Thursday 29 December 2011

Male-female - the axis of power, the place of good

Kurk Gayle of BLT has asked me:
would you speculate with me, then, where the strict and precise and dogmatic separation of the sexes along the lines of such categories comes from? Isn't it from people who want to maintain categories that allow them more power than the "other"?
Well, yes - I would speculate. What is that knowledge of good and evil that was promised from the eating of that tree?  First to his second question, the one that leads to an answer: is it that categorization represents power and also leads to the abuse of that power?

I was recently at a service of nine lessons and carols. The design of the service includes the idea that the lessons should be read by representatives of the whole community, from the least to the greatest. In this it follows the instruction in Psalm 49:1-3 and it breathes the fullness of the body, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, these words themselves being part of the Advent Responsory  from the traditional service on Advent 1. Category and hierarchy are not evil in themselves. We need every level of growing responsibility in a healthy community. So it is today that laundry and housekeeping are shared in my two-person household as we prepare for the arrival of our adult children (a phrase I understand is now in OED).

There are, however, to get to the first part of the question, many of the male gender who fail to share responsibility or who imagine that the responsibilities are separated by person completely. Perhaps they would not sort their wife's clothes from the dryer, but might deign to sort their own. Or perhaps not at all: the man might say to the woman, I work 6 days a week and I bought you these expensive labour-saving devices, now you do your part! (I overheard these very words in front of one of the first microwaves in Toronto c 1974). It must be important. If I say I was not impressed, but I remembered the conversation for nearly 40 years, it was the male attitude that did not impress me.

The division of labour between the sexes goes back more than 40 years, of course. What I was hearing was a remnant of a prior age. While I used to blame everything on Queen Victoria, I think the tendency to focus blame on one age is misguided. The blame lies in every age, our own not excluded. Youthful zeal will not fix the tension between category of responsibility and abdication. Nor will it fix its opposite: the tendency of the responsibility of one to create incompetence in the other. I seldom cook, though I can and I gave my wife her first lessons in cooking c 1968, but now she is so competent and organized that unless I have to, I confine myself to cleaning up - a task I know how to do. Nor will youthful zeal fix the exploitation of a power imbalance.

Division of labour is a small thing. The dislocation of desire is larger as is the failure to see and respond to honour or even more specifically, the failure to allow the full growth of mutual independence, so that mutual interdependence can be healthy rather than dislocated. While this is a 'spirit' issue, it is clearly mediated by our human mechanisms and we study the failures of these mechanisms in those who are mentally ill or damaged in one way or another. None of this is sin or evil in itself, but it shows the work of God (John 9:3). Some of us are blind or deaf to some things, others deaf or blind in other ways. But the sickness can become the norm in a social order. (The pathetic nature of pride, avarice, and desire is well portrayed in Jane Austen's Persuasion, to give an example in the English tradition.)

This good of sex is so distorted. C.S.Lewis notes (in The Great Divorce, I think) that the greater gift is subject to the greater distortion. So honour sought with respect to sex and marriage, results in murder of daughter or wife if social norms are violated. Pleasure sought results in preference for the male, as if the woman is incapable of pleasure, and results in infanticide and selective abortion of the female. Male seems to prefer the obvious. It will prove to be to his own destruction.

There is no avoiding difference, of which male and female is among the more obvious. Differing gifts and capacities result in a power imbalance. The dependency of the woman during pregnancy and child rearing and her generally weaker frame and musculature has resulted in the male again dominating for pleasure and for property.

Co-operation seems rare. I wonder if some of the laws that seem against the woman are really against the male (the stronger partner), since he is at times so much more in need of correction, and so blind to his own self-absorption.  So, I surmise, the sign of circumcision is in the flesh (בָּשַׂר) of the male. In this sign the Gospel (בָּשַׂר) is prefigured. The Gospel allows the fleshly creature in its mortal body, to know life through the Spirit, and that abundantly. This is a good to be sought that should not lead to dishonour, but it seems to have led there, if the shame of Christendom is to be seen.  But dishonour is not just evident among those going by the name of Christian. However little they seem to have ears, they are no more deaf or blind than any other human group, even if they should know better.

But how does one get to 'know better'.  I have used a word I avoid.  I dislike 'better' for the world was created 'good' and the good is sufficient. So how can one find the good?

Personally, my own flesh learned the destruction of its desire through the death of Jesus, a circumcision of my self in obedience to that death, a place of good. I expected nothing in return, just relief through death of the destruction that I knew in myself. I was very surprised at the growth that became evident to me.  As I have often written elsewhere, I sensed and knew maturing and healing, sight and hearing, of all sorts.  I have since referred without ceasing all things to the invisible all-hearing Instructor. I especially reveal to the one who gave Torah, every trouble I discover, and every delight - though I am quicker with trouble! Somehow, I muddle through, for even my sight and my maturing is in part.  Still, I have loved the path of learning, especially the intoxicating fullness of the Psalms which I continue to study. In every way they have taught me how to call and how to hear the Heavenly Voice, never far distant from anyone.

This good is sufficient. It is what was called very good in that first Day. Even in my current straits, a treatment via hormone therapy and radiation for cancer, I continue in this good, with all my fears and joys and feelings. One day the chariots of fire will come for me. And in that one day I will live, then and now. It is not different from the first day (Genesis 2:4) as George Herbert noted: there is but one and that one ever (Easter).

