Saturday 30 March 2013

Word usage for roots assigned to clothe - whew

I say whew - because my title was stuck on Hebrew Keyboard! O Chrome.  And again since this is a very difficult task I am trying on. 

I have been playing around with a very difficult problem - assigning all of the 19584 distinct words in the Psalter to one or other 'domain' of interest - interest to me that is.  I am trying to get a sense of the whole to be able to present large chunks of related words - and see how they fit.  This is more than a first cut but still a work in process.  I can click on the domain (when logged on) and see the results interactively.  Again I am looking for significant structural elements in the redactor's thought processes.  Of course some roots fit in multiple domains - and my roots are a minimal list boiled down to the derived root for each word - 1347 distinct 'roots' in my data.

Here's an example - all words currently assigned to my domain related to clothing.

Word usage for roots assigned to clothe

Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123ChRoot
* המאזרני girds me in
* ותאזרני and you will gird me with
בגדי my garments
לבושׁי my clothing
הבוגדים who act treacherously
שׂקי my sackcloth
ותאזרני and girded me
ורסן and bridle
עדיו its trappings
* לבושׁי make my clothing
שׂק sackcloth
* ילבשׁו let them be clothed in
חגור wear
בגדתיך your garments
לבושׁה her raiment
בגדי those treacherous in
נעלי my sandal
בעטף when is overwhelmed
נאזר girded
תחגרנה attired
לבשׁו clothed
יעטפו draped with
לבושׁי clothing of
שׂק sack
יעטו let them wrap themselves with
יעטף draped with
בגדתי I would have betrayed
תחגר you will wear
ותתעטף and is disabled
ויבגדו acted treacherously
יעטה wrapped
העטית you have wrapped
לבשׁ clothed
לבשׁ clothed is
התאזר self-girded
יעטף disabled
כבגד like a garment
כלבושׁ as clothing
עדיך of your trappings
לבשׁת you are clothed with
עטה wrapped in
כשׂלמה as apparel
כלבושׁ as clothing
תתעטף overwhelmed
נעלי my sandal
וילבשׁ as he clothed himself with
כבגד as a garment
* יעטה wrapping him
יחגרה attiring him
ילבשׁו let clothe themselves with
* ויעטו and let them wrap themselves
כמעיל as a mantle
בגדים the treacherous
ילבשׁו let be clothed with
אלבישׁ I will clothe with
אלבישׁ I will clothe with
מדותיו his shirt
בהתעטף when is disabled
ותתעטף so disabled

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Memorizing the Psalms (1-10)

Over the last 7 years I have worked daily with the Hebrew text of the psalms. It has been a long slow learning process - and just because one publishes a book, the process does not stop.  In fact, publishing the book is a critical step in learning. As I said in the introduction,
This was the volume I would have liked to have in my hands when I began learning Hebrew poetry. I couldn’t find it, so I developed the ideas for it as I learned.
Now that I have it, I am studying the Hebrew daily and refining the search for mnemonic devices that will enable memorization of the whole.  It is very clear that the first line of Jerome's Latin translation was used as an aide mémoire.

Don't be put off by the Latin. Plow right through it.

The well-bred were to recognize immediately the intent of a Psalm from its first line, so these Latin first lines are all included in the Anglican Prayer Book.  Regrettably that Psalter is seriously defective. It lacks Psalm 58 (57) Si vere utique justitiam loquimini, the closing verses of Psalm 137 (136) Super flumina Babylonis, and more than half of Psalm 109 (108) Deus, laudem meam ne tacueris  - 16 verses excised.  There is no place in the world for a sanitized Psalter.

Such a set of choices fails miserably. Just imagine for a moment that the abused children of the 1950s and 1960s, many of whom I knew personally, had been able to pray the invective of Psalm 109 against their abusers. Just think what justice might have come of such words, words that form the character of steel that inhabits Psalm 110 Dixit Dominus, and that is celebrated in Psalm 112, Beatus vir.  But these titles are from a different time and place. They were even then, as history has revealed, in desperate need of a close rereading.

Don't be fooled by piety.

