Thursday 28 November 2013

The Divine Right of Kings

For in a Discourse of our present civill warre, what could seem more impertinent, than to ask (as one did) what was the value of a Roman Penny? Yet the Cohaerence to me was manifest enough. For the Thought of the warre, introduced the Thought of the delivering up the King to his Enemies; The Thought of that, brought in the Thought of the delivering up of Christ; and that again the Thought of the 30 pence, which was the price of that treason: and thence easily followed that malicious question; and all this in a moment of time; for Thought is quick.
From Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury while considering the idea of 'a Trayne of Thought Unguided'.

What should one take from this paragraph? That Hobbes was a monarchist for religious reasons or not?

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Psalter as a tent - the movie

I thought it would be fun to show you my latest very short film - shorter even than Tim's 5 minute Bible. (It's not Dr Who nor is it Nadal and Djokovic playing tennis on a boat in Patagonia). Just a brief on the new slide for my next class in the Psalms at St Barnabas next Tuesday. One day I will republish the original session 3, but it takes the computer a long time and I will probably change it again.  Full presentations for the course are here.

There were 15 of us at the first two sessions and there is still room for more to attend and you can catch up by watching the movies and doing the homework(!). Whaaat - real work! The special deal is that you get a copy of my book for only $25, and that money goes to the relief effort for the Philippines. (You may never see a better offer for Seeing the Psalter - I am undermining all those stores that I have left copies at.)

Lord who will dwell in your tent? (Psalm 15)

Friday 22 November 2013

More on violence

Violence in the Psalms? What about the NT? What about consequences today for ill-behaviour? Yes there are consequences. We are not into cheap grace or dissembling as are certain prominent persons in my country at present, whether they admit it or not.

Here is a review of a suggestion in a book by David Neville, A Peaceable Hope: Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives, that we quarantine the violence of the NT. Read the argument there. I have a simple conclusion: if we are to be like Jesus, then as in the psalms, there is no warrant in the text to take violence into our own hands.

Thursday 14 November 2013


War is the struggle against holiness, which will end when men submit to be taught by the saints, and to be subject to God. (Neale, Vol 2)
That question, so obvious, has been bothering me for 2 days now. Why should we read, study, or sing the psalms in liturgy when they are so violent?

How do I justify reading them when I cannot and will not justify violence? Yet we know we not only live in a violent world, but we live among violent people in societies that have laws maintained by violence.

For now I will just give a brief answer on how the psalms help me adjust and manage in a violent world among violent people.

First I recall the promise of the end of violence, rest, Sabbath, to enemy and avenger (Psalm 8), the cessation of war (Psalms 46, 76). The central words of the Psalms are battle, Selah. Think about it! And to pick the verse to support this promise, try 76:9-11. Verse 11 is a strange verse, and the psalm is not particularly famous:
From heaven you made sentence heard
earth feared and was quiet
when God arose to judgment
to save all the afflicted of the earth
For human heat will thank you
the residue of heat you will wear
Vow and pay to יהוה your God
all round about him bring tribute fearfully
he will enclose the spirit of aristocrats
he will be feared by the kings of the earth
Here we move from the corporate reign of God who shatters fire-brand of bow, shield, sword, and battle, to the reason for battle: human heat - whatever is meant by this metaphor, desire, violence, power, lust. John Mason Neale records this comment: 
There. He had four resting places in each of which he destroyed some weapon of the enemy. In the Virgin's womb, he cast down pride; in the manger, riches; in the cross, the power of the prince of this world; in the grave, death. (For more from this remarkable history of reception, see here.)
If you find my translation strange, check out other interpretations (yes translation is interpretation).

How does God wear our heat? One way is his presence with us in our prayer. David prays to be defended from violent persons (Psalm 140). The psalms address violence throughout. 

Psalm 7 uses a birthing metaphor for the evil of the wicked. Psalm 11 notes God's hatred of violence. The servant will be delivered from it (Psalm 18) and will as a result give thanks and sing a psalm. Violence peppers the psalms (25, 27, 35, 42, 55 and so on). Just look up chet-mem-samech in a concordance. (I won't spell it out.) I wrote (Seeing the Psalter p. 184) in direct response to my rector's question about clergy not liking the psalms:
The violent prayers of Psalm 55 anticipate a series of psalms (57-59) which are not popular with 20th and 21st century church service organizers. These psalms (with Psalm 75) are entitled: Do Not Destroy. Perhaps it is instruction concerning the music. But the preparation for their violence is already here in this psalm justly made famous by Felix Mendelssohn in the verse anthem Hear my PrayerIt is not difficult to find the rationale for the inclusion of violence in the Psalter. It is a recognition of the reality of violence and fraud in the city, and failure of governance, things that are not foreign to our time. This is the reality in which the elect prays.
I also made a footnote (p 190) of the work of Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt about Do Not Destroy: We need to be reminded not to destroy these psalms. They reflect reality.
via Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 67b: ‘One who covers an oil lamp [causing the flame to burn inefficiently] or uncovers a kerosene lamp [allowing the fuel to evaporate faster] violates the prohibition of bal tashchit / Do not destroy.’ 
In Sefer Ha-Hinukh, the Book of Education (Rabbi Pinhas haLevi of Barcelona, 16th century), we read: ‘The root reason for the precept [of bal tashchit/do not destroy] is known: for it is in order to train our spirits to love what is good and beneficial and to cling to goodness...’ It is good to be ‘distressed at every ruination and spoilage that they see; and if they are able to do any rescuing, they will save anything from destruction, with all their power.’
Psalm 72 continues the hope for delivery from violence. Solomon was not successful in fulfilling it. Psalms 73 and 74 begin the book that recalls the greatest violence to Israel, the destruction of the city and of the temple.