So even if there are, to quote Kurk again, 'people who want to maintain categories that allow them more power than the "other"', I trust it is possible not to do this regardless of social custom, for I have learned otherwise. Perhaps I will help a few who might come in contact with me and through me with the one who Teaches.  I cannot 'solve' the presenting problem, nor it seems, will any particular organization of government, on its own.  I remain grateful as I have acknowledged before to those like Kurk and Suzanne who face the issues head on - for they too will help others as they have helped me in my Day.  The direct questioning of culture is important since so much of it is self-serving and self-perpetuating in spite of its destructive aspects, particularly to the female.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Two or three witnesses to books

Before I received my Christmas present of Bayard's - How to talk about books you haven't read - I had already quoted from it, but even now, I forget the quote. So here is another: (Bayard 2007, p8).
Musil's librarian thus keeps himself from entering into the books under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of books - of all books - that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.
Of course, as I read this, I immediately applied it to our canonical texts:
... thus keeps himself from entering into the books of the Bible under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of the books of the Bible - of all these books - that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.
I can certainly appreciate this, but now, having like a bird pecked my way into the ripeness of the Psalter and its strongly fermented liquors, or having wormed my way into the heavy and seductive nectar of its seedy core, I can scarcely read or hear another word without reference to the distilled inebriation of spirit I find myself in.

A friend gave me this book independently of the lovely videos from NYPL shared by BLT.

Saturday 24 December 2011

60 year old train works again

O those childhood years when one built the world from toy engines and plastic signs and buildo or minibrix (lego today) and gas pumps and thread strung on plastic telephone poles. I wondered if I could get our 60+ year old Lionel O-gauge train working again -  and it did for a moment - then all stopped.  Waited a while, worked again - but the couples come apart on the curves, then it stopped again.  Wait. Try the milk-car - unload button doesn't work, car comes off the rails on the special track. Glue applied to loose tracker under the milk car.  No more derail, but train stops again.  Check all connections.  Stumped.  Was it the track - off to wash it with 99% rubbing alcohol and scrubbies - no better.  Must be engine or transformer.

Off to the Railhead train store down the street. Always open when I get there, and testing the engine - tests out well - congratulations given on the emerald eyes still in place after 6 decades. But one of the steps on the front is missing - maybe from years ago... Then we test the transformer - definitely not working. Checked out a substitute - very few available and not quite compatible. While there are some parts inside the transformer that may be toast, it turns out when I removed the 4 screws, there was actually an anomaly inside - a 1/2 cubic centimeter accumulation of oxidized something or other on the circuit breaker.  It looked like an old capacitor but was clearly not supposed to be there, so I chipped it away with a screwdriver and it came off with patience and more alcohol (rubbing type). What fun - the transformer actually worked!

Got it home, set it up and it still works but the old tracks are a bit rickety so there are frequent derailments - must bank the corners. However, we have successfully rounded the bend several times without stopping because of an electrical malfunction.  Train does not uncouple on the curves unless I try and pull all rolling stock at once - too heavy.

Kudos to David Steele at Railhead for being there.  Now he may also be able to fix an identical transformer to mine that he had there with a similar accumulation of stuff on the inside.

Friday 23 December 2011

Greetings to all readers

Since, best Beloved, I would not want you to have an unhappy Christmas, let my blessing of a Happy Christmas be upon you and a thriving New Year after the manner of that Tree of Psalm 1 whose leaves are good medicine.

The Post at Poetry of Christ will be (wait for it), Psalm 112 - on Christmas Day. (111 is here) (112 translation is here)

As far as 'the project' is concerned, I continue to work on scene 3 of the opera (Psalms 11-25).  Psalm 16 is pentatonic and in largely 5/4 rhythm. An accompanist could play all the notes at once and there would be no discord.

Psalm 17 will be a meditation on the melismas of Compline. Verse 8, the middle verse, forms part of this ancient service.

The music provides an amazing test of the viability of the translation.

I am also reading bits of Robert Alter's translation. I find myself disagreeing with some of the notes. As for his translations, I am not convinced by the indentation, a diagramming technique I used at the beginning of my journey.  It is not adequate to the task and particularly it is not adequate in a book.  Also I find arranging cola by parallels either obvious or subjective. So I have concentrated, for my learning, on the words and the more objective pattern recognition that comes from observing recurrence.  Re the meaning, I like it when he says that anyone who translates this verse is guessing (16:3). He often complains that the Hebrew is 'crabbed' but for me that ancient Hebrew is all I can see, so I sometimes don't notice that it's difficult.  The difficulty with his volume is that his notes often require that one see the whole Hebrew line to appreciate his problem (and he does not include the Hebrew except bits and pieces in transliteration).  But I do appreciate many of his notes though I will only reference a few (just to show that I have read a bit of his work and can talk about a book I have not read.)

Tuesday 20 December 2011

The year in review

The MacDonald 2011 Christmas letter is posted. All the Christmas files have had to be moved - should now be accessible here.

To Remember

BLT via JKGayle explores tender territory. I was going to leave a comment - but it morphed into too many random thoughts.

I am glad to see another blogger show the connection between Psalm 6 and Mt 7.23. (Leave me, all workers of mischief) I was surprised last January at the allusion. For me it re-frames the NT story:

1. Jesus identifies unambiguously with the psalmist in trouble - "do not rebuke me in your anger" (6.1),
2. "depart from me" never has to be the last word to anyone - restoration is still possible even after the shame of exile.

Psalm 6 is formative as a psalm of correction - the very correction Job longs for - the referee. It is vital for those 'kinglets' who have known "a hint of his anger" (Psalm 2 כִּי יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ "for he kindles with a hint of his anger"). It also begins the Psalter's theme of memory (6.6. "there is not in death remembrance of you").

Memory - remembrance is frequent in the Psalter but there are strong verbal links from Psalm 6 to Psalm 38, inscribed 'to remember' and 38.2 אַל בְּקֶצְפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי "do not in your rage correct me or in heat chasten me" immediately recalling 6:1. Psalm 70 like 38 is inscribed with 'to remember' and recalls Psalm 40 - implicitly recalling the entr'acte (38-41) between Books 1 and 2, and finally Psalm 137 a multi-voiced psalm of remembering closing the circle of the exile begun explicitly in Psalm 42.  Memory is central to worship - so Psalm 22

All the ends of the earth will remember and will turn to יְהוָה
All the families of the nations will worship in your presence

a necessary healing I think, however we are drawn in to the Beloved.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Psalm 14 music and more links

I am partway into scene 3 of act 1 of The Psalter. I have drafted Psalms 11 to 14 - Psalm 53 will also share Psalm 14's music I expect. It was really strange and appeared to me in a combination of 9/8, 5/4 alternating time signatures.

