Monday, September 12, 2011

Do you want to be happy? Read the psalms.

Warning - long post. This is a quick summary of structural elements I have found in the Psalter. Some of it is obvious and easily observable on the surface, some not. Check my counting.

The Psalter is comprised of 150 chapters divided into 5 Books. The chapters are variously inscribed,
  • 94 with a name, 
  • 56 with a genre, 
  • 51 for the Leader
  • 47 with additional notes perhaps referring to an incident recorded elsewhere in the Bible about the named person, some of these with instruments and or perhaps the name of the tune to which they might be sung. 
These inscriptions appear to be a somewhat random collection of curatorial notes at least at first glance.

The Books
  • Book 1, using the Hebrew numbering scheme, has 41 chapters. 
  • Book 2 from 42 to 72 is 31 chapters. 
  • Book 3 from 73 to 89 has 17 chapters. 
  • Book 4 from 90 to 106, also 17 chapters, and 
  • Book 5 from 107 to 150 has 44 chapters. 
The Greek translation has a variation in numbering. Psalms 9-10 are numbered as one chapter. This produces a difference of 1 in all chapters from 11 up to 147 which in the Greek is divided at Hebrew verse 11. (Psalms 42-43 feel like one poem but neither the Greek nor the Hebrew combines them. The Greek also has differences in the inscriptions. E.g. Psalm 43 is pertaining to David! This undercuts the structures laid out below.)
  • Three chapters in Book 1 have no name in the inscription. These are 1, 2, and 10 but chapter 10 is clearly a continuation of the poem of chapter 9. All these are of David
  • Four chapters in Book 2 have no name in the inscription. These are 43, 66, 67, 71 but chapters 43 is clearly a continuation of the poem  or chapter 42. These are of the children of Korah (42-49), of Asaph (50), and of David (51-65, 68-70) and one of Solomon (72).
  • All chapters in Book 3 have a name in the inscription, of Asaph (73-83), of the children of Korah (84, 85, 87), of David (86), of Hayman (88), of Ethan (89). 
  • In Book 4 only three chapters have a name in the inscription (90 of Moses, 101, 103 of David). 13 are without a name.
  • In Book 5, 17 chapters have a name (of David 108-110, 122, 124, 131-133, 138-145 and of Solomon 127). 27 are without a name.
  • David is the only one who has at least one chapters inscribed to him in each book.
For the moment I have called these chapters. They are usually called psalms, but only 57 are actually called a psalm in their inscription. Of the others,
  • 30 are called song (and several of these carry both song and psalm in their inscription), 
  • 13 are labeled maskil (insight), 
  • 6 are labeled miktam (written/inscribed), 
  • 4 prayer,
  • one reel, and
  • 2 oracle.  
Of these specialized genres Book 4 has one song. Book 4 is the sparsest when it comes to inscriptions. But all the 150 chapters are poems in a unique style of word usage and dialogue among poet, reader, community, and God. They are all sung and therefore, under the special rubric 'psalm', they can all be considered psalms, prayers, and songs. And all will give insight, all are written, and all will speak or cause one to dance (or writhe). Now the name for them in Hebrew is תְּהִלּים Tehillim, a masculine plural. This word occurs in the feminine in Psalm 22:4
וְאַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ
יוֹשֵׁב תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל
But you are holy
seated on the praises of Israel

So one could (and certainly in retrospect having read them from cover to cover - a task for which there is no substitute) consider the whole 150 chapters as praises.

After the introductory 2 psalms, a collection of psalms inscribed to David begins the Psalter. Before the final Hallel, Psalms 146-150, a collection of psalms inscribed to David ends the Psalter. This is where we are going when we begin Book 1, into the first forest of largely individual first person singular poems that follow the opening pair of psalms.

Psalm 1 introduces the problem space, the wicked and the righteous, and a definition of one who is happy. Psalm 2 introduces the kings and the anointed king. Psalms 3 to 7 are a group of individual psalms recognizing trouble. Trouble and enemies are present throughout. Psalm 8 is a celebration of the governance of יְהוָה and derives in part from the creation story. There is an echo of Psalm 8 in Psalm 144. Psalms 9-10 begin a playful set of acrostics. These acrostic poems occur in the Psalter only in Books 1 (9-10, 25, 34, 37) and 5 (111, 112, 119, 145).

