Monday 23 June 2014

How important is it to read all of a long psalm?

It is obvious that the Common Lectionary is designed to get people out of church in time for their lunch. (Um, isn't it?)

So I am a whole week ahead of myself. I posted a bit on Abraham and the promised child a week early. Time then to think about what it means to have Psalm 89 as the chosen psalm. Poor Anglican chanters - so many verses! So they reduce it.

What is the Psalm about and how could you tell without reading it slowly? It's right there in the first (second) verse
Of the loving-kindness of יהוה
forever I will sing
from generation to generation I will make known
your faithfulness with my mouth

It is all about the loving kindness of Yahweh. I don't recommend using adonai or the Lord in English - use the name if you don't want to say the word - because then you know if you are talking about God's name or the appointed Adon, Lord that also occurs in the Psalms (like Psalm 110 Ha-shem said to my Lord).

Loving kindness begins every section of the psalm except the great lament. What - there's a great lament in this psalm? I didn't know that. You won't know unless you read the whole thing. Why is there a lament? Because this is the record at the close of Book 3 of the Psalter, of the failure of the Davidic monarchy, the failure of the promised seed Psalm 89:5, (4 in English). (Ah - connection to Abraham...)

The lectionary only gives us the promise and the happy bit - no deal for reality, folks. How is it that this psalm is about failure and closes a whole book and is answered by Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses? It is a great story - it needs study. We all recapitulate that story. We are monarchs, we are promised the ability to govern (knowing it is really The Name that governs), and we fail. What then? We remember the former loving-kindnesses sworn to David and we wait for redemption which will surely come. But the enemies? (Psalm 89:52)...

There's another reason we only read 8 verses of the 53 (52) - there's just too much to say. If you want to learn what is in the Bible, start with the Psalms and read the whole as if it were a book. This is true for anyone. The liturgy of the Synagogue has lots of psalms (tehillim - praises). The Christians should sing at least a psalm a week - or at least one a day. The other faith of Abraham pays lip service to the TNK but I bet very few read it, just as very few Christians read it well.

How do we solve such a problem? I am flummoxed, I admit. It took me 60 years to get started! Why should The Name teach through poetry? Is there any philosophical or narrative or historical or religious or personal reason for such an approach to the barriers we put up?

I put the music for the psalm in the usual place - but I haven't superimposed the translation. There was another error in the transcription compared with the Aleppo Codex - easy to spot, a failure to return to the tonic at the end of a verse. The first page has two shalsheletim which SHV interprets as a (sort-of) glissando (bars 8 and 14). The whole psalm is below including a table of the words that recur between 6 and 8 times. Give it a try.

89 - of anointed and sworn to build – creation not profaned
לְאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי
1An insight
of Ethan the Ezrahite

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה
עוֹלָם אָשִׁירָה
לְדֹר וָדוֹר אוֹדִיעַ
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בְּפִי
2Of the loving-kindness of יְהוָה
forever I will sing
from generation to generation I will make known
your faithfulness with my mouth
כִּי אָמַרְתִּי
עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה
שָׁמָיִם תָּכִן
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָהֶם
3for I said,
loving-kindness ever builds
heavens you will establish
your faithfulness is in them
כָּרַתִּי בְּרִית לִבְחִירִי
נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְדָוִד עַבְדִּי
4I have cut a covenant with my chosen
I have sworn to David my servant
עַד עוֹלָם אָכִין זַרְעֶךָ
וּבָנִיתִי לְדֹר וָדֹר כִּסְאֲךָ
5For evermore I will establish your seed
and I will build up your throne from generation to generation