A diagram might help memorization... - but the complexity of this House of Poetry would demand a carefully selected set of links and high-wires.  Maybe some day: there are diagrams that I have done here and here and here and here (absolutely the wrong approach) and here - but none of them is the right one yet. There's a hint of a selected high-wire here.

The problem with all of these is simple: too much information.  What are the real mnemonic clues that will help?

You may ask - why bother?  Why not play golf?  (I did a round today - 18 beautiful tee shots - not one missed, but none of them went in exactly the right place.) I have enough time to play golf and memorize the Psalter and ride my bike, and travel, and eat, drink, and be merry.  The champagne is in the fridge. There's a new single malt in the cupboard.

God is not a spoil-sport. 

I do have a series of summaries in my book: what if I summarized the summaries - maybe: here's the first 10 Psalms.  You know - this is a no-brainer.  It works beautifully as a psychological sequence.  Imagine yourself a child of God, reading these poems and knowing their real impact...

אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ1Happy the person who does not walk...
לָמָּה רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם2Why such a throng of nations?
יְהוָה מָה רַבּוּ צָרָי3יהוה how multiplied my straits!
בְּקָרְאִי עֲנֵנִי4When I call, answer me.
אֲמָרַי הַאֲזִינָה5To my promise give ear
יְהוָה אַל בְּאַפְּךָ תוֹכִיחֵנִי6יהוה do not in your anger correct me.
יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי בְּךָ חָסִיתִי7יהוה my God in you I take refuge.
יְהוָה אֲדֹנֵינוּ מָה אַדִּיר שִׁמְךָ בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ8יהוה our Lord how majestic your name in all the earth.
אוֹדֶה יְהוָה בְּכָל לִבִּי9I will thank יהוה with all my heart.
לָמָה יְהוָה תַּעֲמֹד בְּרָחוֹק10יהוה Lord why do you stand in the distance?

Just wait for the rest!

but I don't know what you mean by Trinity

Trinity is a loaded word. Robert Oppenheimer is said to have suggested the name based on a poem of John Donne
SINCE I am comming to that Holy roome, 
Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore, 
I shall be made thy Musique; As I come 
I tune the Instrument here at the dore, 
And what I must doe then, thinke here before.
Or was it Sonnet 14 - Batter my heart, poem unloved by the unimaginative, with that brilliant last line, nor ever chast except you ravish mee. Astonishingly set for Peter Pears by Benjamin Britten in his Holy Sonnets, here's a very different version sung by Gerald Finley

So what would raise such images in me in this Holy Week?  Well - none other than Psalm 135, and the little trio of poetic line in verse 7

all that delighted יהוה he did
in the heavens and in the earth
in the seas and all abysses
making the mist ascend from the extremity of the earth
lightnings for the rain he made
bringing forth spirit from his treasury
Now There's Trinity for you (said Humpty Dumpty); but I don't know what you mean by Trinity (said Alice); of course you don't - till I tell you!

One from the beginning: ascending, lighting, and self-giving. Who is the one who ascends but the one who like Jonah descended to the roots of the hills?  Who throws lightning bolts along with the gentle rain?  And who gives self in the gift of the Spirit? 

This 'God', whose name is 'becoming', who delights in the children of humanity, calls the same humanity into the same fearful character that is evident in the power released by human ingenuity.  

Why not hear and live?

Friday 22 March 2013

The Incarnation and Psalms 111-112

These two closely constructed acrostics have something to say about the relationship of God to the human. By their numbers, you know that these psalms follow the inimitable Psalm 110.  Psalm 110 is enigmatic in the extreme and is used as a puzzle by Jesus (Matthew 22:43-44) for the fractious Pharisees.  It's as enigmatic as John's Before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58).

But let's wrestle with the mystery...