The Psalter shows marks of design indicating that it is more than a random collection of poetry. The first mark shows at the beginning and the end. Robert Cole (An integrated reading of Psalms 1 and 2 JSOT 98 (2002) 75-88) has, through observation of several shared words between Psalms 1, 2, and 149, demonstrated that they form such an outer frame for the Psalter. Cole shows the repetition of a whole series of words from Psalm 2 in the last 5 verses of Psalm 149. This is easily verified by a table such as follows. Observe how 6 words in verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 149 are used in the same order as the corresponding words in Psalm 2.

Selected recurring words in relative order for Psalms --2,149
Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123456789VsStem
* גוים the-many nations
--2.1גוי
ולאמים and the-many tribes
--2.1לאם
* מלכי these kinglets of
--2.2מלך
* ארץ earth
--2.2ארץ
* מוסרותימו their monopoly
--2.3יסר
* באפו in confrontation
--2.5אף
* ואני I myself
--2.6אני
* מלכי my own king
--2.6מלך
ציון Zion
--2.6ציון
בני my son
--2.7בן
* אני I
--2.7אני
* גוים those many nations as
--2.8גוי
* ארץ the earth
--2.8ארץ
ברזל strength
--2.9ברזל
* מלכים kinglets all
--2.10מלך
* הוסרו be warned
--2.10יסר
שׁפטי you many who make judgments
--2.10שׁפט
* ארץ earthly
--2.10ארץ
וגילו and rejoice
--2.11גיל
* אפו his anger
--2.12אף
כל the many who
--2.12כל
הללו Hallelu
149.1הלל
יה Yah
149.1יה
שׁירו sing
149.1שׁיר
שׁיר a song
149.1שׁיר
תהלתו praise
149.1הלל
חסידים the many who know mercy
149.1חסד
בעשׂיו in that one who made him
149.2עשׂה
בני the children of
149.2בן
ציון Zion
149.2ציון
יגילו rejoice
149.2גיל
במלכם in their king
149.2מלך
יהללו let them praise
149.3הלל
חסידים the mercied many
149.5חסד
בכבוד in glory
149.5כבד
לעשׂות making
149.7עשׂה
בגוים in the many nations
149.7גוי
בלאמים for the tribes
149.7לאם
מלכיהם kinglets
149.8מלך
ונכבדיהם these glorious ones
149.8כבד
ברזל durable
149.8ברזל
לעשׂות to make
149.9עשׂה
משׁפט judgment
149.9שׁפט
לכל to all
149.9כל
חסידיו under his mercy
149.9חסד
הללו Hallelu
149.9הלל
יה Yah
149.9יה

The words state that it is those to whom God has shown mercy in covenant who will carry out the judgement. One could summarize the whole Psalter as “The formation of those to whom mercy in covenant has been shown.”

Opening and closing the Psalter
[Psalms 1-2 ... Psalm 149]

Within the envelope of the beginning and end are two groups of psalms attributed to or dedicated to or in the style of David. This is the Davidic outer circle, Psalms 3-41 and 138-145.

Outer circle of psalms with the inscription to/of David
[Book 1................................................................end of Book 5]
[Psalms 1-2 [David, Psalms 3-41 ... Psalms 138-145] Psalm 149]

Book 1 is itself framed (Psalms 1-2, 40-41) by pairs of blessings given as statements of what will make a human happy. The first two psalms are themselves enfolded by their own pair of beatitudes.
אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ
אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ
בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים
לֹא עָמָד
וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים
לֹא יָשָׁב
--1.1Happy 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
נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר
פֶּן-יֶאֱנַף
וְתֹאבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ
כִּי-יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל-חוֹסֵי בוֹ
--2.12Kiss, aflame yourself pure
lest he face you
and you perish in your way
kindled with a hint of his anger
Happy! the many who find this protection


אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר
אֲשֶׁר שָׂם יְהוָה מִבְטַחוֹ
וְלֹא פָנָה אֶל רְהָבִים
וְשָׂטֵי כָזָב
-40.5happy the valiant
who sets up יְהוָה as his trust
and does not save face with the defiant
falling away to a lie


אַשְׁרֵי מַשְׂכִּיל אֶל דָּל
בְּיוֹם רָעָה יְמַלְּטֵהוּ יְהוָה
-41.2Happy the one giving insight to the weak
in the day of evil יְהוָה will let him escape
יְהוָה יִשְׁמְרֵהוּ וִיחַיֵּהוּ
וְאֻשַּׁר בָּאָרֶץ
וְאַל תִּתְּנֵהוּ בְּנֶפֶשׁ אֹיְבָיו
-41.3יְהוָה will guard him and keep him alive
and he will be considered happy in the earth
and you will not give him into the throat of his enemies
You will find that every book closes with such a beatitude.
יְהִי שְׁמוֹ לְעוֹלָם
לִפְנֵי שֶׁמֶשׁ יִנּוֹן שְׁמוֹ
וְיִתְבָּרְכוּ בוֹ
כָּל גּוֹיִם יְאַשְּׁרוּהוּ
-72.17his name will be forever
his name will propagate in the presence of the sun
and they will bless themselves in him -
all nations will call him happy

end of Book 2
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם
יֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה יְהוָה
בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ יְהַלֵּכוּן
-89.16Happy the people
knowing the jubilation of יְהוָה
In the light of your face they will walk