Tonight I think I must go hear a 9 Lessons at my old haunt of 10 years ago where my wife is singing. Also must write 'the Christmas letter'. It will be a hidden acrostic.  There is so much that cannot be said. And we are so poor at reading. - Do note this post on Barnstone and this one on Brettler and Levine and this one with a lovely greeting card from Doug at re-fractions

The Season - 5's and 6's, 10's and 110

I have meandered quite seriously on Psalm 110 at the Poetry of Christ today - preparing for the celebration of Christmas with the two acrostics to follow.

Now aren't you impressed with my discipline? I have exactly 10 posts per month at PoC - for the last 12 months - a fulfillment of my New Year's 2011 resolution.  As a result, all my notes for my translations on structural things are drafted together with a few more random comments on theological issues.

This morning, we had a pageant at St Barnabas with delightful dancing angels. 5 years ago there were about 5 children - today there were approaching 5 dozen. The theme was: time as strange and the human impossibility of seeing the transcendent. And time is strange. And the Christ that was always and is with us and is to come was seen in a child. The preacher was the Rev. Dr. Brokenleg - he gave a superb homily on the number 5 in Matthew and the fulfillment of the promise to David.

I also sang with a flautist, my Psalm 5 setting  (a test drive in rehearsal mode)- I was not so disciplined here. So I modified the music to include the instruction - in strict rhythm.  The words go by so quickly with the flute accompaniment that one has to manage the 6 pages of music with almost Gilbert and Sullivan gusto.  Why is this one for flute?  Rhythmic accompaniment changes the expression of the words in strange ways.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Things I noted this month

Here's a lovely performance of Psalm 95 by David Koysis+
Henry's got a combo article on Virgin Births and Whale's Bellies

I have put many of my starred posts (where I leave comments) into the shared items list. (See the right hand panel or link here). That's the quickest way to do this kind of thing.  I have another cold so I need to bury myself in something. (Definitely can't sing to Audacity - sooo wobbly.)  Maybe I will go back to Esther as some posts have pushed me or Ecclesiastes - no, too much work. I think I will do some mechanical stuff like formatting the monster Word document that will eventually contain all my psalm notes - whew!  Or I will write some more music for scene 3 - the road from Psalm 11 to 25. Long scene.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The curious case of the foreign pulse

It surprises me that I have spent the last two to three weeks composing. Anyway, in my usual preoccupied (I have been occupied for a while) way, I began Psalm 11 by singing the Hebrew to myself and then I imposed the Hebrew pulse on the English. Psalm 11 is about the mockers - waver off to your mountain, bird. So it has a particular saucy lilt. After I got the first three musical phrases, I imposed them in an a-a-b-a-b pattern on the structure of the text.  The result is a curious incarnation of sound with the b section imitating the a section but not distant as if heaven were far away.

The music suggested parallels in the text I had not considered...  Consider here silently.

(I tried recording the first acrostic yesterday - but it is too long for my one-breath technique. I must find some better recording features where I can stop for a drink at one of the many bars!)

[I just downloaded Audacity - a suitable name for recording software]

Tuesday 13 December 2011


A link to some pictures we took while 'shopping'

Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2 drafted

I have sketched the whole of act 1 scenes 1 and 2 of the Opera known as the Psalter. My most recent delight was adding a flute part to Psalm 5 - rather fun I think - MP3 here (vocals alone here, sheet music here).  We'll see if it's playable - maybe try it out on Thursday.

The outline I suggested last month is holding out at the detail level.  As I worked through the scansion for the music, I changed a few details in the text.  A dozen or so.  I think I won't meditate too much on this first part but forge ahead into the remaining music - rather a lot of fun - and no manuscripts to fuss with.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Music exposes the meaningless

I was brought to a musical standstill - a muting of all instruments, by Psalm 7:8.  There is no way to compose an opera of recitation when you don't know who is speaking and about what. What appeal is being made in this verse on whose behalf?

My current experimental thesis is that the psalms are collected in the shadow of the exile. Does that help to supply a character to the tribes? I searched my available texts and found an article that reconstructs a new text: The textual problems of Psalm 7, Jacob Leveen, Cambridge.  He suggests, among many emendations, reading אֱלֹהִים gods for לְאֻמִּים tribes. I don't think that will help the music much. The help to the assembly of the tribes seems more immediate in any age whether of David or of post-exile or even of today with our current tribal conflicts.

OK - so back to the imagining of a leit-motif for the tribes...

Thursday 1 December 2011

Recitation in Hebrew

The music I have written can also be sung in Hebrew. I will not immediately underlay Hebrew text to the whole recitation - but it is feasible as I have demonstrated here for the first phrase or two of Psalm 1. (PDF is a little more complete. In the image below I have not spelled it out in full - e.g. the resh with shwa would be unemphasized and r-sha-im therefore 3 syllables rather than two as illustrated). All that is required is a judicious omitting of some reciting notes, and the selection of up beat and on the beat syllables according to the requirement of the language. (If I record it in Hebrew, I will post the link on the right panel).

The reason this is possible is that the music is written by small groups of words with attention to their structural relationships.  The image below also gives due acknowledgement of MuseScore whose software I am using. It is quick to learn but avoid complex copy and paste. And be very careful when you are in note input mode, you may be overwriting what you have written. This is a nice feature when you become aware of it.

Wednesday 30 November 2011


I am grateful to Deane Galbraithe for his generous list of posts at PoC in the BS Carnival 69. There are in his list of blogs a huge number that I am not looking at - I wonder how to manage them.  I have not been reading much recently - too much collecting and purging (of my own notes) and testing internal structures for the Psalms. Next there is going to be the music project - I doubt that that qualifies as Biblical Studies.