Here is Psalm 110
Of David, a psalm
an oracle of
יהוה to my Lord
Sit at my right hand
till I set your enemies as your footstool
יהוה will send the rod of your strength out of Zion
rule within and among your enemies
your people are willing in the day of your weal
in the honour of holiness from the womb of the dawn
yours is the dew of your childhood
יהוה has sworn and without a sigh
you are a priest forever
by the word of Melchizedek
my Lord is at your right hand
he will wound kings in the day of his anger
he will advocate among the nations
a fullness of bodies
he will wound exceedingly a head on earth
he will imbibe from the torrent in the way
therefore he will lift a head high

Maybe in the days that the psalms were written, the character of 'the Lord' was to be modeled after the character of 'the LORD' (יהוה). Or the character of the individual in charge (my Lord) was to be modeled after the character of the One who gave the authority (the One יהוה to whom a possessive particle cannot be attached). So when the ruler is seated at the right hand of power (Psalm 110), and exercising the priesthood of the Righteous Ruler by the word of the same Melchizedek, the pain experienced in the life of the ruler, the wounding, the imbibing from the torrent in the way, the struggle in obedience in the day of difficulty (weal, strength, force, perhaps even birth), yet not alone, but aided by the willing people, this double wound becomes the reason for the celebration that follows (the child's game of two perfect acrostic poems, Psalms 111-112). For the sacred head that was sore wounded has been lifted up from death. (The link is without ads and is sung by the chapel choir of King's College, Cambridge).

Someone should do a video game on the psalms - lot's of potential here - acts of love, acts of canonical redemption - defining the model avatar, and acts of apocalyptic violence. The winner is the one who participates in the double wound, losing life in conformity with the canonical model, and thus bringing about the apocalypse, making it present and noting the player gets to play again. You would have to ask God how to play, though.  I am neither a gamer nor a game designer.  But my book has lots of information on the players: the poor, the hapless, the valiant, the orphan and widow, the needy, and the afflicted, the wicked (rebellious) and the righteous.

Here are the two perfect acrostics - side by side.
Psalm 111
Psalm 112

Hallelu Yah
I will thank
יהוה with a whole heart,
Before the council of the upright, and assembly.
Hallelu Yah
A happy person fears
By his commandments he has much delight

Great are the deeds of יהוה,
Delight of all who search them out.
Grandly valiant in the earth will be his seed
Days of the upright will be blessed

Honour and splendour his work;
Verily his righteousness stands for ever
High value and riches are in his house
Verily his righteousness stands for ever

Zoomed in to memory makes he his wonderful works;
How gracious and compassionate is
Zenith-bearing in the darkness there is light to the upright
He is gracious and compassionate and righteous

To those who fear him he gives prey;
Yea, he remembers forever his covenant.
This is a good person, gracious and lending
Yea, he will rein in his words with judgment

Known to his people is the power of his deeds
Letting them have the heritage of the nations.
Causing him never to be moved
Lasting forever in memory is one who is righteous

Mark the deeds of his hands: truth and judgment;
Near and faithful are all his precepts,
Messages of evil he does not fear
Now his heart is prepared, trusting in

Supported for ever, forever,
All done in truth and upright
Supported is his heart, he does not fear
Even when it is that he sees his troubles

Purchase price he has sent to his people;
So he commands his covenant forever;
Quite holy
 and fearful is his name.
Prodigal of love, he gives to the-many needy
Standing for ever is his righteousness
Quite full his horn, exalted in glory

Right at the beginning of wisdom is the fear of יהוה
Surely a good insight for all doing them;
To stand his praise for ever.
e b e l  w i l l  s e e  a n d  w i l l  g r i e v e
o  s h a l l  h i s  t e e t h  g n a s h  a n d  d e c a y
h e  d e s i r e  o f  r e b e l s  w i l l  p e r i s h

Every verse in the Psalm 111 is connected to its last verse by significant word repetition. No verse in Psalm 112 is connected to its last verse. Those words of verse 10 happen only once in the poem. (Measured in Hebrew of course.) Besides this, every verse in Psalm 112 uses a word from Psalm 1, tying this trio of psalms back to the beginning.

The human who fears יהוה (the subject of Psalm 112) takes authority from יהוה (the one who is celebrated in Psalm 111). That human cannot be a rebel. Any rebellious behaviour must be dealt with through the covenant purchase price noted in Psalm 111.  (This makes it possible to follow that human ruler).

