Sunday, July 21, 2013

Psalm 88 - jammed in a pit - entombed

I have been looking at a close reading and interpretation of Psalm 88 by Anthony Pyles of McMaster on academia. I always wonder if the approach using keywords - words in the psalm that repeat, i.e. they have the same Hebrew letters or stem - is a helpful approach. Of course I think it is, but there's nothing like a few tests against the opinions of others, especially others who write with accuracy.

He takes this approach
It is my contention that the greatest potential for interpreting any given psalm is thus found in three distinct approaches. First, a given psalm must be taken seriously in its integrity as a text and in its art as a poem. Second, a psalm must be considered in relation to other psalms of similar form, structure, and theme. Third, a psalm must be considered in relation to its placement in the canonical Psalter.

Interpreting is something I have done very little of. I have rather presented the data, leaving most interpretation to the reader, and encouraging critique of my translation since a translation often imposes interpretation in any case.  Two of his three approaches I have some sympathy with.

The integrity of the poem itself is something I assume. Can one 'assume' integrity when a poem has been transmitted over 2500 years? Only if one can see and perhaps verify a control for transmission as one would in a copy process with a computer - things like word count, internal signature, and so on. If the alien could listen to Bach, would it know that this was music? If we can hear a poet's stamp, would we recognize it? Integrity as text and in its art as poem is a tall order.

Other psalms of similar form? By this he gives a nod to form criticism. I am not so sure about the identification of specific forms. So many psalms have been termed lament, or complaint, or royal, or wisdom, that the form as category has become overused.  "Psalm 88 is different from many other individual complaints." Hmm, he uses that term complaint - I see that I do too - I wonder though if I should. I guess complaint and lament are both fine as long as one makes one's complaint or lament to the Most High where it can be dealt with. Pyles points out that Psalm 88 does not mention enemies or sin, but only falls into the category of disorientation (p. 21). He's right about the missing enemies and sin. Disorientation seems an odd moniker to me.

As for Psalm 88 in its context in the Psalter, correctly again he links this individual lament to Psalm 89. The two psalms share more than 40% of their words. The position of each of the psalms in the Psalter is deliberate, though each has its own reasons for its place. Psalms 88 and 89 close the two books of corporate lament. Note how a singular and plural combination of laments also opens these books (Psalms 42-44).

More to my interest is Anthony Pyles' subdivision of the poem itself. This is one where I have not decided the optimum division. My tables in Seeing the Psalter show verses 1-10 and 9-19 as possible dividing markers. It is odd to overlap sections. Verses 1-8 have only two recurring words, pit and inflicted (See the recurrence tables below). Verses 1-10a are bounded by two words, the tetragrammeton and day. Verse 19 picks up several words from verse 9. Verses 10b to 12 are a series of rhetorical questions and taken by themselves, they have no recurrence. This marks them as significant within the thought of the poet. As Pyles notes, Selah is not a boundary marker in the poem, though it can be thought of as a pause marker. In verses 14-19, in spite of the preceding rhetorical questions, the prayer of the green olive shoot continues.  Perhaps the clue to the 'meaning' of the psalm is that word in the inscription מָחֲלַת that I glossed as illness. Pyles gives no translation of this word. Psalm 88 also is labeled as a song - and the music needs to be heard. Perhaps there will be a hint of the sectional boundaries in the music, the subject of a second post... (to be continued).

88 - in a pit, entombed

מִזְמוֹר לִבְנֵי קֹרַח
לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל מָחֲלַת לְעַנּוֹת
מַשְׂכִּיל לְהֵימָן הָאֶזְרָחִי
1A song
a psalm of the children of Korah
For the leader in illness to jam
an insight of Heyman the Ezrahite
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יְשׁוּעָתִי
יוֹם צָעַקְתִּי בַלַּיְלָה נֶגְדֶּךָ
2יְהוָה the God of my salvation
day and night I cry out before you
תָּבוֹא לְפָנֶיךָ תְּפִלָּתִי
הַטֵּה אָזְנְךָ לְרִנָּתִי
3let my prayer come to your presence
bend your ear to my shout

כִּי שָׂבְעָה בְרָעוֹת נַפְשִׁי
וְחַיַּי לִשְׁאוֹל הִגִּיעוּ
4for my being is sated with evil
and my life has touched the grave
נֶחְשַׁבְתִּי עִם יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר
הָיִיתִי כְּגֶבֶר אֵין אֱיָל
5I am reckoned with those going down into a pit
I have become as a valiant one without potency