PoC has 10 posts scheduled for next month too. And they have all been revised since they were first scheduled. I am trying to find beautiful or convincing diagrams for each psalm.  Some sections of the poems have very low recurrence - like maybe one word in 7 verses - but those verses connect very strongly to the rest of the poem - my thesis is that the poet is thinking in a larger block - i.e. 2 and 3 won't work as an organizing principle. 8, 10, 12 even 19 verse segments seem possible when recurrence is considered.

Probably I need another technique and another life to consider this question.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Hearing the Psalter - an outline of the Grand Opera

The final result of the bulk of the Psalter is this note- this new song:
אֱלֹהִים שִׁיר חָדָשׁ
אָשִׁירָה לָּךְ
בְּנֵבֶל עָשׂוֹר
אֲזַמְּרָה לָּךְ
144.9O God, a song that is new
I will sing to you
on lute, a tenth
I will sing a psalm to you
הַנּוֹתֵן תְּשׁוּעָה לַמְּלָכִים
הַפּוֹצֶה אֶת דָּוִד עַבְדּוֹ
מֵחֶרֶב רָעָה
10giving salvation to kings
setting even David his servant free
from a sword of evil

Here then is the beginning of a draft of the Grand Opera known as the Psalter. (Links to music are on the right panel.)

First Act - David the Beloved, Book 1
Scene 1: Introduction (1-2) -
Ps 1 F+ A rising third and descending fifth motif for the 'Happy are' phrases - to be used whenever they recur at the seams and conclusions of the Psalter. A triple rhythm (hidden in this case in 4/4) that signifies the voice of the Most High.; angular diminished fifths as structural gates and as a tossed away motif.
Ps 2  F- (D-flat+) A lament motif - augmented descending fifth - recurs in various voices throughout the Psalter. Triple rhythm descending major 7th as well as high recitation on a single note for proclamation. Descending minor seconds for the derision. Rapid-fire 16th notes wrapping tenderness.
Scene 2: Prayer (3-6), problem (7), solution (8), celebration (9-10)
Ps 3-6 sequence in D+ upper minor third and lower major third separately then combined, then D- for lament. - the leit-motifs to be extended as the song develops.

Remainder of scenes in draft form... Note I am organizing the scenes using the acrostics in Books 1 and 5. I think that there are 4 is significant - copying perhaps the 4 in Lamentations and recognizing thereby the exile as a critical aspect of all human experience.
Scene 3: Restating the problem (12-15), leading to instruction (16-19), the king (20-24), celebration (25)
Scene 4: 26-34, Reprise (26),  ? (27-30), ? (31-33), celebration (34)
Scene 5: Oracle and celebration (36-37)
Entr'acte: 38-41

Second Act - Surrounding the harvest
Part 1 Book 2
Scene 1: Korah (42-49)
Scene 2: Asaph (50 in front of the curtain)
Scene 3: David (51-64)
Scene 4: Harvest (65-67)
Scene 5: David (68-70)
Scene 6: Solo (71), Solomon (72)

Part 2 Book 3
Scene 7: Asaph (73-83)
Scene 8: Korah + (84-88)
Entr'acte: Lament 89

Third Act  - Book 4 Moses
Scene 1: Moses and response (90-92), Rivers and judgment (93-94), Warning (95)
Scene 2: יְהוָה's reign (96-100)
Scene 3: David and renewal (101-103)
Entr'acte: Creation and redemption (104-106)

Fourth Act - Book 5
Scene 1: Predicament (107), redemption (108-110), celebration (111-112)
Scene 2: Praise and adoration (113-117), salvation (118), celebration (119)
Scene 3: Ascent (120-134), Arrival (135)
Scene 4: Creation and redemption (136)
Scene 5: Exile (137)
Scene 6: Recapitulation of David, Holy of Holies (138-139) Prayer of the anointed king on behalf of all (140-144), celebration (145)
Coda: 146-150

Sunday 27 November 2011

Do you see any patterns?

Here are the words used in the Songs of Ascent more than once in the 15 psalms. (organized in order by count 2 to 15) I don't see much in the way of coherence internally. I suspect the collection has external references rather than internal.
אדני XX
אהל XX
אז XX
אח XX
איב XX
אכל XX
בנה XX
גדל XX
חסד XX
יחד XX
יחל XX
ירא XX
כסא XX
לב XX
לילה XX
מה XX
מוט XX
נוח XX
נער XX
סבב XX
עבר XX
עדה XX
עזר XX
עיר XX
עלה XX
צדיק XX
קצר XX
קרא XX
רשׁע XX
שׁבט XX
שׁוב XX
שׁלא XX
שׁלח XX
שׁמע XX
שׁער XX
שׂבע XX
שׂמח XX
שׂנא XX
אשׁר XXX
בוא XXX
בושׁ XXX
הר XXX
חיה XXX
לי XXX
מלא XXX
נא XXX
עבד XXX
עמד XXX
ענה XXX
עתה XXX
פה XXX
פרי XXX
רגל XXX
אמר XXXX
גבר XXXX
דבר XXXX
טוב XXXX
נשׂא XXXX
עשׂה XXXX
רבה XXXX
שׁמר XXXX

Saturday 26 November 2011

Now for something quite different

Busking - just kidding - not like David Ker in Africa somewhere.  But here I am making music - you can't just see the psalms, you've gotta hear them too.  So here's the sheet music that I wrote this week for Psalms 1, 2, and 3 - and will I dare - or more to the point, can I remember how to record it?

Oh - I remember - but there are a few hard notes to hit! I think it is easier in Psalm 1 to sing the E-flat major triad at the end if the nor is an A-flat.  So let the variations begin!

In Psalm 2 there are likewise some tricky key-changes.