Of both that human and יהוה, it is written that the righteousness stands for ever, לָעַד (la`ad) and the character is gracious, compassionate, (citing Exodus 34:6) and the human is said to be a righteous one whose memory is forever, לְעֹולָם (l`olam). It is not a great task to imagine the king of Israel having this target requirement in front of him and failing. Does this pair of Psalms then look forward to the king who will do the job, Prodigal of love, and give his life for the-many needy?

You might notice that Psalm 111 is punctuated. It even surprised me!

Feel free to challenge my apologetics or add your own insights. Could the Psalms provide a way out of the current human predicament - everyone seeking only their own good?

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Judgment with equity in the psalms

When I first began to study the psalms closely in August 2006, I scarcely knew where I was going. What was the OT that I should pay attention?  What would the study of a single OT book do to me?  In those days, as I translated each new psalm, something personal happened to me, sometimes which only I know about, which was then directly related to the psalm I was translating. Barely two months into this project, I wrote:
These poems are dangerous. I find it impossible to avoid the reality they portray - judgment and mercy; enemy and chosen; how can one cry out or whisper in safety when the answer comes from consuming fire?
Then, gradually, as this horse and mule learned a little obedience - and that's a mystery too - don't follow just any voice.  Anyway, as time passed, I have not been required to learn with such fear but I have I think learned something else: What can these psalms say as a living word to those who build nations, to those who run companies, to those who must cope with massive bureaucracies, to those who carry out destructive orders, to those who are displaced by war, and to those who displace with violence?

It's difficult to know - but the first lesson is easy.  As Spike Lee wrote in his film title: Do the right thing.  How many contortions of words will we require to say what the right thing is?  How much self-justification? How much destruction of our conscience?  Or will the right thing build conscience and not need self-justification or legal complexity?

Judgment with equity: the first thought on this that comes to mind is the centre of Psalm 67:
Make tribes glad and shout for joy
for you judge peoples with equity
and tribes on the earth - you guide them
That's a non-specific tribes - and it is surrounded by an appeal to make non-specific peoples be thankful

I suppose we could read this as forceful, but that is not the character of the one with whom the poet converses in the psalms. No one will be thankful out of force. The character of God is love, mercy, holiness and judgment with equity, not coercion, self-seeking, or violent.  Indeed HaShem, the Lord, is a God of war, but pick your battles.

I wasn't reading Psalm 67 when I came across this film in the Guardian. I had just read the Psalms of the reign of the Lord - Psalms 96-99 filled with singing and celebration, and I was in the middle of Psalm 101, thinking about the last two verses. These two verses lie outside the frame of that psalm which circles verses 1 to 6. The frame is 'walking in completeness', a vital theme in the Psalter (that's the 150 psalms as a unit for those of you to whom this word is rare).  Here is what the Lord says in verses 7 and 8
The one who does deceit will not sit within my house
a tale of falsehoods
will not be established before my eyes
The film has been called propaganda. Does that mean it is lies? a tale of falsehoods? If so, it will not be established - at least so one should think who has faith in God.  Then he says
in the mornings I will annihilate
all the wicked of earth
to cut off from the city of יהוה
all workers of mischief
Who will do the annihilating? Not the government. Not the police. Not those who are violent or who fail to 'walk in completeness'. But the Lord himself.  My wife said - sometimes all you can do is pray. And so be it. But some parties in this agreement are not praying, waiting on God, or walking in completeness - though it appears they ought to know better.  Instead they are violating the principles of hospitality to strangers and guests in the land that is clearly in Torah (Leviticus 19:33-34: the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself) as well as in the Psalms. The character of the Lord is again determined by his actions, frequently listed in the psalms, and never (outside the recitals of the canonical history and the eschatological hope) are they violent or creating the poor and the displaced. The God who promises is not a God who fulfills promises by violence. [Bob - you've got work to do here.]