וְיוֹדוּ שָׁמַיִם פִּלְאֲךָ יְהוָה
אַף אֱמוּנָתְךָ בִּקְהַל קְדֹשִׁים
6Let the heavens give thanks for your wonders יְהוָה
also your faithfulness in the congregation of holy ones
כִּי מִי בַּשַּׁחַק יַעֲרֹךְ לַיהוָה
יִדְמֶה לַיהוָה בִּבְנֵי אֵלִים
7For who in the sky will compare with יְהוָה?
Who has the likeness of יְהוָה among the children of God?
אֵל נַעֲרָץ
בְּסוֹד קְדֹשִׁים רַבָּה
וְנוֹרָא עַל כָּל סְבִיבָיו
8God is ruthless
in the plenary council of the holy ones
feared above all around him
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת
מִי כָמוֹךָ חֲסִין יָהּ
וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ סְבִיבוֹתֶיךָ
9יְהוָה God of hosts,
who is like you, Yah invincible
and your faithfulness all around you?
אַתָּה מוֹשֵׁל
בְּגֵאוּת הַיָּם
בְּשׂוֹא גַלָּיו
אַתָּה תְשַׁבְּחֵם
10You yourself govern
over the pride of the sea
when its waves gloat
you yourself soothe them
אַתָּה דִכִּאתָ כֶחָלָל רָהַב
בִּזְרוֹעַ עֻזְּךָ
פִּזַּרְתָּ אוֹיְבֶיךָ
11You yourself crushed Rahab to contrition as one who is profaned
With the arm of your strength
you have scattered your enemies

לְךָ שָׁמַיִם
אַף לְךָ אָרֶץ
תֵּבֵל וּמְלֹאָהּ
אַתָּה יְסַדְתָּם
12Yours heavens
yours also is earth
world and its fullness
you yourself founded them
צָפוֹן וְיָמִין
אַתָּה בְרָאתָם
תָּבוֹר וְחֶרְמוֹן
בְּשִׁמְךָ יְרַנֵּנוּ
13North and south
you yourself created them
Tabor and Hermon
in your name will shout for joy

לְךָ זְרוֹעַ עִם גְּבוּרָה
תָּעֹז יָדְךָ
תָּרוּם יְמִינֶךָ
14Yours is an arm with valour
strong is your hand
exalted your right hand
צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט
מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ
חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
יְקַדְּמוּ פָנֶיךָ
15Righteousness and judgment
are the stability of your throne
Loving-kindness and truth
go before your face

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם
יֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה
יְהוָה בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ יְהַלֵּכוּן
16Happy the people
knowing jubilation
יְהוָה in the light of your face they will walk
בְּשִׁמְךָ יְגִילוּן כָּל הַיּוֹם
וּבְצִדְקָתְךָ יָרוּמוּ
17In your name they will rejoice all the day long
and in your righteousness they will be exalted
כִּי תִפְאֶרֶת עֻזָּמוֹ אָתָּה
וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ תָּרוּם קַרְנֵינוּ
18for the adornment of their strength is you yourself
and in your acceptance our horn will be exalted
כִּי לַיהוָה מָגִנֵּנוּ
וְלִקְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְכֵּנוּ
19For of יְהוָה is our shield
and the Holy One of Israel our king

אָז דִּבַּרְתָּ בְחָזוֹן
לַחֲסִידֶיךָ וַתֹּאמֶר
שִׁוִּיתִי עֵזֶר עַל גִּבּוֹר
הֲרִימוֹתִי בָחוּר מֵעָם
20Then you spoke in a vision
to one under your mercy and said
I have agreed to help with one who prevails
I have exalted a chosen from the people
מָצָאתִי דָּוִד עַבְדִּי
בְּשֶׁמֶן קָדְשִׁי מְשַׁחְתִּיו
21I have found David my servant
with the oil of my holiness I have anointed him

אֲשֶׁר יָדִי תִּכּוֹן עִמּוֹ
אַף זְרוֹעִי תְאַמְּצֶנּוּ
22that my hand will be established with him
also my arm will assure him
לֹא יַשִּׁיא אוֹיֵב בּוֹ
וּבֶן עַוְלָה לֹא יְעַנֶּנּוּ
23and an enemy will not have a claim on him
and a child of injustice will not answer him
וְכַתּוֹתִי מִפָּנָיו צָרָיו
וּמְשַׂנְאָיו אֶגּוֹף
24and I have beaten his foes before his face
and those hating him I will plague