We recently heard again the Dixit Dominus of Handel. Here's another direct answer to the question of violence. It is in the second to last verse and the intimation of resurrection in the lifting up of the head after imbibing of the torrent of human destruction.
Psalm 110 has been among my favorites ever since I first sang Dixit Dominus by G. F. Handel. Handel’s setting is fierce and challenging youthful work, almost unsingable, and full of word painting and extreme of emotion. How do I translate ferocity into love? How do I prevent war mongering based on Scriptural justification? How do I challenge superiority and privilege justified by the divine right of kings? How do I understand the priestly and royal anointing without succumbing to the tyranny of too much power in the hands of one individual? I don’t know that I can find short answers to these questions. I do want, however, in interpreting this poem, to move away from violent overthrow to adoration, and an adoration that is not constrained but nourished by an abundance of joy from the knowledge of the torrent in the way. I want to find structural clues in the double use of the word מָחַץ (mxc) meaning wound used about 14 times in the Tanakh. 
Lessons learned are not passed from one to another in a few words. If words are useful, their reception into the body is an insemination that undermines the commonplace and in the mysterious working of the life of a human, gives uneasy birth to a new thing in the world. To what extent did the ancients of the first century reframe the violence of their tradition? If I pray for sudden shame on my enemies, I think it is only by the reality of shame that we can see the righteousness of God. So for God to destroy the wicked does not mean there is no follow-up. As one of his spokesmen said, he wounds, he makes alive. Much as I hate to agree with a Job’s comforter, Eliphaz (Job 5:18), he is only alluding to God’s word in the Torah, Deuteronomy 32:39. 
I think that death and resurrection are the subject of Psalm 110. God himself drinks of the torrent in the way, a torrent of death by which he wounds, and a torrent of life by which he raises up the head he has smitten (compare Psalm 3) and all of us in that head. In this way, violence is transformed into adoration by the one who tasted death for us, the king of righteousness and the high priest. This psalm gives the writer of Revelation permission to construct a theology of violence that is purely a meditation on the wounding of the Anointed, High Priest, King, and Lambkin. 
Glory be to the Father, who hath said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand; Glory be to the Son, My Lord, Who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; Glory be to the Holy Ghost, the heavenly dew of our youth...
So ends a 15 page summary in Neale and Littledale of the opinions of the fathers on Psalm 110. My suggestion that verse 7 of the Psalm is of death and resurrection is confirmed by Bellarmine among others, who describes the torrent as:
the hurried, turbid, and noisy yet brief discourse of human life, to which the Lord bowed himself by his Incarnation, from His throne on the right hand of the Father; drinking of the troubles of our mortal condition, truly in the way, for He was a stranger and pilgrim on earth, far from his country; nay going down by His Passion into the lowest depths of the torrent... 
There is no further mention of violence after Psalm 110 until the recapitulating prayers of David beginning at Psalm 140. The Psalms encapsulate the quote from Neale and Littledale that is at the top of this post. They are the canonical story, a measuring rod, of what all nations are like. Israel's history is given as example. All nations are like them in their desire (Psalm 90 / 102) and in their failures (Psalm 89). Psalm 2 highlights the enemy of the sovereigns of the earth (and that includes us all). Psalm 149 shows the submission of the same sovereigns to the rule of steadfast-love or loving-kindness. The bonds of love are stronger than death.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

The first running of the first session of a course on the psalms

It doesn't matter how well prepared you are, there are always unexpected things. My eyes are fading so I could hardly see the screen in the light in the church - curious - and slightly ironic. But we got through. In sessions 1 and 2, I have made all the text on the slides bigger as far as I could. I dropped the slide on Psalm 11 - it's in the book and can be studied individually. But most important - the first exercise is quite hard so I have simplified it. (Revised video here). There is no change in the voice over.

Sometimes I wonder about the thesis that word patterns are deliberate. I still think they are. It is poetry after all, but in performance, it is hard to tell, sometimes.

What is most curious to me is the complex aspect of putting an idea across to others - and then waiting for the consequences and questions and group formation that can happen as a result. Time will tell.

First, I will be making sure I can read the slides in lectures 2 to 6 and secondly, that the workshop exercises are not too open ended. Augh! Session 2's workshop could take hours! I have simplified it. The slides for the whole are here - sessions 1 and 2 are revised.