Psalm 3 with the other two show the beginning of the extent of chant music to map structure. (Psalm 4 and 5 will continue in D+ with Psalm 6 finding a minor key yet to be decided. I will be outlining the musical plan ... some day.)

Here they are - performance as I thought it might be - not note or word perfect but close - meant to be freely sung anyway. Probably could be mapped to other translations if they are close enough to the Hebrew. Performance links here: Psalms 12, and 3.

If all goes well over the next two years, I will set all 42000 words of my translation. One thing surely it will do is to help me verify them rhythmically.

Any ideas for accompaniment?  If you are a musician I can send you the .mscz files for experimentation.

Monday 21 November 2011

Psalm 1 and 26

I made a comment months ago on Poetry of Christ that Psalms 26 and 1 were closely related. Here is the pattern of word usage between the two of them. Psalm 26 opens with the request for judgment. Psalm 1 ends with being able to stand in such. Do you think the poet was reading Psalm 1 as he composed Psalm 26?

Selected words occurring in each of psalms --1,-26

Word and gloss * first usage12345678910VsStem
* אשׁרי happy
* אשׁר who
* לא does not
הלך walk
* רשׁעים the wicked
* חטאים sinners
* לא does not
עמד stand
* ובמושׁב and in the seat of
* לא does not
* ישׁב sit
* אשׁר that
* לא does not
וכל and in all
* אשׁר that
* לא not
* הרשׁעים the-many wicked
* אשׁר that
* לא they will not
יקמו arise
* רשׁעים the wicked
במשׁפט in the judgment
* וחטאים nor sinners
* רשׁעים those wicked
שׁפטני judge me
* הלכתי have walked
לא --
* והתהלכתי and I have walked
לא not
ישׁבתי I have sat
לא not
רשׁעים the wicked
לא not
אשׁב I will sit
כל all
ומקום and the -place of
חטאים sinners
אשׁר whose
עמדה stands

Thursday 10 November 2011

Psalm 1 - illustration of my new approach

Here ye! Hear ye! Extra! Extra! הנה Hey! הנה Behold!

This post illustrates how I am developing my visual structures in the Psalter. One year after the Psalms conference in Oxford, when I had just completed a first complete marathon (for me) read of the Hebrew Psalter in 2 months, I am now ready to focus on seeing - and hopefully eliminate the tendency to blather on about irrelevancies. If you would like to see the private work as it appears and as I work through each psalm again in sequence, drop me a comment or send me an email [bobmacdonald at] and I will let you know where the readable pre-publication ms is.

I find I write differently for paper than for the web. The design problems are different and there is a need for frequent revision and editing. Also - it's the-whites-of-their-eyes issue. The whole will emerge when I am given enough time. It will represent all the visual aspects of seeing the psalms that I discover - but with as little commentary as I can manage.

I am still posting notes at Poetry of Christ. They are more commentary than visual, but they will morph into more visual for the last 50-odd posts scheduled there to March 31, 2012. That blog illustrates why blogs are unsuitable for real writing. So does this one. I have revised all those translations from 2010 by the hundredsthousands. That's not blogging. They hardly have any of the original post left - a few bits and pieces if I want to illustrate some day how writing develops.

Now if you want to help, here's what I need. One or two persons willing to point out mistakes and unnecessary comment.  And clarity of focus - when am I ambiguous or confusing?  Matters of taste or gloss we might not agree on. And of theology, I hope to say little but let the text speak for itself.  Also I don't think I am discovering magic - but rather the work of human poets and redactors with a devoted purpose.  What I see must have been possible for them to see before and as they created the poems in their present form.

So I think the Psalter was deliberately constructed in the form I see it in, and I think it was perfectly possible for editors and writers to do such a thing as a response within their ordinary-extraordinary lives.  There were great poets among them. Children also - Psalm 114 is the work of a young genius. Perhaps great musicians too.  Psalm 89, on the demise of the Davidic monarchy, is like the Chaconne in D Minor, on the death of Bach's first wife. And Symphony? Psalm 78, Brahms, Psalm 84 later Mozart, 86 early Mozart, Psalm 90-91 The Art of the Fugue. 139 Bairstow, I sat down. I am getting carried away

What the Hilliard ensemble did with the Chaconne is illustrative of what I would like to hear in the text of the Psalter, the inner joins and the cantus firmus.

Seeing the Psalter - Psalm 1

Introducing the technique.
How do we read? How do we hear or see what we are reading? I will illustrate three techniques: RecurrenceParallelism, and Prosody. They help see what is in the text.

Recurrence is the use of repeated words in the text. Following the text of each psalm, there are tables showing the patterns of the words that repeat. The patterns focus the sections of the psalm and help identify the thought of the one who constructed the text.

Distinguish parallelism and recurrence from each other. Parallelism is the expression of the same (or an antithetical) thought in different words. Recurrence is the repetition of the same word in the poem. This distinction removes some subjectivity from initial structural considerations. We will usually agree when two words have the same root letters. We may not agree that two concepts having differing letters in the poem represent a similar or contrasting thought.

Prosody: Prosody is the art of displaying poetry. In the case of Hebrew poetry, a starting point is to see the lines of a poem in twos and threes.

Here is Psalm 1 verse 1. This small example illustrates all three techniques.

Note the three lines that modify the happy individual. They are all in parallel with each other with a cumulative effect. They are each organized around three main words. A recurring motif is the word “not”!

who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners does not stand
and in the seat of the scornful does not sit

Parallelism: notice how the parallel phrases vary in conceptual order dividing each line in two: in this case, a, the action, and b where. These parallels are in the form a-b, then b-a, b-a. These are an example of rhyming ideas created with different words, walk -- sit -- stand; and wicked -- sinners -- scornful, and advice -- way -- seat.