וֶאֱמוּנָתִי וְחַסְדִּי עִמּוֹ
וּבִשְׁמִי תָּרוּם קַרְנוֹ
25And my faithfulness and my loving-kindness are with him
and in my name his horn will be exalted
וְשַׂמְתִּי בַיָּם יָדוֹ
וּבַנְּהָרוֹת יְמִינוֹ
26and I have set up his hand in the sea
and in the rivers his right hand

הוּא יִקְרָאֵנִי
אָבִי אָתָּה
אֵלִי וְצוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי
27He will call to me
you are my father
my God and the rock of my salvation
אַף אָנִי בְּכוֹר אֶתְּנֵהוּ
עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי אָרֶץ
28I myself will also make him firstborn
on high to the kings of earth

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי
וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
29Forever I will keep my loving-kindness with him
and my covenant will be his amen
וְשַׂמְתִּי לָעַד זַרְעוֹ
וְכִסְאוֹ כִּימֵי שָׁמָיִם
30And I have set up his seed for ever
and his throne as the days of heaven

אִם יַעַזְבוּ בָנָיו תּוֹרָתִי
וּבְמִשְׁפָּטַי לֹא יֵלֵכוּן
31If his children forsake my instruction
or fail to walk in my judgment
אִם חֻקֹּתַי יְחַלֵּלוּ
וּמִצְו‍ֹתַי לֹא יִשְׁמֹרוּ
32If they profane my statutes
or fail to keep my commandments
וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט פִּשְׁעָם
וּבִנְגָעִים עֲו‍ֹנָם
33then I will visit their transgression with the sceptre
and with touches their iniquity

וְחַסְדִּי לֹא אָפִיר מֵעִמּוֹ
וְלֹא אֲשַׁקֵּר בֶּאֱמוּנָתִי
34but my loving-kindness will not be frustrated in him
and will not be proven false in my faithfulness
לֹא אֲחַלֵּל בְּרִיתִי
וּמוֹצָא שְׂפָתַי לֹא אֲשַׁנֶּה
35I will not profane my covenant
and what emerges from my lips I will not feign

אַחַת נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי בְקָדְשִׁי
אִם לְדָוִד אֲכַזֵּב
36Once I have sworn in my holiness
would I lie to David?
זַרְעוֹ לְעוֹלָם יִהְיֶה
וְכִסְאוֹ כַשֶּׁמֶשׁ נֶגְדִּי
37His seed will be forever
and his throne as the sun before me
כְּיָרֵחַ יִכּוֹן עוֹלָם
וְעֵד בַּשַּׁחַק נֶאֱמָן
38As the moon it will be established forever
a witness as faithful as the sky

וְאַתָּה זָנַחְתָּ וַתִּמְאָס
הִתְעַבַּרְתָּ עִם מְשִׁיחֶךָ
39But you yourself have rejected and refused
You have passed over with your anointed
נֵאַרְתָּה בְּרִית עַבְדֶּךָ
חִלַּלְתָּ לָאָרֶץ נִזְרוֹ
40You have nullified the covenant of your servant
You have profaned his consecration to the earth
פָּרַצְתָּ כָל גְּדֵרֹתָיו
שַׂמְתָּ מִבְצָרָיו מְחִתָּה
41You have breached all his fences
You have set up his enclosures in disarray

שַׁסֻּהוּ כָּל עֹבְרֵי דָרֶךְ
הָיָה חֶרְפָּה לִשְׁכֵנָיו
42All passing his way plunder him
He becomes a reproach to his neighbours
הֲרִימוֹתָ יְמִין צָרָיו
הִשְׂמַחְתָּ כָּל אוֹיְבָיו
43You have exalted the right hand of his foes
You make glad all his enemies
אַף תָּשִׁיב צוּר חַרְבּוֹ
וְלֹא הֲקֵימֹתוֹ בַּמִּלְחָמָה
44you will also turn the edge of his sword
and not let him arise in the battle

