesis, Deuteronomy, Job, Samuel, other psalms
  • specific word studies based on the frames and cell contents
  • hearing the spaces between the words
  • How the psalm relates to the seven themes I noted in the last post: Torah, Anointing, Enemies, Sin, Covenant, Creation, Praise.
Example - it would be instructive to do an example detail section. E.g. Psalm 62 and its relationship to Qohelet's favorite word and Psalm 39. All these are touched on in what I have applied myself to over the past 4 years. But none of this is a slam dunk.

There will be no complete Hebrew text. [two months later, changed my mind] The English is meant to stand alone [yes] but it will also encourage investigation into the Hebrew or Greek text. This will be done by using some Hebrew words and showing how the fine grained grammatical and syntax structure works sometimes. There's quite a bit of tension in this statement. The tetragrammaton will always be in Hebrew letters. The square letters will be used but as if one is writing for one who is learning rather than one who already knows.

What else should I include in such a book series? Anyone want to help?

Dividing the Psalter by ?

I thought I would divide by keyword - but the really frequently used keywords leave some psalms out - like Psalm 1 - so add Torah - teaching to the list. Also the keywords produce considerable overlap - psalms appear in more than one place. I personally am always slightly irritated when a book on the psalms only includes selected psalms. So if I have a successful design of a series, it must include all the psalms once.

Here's the list I scratched out with pen and paper. 

Torah - teaching - structure, frame, word play and correction; 1, 15, 19, 24, 37, 40, 78, 89, 94, 105, 119
Anointing - Rule in the midst of your enemies - election and universality, 2, 18, 20, 28, 84, 89, 105, 110, 132
Enemies - The transformation of self ... there are lots of these + the final psalm 149
Sin - 51, the righteousness of God, remembrance 6, 38, 70, 137
Covenant - the theme of mercy 32, 103, 139
Creation - who makes heaven and earth, 2, 8, 19, 24, 115 ... 146 the redemption of the world. 
Praise - Seated on the praises of Israel; trouble and satisfaction, 120-135 ... 150

This is not a very discrete list - there is lots of overlap. I think though it would be important to write for overlap so that the whole is included in each part.  Yet I think the psalm texts themselves should not be repeated.  Also a few other things - 9 always drags 10 with it, also 42-43, also the repeated psalms (I guess).

Here's the list as calculated - omitting a few common words like David and Leader so as to get away from division by inscription (but why not divide by inscription - I should have omitted Song also).  I am surprised to see 'speak' and not to see Hallelujah. I am delighted to see 'you'. I think 'you' must be 'in' as a point of discussion. It's hard to see the psalms that are not in this list. See below for the same list with keywords collected by psalm.
Key wordChapter
אמר speak - say 145 138 129 119 118 107 106 105 94 89 83 78 77 73 71 70 68 54 50 42 41 40 35 31 19 18 12 10 4
ארץearth - land 148 147 143 135 119 115 107 106 105 104 102 101 98 97 96 89 85 82 81 78 76 75 74 73 72 68 67 66 65 63 58 57 50 48 47 46 44 37 33 22 18 10 8 2
אתה you - 142 139 119 109 102 99 90 89 86 76 74 71 69 59 55 44 40 32 31 25 22 18 16 10 5
דבר word - thing - matter 147 145 144 119 109 107 106 105 103 101 91 85 78 75 73 65 64 63 58 56 55 52 50 45 41 35 33 29 28 18 17 12
חסד covenant mercy - loving kindness 149 145 143 138 136 132 119 118 109 107 106 103 89 86 85 69 59 57 52 40 36 33 32 31 25 18
ידע praise - thank 139 119 103 90 89 88 79 78 74 73 69 39 35 31 25 9
יוםday 140 119 110 102 96 95 90 89 88 86 78 74 72 71 68 61 56 55 44 42 39 38 37 27 20 19 18
ירא fear - 145 135 128 119 118 115 112 111 106 103 91 86 85 76 66 65 64 56 52 49 45 40 34 33 27 25 22
ישׂר upright - 147 136 135 130 115 114 105 81 78 68 53 38 22 14
נפשׁ life - soul -self - being 143 142 131 130 124 120 119 116 109 107 105 104 103 94 88 86 71 69 66 63 62 57 56 54 49 42 41 35 34 31 25 22 17 11 7 6
עלםage - forever 146 145 136 125 119 118 112 111 106 105 104 103 90 89 78 77 73 72 61 55 52 49 48 45 44 41 37 30 24 9 5
עשׂה make - do 149 146 145 143 139 136 135 126 119 118 115 111 109 107 106 104 103 101 92 90 86 78 66 56 53 52 40 37 34 33 28 15 14 9 8
צדק righteous - just 143 119 112 106 103 98 97 89 85 72 71 51 45 40 36 35 18 17 9 7 4
שׁיר song 149 144 137 108 98 96 68 65 33
שׁמע hear 143 106 102 81 78 66 61 55 38 34 31 28 18 17 6 4