In days that should never be repeated, violence was done in the evenings and in the mornings. So this is my prayer. Let it not be continued by those who were subject to it - either politically or individually.  It is important to read the psalms - and learn the right lessons from the Lord, the 'One who teaches humanity knowledge' (Kimhi).

Sunday 17 March 2013

6X Clement - Root meaning

In this series, I am looking at Brevard Childs' The Struggle to understand ISAIAH as Christian Scripture.

His chapter on Clement of Alexandria and Isaiah is very short - only 4 pages. But he focuses on one verse in Isaiah: 7:9.

The verse relates closely to my thesis about translating by pattern matching rather than translating for meaning.  Mean is an odd word in English: it encompasses the mean value, the mean bully, and the vague question - but what does it mean?  I tend to distrust meaning - since if somehow we think we have the meaning, we then have control over the text. And that is exactly what we do not have. (See my post Isaiah 55 and ponder - who's in charge?)

Isaiah 7:9 Childs gives as this: If you will not believe, you will not understand.  As one of my conductor friends used to say. Boring.

The Hebrew is a pun (or paranomasia if you like bigger words). So now to construct the music.
אִ֚ם לֹ֣א תַאֲמִ֔ינוּ כִּ֖י לֹ֥א תֵאָמֵֽנוּ
The music doesn't tell us much out of context - but there it is. The roots of the two main words are both the same: אמן. (Amen) so now how would you translate it?

אמן is a polyvalent word with many synonyms used for it in English translation history: support, confirm, believe, be faithful, and their passive components, and in other forms to stand firm, trust, be certain, believe in.  Ouch!  All these are loaded. And it's such a simple sentence: if you will not x (hiphil - causative, permissive, stative, denominative, or unclassified), you will not be x'ed (niphal, passive). My Hebrew Latin concordance gives sustenare, fultum, fidum esse; fundatum, stabilum esse, probum esse. Hiphil credere, fidem habere; fides, veritas as noun; and I have but scratched the surface...

Clement takes this sentence as a foundation for his hermeneutic. In Childs words: Clement sees that "Faith is not a blind submission to authority, but a basic form of understanding. ... Faith is the recognition of the truth forced upon us from objective reality, a position akin to that of Aristotle."

For another opinion and suggested translations I found this article by Sawyer in Sacred Texts and Sacred Meanings, the chapter on Root-Meanings in Hebrew.  This intrigued me because he asks here for analysis of the significance of consonant sequences and semantic fields - exactly as I have attempted in my Seeing the Psalter, to preserve the 'sounds-like' quality in the poetry.

Or put it this way - much of what I have learned in my faith/training/establishment, my אמן, is not what I was taught implicitly or explicitly by my confession (Anglican) and the KJV/prayerbook I was brought up on (somewhat by accident).

Sawyer suggests the following verbal jingle: If you cannot be sure, you cannot endure. Or jingle with etymology: if you do not have trust, you will not be trusted. (That's rather good, I think.)  It certainly underlines a translation problem. I would not use trust (בָּטַח) in this context, but then what would I do?

In Isaiah 7, the words are addressed to the people by God - implying if you don't deal with me how can I deal with you?  How about, if you are not firm, how will you be affirmed? This certainly implies a relationship, but it has lost the element of abstract belief (something worth losing). Sawyer has several pages of analysis of the semantic domain of true / established / pillar, all of which relate to this root. It is an interesting set of problems.

What did other translations do?
LXX: ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε;
translated by Ottley as: and if ye trust not, neither shall ye understand.
Vulgate: Si non credideritis, non permanebitis. If you don't believe, you won't be established.
French, Louis Segond 1910 Si vous ne croyez pas, Vous ne subsisterez pas.
JB 1962: but if you do not stand by me, you will not stand at all. (Good try but loses something.)
REB: have firm faith or you will fail to stand firm. (Both these miss the turn to the divine passive.)
ESV: If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. (Good shot but again misses the divine passive.)
Complete Jewish Bible: Without firm faith,you will not be firmly established
 - hey - good for them!  Getting meaning and similarity of sound with a two word workaround.