הִשְׁבַּתָּ מִטְּהָרוֹ
וְכִסְאוֹ לָאָרֶץ מִגַּרְתָּה
45You have marred his lustre
and his throne to earth you have hurled
הִקְצַרְתָּ יְמֵי עֲלוּמָיו
הֶעֱטִיתָ עָלָיו בּוּשָׁה
46You have shortened the days of his youthful vigour
You have wrapped him in shame

עַד מָה יְהוָה תִּסָּתֵר
תִּבְעַר כְּמוֹ אֵשׁ חֲמָתֶךָ
47How long, יְהוָה, will you hide?
in perpetuity?
will you kindle like fire your heat?
זְכָר אֲנִי מֶה חָלֶד
עַל מַה שָּׁוְא
בָּרָאתָ כָל בְּנֵי אָדָם
48Remember how transient I am
to what vanity
you created all the children of humanity
מִי גֶבֶר יִחְיֶה
וְלֹא יִרְאֶה מָּוֶת
יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ
מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל
49How will valour live
and not see death?
will he escape
from the hand of the grave?

אַיֵּה חֲסָדֶיךָ הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲדֹנָי
נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לְדָוִד בֶּאֱמוּנָתֶךָ
50Where are your former loving-kindnesses, my Lord
the ones that you swore to David in your faithfulness
זְכֹר אֲדֹנָי
חֶרְפַּת עֲבָדֶיךָ
שְׂאֵתִי בְחֵיקִי
כָּל רַבִּים עַמִּים
51Remember, my Lord
the reproach of your servants
that I bear in my embrace
all of a multitude of peoples
אֲשֶׁר חֵרְפוּ אוֹיְבֶיךָ יְהוָה
אֲשֶׁר חֵרְפוּ
עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחֶךָ
52that your enemies יְהוָה have reproached
that they have reproached
the footsteps of your anointed

בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן
53Bless יְהוָה forever amen and amen
Hebrew words: 384. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 67%. Average keywords per verse: 4.9.
Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage1234567VsRoot
חסדי of the loving-kindness of
עולם forever
עולם ever
חסד loving-kindness
עולם evermore
זרעך your seed
כל all
אתה yourself
אתה yourself
אתה yourself
בזרוע with the arm of
אתה yourself
אתה yourself
זרוע is an arm
עם with
תרום exalted
חסד loving-kindness
העם the people
כל all
ירומו they will be exalted
אתה you yourself
תרום will be exalted
הרימותי I have exalted
מעם from the people
עמו with him
זרועי my arm
וחסדי and my loving-kindness
עמו are with him
תרום will be exalted
אתה you are
לעולם forever
חסדי my loving-kindness
זרעו his seed
וחסדי but my loving-kindness
מעמו in him
זרעו his seed
לעולם forever
עולם forever
ואתה but ... yourself
עם with
כל all
כל all
הרימות you have exalted
כל all
עלומיו his youthful vigour
כל all
חסדיך are your loving-kindnesses
כל all of
עמים peoples
לעולם forever
Last printed on 2014.06.23-05:42


  1. Dear Bob. My latest research suggests that with a certain pronunciation, the Hebrew psalms might be in syllables meter. please see

  2. Guy - I am going to put my response here as a comment so that the question and answer is with the post. Psalm 89 would not lend itself to your rules concerning aleph, heh and vav - at least not in the way that I have learned pronunciation. I wondered how I would apply the rule that aleph or heh or vav would not form a syllable at the beginning of a word. I can't figure out how I would do that. Take the first few words of the Psalm: הָאֶזְרָחִי begins with both a heh and an aleph each one creating a syllable. They could, I suppose, be elided to form one syllable with the zayin. לְדֹר וָדוֹר is always sung or said as ledor vador - two syllables each including one for the vav. אוֹדִיעַ already follows your rule and so the aleph is just the guttural. אֱמוּנָתְךָ begins with em - definitely a syllable at least in the version of Hebrew I have learned (I am not a native speaker - 'I learn Hebrew from a book'.) Moving down a few lines וּבָנִיתִי begins with an oo sound. אַף af would be a one syllable word I would think.