Here's the automated list collected by Psalm to see what is missing.

Key wordChapter
אמר שׁמע צדק 4
עלם אתה 5
שׁמע נפשׁ 6
נפשׁ צדק 7
עשׂה ארץ8
ידע עשׂה צדק עלם9
אתה אמר ארץ10
נפשׁ 11
אמר דבר 12
עשׂה ישׂר 14
עשׂה 15
אתה 16
שׁמע צדק נפשׁ דבר 17
אתה צדק אמר חסד דבר שׁמע יום ארץ18
אמר יום19
ישׂר ירא אתה נפשׁ ארץ22
ידע ירא חסד נפשׁ אתה 25
ירא יום27
שׁמע עשׂה דבר 28
דבר 29
ידע שׁמע אתה נפשׁ חסד אמר 31
חסד אתה 32
ירא ארץ עשׂה חסד שׁיר דבר 33
עשׂה שׁמע ירא נפשׁ 34
נפשׁ צדק ידע אמר דבר 35
חסד צדק 36
יום ארץ עשׂה עלם37
יום שׁמע ישׂר 38
ידע יום39
צדק עשׂה ירא אמר אתה חסד 40
נפשׁ דבר עלם אמר 41
יום נפשׁ אמר 42
אתה יום עלם ארץ44
צדק עלם דבר ירא 45
ארץ עלם48
ירא נפשׁ עלם49
ארץ דבר אמר 50
צדק 51
ירא עשׂה דבר חסד עלם52
עשׂה ישׂר 53
נפשׁ אמר 54
עלם יום דבר אתה שׁמע 55
ירא דבר עשׂה יום נפשׁ 56
נפשׁ חסד ארץ57
ארץ דבר 58
חסד אתה 59
יום שׁמע עלם61
נפשׁ 62
נפשׁ דבר ארץ63
ירא דבר 64
ירא שׁיר ארץ דבר 65
נפשׁ ירא שׁמע עשׂה ארץ66
שׁיר ישׂר יום אמר ארץ68
חסד אתה נפשׁ ידע 69
אמר 70
יום אתה נפשׁ צדק אמר 71
צדק יום ארץ עלם72
דבר עלם אמר ידע ארץ73
ידע אתה ארץ יום74
ארץ דבר 75
אתה ארץ ירא 76
עלם אמר 77
אמר עלם ארץ שׁמע יום דבר ישׂר עשׂה ידע 78
ידע 79
שׁמע ישׂר ארץ81
אמר 83
דבר חסד ארץ צדק ירא 85
יום חסד נפשׁ אתה עשׂה ירא 86
יום ידע נפשׁ 88
אמר יום ארץ עלם חסד אתה ידע צדק 89
אתה ידע עלם עשׂה יום90
דבר ירא 91
עשׂה 92
נפשׁ אמר 94
שׁיר ארץ יום96
ארץ צדק 97
ארץ שׁיר צדק 98
אתה 99
עשׂה דבר ארץ101
ארץ אתה יום שׁמע 102
דבר נפשׁ עלם חסד עשׂה ירא ידע צדק 103
עשׂה ארץ עלם נפשׁ 104
עלם דבר אמר ארץ ישׂר נפשׁ 105
ירא אמר שׁמע חסד עלם דבר עשׂה ארץ צדק 106
ארץ אמר חסד דבר עשׂה נפשׁ 107
שׁיר 108
חסד אתה דבר עשׂה נפשׁ 109
עשׂה עלם ירא 111
ירא עלם צדק 112
ישׂר 114
ירא עשׂה ישׂר ארץ115
נפשׁ 116
עלם חסד אמר עשׂה ירא 118
ידע אתה ירא יום חסד עשׂה צדק דבר אמר עלם נפשׁ ארץ119
נפשׁ 120
נפשׁ 124
עשׂה 126
ירא 128
אמר 129
ישׂר נפשׁ 130
נפשׁ 131
חסד 132
ארץ ישׂר עשׂה ירא 135
עלם ישׂר חסד עשׂה 136
שׁיר 137
אמר חסד 138
אתה ידע עשׂה 139
אתה נפשׁ 142
שׁמע ארץ נפשׁ צדק חסד עשׂה 143
דבר שׁיר 144
ירא חסד עלם עשׂה דבר אמר 145
עלם עשׂה 146
דבר ארץ ישׂר 147
עשׂה חסד שׁיר 149

