Tuesday 4 September 2012

Muttering and perishing, a thought on Psalm 1 and 2

Besides the 5 words of Psalm 1 that are repeated in sequence in Psalm 2:4, 7, 8, 10, 12, and the opening and closing beatitude (Psalm 1:1, 2:12), two other words recur that tie the psalms together.

There is a difference between muttering the Torah (Psalm 1:2) and muttering on empty or in vain (Psalm 2:1). And there is the warning of consequences, the perishing 'of the way of the wicked' in Psalm 1:6, and the perishing 'way' of Psalm 2:12. As shown in the table below, perish is the last recurring word in the pair of psalms taken together as a unit.

Selected words occurring in each of psalms 1,2
Word and gloss * first usage123456789VsRoot
* אשׁרי happy
* אשׁר who
* ובדרך and in the way of
* ובמושׁב and in the seat of
* ישׁב sit
יהגה he mutters
יומם day
* אשׁר that
יתן gives
וכל and in all
* אשׁר that
* אשׁר that
במשׁפט in the judgment
* דרך the way of
* ודרך but the way of
תאבד will perish
יהגו in muttering
יושׁב the one sitting
היום this day
ואתנה and I give
שׁפטי you many who make judgments
ותאבדו and you perish in
דרך the way
אשׁרי happy
כל all
See also Cole, Robert. JSOT 98 (2002). 75-88 An Integrated Reading of Psalms 1 and 2. An overview of how to use these tables while reading the text is here.

Who is doing the muttering in Psalm 2:3? I take verse 3 as direct speech from the sovereigns of the prior verse. I.e. the ones who are under the rule of יהוה and the anointed are the rebellious. I was therefore a bit surprised at the analysis here which I have only just noted as I begin my study of the te'amim. See here for a very brief intro to the compact musical score that these markings indicate according to Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. For the NPR intro see the video link here from my notes on the Oxford conference 2010.

How does the ordinary person relate to the muttering of kings? The kings seem distant in time, in space, and in impact. We do not have such an impact, do we, in our internal muttering? How do we mutter?  Choose between Torah in conversation with HaShem, as Jesus did, or "You're not the boss of me" as sovereigns do. In this election year in the US - what muttering should we listen to and what consequences will our listening have? If it is the consequences of the Psalter - building a community that knows mercy, then the mutterer will have been on the side of the poor. If it has the economic consequences indicated by the prophet (Isaiah 5:8): woe to you who join house to house, then the mutterer needs to be bound with the fetters of mercy (Psalm 149:8).

Is it still true in our North American society that the rich prosper and the poor are considered of no account? The warning in Psalms 1 and 2 of the perishing of such a way bears a second thought.

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