Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Focus - the toolset

I am now in a position to focus on minute discoveries in the Psalter. These miniatures are things I am looking at myself based on my three tools for reading psalms.  These gardening tools are applicable to all the Hebrew texts I have looked at in any detail, and they apply to New Testament texts in some measure as well.

So the tools are: Parallelism, Prosody, and Recurrence.

Parallelism is the traditional recognition of what I have called rhyming ideas based on work done by Robert Lowth  (1710-87) and continued by many.

It was John Hobbins who illustrated, convincingly for me, seeing in 2s and 3s. This is Prosody, the art of laying out the word and verse structures of poetry.

Recurrence is the repetition of the same word for structural impact. See Jonathan Magonet, A Rabbi Reads the Psalms, 2003 for a delightful read, though with a few distractions (original sin and the missing Nun).

Distinguish parallelism - different words used to say similar (or contrasting) thoughts, and recurrence - the same root used to create a sound structure. It's a bit like the difference between using a weeder to dig a hole in the ground compared to using a trowel. You could use either, but they are not the same tool. Parallelism is the weeder of course. It dives into a specific area of the text.  Let the three pronged cultivator be Prosody and the trowel the tool you can use to find structural soundness in the ground.

Here is one miniature example in a single verse, Psalm 1:1.

Happy 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


Just look at it: three parallels, 9 keywords, 3 on each of 3 lines, and three recurring beats of 'not'.

This is a form that is often reproducible in translation, and often ignored.

There is an introductory presentation (revised after two test runs) for these tools here.