The Powers that Be

Some time ago, round about 1998 or 1999, I was wondering what is to be said of Power, and how the 'Powers that be' are to be faced as we individually and together mature.

Words have power as we have seen (and heard and felt)
  1. power to shock - such as the shock of learning that our hitherto unquestioningly revered forebears were not (or were?) as like us as we thought;
  2. power to belittle: such as the calling of a revelation the "Ravings of a lunatic";
  3. power to defend and close the ranks of thought, such as is seen in the brandishing of the sword of dogma;
  4. power to heal, to console, to encourage, to correct, a power that is heard in the wise teacher's responses;
  5. power to propagate a tradition - to separate persons from one another or to join people together;
  6. power to criticise, to question, to postulate, experiment, and prove such as is seen in science;
  7. power to break down walls and reconcile us to one another.
  1. Why should we be shocked? Something in us wants to be known and to know, and does not want to be wrong or thought wrong or ignorant.
  2. Why accept a 'name caller', why be one? We don't have time to read or know everything, so we accept or proclaim opinion without adequate knowledge. This is an easy out - and sometimes necessary.
  3. Having such an opinion may lead to the need to defend it. Scepticism battles with desire to believe and belong; fear battles with hope. The dogma that encapsulates the opinions of the past requires considerable unpacking. If poorly unpacked, it becomes a blunt instrument, stunning both those who use it and those against whom it is used. I think we observe and feel this in some correspondence.
  4. Yet if well unpacked, it can lead to healing. (This is true of and in all traditions)
  5. It also forms and divides communities. Even though the same human experience informs all their differences to a greater or lesser degree. So for example 'being born again' is a human teaching - not just a Christian one. The Jew, Jesus, (according to John, ch 3) made it very clear (to Nicodemus) that it was ancient Jewish teaching that Nic ought to have known about already; and it can be observed in all communities even today as the unpacked dogma has its effects on the human spirit (So for example Malcolm X and his experience of the community of Mecca).
  6. Dogma can be seen in any community - even in those that claim a method of proof; so scientists must shift their perspectives as new explanations are derived from observation. This can be as painful a repentance as any religious one.
  7. so new words are required to be received to break us out of our enclosures. We are not enclosed out of pathology but necessarily in each generation for safety in our vulnerable years.
These 7 thoughts are from the point of view of an individual. Each of us needs power; each of us willing or unwilling, witting or unwitting, gives up some powers for the sake of others in community. This delegation, abdication, or seizure of power has emerged in certain structures that are in evidence in all cultures. I am searching for a generalization of Bonhoeffer's mandates: family, labour, government, and church. These are not just 'divine' mandates but also either benevolent or demonic powers that we find ourselves in the midst of.

A. Family: most basic protective device and source of learning respect of peer and superior alike. Honour your father and mother is the source of the mandate. Yet the ancient Jewish stories of fratricide (Cain, Solomon, etc), seduction (Lot's daughters, Judah & Tamar, David & Bathsheba, etc) show clearly that honour was not always paid where due.

Yet family is a strong power. What sentiment and closely shared experience ties us to each other. Yet we must let each other go in the long run. Family cannot be absolute, but it must be respected. It is good for us that there is a divine mandate here in the Jewish tradition. This covers about half the world - what is the state of this mandate as indicated from other traditions?

B. Labour: means of sharing effort and reward. The basis of economy. Yet the first cursed - 'by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread'. Also a continual source of conflict - related to fairness, exploitation. A source too of self-fullfillment, outlet for creativity - but don't overdo it - '6 days shall you labour and do all that you have to do...'