Prosody: notice in the Hebrew that there are (apart from relative pronoun and negative particle) literally three words in each of the three lines. It is clear in English also. In the Hebrew below, I have underlined the roots of these “main words”. The other letters in a typical Hebrew word are prepositions, pronouns, verb forms, and so on. If you don’t read Hebrew, just look for the moment.

אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב

Notice that as there are three main words in the English so there are three underlined parts in the Hebrew corresponding to the three main English words per line. The underlined parts are the 'roots' of the Hebrew words.

Recurrence: The bold words are those that recur, in this case the recurring no.

A second example: Here is a miniature table showing the last two verses of Psalm 1.
Word and gloss * first usage123VsRoot
* רשׁעים the wicked
* צדיקים the-many righteous
* דרך the way of
* צדיקים those righteous
* ודרך but the way of
* רשׁעים those wicked

The table shows the recurring words for verses 5 and 6. There are three of them: wicked -- righteous -- way. The numbered columns (1, 2, 3) represent the words in the sequence they occur in the poem, and the boxes in the grid show the pattern of their usage. The word itself and its gloss is in the left hand column. This column (*) also tells us if this is the first time the word has been used as a keyword in the Psalter. The verse numbers are in the second to last right hand column (Vs). The root of the word or where there is no root, the combination of prepositions and pronouns is in the right hand column (Root).

In this small table, we can see that wicked appears first and last in the table. An inner pair of words: righteous and way, recur in sequence. Wicked effectively 'frames' the two verses. A 'frame' is a word or set of words that recurs, effectively surrounding a text and highlighting it. It is similar to a picture frame in a gallery which sets off the picture for the viewer. This idea of framing is also expressed by other words in English: circling, enveloping, and including (via the Latin phrase inclusio).

Before continuing with the shapes to observe in the tables, first read and ponder Psalm 1. As you read, circle the words that recur.
Psalm 1 - The way of the wicked and the righteous
אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ
אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
1Happy the person
who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners does not stand
and in the seat of the scornful does not sit
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה
2In contrast: in the instruction of יְהוָה is his delight
and in his instruction he mutters day and night
וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ
שָׁתוּל עַל פַּלְגֵי מָיִם
אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ
וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא יִבּוֹל
וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ
3and that one will be like a tree
transplanted by streams of water
that gives its fruit in its time
and its leaf does not wither
and in all that it does, it thrives
לֹא כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים
כִּי אִם כַּמֹּץ
אֲשֶׁר תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ
4Not so the-many wicked
in contrast: like chaff
that wind blows
עַל כֵּן לֹא יָקֻמוּ
וְחַטָּאִים בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים
5So it is that they will not arise
the wicked
in the judgment
nor sinners in the assembly of the-many righteous
כִּי יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה
דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים
וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד
6For יְהוָה knows
the way of those righteous
but the way of those wicked will perish
Selected recurring words in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012VsRoot
* אשׁרי happy
* אשׁר who
* לא does not
* רשׁעים the wicked
* ובדרך and in the way of
* חטאים sinners
* לא does not
* ובמושׁב and in the seat of
* לא does not
* ישׁב sit
כי in
* אם contrast
* בתורת in the instruction of
* יהוה יהוה
* ובתורתו and in his instruction
* אשׁר that
* לא does not
* אשׁר that
* לא not
* כן so
* הרשׁעים the-many wicked
כי in
* אם contrast
* אשׁר that
* כן so it is that
* לא they will not
* רשׁעים the wicked
* וחטאים nor sinners
* צדיקים the-many righteous
כי for
* יהוה יהוה
* דרך the way of
* צדיקים those righteous
* ודרך but the way of
* רשׁעים those wicked
Here are some shapes and features to look for in these tables:

Check to see if all verses are present. A missing verse number shows that the words of the verse occur only once in the psalm. This may be a central message. In Psalm 1, there are no verses missing.

Check to see what the last recurring word in the passage is. This may form a focal point for the text. In Psalm 1, the final recurring word is righteous.

When you see a shape like an arrowhead, it indicates that a set of words is used in reverse order. If you drew circles or arcs joining these words to each other in the text, you would see they are concentric. If you look at what these circles surround, you may find a particular theme or focus of the psalm. In Psalm 1, wicked -- way -- sinners are such a group. Contrast the miniature table showing only verses 1, 5, 6 with the full table for Psalm 1). Note how they reappear at the end of the table in reverse order from the beginning. Almost every psalm has such a frame, often comprised of more than one word. Sometimes two consecutive psalms will have a single frame.

Word and gloss * first usage123VsRoot
* רשׁעים the wicked
* ובדרך and in the way of
* חטאים sinners
* וחטאים nor sinners
* ודרך but the way of
* רשׁעים those wicked

When you see a shape like parallel lines (like that -- not), this indicates that the recurring words occur in the same order. If you drew the circles, they would intersect. And you might find that the content is outlined with some emphasis by the feature. So in this case, the action of verse 3 is contrasted with the actions of verse 1. And the two words, that and not, surround the image of a fruitful tree.

When you see a vertical line of recurring words in the table, this indicates a word that recurs frequently. This may indicate a theme for the psalm or a word linking sections of the psalm. The example of no in Psalm 1 is typical. It will happen again in Psalm 15. A series of 18 such repetitions may be seen in Psalm 145. This is contrasted again by the that -- not of verses 4 and 5 which surround the scattering of the chaff by the wind.

Note: in order to keep the tables from getting too large, I have often but not always excluded the following words to reduce the volume of potentially non-significant structures. על(`l) preposition on, above, יהוה (yhvh), the tetragrammeton, אלוה ('lvh) God, usually plural, כי (ky) a very common conjunction meaning for or because, אל ('l) God or a negative (and many other possibilities but rare in the psalms), את ('t) the object marker, a word not usually translated. If any of these is significant in a poem, it will be noted. These 6 roots out of 1410 distinct combinations in the Psalter (<0.5%) account for more than 2,400 of the 19,584 words (>12.3%) of the Hebrew text.