Book 3
אַשְׁרֵי שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט
עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל עֵת
106.3happy those keeping judgment
doing righteousness at all times

Book 4
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֶׁכָּכָה לּוֹ
אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם שֱׁיְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו
144.15happy the people who are like this to him
happy the people who have יְהוָה as their God

Book 5
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁאֵל יַעֲקֹב בְּעֶזְרוֹ
שִׂבְרוֹ עַל יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו
146.5Happy the one who has the God of Jacob for its help
Its reliance is on יְהוָה its God


Psalm 146, the beginning of 5 psalms that close the Psalter likewise signals that it is part of the happiness frame. If these beatitudes are strategically placed, what about the others? They are clustered in the collections.

So Psalms 32-34 in Book 1,
לְדָוִד
מַשְׂכִּיל
אַשְׁרֵי נְשׂוּי פֶּשַׁע
כְּסוּי חֲטָאָה
-32.1Of David
an insight
happy lifted up transgression
covered sin

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם
לֹא יַחְשֹׁב יְהוָה לוֹ עָו‍ֹן
וְאֵין בְּרוּחוֹ רְמִיָּה
-32.2happy the human
to whom יְהוָה will not reckon iniquity
and without deceit in his spirit

אַשְׁרֵי הַגּוֹי
אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו
הָעָם בָּחַר לְנַחֲלָה לוֹ
-33.12happy the nation
where יְהוָה is its God
the people chosen as his inheritance

טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי טוֹב יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר יֶחֱסֶה בּוֹ
-34.9taste and see for יְהוָה is good
happy the valiant that takes refuge in him

One only in Psalm 65 in Book 2,
אַשְׁרֵי תִּבְחַר וּתְקָרֵב
יִשְׁכֹּן חֲצֵרֶיךָ
נִשְׂבְּעָה בְּטוּב בֵּיתֶךָ
קְדֹשׁ הֵיכָלֶךָ
-65.5Happy the one chosen and made near
who will dwell in your courts
We will be satisfied in the good of your house
your holy temple

A frame for Psalm 84 in Book 3,
אַשְׁרֵי יוֹשְׁבֵי בֵיתֶךָ
עוֹד יְהַלְלוּךָ
סֶּלָה
-84.5Happy those sitting in your house
ever they will praise you
Selah

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם עוֹז לוֹ בָךְ
מְסִלּוֹת בִּלְבָבָם
-84.6Happy the human whose strength is in you
with a highway in their heart

יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵחַ בָּךְ
-84.13יְהוָה of hosts
happy the human who trusts in you
One only in Psalm 94 in Book 4,
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר תְּיַסְּרֶנּוּ יָּהּ
וּמִתּוֹרָתְךָ תְלַמְּדֶנּוּ
-94.12Happy the valiant whom you chasten Yah
and from your instruction you teach them
And at significant structural points in Book 5 - following the triumph of Psalm 110, the acrostic Psalm 112, following the work of Psalm 118, the acrostic of love, Psalm 119, following the songs of ascent, poems of remembrance and intimacy 137, 139.
הַלְלוּ יָהּ
אַשְׁרֵי אִישׁ יָרֵא אֶת יְהוָה
בְּמִצְו‍ֹתָיו חָפֵץ מְאֹד
112.1Hallelu Yah
A happy person fears יְהוָה
By his commandments he has much delight

אַשְׁרֵי תְמִימֵי דָרֶךְ
הַהֹלְכִים בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה
119.1All joy for those who are the complete of the way
who walk in the instruction of יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי נֹצְרֵי עֵדֹתָיו
בְּכָל לֵב יִדְרְשׁוּהוּ
119.2All joy for those observing his testimonies
with a whole heart they search him out

אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר
אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּא אֶת אַשְׁפָּתוֹ מֵהֶם
לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ
כִּי יְדַבְּרוּ אֶת אוֹיְבִים בַּשָּׁעַר
127.5happy the valiant
who filled his quiver with them
he will not be ashamed
when he speaks with enemies at the gate

שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת
אַשְׁרֵי כָּל יְרֵא יְהוָה
הַהֹלֵךְ בִּדְרָכָיו
128.1A song of the ascents
Happy all fearing יְהוָה
those walking in his ways
יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל
אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ
128.2for you will eat the labour of your palms
your happiness and good for you

בַּת בָּבֶל הַשְּׁדוּדָה
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם לָךְ
אֶת גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ
137.8Devastating daughter of Babel
happy the one who makes peace with you
even weans you as you weaned us

אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ
אֶת עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל הַסָּלַע
137.9happy the one who holds and dashes
your unweaned against the cliff


Books 2 (Psalms 42-72) and 3 (Psalms 73-89) together comprise another cell contained in the outer envelopes. Books 2 and 3 have an outer circle of psalms of the children of Korah, Psalms 42-49, 84,85,87-88, 89 (Ethan). We also note that there is a change of the predominant name for God from יְהוָה in Books 1, 4, and 5, to Elohim as 'God' from Psalms 42 to 83.

The Korah circle and the inner Elohist Psalms
[[ the name יְהוָה [ Book 2 and 3 Elohim / Korah 42-49 ... 84-85, 86, 87-88, 89] the name יְהוָה ]]

It is in Book 2 that we first hear of the Exile and, forewarned by the longing of the individual in Psalms 42-43, experience the corporate lament of Psalm 44. The last reference to this disaster is in Psalm 137, By the waters of Babylon. The history of the nation is thus 'contained' by the Davidic corpus and does not mute the final praise. While Book 2 ends with a conclusion that the prayers of David the son of Jesse are at an end, they clearly are not at an end as far as the rest of the Psalter is concerned.  I have not found a significant verbal frame for Book 2 by itself.

Within books 2 and 3 are the psalms of Asaph 50, and 73-83, psalms of the harvest 65-67, a Davidic inner circle and its outlier doubles, 51-65, 68-70 ... 108. Within these are the six psalms inscribed as miktam and four psalms to the tune Do not destroy and their outliers 16, 56-60, 75. Psalm 78, which through its recurring words has earned the name Commanding and Guiding an Imprisoned and Provocative People, is the first of the psalms of the primal history, the exodus and the wilderness. The final of these psalms (136) celebrates with its repeated refrain, the mercy and loving kindness of God.

Inner structure of Books 2 and 3
[...[[Korah [Asaph [David [harvest] David] Asaph] Korah (Ethan)]]...]

Touch נגע may form a structurally significant word in the Psalter. It forms a wrap around the happiness of the centre of Book 1 (Psalms 32-39) and then touches only psalms at or near the borders of Books 3, 4, and 5 (73, 88, 89, 91, 105, 107, 144). This word has additional weight when considered with the other factors giving coherence to the individual books. Book 4 begins with Moses (90), includes the rebellion (95) and a series on יְהוָה as king 96-99. Book 4 ends as it began with a reference to Moses in Psalm 106.

Sequence of cells between the outer David psalms
[Opening [David [Books 2 and 3] [Moses Book 4] [Book 5] David] Closing]

Book 5 begins with Psalm 107, the human condition and the divine response. The crying out of Psalm 107 is echoed with a slightly different spelling in Psalm 144, appeal. Thanks and loving kindness are both in the frame of 107 and 149. Book 5 can be divided by the acrostics: Psalms 111 and 112 both celebrate the work of Psalm 110, prepared by 108 and 109, and Psalm 119 could be seen as celebrating the work of Psalm 118, again prepared by the sequence from 113 to 117. Of the substantial and perfect acrostic, Psalm 119, Pascal (cited in Les Psaumes, Desclée de Brouwer ) writes:
Cette supplication déroule lentement ses 176 versets en un long récitatif et n'est en son fond que la même protestation d'amour indéfiniment répétée sous diverses formes.
This supplication unrolls slowly its 176 verses in a long recitative and is at its base but the same protestation of love repeated without limitation in diverse forms.

The final psalms of Book 5 are the series of the 15 psalms of ascent 120-134, and Psalm 135 celebrating the 'arrival' in the courts of יְהוָה. Then we begin the series of closing brackets and the final cadences, for all who fear God: 136 creation and redemption, 137 exile, 138-145 Davidic reminder and last acrostic, and 146-150 the great Hallel. Psalms 137 to 139 can also be read as if in the courts, memory, prayer, and the Holy of Holies. The remembering of David from within the courts is fitting confirmation of the role of the elect in the redemption of the created order. One should then start the Psalter again considering this ultimate viewpoint.