Well 5 days for most of us - and a promised 35 hours in France. Corporations object - they too arise as if from the mandate of labour. Landlord or peasant, owner, manager or worker, we are under that mandate. Consider the problems if we are excluded from productive work. How work rules us if we have 'things that must be done'. How those who produce try to seduce us with the products of their labour through advertising.

C. Government: The mandate for government seems to arise out of the people's desire for a king (2 Sam). "Fear God. Honour the king." (2 Pet) Why? I ask. The latter does not seem like a basic requirement at all. Yet in all cultures at one time or another, the supreme ruler somehow embodies the spirit or desire of the people. Government easily blurs into religion. French Sociologist Jacques Ellul identifies this evil in the 20th century with the worship of the state. But emperor worship is very old. What constitutes good - necessary government? Lao Tsu has much to say about government, some of it in conflict with our desire to know and control our own destinies: "do not use Tao to awaken the people to knowledge, but use it to restore them to simplicity. People are difficult to govern because they have much knowledge."

Whatever we think of government, we are under it. Many powers are exercised over us - they go by the names of all the ministries and departments you can think of. Here is where the traditional Thrones, Dominions, Principalities & Powers are embodied.

D. Church: Of all the powers, spiritual power can be seen as the most easily abused. Where individual, family, economic activity and regulation are obvious to life and ethic, church traditionally seen as a necessary means to morality (threat/promise) is really not that at all. The powers evident are the exploitation of fear, superstition, ignorance, desire, self-interest and the unknown. These powers have been used in history to keep the poor in their place. The caste system in India, all sorts of feudalism ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, received their imprimatur from both government and religious tradition. This is true in all religions. Humans seem to be infinitely capable of generating conflict and getting themselves tangled in it.

This is too one-sided though - the Church if true to its prophetic tradition, is a thorn in the side of the others, keeping them honest. The Church in its faithfulness has given to government the basis for its legislation and to labour and family the mandate to preserve their own integrity. This rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Saint, sinner, enthusiast, atheist all benefit.

Do these four provide a basis for balance in the consideration of the design of a global ethic - or are they too simple a structure?

If we observe that any one has precedence over others, does this help to avoid conflict by managing and adjusting the precedence? For example, maybe someone fears that some religious doctrine is threatened. Perhaps the recognition that three of the four are without reference to what is unknowable and are mandated to have their own independence will cause the enthusiast to temper his or her fear that the Ark cannot stabilize itself.

These thoughts lead me to think that we should hold our fire when we feel our base is being threatened. It could be we have something to learn from the other's point of view. It is also dangerous to put up a hand to support the Ark, a Glory that does not need our help.

To avoid harm to others and ourselves, we might be careful how we express ourselves.

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God and the 'powers that be' have been instituted by God ...... Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for if you love your neighbor, you have fulfilled the law." (Letter to the Romans ch 13:1, 7, 8, c CE 57 Corinth, Paul of Tarsus, written by Tertius his amanuensis.)

Saturday Afternoon at YDC c 1995

A Caged Animal - Stripe, small for a wild rat, but large for a domestic, stinking of his own urine, sat, looking confused, the second story of his cage hardly acting as a substitute for an interesting maze. Stripe has no dark places to hide or sleep in, no secret hoard of food. His life is constrained but not by choice, exposed but without freedom. A few minutes of handling, a wash, produced desirable rat-like behaviour, grooming, and gentle play, exploring the arms of his handlers. He is young enough with appropriate reinforcement to develop the extensions of rattus-rattus programming that follow from an interesting environment and a lot of human contact.

He had been reported as an aggressive animal. Perhaps the smell of Amy, a female rat, on my clothing, had produced the beneficial behaviour (and the fragrance). I doubt it, somehow. The two rats had not been exactly friendly in a past meeting on Amy's turf. Amy, smaller, though older by three months, was with me on a trip to see her master, James, in his detention.

What an error! To bring a "pet rat" to see a prisoner, caged afresh in his own embarrassment. What a meeting! Yet he overcame his anger at being embarrassed. We put Amy in her cage on the floor to hide her from the inquisitorial eyes of other inmates, geeks in James' words, honkies. I guess he might lose face if his peers could see his tender side. Amy is not used to being cooped up, but she had a little hidey-hole in a box that she can escape to even inside that little cage, a place of solitude and security.

James had not brought his cards, nor had I, so we had to face the silence without props.