Notes by verse
2in contrast, כִּי אִם (ky 'im) preserving the unique combination of כִּי אִם (see also Jeremiah 7, Deuteronomy 12, Esther 2.) Thanks for the suggestion from Boaz Shoshan, Ben Gurion University of the Negev to bring more contrast into my first rendering 'in this case'.
instruction, (תורה) Torah, or teaching, mentoring, but not Law in a legal sense
The tetragrammeton, (four letters יְהוָה YHVH, the Name revealed to Moses) is reproduced in Hebrew without transliteration. In your reading, substitute whatever name is in your tradition, such as Adonai, or Hashem (the Name), or LORD, or Yahweh as you desire.
mutter, הגה (hgh), reading to himself out loud, perhaps murmur or muse, meditate. Murmur המה (hmh) I have used later for its negative tone, so I cannot use it here.
3that one, emphasizing the singular without the personal pronoun
[Revelation 22:2]
4the-many, drawing attention to the singular-plural contrast in this psalm which sets the tone for the incorporation of the elect singular and plural
5so it is, therefore, but hear the similar sound of not so.
6the way, specific by implication with the aforementioned many wicked or righteous
Hebrew words: 67
English words: 136
Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 55%
Average keywords per verse: 6.2

Psalm 1
Translation and Notes last updated on 2011.11.14-12:08

Text added 2012.07.17 - illustrating the difficulties of doing this in English without an apparatus.

If you are reading and searching for frames in English, two things will become apparent.

Some words that recur in Hebrew will not show in English. In all these cases, for the verses that are included, the recurrence tables (based on Hebrew and showing English also) will show the pattern clearly.
a. Relative pronouns, who, that, are different in English but the same in Hebrew.
b. Homonyms in Hebrew will translate to different glosses in English. These may be significant in the Hebrew aural structure (assonance and word-play).
c. Synonyms in English may translate the same Hebrew word with different English glosses. I have minimized this in my own translations.
d. Different Hebrew verb forms may translate to different English glosses.

Some words will recur in English that do not recur in Hebrew. When working in English, check your reading of recurring words against the recurrence tables. Usually it will be clear why some words are or are not part of the internal structure of the poem.
a. In the example from Psalm 1 verses 5 and 6 above, those recurs in English because I have translated using that word to emphasize the plural form of the Hebrew for righteous and wicked in contrast to the singular in verse 1.
b. English helping verbs like do, have, make, that are part of the Hebrew verb are separate words in English.
c. To be or to become may be present or not in Hebrew but may be required in English.
d. Homonyms in English may arise from different Hebrew words, but this is rare.
e. Recurrence between psalms may require an echo that compromises similar sounding glosses in the current psalm.
f. Prepositions and conjunctions will vary in translation depending on context and verbs.
g. Prepositions and pronouns may show as separate words in English but are not separate in the Hebrew word.
h. Two words may be required in English to distinguish differing Hebrew words. For example, verb + preposition: bring up, bring down represent separate Hebrew verbs; or adjective + noun: burning anger, burning coals; or verb + noun: sing, sing a psalm. You can usually see this if you look left and count the words in the Hebrew.
i. Sometimes I have allowed similar sounding words (like righteous and righteousness) to stand separately.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

BBC Radio Evensong - live

This will be a podcast - repeats Sunday after noon. It is my daughter Sarah conducting the Ely Cathedral Choir.

Two hour review of the first 10 psalms

With some judicious questions and criticisms, CSRS Visiting Research Fellow, Bill Morrow helped me make a necessary course correction. He suggested from my answers to the question - why are you doing this - that I have conflicting motives striving for primacy.  One solid one is enough. I now know what I must focus on in any comments I make on the psalms. I am looking first at recurrence patterns. I am not a commentator.  I expect my translations to stand, but his review of the first 10 psalms pointed out some skills I need to hone to make the translations as precise as possible so that they reflect the focus I am suggesting. I will continue to report the odd experiment, but I don't expect to blog much except for the scheduled posts at the other blog. They are like the carrot pulling the donkey forward to carry the cart.  That post on Psalm 98 is cool - it shows how 97-98 are framed as a single poem.

I am most grateful to Bill.  A good teacher is a special gift. I didn't go to school to learn this stuff. Instead I spent 40 years in the database world - a skill I am using to pursue my research into the text. That's what I will eventually report. I am of course also grateful to many who share their knowledge through blogging on the Hebrew Bible.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Psalm 86 - a model for prayer and poetry

This psalm is a meditation on Exodus 34:6, among many in the TNK. Here is a snippet of the work I am working on. I would be delighted in some thoughtful feedback. [later] I have now had an oral review of psalms 1-10 this week, this Tuesday, with Bill Morrow of Queen's University, on sabbatical here during my own community fellowship at UVic.

Psalm 86 divides nicely into 4 sections, 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-17. The overall table is 24 keywords wide and therefore difficult to see. The division by 2 gives tables of 13 keywords wide each as shown below. Verses 5 and 15 identify two other roots that recur twice only in the poem and are therefore missed in the tables when taken 8 verses at a time. It is a good exercise to find the words that make each of the 4 sections cohere in themselves.  Yet these sections are also tightly bound together to each other. Altogether this is a model poem.

Notice too (from the tables) how verses 1-3 lay out the words that the poet will reuse in verses 4 to 8. Also verses 9-11 layout the words that are used in the remaining verses.  Groups of these words are clearly reused in reverse order. Apart from any errors I have made, (and I have corrected a few in the last two days) the analysis of such recurrence patterns is a fully objective exercise. These give a frame in which the more subjective parallelism and prosody tools can be applied.