Clement begins here - but the brief from Childs says little else about Isaiah. Clement tended to allegory and followed Philo. Childs says of him that "the historical meaning of the biblical text was often rendered as a symbolic reflection of the realities of a timeless world."  Who knows, he and I might have got on well.

Saturday 16 March 2013

5X Irenaeus

In this series, I am looking at Brevard Childs' The Struggle to understand ISAIAH as Christian Scripture.

How soon can I get past Irenaeus, the most important theologian of the 2nd century?  According to Childs, he stands in the tradition of Justin Martyr (p.45), the subject of the prior post in this series. A curious example related to Isaiah is the reading of Kyrio instead of Kyro (Cyrus). You could only do this in Greek!  Irenaeus also emphasizes a rule of faith leading to the Apostle's creed.  To summarize this succinct summary, Irenaeus recites in his Demonstration a typological interpretation of Scripture (e.g. Adam to Christ Jesus, Eve to Mary).  It is pretty clear that this particular typology is in Paul to some extent, so he has apostolic authority for his interpretations.

Now we approach part of the struggle: how do we interpret things typologically and yet retain some rationale related to their original construction and to the original stories and historical situations?  I was in earlier days, quite struck by typology, and today - what am I?  Do I pick and choose analogy, allegory, metaphor, etc as I wish with little discipline?

I am not really sure because I have taking to reading the Scripture rather than to explaining it.  But I suspect somewhere in my background are aspects of my readings that are quite arbitrary, though they might apply. Here's an example from this morning.

I revised my music in English the first two psalms. Psalm 1 is here and Psalm 2 here. There is quite a strong coherence in the whole Psalter, Psalms 1 and 2 being the first unit, and introducing the whole. Psalms 3-7 will be the next unit, then 8-10. I think there are potential musical motifs that can be exploited in the English version, e.g. the triplets between the two psalms 1 and 2 though they are quite different from each other. They need to be sung with flexible rhythm - almost impossible to do with the music program I have, but I can hopefully communicate an idea to be exploited.
There is a very curious agreement in the music of these two psalms - in Psalm 1, on gives its fruit in its time - and on angry at the end of Psalm 2. These are the only two places where the pashta ornament (up a third from the current note) is used in the text of these two psalms. I think this (even if it is an accident) has theological value: that we learn and bear fruit through difficulty.

So - if I fail to judge against God's Chosen and I fail to discipline with an iron rod those whom others think abominations, can I still find a rule of faith in beauty and accident? This continues my thought on the music of the Bible and theology first noted here.

(More detail on the music here.)

Childs summarizes: Irenaeus ... followed the New Testament's lead in seeing a typological relation between the Old and the New ... Yet... that he also employed allegory in depicting a symbolic relation between the literal the the figurative, ... between the earthly and the heavenly, shows that the hermeneutical problem of the text's multivalent character had emerged without careful scrutiny or critical reflection...

So on to Clement and Origen - is that statement from Childs an understatement?

Monday 11 March 2013

Isaiah 19

The full 15 verses of the oracle (1-15) are rich in recurrence. The 29 repeated words account for 83 of 179 words in the Hebrew. The section formatted in prose rather than poetry (in my old Jerusalem Bible) has a higher recurrence rate: 27 words accounting for 81 of 148 words in the Hebrew.

It seems to me that prose formatting does not do justice to such a block of text.  Notice the repeated בַּיֹּום הַהוּא יִֽהְיֶה - in that day will ... in verses 16, 18, 19, (21) 23, 24. Note also that the whole is bound by the word hand. This tidbit is missed in dynamic equivalence translations like JB, but is key to the understanding of the passage. The world is saved by the hand of the Lord and indeed formed by the discipline of such a metaphorical 'appendage'.

How would I format these?  The only way to see is to do it.  But this week I have a performance of the St John Passion by Bach and rehearsals and it's a double medical week - so tough to do much detailed work.  Also hard to do it in three languages. (To say the least).

Here's the dope to date - without much analysis - for verses 1-15.
Selected recurring words (1 to 15)
Word and gloss1234567891012345678920123456789VsRoot