"You f-ing whites are so stupid - why did you bring that rat? Didn't I tell you not to? Can't you f-ing remember anything?"

"I'm sorry, James", I said. "Shall I take her outside and put her in the car?"

"No, it's too late now!" Silence. "Ooh, you ----. You haven't got any brains at all."

We paused frequently, but news was exchanged. We talked of pot, weed, cannabis, of faith, of God and our own inner searches. Is the kingdom of the weed a suitable analogue for the kingdom of God? I suggested that we needed to integrate both the fierceness of our anger and the smoothness of our imagined highs, good karma, or whatever. He maintained the naturalness of the weed over the artifice of sherry. He spoke of the two thieves, on the right and left hand of Christ and identified himself with each in his own way. The Spirit was strong in both of us as we stretched through language to reach each other. He said:

"You know, there's more behind a word than just its surface. Consider this wall here."

How much can you read into a prison wall? (We were in one of the private visiting rooms.)

Through the barrier of words, the meaning of wall propelled itself into my mind: restriction, confinement, protection, sanctuary, security, stability, rule of law, creating a space.

Is it sufficient space to allow for the transformation of embarrassment into joy?

Without weed, we experienced a remarkable oneness and high after an hour of conversation. May the God who creates from nothing take these cages and make us free even within our bounds; rats free from wire-enclosures; meaning free from words; humans free from fear. Where the walls remain, may they provide security, and a place for reflection and growth, appropriate grooming for rats and humans alike.

This post, one of my earliest stories after a dream and command to write in 1994, is inspired by Exploring our Matrix - 7 years old today.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

A beautiful commentary on the not beautiful

Leah was the first person in the history of the world to express gratitude to God (BT Berachot 7b). Praise occurs only twice in Genesis!

A harbour on the way to Israel

What harbour do you know that looks like a scorpion?

Definitely this is Rhodes
All I can tell you is that I took this picture from the air a few minutes (< 30) before I took the identifiable picture of Rhodes. What is the harbour that I am looking at?  At first I thought it was Bodrum - but I can't verify that from the map.

Economics and Morality

My comment was too long for this post at Quad thoughts so here is it on its own. (Actually it was not too long, there was just a programming error in blogger that made me think that.)

To Ken - thanks for the quick history. Economics is a very subtle thing. What's needed in a cold climate is different from the minimum needs in a warm one. What's possible for a person who is lucky enough to be born without brain damage is quite different for one who was not so fortunate. The bureaucrats understand a small amount of money so they control contracts fiercely at this level, but when you count high enough, they can no longer control the amount and so they let it go. Just look at the rules applied to free-lance artists compared with those for a bank and its investments. Or consider the procurement processes for small companies selling to the government compared with large ones.

This is so complex that like Mr Micawber, I tend to hope that something will turn up that I can understand and think about. For the record, I have run a small company and I know something about brain damage.

I also think that faith - if here is any such thing - is a motive for questioning the status quo whether it be fiscal policy (like the current hidden stimulus in the US move to print more money) or the realities of running a firm that supports 20 families on various streams of business income. What are we doing? Why? and Who cares?  There is clearly an option for the poor and needy in the Scriptures. So what do I do? well it depends on day by day opportunities. I can't tell where the next call will come from. At the moment I don't have power over fiscal policy anywhere - and I tend to turn off the strident voices that pretend the answer is simple.

Was it Mark Twain that made some comment about the US being the greatest worshiper of Mammon ever to exist? But I think as a rule of thumb that I can't put the angel of the US in that category. Still the right-wing just-let-me-make-a-whole-lot-of-money attitude strikes me as the reason we have such a mess on our hands at the moment. (I refer to the sub-prime mortgages of year 2007-8 and the lure of home ownership with or without the means to maintain it.)

"Every man neath his vine and fig tree" (Micah 4:4, 1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31 (an inclusio for Kings?), and Zechariah 3:10) is a phrase that includes - and no bailiff please. Micawber understood that problem too.

Saturday 6 November 2010

The Anointing, the anointed, and the one who anoints

What do people who are called 'Christian' do when they 'preach on the Old Testament'? What do people who call themselves Christian mean with they want to 'see Christ' in the Old Testament? My own thoughts around this have to do with the unity of the Biblical witness to God. It must not be seen as too big a question.