תְּפִלָּה לְדָוִד
הַטֵּה יְהוָה אָזְנְךָ
 עֲנֵנִי כִּי עָנִי
וְאֶבְיוֹן אָנִי
1A prayer Of David
Stretch יְהוָה your ear
answer me for I am afflicted
and in need am I
שָׁמְרָה נַפְשִׁי
כִּי חָסִיד אָנִי
הוֹשַׁע עַבְדְּךָ
אַתָּה אֱלֹהַי
הַבּוֹטֵחַ אֵלֶיךָ
2Guard my being
for under mercy am I
save your servant
you, my God
the one trusting in you

חָנֵּנִי אֲדֹנָי
כִּי אֵלֶיךָ
אֶקְרָא כָּל הַיּוֹם
3be gracious to me, O Lord
for to you
I call every day
שַׂמֵּחַ נֶפֶשׁ עַבְדֶּךָ
כִּי אֵלֶיךָ אֲדֹנָי
נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא
4Make glad the being of your servant
for to you O Lord
my being I lift up
כִּי אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי טוֹב
וְסַלָּח וְרַב חֶסֶד
לְכָל קֹרְאֶיךָ
5for you, O Lord, are good
and forgiving and full of kindness
to all calling on you

הַאֲזִינָה יְהוָה תְּפִלָּתִי
וְהַקְשִׁיבָה בְּקוֹל תַּחֲנוּנוֹתָי
6Give ear יְהוָה to my prayer
and attend with the voice of my supplication
בְּיוֹם צָרָתִי אֶקְרָאֶךָּ
כִּי תַעֲנֵנִי
7In the day of my straits I will call on you
for you will answer me
אֵין כָּמוֹךָ בָאֱלֹהִים
אֲדֹנָי וְאֵין כְּמַעֲשֶׂיךָ
8there is none like you among the gods
O Lord, and there is nothing like your doings

כָּל גּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ יָבוֹאוּ
וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְפָנֶיךָ אֲדֹנָי
וִיכַבְּדוּ לִשְׁמֶךָ
9All nations whom you made will come
and worship in your presence, O Lord
and glorify your name
כִּי גָדוֹל אַתָּה
וְעֹשֵׂה נִפְלָאוֹת
אַתָּה אֱלֹהִים לְבַדֶּךָ
10for you are great
and do wonders
you O God, you alone

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ
11Instruct me יְהוָה your way
I will walk in your truth
make one my heart to fear your name
אוֹדְךָ אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהַי
בְּכָל לְבָבִי
וַאֲכַבְּדָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם
12I will thank you, O Lord my God
with all my heart
and I will glorify your name forever
כִּי חַסְדְּךָ גָּדוֹל עָלָי
וְהִצַּלְתָּ נַפְשִׁי
מִשְּׁאוֹל תַּחְתִּיָּה
13for your kindness is great to me
and you have delivered my being
from Sheol's nether parts

אֱלֹהִים זֵדִים קָמוּ עָלַי
וַעֲדַת עָרִיצִים בִּקְשׁוּ נַפְשִׁי
וְלֹא שָׂמוּךָ לְנֶגְדָּם
14O God the presumptuous rise up against me
and an assembly of the ruthless demand my being
and not do they set you before them
וְאַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֵל
רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם
וְרַב חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
15but you O Lord God
are compassionate and gracious
slow to anger
and full of kindness and truth

פְּנֵה אֵלַי וְחָנֵּנִי
תְּנָה עֻזְּךָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ
וְהוֹשִׁיעָה לְבֶן אֲמָתֶךָ
16be present to me and be gracious to me
give your strength to your servant
and salvation to the child of your maidservant
עֲשֵׂה עִמִּי אוֹת לְטוֹבָה
וְיִרְאוּ שֹׂנְאַי וְיֵבֹשׁוּ
כִּי אַתָּה יְהוָה
עֲזַרְתַּנִי וְנִחַמְתָּנִי
17make for me a sign of good
and those hating me will see and be ashamed
for you יְהוָה
have helped me and comforted me
Notes by verse
2under mercy, חסיד, the singular one under the חסד, that covenant mercy and kindness of יְהוָה
5forgiving סלח (slx) forgive, pardon, used 4 times in the Psalter, different from 'lift up'
9[Revelation 15:4]
16maidservant, אמה ('mh) easily misread as truth, אמת ('mt)
Selected recurring words in relative order (1 to 8)
Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123VsRoot
תפלה a prayer
אזנך your ear
ענני and answer me
עני afflicted
אני am I
נפשׁי my being
אני am I
עבדך your servant
אתה you
חנני be gracious to me
אדני O Lord
אקרא I call
כל every
היום day
נפשׁ the being of
עבדך your servant
אדני O Lord
נפשׁי my being
אתה you
אדני O Lord
לכל to all
קראיך calling on you
האזינה give ear
תפלתי to my prayer
תחנונותי my supplication
ביום in the day of
אקראך I will call on you
תענני you will answer me
אין there is none
אדני O Lord
ואין and there is nothing
Selected recurring words in relative order (9 to end)

Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123VsRoot
כל all
עשׂית you made
לפניך in your presence
אדני O Lord
ויכבדו and glorify
לשׁמך your name
גדול great
אתה you are
ועשׂה and do
אתה you
באמתך in your truth
לבבי my heart
שׁמך your name
אדני O Lord
בכל with all
לבבי my heart
ואכבדה and I will glorify
שׁמך your name
חסדך your kindness
גדול is great
נפשׁי my being
נפשׁי my being
ואתה but you
אדני O Lord
וחנון and gracious
חסד kindness
ואמת and truth
פנה be present
וחנני and be gracious to me
עשׂה make
אתה you

Seven occurrences of Lord (אדני), six occurrences of you (אתה), and five occurrences of being (נפשׁ) are the backbone of this psalm. Save, and servant form two concentric circles between verses 2 and 16. The central verse 9 recalls the worship of all nations from Psalm 22.
All nations whom you made will come
and worship in your presence, O Lord
and glorify your name