    It's possible, language being what it is, that the clues would be there for a native speaker but I would not have been able to decode the text with a blind computer program following the rule you have given. I may be lucky I don't know the language well!

  3. Dear Bob. You are right in suggesting that if the nikud (masorah) of 12th century AD Tiberia is followed - no rhythm will be formed. This is because the prime concern of Tiberian system of pronunciation (nikud) from the 12 Century AD is for correct reading dialect and not the correct singing dialect in the Temple (From as late as 1st century AD) of the text. The Tiberian system of nikud wants the reader to best understand the MEANING of the text (so that it has pronounced many of the letters that are not pronounced in the musical dialect) without error while the musical syllables meter dialect want the listener to enjoy the MUSICAL BEAUTY of the text (and therefore forms poetic syllables meter).

    The reason that the meter we find following the rules I've laid out is reaffirmed, is by the fact that in all (or most of) the repetitions of the various words in all (or most) in the Psalms (and there are many such repetitions) - they are said to have the same number of syllables.

    More into details: regarding your question of what is done when at the beginning of a word there is a Hey followed by an Aleph - then the Hey at the beginning is not pronounced and the Aleph which is not at the beginning of the word (because Hey precedes it) - is pronounced.

    If we look for possible historical hints that Aleph and Hey at the beginning of words might have not been pronounced in about 1st century AD, we could check if this is manifested in the letters of Bar Kokhba (from 2nd century Israel) - and see section 4.1.2 in :

    The vav at the beginning of words in the syllables meter dialect is of one type and is always pronounced as if it had shva under it.

    While I have said that I assume most of the Psalms have meter - it doesn't mean that all of the Psalms do. Since, the Psalms are of various poetic types like maskil, mizmor, shigayon that I'm not sure if all have meter or have meter in the dialect that I've found (for some of the Psalms might represent possibly a more ancient dialect than most of the Psalms).

    However, it does seem that Psalm 89 does have meter (of repeating nine syllables). So that attached is the suggested analysis of such a meter - with some other Psalms for cross examination that will show consistency of pronunciation (i.e. number of syllables) for some of the words whose number of syllables seems perhaps odd at first.

    I have to admit that I have found, following all the cross referencing done here that a small section of my analysis of the syllables meter of Psalm 2 (on my website: has to be slightly modified.

    I hope that you and the blog readers will find this of interest.

  4. Thank you Guy for this clarification. With the transcriptions from my current program:

    1. in the music the first note of any given word that meets your criteria could be dropped;

    2. I could even program this along with more detailed syllable counts,

    3. I can test your claim about repeated words. I have in my book (Seeing the Psalter, Energion Publications 2013) and its appendices identified all the repetitions and their patterns in the Psalms. These seem to me more of a rhetorical device than a rhythmic one.

    4. The syllabic dialect is questioned further if there are ornaments or changes in reciting notes on the dropped syllables. [I have just noted one in Psalm 8 - what would I do with ה֝וֹדְךָ֗ ? There is a common psalmic ornament, geresh followed by revia on that word. It is surely two syllables hod-ka. The same musical modif occurs on אָ֝דָ֗ם in verse 5.] The syllablic musical dialect should not be in conflict with the notes. (If indeed the te-amim are notes as SHV maintains as her chief thesis.