I have suggested a thought that opens up further possibilities - what if the Christ as a word is not meant to mean exclusively Jesus? What if the anointing of say Psalm 23 points to a knowledge of God that is every bit the same as the knowledge and anointing in the Holy Spirit that is written of in the NT?
You sate with oil my head
my vessel is full
What if we recognize the ambiguity of words like Messiah, servant, son, elect etc and apply them in preaching - to Israel, the the king of Israel, to the individual who fears God, to the New Testament believer, to Jesus as having this Spirit without measure?

There is analytical work to do (and I am thinking about it) - but I have to say as one to whom our Lord has been kind, that the kindness I find in the Psalms is completely the same as the end of kindness that is pointed to in the NT and is the substance of the Mercy Seat.

Sure 'Christ' is in the OT - but not just as a pointer to the completeness that is in Jesus, also as a recognition, for example, of the work of the referee implied in Job, and the anointed king / Israel in the Psalms (e.g. 89) and also as a recognition of the work of the Spirit (hidden in the OT but still there) that moves and trains the individual as one of those under the mercy in hearing, obedience, love, and the confidence of completeness that we find in the individual psalms, whether this anticipates the completeness in Jesus or even the completeness of an individual.

That last sentence is based on the observation that the individual in Psalm 1 has become the plurality of the Chasidim in psalm 149. It is the role of the Chasidim to "bind their kings in chains" - the very thing that the Anointed of Psalm 2 is tasked to do - but also that the willing people of psalm 110 do on behalf of the king.

This individual is also the reader / poet of Psalm 119. What does this earthling say of itself? From alef to Taf it is one of those who are joyful and walk in the teaching - and it is one that wanders and needs to be sought.
All joy for those who are the complete of the way
who walk in the teaching of יְהוָה
Time and again I am straying like a sheep that has perished
seek your servant for I do not forget your commandments.
Is it this one who is chosen? or anointed? Do we apply the psalms to Christ? We certainly can apply the psalms to the anointed Jesus and also to the anointed king - like David, and they apply to Israel, and anointing applies to the priestly caste. Can the anointing be in with and on a single reader?

I have always taken an affirmative answer for this question as far as salvation in the NT is concerned. Then as I started to read the Psalms closely and realized how severely I wander (not that I did not know this earlier), I wondered: Was God testing me as an individual only - and outside of Christ - when I knew myself to be in Christ? No - in or out, what I knew was with me and therefore I was in. But I was also in a space which was before the time of the Anointed Jesus yet still anointed. Faults, failures aside - of which there are plenty in all eras, God answers the prayer of the last verse of Psalm 119 equally in all eras. It is this apparent fact that makes me question not the reality of Jesus and his own work and Anointing but the ways we have thought about Jesus and substituted Christ for Jesus without thinking.

Hymns with power

I was listening to a rehearsal for Evensong at Cambridge several weeks ago and I heard them sing the William Byrd Nunc Dimittis from the Great Service. It came across to me as a shout of joy, the very response that is assumed in the Psalms for the greeting of God's Messiah and the triumph of the good.

They also sang words from this hymn - specifically I was impressed by Verse 3.  I do realize it can be interpreted traditionally as referring to a temple of stones. But for me at the time, it was the living singing stones and the living listening stone that I had in mind - these very fleshly bodies that the mystery of the Anointed in the Spirit choses to indwell. Long may these kinds of words be transformed in us - without imagination of what ought to be, rather the reality of the presence.

Christ is made the sure Foundation,
And the precious Corner-stone;
Who the two walls underlying,
Bound in each, binds both in one,
Holy Sion’s help for ever,
And her confidence alone.

In this case 'Christ' refers to Christ Jesus (1 Peter 2:5). I wonder what Neale meant by the two walls? Any thoughts? It certainly illustrates the difficulty of Earthly Jerusalem - a city compacted together but not easily holding.

All that dedicated City,
Dearly loved of God on high,
In exultant jubilation,
Pours perpetual melody,
God the One, and God the Trinal,
Singing everlastingly.

There's the jubilation and melody

To this temple, where we call thee,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With thy wonted loving-kindness
Hear thy servants as they pray.
And thy fullest benediction
Shed within its walls for ay.

Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
What they supplicate to gain;
Here to have and hold for ever
Those good things their prayers obtain,
And hereafter in thy glory
With thy blessèd ones to reign.

