Saturday, 30 May 2020

Psalm 145, the missing nun

How would you know that a verse was missing from a poem? If you knew it was an English sonnet then you would expect 14 lines and if there were only 13, you would infer that something was missing.

There are some poems in the Bible that tell you there are lines missing. Then the question is, was it deliberate? Did the poet want to make a point about 13 line sonnets?

Lots of people have taken up the problem of the missing nun in Psalm 145. Many English readers may not know that this is a special form of poem, an alphabetic acrostic. Each line or set of lines in an acrostic begins with a letter of the alphabet in its sequence.

This alone is interesting. These ancient poets were aware of the game, and of their 22 letters, and they show this awareness in 13 poems in the Hebrew Bible. (Maybe this holy sonnet is missing something? Joke.)

The thirteen acrostics are: 4 in the first book of the Psalms, 4 in the last book of the Psalms, 4 in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and one in the Proverbs.

Only 5 of these are complete. The 4 in the first book of the Psalms are, without exception, missing several letters. Of the 4 in the last book of the Psalms, only one, Psalm 145, is missing a letter.
Curiously, the 4 in the Lamentations are complete except that Peh and Ayin are in reverse order. Proverbs 31 is complete.

The acrostics form a circular structure based on the psalm preceding each - 4 acrostics over 5 psalms in book 1, and 4 acrostics over 3 psalms in book 5. It is a complex structure.  I have an image here.

Book 1
Psalm 9-10

qrwtFollows the glorious ubn-adm child of humanity - a little less than God
Psalm 25abgdh
zk+iclmnsypxqrwtFollows the mi zh mlç hcbod - who is this, the king of glory?
Psalm 34abgdh
zk+iclmnsypxqrwtFollows the only psalm in book 1 without an inscription, the first mention of a new song, wiru-lo wir kdw
Psalm 37abgdhvzk+iclmns
pxqrwtFollows the first Oracle 1/2 in the psalms
Book 5
Psalm 111
abgdhvzk+iclmnsypxqrwtFollows the second Oracle 2/2 in the psalms (about Yahweh)
Psalm 112abgdhvzk+iclmnsypxqrwtFollows also the second Oracle (About a happy person who fears Yahweh)
Psalm 119abgdhvzk+iclmnsypxqrwtFollows the psalm containing bruç hba bwm ihvh, the words of the Benedictus
Psalm 145abgdhvzk+iclm
sypxqrwtFollows the less than glorious bn-anow humanity that is futility, its days as a shadow passing away.
Lamentations 1abgdhvzk+iclmnsyxpqrwt
Lamentations 2abgdhvzk+iclmnsyxpqrwt
Lamentations 3abgdhvzk+iclmnsyxpqrwt
Lamentations 4abgdhvzk+iclmnsyxpqrwt
Proverbs 31,
verses 10-31

So this kind of poetry is a known form and seems to be manipulated. Possibly there are missing verses in the psalms of book 1, or possibly the poet deliberately left some flaws. Including a great tear in Psalm 10.

But 9 of the acrostics have all the letters. And it seems that Lamentations has deliberately reversed two letters, perhaps out of sorrow. (Some music here based on the accents, Lamentations 1-4).

Psalms 145 is also complete if we look at the dead sea scrolls and the Septuagint. So I have added a reconstructed verse to my data. Significantly it lacks one affirmation of faithfulness. Note the patterns of all/every (cl).

Psalms 145 Fn Min Max Syll Avg S/N
תְּהִלָּ֗ה לְדָ֫וִ֥ד
אֲרוֹמִמְךָ֣ אֱלוֹהַ֣י הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ
וַאֲבָרֲכָ֥ה שִׁ֝מְךָ֗ לְעוֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד
1 A praise of David.
I will exalt you my God the king,
and I will bless your name forever and ever.
3e 4B 6
בְּכָל־י֥וֹם אֲבָרֲכֶ֑ךָּ
וַאֲהַלְלָ֥ה שִׁ֝מְךָ֗ לְעוֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד
2 Bless you I will in every day,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
3e 4A 8
גָּ֘ד֤וֹל יְהוָ֣ה וּמְהֻלָּ֣ל מְאֹ֑ד
וְ֝לִגְדֻלָּת֗וֹ אֵ֣ין חֵֽקֶר
3 ~ Great is Yahweh and much to be praised,
and his greatness is beyond examining.
3e 4C 9
דּ֣וֹר לְ֭דוֹר יְשַׁבַּ֣ח מַעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ
וּגְב֖וּרֹתֶ֣יךָ יַגִּֽידוּ
4 B Down through the generations the commendation of your deeds,
and your valour will be conspicuous.

