Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Can you start hearing in the middle of a song?

Music and Scripture - is it really possible to hear that art-song that was finally imposed on the collected and edited words of the ancient writings in Hebrew? I cannot imagine that the song preceded the writing or even the collection. Like plainsong or Anglican chant, the writing must have preceded the musical genre, a pattern of melodies and modes created to adorn and package the text. The collected writings are so diverse and from so many times and places, it is not possible that the same musical motif would have existed without change over that 800 year period. So the music is late, imposed when it was realized that this tradition that forms the people must be preserved - not just with memory but with the technical assistance of music.

Like stones cast on the water, we have been skipping through Genesis for a few weeks. Now I will make a sudden switch to Isaiah. I am picking an alternative passage to the Bethel incident. Henry and Jody Neufeld are beginning a Google+ hangout session every week on selected lectionary readings. So I have gone with their choice in the lectionary. The reading and commenting on this strategy for reading is a complex business. It requires a two to three week planning cycle - such a discipline! No more random reads. And now I am a whole week ahead again. Liturgy has some interesting comments on the process here. It turns out that reading the Bible is, after all, rocket science.

Back to the question: The Isaiah lesson is only a few verses. Isaiah 44:6-8. A snippet, one of those where YHWH seems to 'predict' - yet the prediction is not specific and is not even in these verses. The prophesy has much more to do with the care of Yahweh for his people, both the chosen and indeed all the people of the world. Here it is.
So what does it mean? It is not that often that we have heard the low C. First, it occurs only in the prose books, not in the Psalms. In the examples I have so far, in roughly 1400 verses outside the Psalms, there are about 100 instances compared to 1400 for the tonic E or 300 for the D below the tonic. The dominant B occurs roughly 1300 times, the high C about 550 times.  We are not counting notes here - just occurrences of the sign itself. Extended recitation on the high C is frequent as can be seen immediately above. Such recitation on the low C is rare.

Here's a translation: 
6. Thus says Yahweh
with a little emphasis on says.
And the last syllable of the name is alone on the low C.
This may indicate that it was stressed on the last syllable.
the king of Israel and his redeemer, Yahweh of hosts.
The music comes to a rest at the mid point of the verse
 - a common occurrence
I am the first and I am the last 
First and last each get an ornament,
the pitch rises - it is an announcement
and apart from me there is no God

7 And who, as I do,  will call, will make it plain, will arrange it for me
to set in place the people of the age, and the things that are and that are coming,
let them make it clear to them
Who is to care for the people as Yahweh does
this is not a prediction of the future but a care for the present
but it is a challenge to anyone who would care for the world as Yahweh cares.
8 Do not be in dread and do not be afraid
Have I not from then made you hear 
and made it clear to you
that you are my witnesses
Is there any God apart from me, or any rock?
not to my knowledge.

This little section, Isaiah 44:6-8, makes little sense without reading the prior verses, Isaiah 44:1-5. [There is a pdf of the whole section in the usual place - where I store the hundreds of transcriptions I have done using the software that I have written to convert the text automatically to music.] The music does not stand alone in this case. So look at how the command to not be afraid wraps the whole chapter so far and how this chapter is to comfort the chosen people who have had such a burden to bear - that of being witnesses to Yahweh on behalf of the whole world. This is a consistent message with the Psalms. It also directly links to the NT lesson, the parable of the wheat and the tares, through the reference in Matthew 13:35 to Psalm 78:2, Israel as his parable. This phrase is also in Psalm 114 verse 2 - but no one translates it as Israel his parables except me.

Again the NT lesson has omitted the surrounding verses. It is like eating the bread of a sandwich without its content.