Now - the puzzle problem is this - suppose we see clearly what is in the Psalms - what then do we do about it? How do they help us today? Why is there so much violence? I suggested a direction of consideration - but I deflected the direct question partly because I think the understanding must arise from within the community - fully facing the text and its implications - not sanitizing it.

My book does suggests possible approaches to such questions - but the main task of the book is lay out the poetry for study and I think it accomplishes this.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

O my creative juices and waning memory

Here's a poem I wrote 6 years ago based on Psalm 107 - I had completely forgotten of course.

Recent activity

Bob - you haven't written much lately
No I haven't but I have listened to a few good lectures. This one by Tom Wright on the Psalms is worth the hour. This one by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on covenant is equally good - could take two passes at it. Covenant is the redemption of solitude. I also listened to Geza Vermes on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Rabbi Rachel wrote beautifully on questions here. I have been reading other blogs remote and local like Christopher Page on memory - Kristallnacht and Remembrance Day. And James McGrath on the end of Job and The Aces on Bridge, my regular bridge column.

Today I begin the first session in my course on the Psalms. The local churches have been very encouraging. I will write more about it later. I have been preparing for 7 years. I am so aware that I am still learning - but we are commanded to teach. We must teach as we are taught – this is Torah and Talmud. Here is Matthew 28:19 in the Salkinson-Ginsburg translation. Here they add to the text - in true parallel fashion. (This working from Greek to Hebrew then back to English is kind of fun - sight recognition is improving slowly - very slowly.)

לְכוּ אֶל־כָּל־הָעַמִּים
וְלַעֲשׂתָם לִי לְתַלְמִידִים
וּלְטַבֵּל אֹתָם
בְּשֵׁם הָאָב וְהַבֵּן וְרוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ

Walk, therefore, to all nations [same word as begins Psalm 95 trad. 'come']
to instruct them, [the word in the text is the verb form of Torah]
and make them my students [Talmidim]
and baptize them
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

They add well - and look at the last verse - did you ever note the mitsvah of Jesus?
וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם לִשְׁמֹר אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֶתְכֶם
וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּכֶם עַד־אַחֲרִית הַשָּׁנִים לְעֵת קֵץ הָעוֹלָם אָמֵן
and teach them to keep all that I have commanded you
and Here! I will be with you till the behind of years and to the end of the world

Teach is among his commandments. But the students are his.

And I am thinking about writing. I would like to work through the psalms where Jesus does the reading, a theological exercise in prosopopoeia. (Funny word, eh?) It's short for making a face.

Monday 11 November 2013


Hmmm, I have installed Disqus on this blog - hope it works without too many surprises

Sunday 10 November 2013

The Psalter as a tent

It has been a while since I used the AMA GX-LEAF Diagramming tool as a diagram surface. I have been using it in so many ways as a means of creating web forms. It is still a fabulous diagramming surface.

I have been thinking for months about the Psalter as a tent which one inhabits as one might inhabit poetry - metaphorically(!)  A tent doesn't need one gate though Psalms 1 and 2 provide one. One can always slip under the canvas - or perhaps it is open all round. But a tent does require some tent poles and a few high wires. There are such poles - two sets in fact: the 8 acrostics (9 poems - one got ripped in half) and the poems that immediately precede the acrostics - 7 of them (figure out how only 7 precede 9 poems).  And secondly, the duplicated poems.

The 16 that 'hold up' the whole tent are in Books 1 and 5. The 7 others create a space between Books 1, 2, and 5 for Books 3 and 4 - shorter books whose canvas just drapes over them without the need for being held up. There is also a pair of high wires from 8 to 144 and from 36 to 110.  There are others as well, but these two are thick cables - perhaps their weight rests on the duplicated psalms as pillars...

Notice that none of these poems is attributed to Korah or Asaph. They are all 'of David' or unattributed.

Friday 8 November 2013

Did Jesus learn

I was asking today about reconciliation between Jew and Christian. My own hesitant question is here. On the way, another blog took on the question - did Jesus learn. And in that question - answered directly in Hebrews 5:8, the Hebrew translation reconciles Jew and Christian equally directly.

Here, it is Christian who needs to do the mitsvah - to hear the voice of command. A Christian who is without hearing needs a different name. All of us in our various lives (and in my multifarious levels of blindness and deafness) must find obedience. Such obedience never leads to violence because our violence is fully disclosed to God (see Psalms 58, 109, and 137 for examples).

וְאַף בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בֵן לֻמַּד בְּסִבְלֹתָיו לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל מְצַוֶּה
It is not compact like the Greek - literally it reads: 
but even though he was son, he learned (same word as Talmud) through his bearing of burdens to hear the voice of command.

the Greek
καίπερ ὢν υἱὸς ἔμαθεν ἀφ᾽ ὧν ἔπαθεν τὴν ὑπακοήν
though being son he learned from what he suffered obedience.

So that Hebrew, usually compact, takes three words to say one Greek word.

Here is an alternate more compact Hebrew
וְאַף כִּי־הָיָה הַבֵּן לָמַד מֵעֻנּוֹתוֹ לִשְׁמוֹעַ
And though for he is the son, he learned from his affliction obedience (=to hear)