בַּמֵּתִים חָפְשִׁי
כְּמוֹ חֲלָלִים שֹׁכְבֵי קֶבֶר
אֲשֶׁר לֹא זְכַרְתָּם עוֹד
וְהֵמָּה מִיָּדְךָ נִגְזָרוּ
6among the dead free
as the profaned lying in a tomb
whom you remember no longer
and they are parted from your hand
שַׁתַּנִי בְּבוֹר תַּחְתִּיּוֹת
בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּים בִּמְצֹלוֹת
7you have set me in a low pit
in darknesses in depths
עָלַי סָמְכָה חֲמָתֶךָ
וְכָל מִשְׁבָּרֶיךָ עִנִּיתָ
8on me your heat leans
and you have inflicted all your breakers

הִרְחַקְתָּ מְיֻדָּעַי מִמֶּנִּי
שַׁתַּנִי תוֹעֵבוֹת לָמוֹ
כָּלֻא וְלֹא אֵצֵא
9you have distanced from me those I knew
you have set me as an abomination to them
I am restrained and do not come out
עֵינִי דָאֲבָה מִנִּי עֹנִי
קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה בְּכָל יוֹם
שִׁטַּחְתִּי אֵלֶיךָ כַפָּי
10my eye droops from poverty
I call you יְהוָה every day
I unfold my palms to you
הֲלַמֵּתִים תַּעֲשֶׂה פֶּלֶא
אִם רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ
11for the dead will you do wonders?
if the shades rise up
will they give you thanks?

הַיְסֻפַּר בַּקֶּבֶר חַסְדֶּךָ
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָּאֲבַדּוֹן
12will they recount in the tomb your kindness?
your faithfulness among the perished?
הֲיִוָּדַע בַּחֹשֶׁךְ פִּלְאֶךָ
וְצִדְקָתְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ נְשִׁיָּה
13will your wonders be known in the darkness?
and your righteousness in the land of oblivion?

וַאֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה שִׁוַּעְתִּי
וּבַבֹּקֶר תְּפִלָּתִי תְקַדְּמֶךָּ
14but I, I to you יְהוָה cry
and in the morning my prayer will confront you
לָמָה יְהוָה תִּזְנַח נַפְשִׁי
תַּסְתִּיר פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי
15why יְהוָה do you reject my being?
hide your face from me?

עָנִי אֲנִי
וְגֹוֵעַ מִנֹּעַר
נָשָׂאתִי אֵמֶיךָ
16jammed I am
and expiring from my youth
I bear up your horrors
I am distracted
עָלַי עָבְרוּ חֲרוֹנֶיךָ
בִּעוּתֶיךָ צִמְּתוּתֻנִי
17over me your burnings pass through
your alarms annihilate me

סַבּוּנִי כַמַּיִם כָּל הַיּוֹם
הִקִּיפוּ עָלַי יָחַד
18they surround me like waters all the day long
they encompass me as one
הִרְחַקְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי אֹהֵב וָרֵעַ
מְיֻדָּעַי מַחְשָׁךְ
19you have distanced from me lover and friend
those I know from darkness
Hebrew words: 142. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 37%. Average keywords per verse: 2.8.
Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage12345678910123456789VsRoot
לענות to jam
יהוה יהוה
יום day
לפניך to your presence
תפלתי my prayer
נפשׁי my being
* בור a pit
במתים among the dead
* קבר a tomb
לא no
שׁתני you have set me
* בבור in a pit
במחשׁכים in darknesses
וכל and all
ענית you have inflicted
סלה Selah
הרחקת you have distanced
מידעי those I knew
ממני from me
שׁתני you have set me
ולא and not
מני from
יהוה יהוה
בכל every
יום day
הלמתים for the dead
פלא wonders
סלה Selah
* בקבר in the tomb
היודע will be known
בחשׁך in the darkness
פלאך your wonders
ואני but I
יהוה יהוה
תפלתי my prayer
יהוה יהוה
נפשׁי my being
פניך your face
ממני from me
עני jammed
אני I am
כל all
היום the day long
הרחקת you have distanced
ממני from me
מידעי those I know
מחשׁך from darkness

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