Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Psalm 91 - alternative readings

Psalm 91 paired with psalm 90 begins book 4 of the Psalms. This alone gives it a foundation. Book 4 is framed by Moses (90 and 106) and Renewal (the two prayers in the book, 90 and 102).

Moses and renewal are the solution to the problems of books 2 and 3 of the Psalms. So how to phrase this Psalm. I will look at comparisons of select verses of KJV, Prayer book, Alter, and Bob. These verses are selected because I have this report of Alter's version via Adam Kirsch in my hand.

KJV: verses 9 - 12
9 Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge,
even the most High, thy habitation;
10 There shall no evil befall thee,
neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands,
lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

9 For you—the Lord is your refuge,
the Most High you have made your abode.
10 No harm will befall you,
nor affliction draw near to your tent.
11 For His messengers He charges for you
to guard you on all your ways.
12 On their palms they lift you up
lest your foot be bruised by a stone.
Interpreting the accents in the Hebrew text per the key of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura for Psalms 91:9-12
Here are my few verses - then we will see what can be learned.

9 For you Yahweh are my refuge.
The Most High you have set up as your habitation.

10 Evil will not opportune you,
and contagion will not approach within your tent.

11B For his messengers he will command about you,
to keep you in all your ways.

12 In their palms they will lift you up,
lest you stub your foot with a stone.


What are the differences?
There is much that is agreed. - The atnah for Alter and for me determines the phrasing. The KJV is really awkward in verse 9. Did they have a problem with direct speech to 'the LORD' and then an immediate switch of point of view? This happens all the time in the Psalms. KJV has made a single sentence where it does not seem to be necessary.

Alter has your refuge. The Hebrew in the Leningrad codex is my refuge.

Alter and I have differences in gloss. My glosses are controlled by a program that will not let me overlap English lemma forms with multiple Hebrew stems unless I can justify it and I explicitly create an exception to this rule. The glosses he uses that would violate the rules for me are these:
  • abode - for me is גור. 
  • made עשה, vs set שום. Make is of course a common helping verb. Best avoided as the main gloss for a stem if עשה is not actually used.
  • habitation מוען is a key word linking this Psalm to Psalm 90. (Prayer and response). I wonder if he rendered Psalm 90:1 with abode or attempted the word play in that psalm with verse 17 נעם, the letters reversed (I didn't).
  • harm is not among my synonyms for רעע evil. Harm (my word for אסן occurs 5 times only) is too bland.
  • אנה is opportune where he has befall which for me is a gloss for קרה.
  • approach for me is קרב and I do allow the synonym draw near, though it is tied to near, since draw out is a separate stem. 
  • affliction for me is ענה. This word is נגע touch, hence contagion.
  • charge does not suggest command to me. צוה is the stem. 678 of 685 uses of this stem are command/commandment in my reading. I also allow commission, and three times set in order.
  • bruise. This is a loaded word in the traditional English. KJV overlaps the stems in the Hebrew. Genesis 3:15 has the stem שׁוף which is used only 4 times in the Bible. Isaiah 53 is not this stem but דכא. The sense is crushing. It is simply not possible to study the word relationships by free association of synonyms in the KJV. Poetry or not, this KJV translation has a lot of damage to answer for. The word I use here is stub for the stem נגף. 
So in 4 verses, Alter and I have 8 significant disagreements. He is flexible in his glossing, as much or more than the KJV. This to my mind leads eventually to false associations and theological short-circuits.

Some of my separations are perhaps too rigid. Perhaps I should allow more m to n relationships. It could be possible to justify more variation than I have allowed, but not in the name of literary form. Justification would come through the assessment of the development of the Hebrew language over the period 1200 BCE to 200 BCE, a thousand years. I am unconvinced of anything I have read on the inferences about the history of the language itself.

Here's my word for word. Hover to see the stem. There is too much information to process even with just 4 verses.
9כי forכי אתה youאתה יהוה Yahwehיהוה מחסי are my refugeחסה עליון the Most Highעליון שׂמת you have set upשׂום מעונך as your habitationמעון
10לא notלא תאנה will opportuneאנה אליך youאל רעה evilרעע ונגע and contagionנגע לא notלא יקרב will approachקרב באהלך within your tentאהל
11כי forכי מלאכיו his messengersמלאך יצוה he will commandצוה לך about youל לשׁמרך to keep youשׁמר בכל in allכל דרכיך your waysדרך
12על inעל כפים their palmsכף ישׂאונך they will lift you upנשׂא פן lestפן תגף you stubנגף באבן with a stoneאבן רגלך your footרגל

Finally, note the stems in this passage beginning with נג and a couple of others that seem possibly related by sound.

נגח gore (7) push back (5) pushing back (1)
נגן string (9) perform (8) music (5) vat (4) performed music (2) accompany (1) musician (1) orchestra (1) performance (1) string play (1) vats (1) warble (1)
נגע touch (143) contagion (79) join (4) contagious (1)
נגף plague (78) stub (3) -- (1)
נגר wrung out (6) wring out (2) wrings out (1)
נגשׁ overture (39) come close (37) came close (30) brought close (10) bring close (9) bump (1) lump (1)
נגשׂ taskmaster (11) harass (5) exact (4) exploit (2) exacting tax (1)

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