3e 4B 10
הֲ֭דַר כְּב֣וֹד הוֹדֶ֑ךָ
וְדִבְרֵ֖י נִפְלְאוֹתֶ֣יךָ אָשִֽׂיחָה
5 g Honour, glory, your splendour,
and the words of your wonders I ponder.
3e 4B 7
וֶעֱז֣וּז נוֹרְאֹתֶ֣יךָ יֹאמֵ֑רוּ
וּגְדוּלָּתְךָ֥ אֲסַפְּרֶֽנָּה
6 Vocal they will be of strength and your fearfulness,
and I will recount your greatness.
3e 4B 10
זֵ֣כֶר רַב־טוּבְךָ֣ יַבִּ֑יעוּ
וְצִדְקָתְךָ֥ יְרַנֵּֽנוּ
7 B Zealous in the memory of your abundant goodness,
they will shout aloud of your righteousness.

3e 4B 8
חַנּ֣וּן וְרַח֣וּם יְהוָ֑ה
אֶ֥רֶךְ אַ֝פַּ֗יִם וּגְדָל־חָֽסֶד
8 How gracious and compassionate is Yahweh,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
3e 4B 7
טוֹב־יְהוָ֥ה לַכֹּ֑ל
וְ֝רַחֲמָ֗יו עַל־כָּל־מַעֲשָֽׂיו
9 To all Yahweh is good,
and his compassion is over all he has made.
3e 4A 5
יוֹד֣וּךָ יְ֭הוָה כָּל־מַעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ
וַ֝חֲסִידֶ֗יךָ יְבָרֲכֽוּכָה
10 Yahweh, all you have made will give you thanks,
and those under your mercy will bless you.

3e 4B 10
כְּב֣וֹד מַלְכוּתְךָ֣ יֹאמֵ֑רוּ
וּגְבוּרָתְךָ֥ יְדַבֵּֽרוּ
11 Kingdom glory will be their talk,
and of your valour they will speak.
3e 4B 8
לְהוֹדִ֤יעַ ׀ לִבְנֵ֣י הָ֭אָדָם גְּבוּרֹתָ֑יו
וּ֝כְב֗וֹד הֲדַ֣ר מַלְכוּתֽוֹ
12 Letting his valour be known to the children of humanity,
and the glorious honour of his reign.
3e 4C 13
מַֽלְכוּתְךָ֗ מַלְכ֥וּת כָּל־עֹֽלָמִ֑ים
וּ֝מֶֽמְשֶׁלְתְּךָ֗ בְּכָל־דּ֥וֹר וָדֽוֹר
נְאֶמַ֗ן יְהוָ֣ה בִדְבָרָ֑יו
וְחַסִ֡יד בְּכּ֥וֹל מַעֲשָֽׂיו
13 Making your reign a reign for every era,
and your governance in all generations.

Note that faithful is Yahweh in his words,
and merciful in all his deeds.
3e 4B 9
סוֹמֵ֣ךְ יְ֭הוָה לְכָל־הַנֹּפְלִ֑ים
וְ֝זוֹקֵ֗ף לְכָל־הַכְּפוּפִֽים
14 Supports Yahweh all the fallen,
and he uplifts all the disturbed.
3e 4B 9
עֵֽינֵי־כֹ֭ל אֵלֶ֣יךָ יְשַׂבֵּ֑רוּ
וְאַתָּ֤ה נֽוֹתֵן־לָהֶ֖ם אֶת־אָכְלָ֣ם בְּעִתּֽוֹ
15 Eyes all rely on you,
and you yourself give them their food in its time.
3e 4C 10
פּוֹתֵ֥חַ אֶת־יָדֶ֑ךָ
וּמַשְׂבִּ֖יעַ לְכָל־חַ֣י רָצֽוֹן
16 Perfect, you open your hand,
satisfying acceptance of all that lives.
3e 4B 7
צַדִּ֣יק יְ֭הוָה בְּכָל־דְּרָכָ֑יו
וְ֝חָסִ֗יד בְּכָל־מַעֲשָֽׂיו
17 So righteous is Yahweh in all his ways,
and merciful in all his deeds.
3e 4B 9
קָר֣וֹב יְ֭הוָה לְכָל־קֹרְאָ֑יו
לְכֹ֤ל אֲשֶׁ֖ר יִקְרָאֻ֣הוּ בֶאֱמֶֽת
18 Quick is Yahweh to all calling him,
to all who call him in truth.

3e 4C 8
רְצוֹן־יְרֵאָ֥יו יַעֲשֶׂ֑ה
וְֽאֶת־שַׁוְעָתָ֥ם יִ֝שְׁמַ֗ע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵֽם
19 Reasoned acceptance he will make for those who fear him,
and he will hear their cry and will save them.
3e 4A 8
שׁוֹמֵ֣ר יְ֭הוָה אֶת־כָּל־אֹהֲבָ֑יו
וְאֵ֖ת כָּל־הָרְשָׁעִ֣ים יַשְׁמִֽיד
20 Shelters Yahweh all loving him,
and all the wicked he will exterminate.
3e 4B 9
תְּהִלַּ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה יְֽדַבֶּ֫ר־פִּ֥י
וִיבָרֵ֣ךְ כָּל־בָּ֭שָׂר שֵׁ֥ם קָדְשׁ֗וֹ לְעוֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד
21 To the praise of Yahweh my mouth will speak,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
3e 4B 9

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