    I have a translation control system in an earlier version of the GX-LEAF programming environment that my research staff have done. We are still waiting for the right opportunity to put the effort into the next version for the Hebrew analysis and in particular the Hebrew to MusicXML routine that I have written but that only I can execute at this time under manual control directly in the Oracle database. The team's concentration is currently on international M&E requirements for governments - Hebrew poetry is a distant second for funding! If I can locate some seed financing for the next stages, I will get them going on it. The result could be a system for analyzing these texts in public in ways that have never been done before. If we externalize the rules, as we do in the M&E systems then we could experiment with many examples quickly.

    If you want to see any of the XML for the hundreds of examples I am working on, you would need to install a program like Musescore and then download the examples from the shared location noted on the right panel of this blog.

  5. Bob had suggested that I check if there is meter in the Decalogue based on my set of rules for rediscovering the meter of the Psalms.

    I wasn’t able to find a consistent regular meter in the full Decalogue text, as would be expected from a text of laws, unlike, for example, in the texts of Psalms which were meant to be sung. However, a few recurring patterns of meter did make themselves evident. This suggests that the text might have had meter in part- meter that was possibly a rhetorical device- for out of the Ten Commandments, seven start with seven-syllables meter and three are composed of three syllables, creating a total of 7×7+3×3 pattern.

    However, this meter is found if Rule#3 of my set of rules is not applied. Still, this might represent an earlier level of text and a dialect that may be called “Mosean” as it is ascribed to Moses and his time) that is earlier than the later dialect in the Psalms (perhaps a dialect that could be termed “Davidean” as it is ascribed to David or his contemporaries). A hint for this is possibly manifested in the pronunciation of the ancient and holy name of God ([e-]lo-him) as is kept in the Davidean dialect of the Psalms, despite its difference from Rule#3, in which a ‘mem sofit’ (i.e. ending a word) should be counted as a full syllable.

    The amazing thing is that even if we follow the Tiberian nikud (punctuation marks) that is part of the masorah (Jewish tradition from the 12th century AD) a nikud in which when we pronounce each ‘shva’ as ‘shava nach’ (i.e. not an independent syllable), the meter would manifest itself as well. The only rule that should be added to the Tiberian accents system is my Rule #1, regarding not counting as syllables Vav Aleph and Hey when they are at the beginning of words.

    However, out of the seven Decalogue laws that start with seven syllables, in two of the laws there is an added syllable according to the Tiberian accents system (i.e. the masorah). This is very strange since in both places there exists a pronunciation (nikud) in the Bible that would have made these beginnings of laws have seven syllables.
    In this I’m referring to the nikud (punctuation) of the words: she-mor in Deuteronomy 5:11 which appears as shmor in Ecclesiastes 12:13; and i-me-cha in Deuteronomy 5:15 which appears as as im-cha in Leviticus 18:13, 2 Kings 9:22 and various other places in the Bible.

    Some might claim that the reason for these “inaccuracies” in the Tiberian accents system is the gap in time between those who set the Tiberian accents system rules and the ancient metered pronunciation like the one I suggest for the beginning of the laws of the Decalogue here. However, the two deviations here in the Tiberian nikud from the regular seven syllables are intentional and have meaning just like in a Japanese haiku in which adding a syllable to a line has a reason and meaning.
    The possible reason for adding a syllable to the words shmor (as she-mor) which means “keep [the Shabbat]” and im-cha (as i-me-cha) which means “mother” is to suggest that these are even more important and have additional meaning and importance in this half-metered text of the Decalogue. These words “count as more” if one would like.

    To conclude we could state that in the Decalogue, the laws have a repeating beginning of alternatively seven or three syllables meter, if my Rule#1 is joined with the Tiberian nikud, and all appearances of the shva are read as shva nach. The two only deviations from this are most likely the result of intentional attempts to point to added meaning and importance of two words: “To keep” [the Shabbat] and “mother”.

    The same that is said here is also true for the other slightly different version of the Decalogue in Exodus 20. Yet, the differences between these two places do not result in any difference in the seven or three syllables meter, so that all that is said here for Deuteronomy 5 is also valid for Exodus 20.