Laud and honour to the Father,
Laud and honour to the Son,
Laud and honour to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever One;
Consubstantial, co-eternal,
While unending ages run. Amen.
Latin c7th century
tr J. M. NEALE 1818-66

Friday 5 November 2010

Back a week and almost at home

It's a week since the beginning of my 33 hour day coming home from Israel. My cold is somewhat 'better' (worse for the virus that is). I am still aging but what else is new, and home seems to be not a hotel with rooms that are too big. (The hotel with the most home-like atmosphere was Fauzi Azar in Nazareth - even though we got lost finding it.)

There is still considerable interest in the pictorial trip I have documented. But my visits and page count are down from over 200 to the more normal 20-40 a day.  I have been commenting occasionally on other posts - but blogging? I don't quite know where I will go for a few days yet.

This morning I was thinking about whether or not we can see the Christ of the OT in the confessional stances of people who say they believe the NT. I am convinced of course that the same Spirit informs both Testaments and the same Anointing is there also. But as to who is Anointed and to what effect - these are more subtle questions. And as to whether various confessional stances match the Theology of the Scriptures - well I can only say that the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) and Habakkuk 2:4 are both in the TNK and without them, where would the NT be? Just to take a different approach to the issue.

The image above at the Israel Museum suggests a/Anointing and even i/Incarnation to me.  The middle of it is the period c 6 BCE - 70 CE. To get the shine on the surface of any age requires serious listening (Hear O Israel) and work (The just will live by faith). Let's not kid ourselves. Shine isn't cheap. But we could say, that like the universe, it's all done with mirrors.

After reading parts of Shelley's Necessity of Atheism, (accidentally come to my attention from an Oxford publication that I picked up at the Psalms conference), I was wondering if I might respond. Might be fun.

If anyone is out there, ask a question and tell me where I should go.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

I don't do Greek but

Mike Bird has a set of translation questions here. I wonder what I would do with the short questions. HT Clayboy.
  1. What makes a translation accurate?
  2. Should I consider using multiple translations or stick with one?
  3. When and why do we update Bible translations?
  4. How should a translation render Romans 1:17?
  5. How does a translation best convey hilasterion in Romans 3:25?
  6. How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?
  7. How should we translate the phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ in such passages as Galatians 2:16?
So skip question 1 - accurate is not the primary good characteristic of translations. Effective maybe, communicative, whatever.
On 2, if you don't know the original languages or history and you are beginning to read, then multiple translations is your only defense against bias. Reading multiple translations will also teach you something of the history of English translations.
On 3 - good question. Unfortunately a big question and not enough room to address it here.
On 4 - here's what I did years ago: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "One who through faith is righteous shall live."  I suspect I took it from RSV and fought with a reading of Habakkuk and guessed.  What would I do today? Here's the text:
δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται
ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν
καθὼς γέγραπται
 Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται
Questions that occur to me - what's the gar doing in that position after righteousness? Is this noun going to have a definitive article or not? Is the genitive one of possession or attribution? (I immediately think of Psalm 51 which is about God's righteousness as attributed to God by David.) What is the antecedent of en autoi? What weight do I give to the verb 'revealed'? What should be done with the prepositions ek and eis? What is the written authority he is appealing to and do I recognize it? How to deal with the emphasis on faith?

For God's righteousness in it is being revealed
out of faith into faith
as it has been written
The righteous out of faith will live.

Good exercise - is it that the faithfulness out of which life comes is the faithfulness of Jesus vindicated in the Spirit and the life which results is into the faithfulness that we exercise? Sounds more than imputed to me - sounds like work. That it had been written is not 'prediction' but a fact of all time before and after Jesus.

On 5,  whom God put forward as a mercy seat by his blood, to be received by faith.
This was to show God's righteousness,

Here we have again our faith and God's righteousness. To get the life that is poured 'into faith' we need to see the place where God meets us - the place where mercy is found in the presence of the Holy. 

On 6, faithful people

and 7 - the phrase is incorrectly quoted in the question. It is πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ - the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed One.

And let's say I am leaving the questions open for the moment.

Series recap - pictorial trip through Israel - 21 days

To make it easier to see our trip through Israel, here are all the links in date sequence

12 Days in Jerusalem
9 Days on the Road from the Dead Sea to the Galilee to Tel Aviv