Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Discipline of Reading the Psalms

Is this a New Year's Resolution?

Since December 16, 2020 I have gone back to looking at the psalms, starting with Psalm 51. I have not achieved any particular discipline. My going back is more a random access to Psalms, but we have covered quite a few these past two weeks, 51, 119, 68, 96, 93, 100, 12, and 78 and I have probably mentioned a few others. We have managed about 1 Psalm every two days. I will try and keep this up. We have covered the two longest psalms in this set of 9. That's a lot of verses.

I find my thoughts somewhat random. I have at my fingertips psalm output in Hebrew, SimHebrew, my English translation, and with measures of syllables by colon (=stich, poetic line), or the full prosody of the music.

Of course I can look at other translations - but I find them still opaque. My transparency comes from the fully searchable nature of my database and the number of ways I have been able to short-circuit the laborious finding similar turns of phrase in the Hebrew text. The nice thing about the text in a database is that if there's something I can't find, I can design a query to narrow it down. But while I am transparent to myself, I may be still opaque to my readers.

When I say, for instance that the phrases in Psalm 93 pride clothedand strength self-girded are both unique phrases in the Scripture, I have proven that by looking at the sequence of the paired roots. These two roots occur many times, but the pair only occurs this once. I have a special form for this. I have been wondering how I could make this sort of phrasing available on web pages. A. It doesn't seem very easy at the moment. B. I wonder how significant such uniqueness is. Rarity may be more frequent than I would have thought. The sampling of this ancient tongue that we have is not huge.

I tried to see if I could use the concordance pages, I looked up pride, thinking I would click the link for gah. Hey - wait! Pride occurs three times in the search on the concordance page: once for a pride in the sense of a pride of lions, and once for the verb to gather, where it is the lions gathering, so I used a reflexive, they pride themselves, inventing a new use of a verb for the lion's gathering. But the real pride is still there. It came up third because I had it classified under Sin - not entirely fair. (There is a root for esteem, but pride itself is not always 'bad').

Furthermore I had an error in the assignment of the root for that use of /asp/ and I had to fix it. Then I broke the concordance page. All the links stopped registering on the browser. (I think they would have worked on my phone - but I didn't try until I made another mistake and broke them for real.) How they failed after editing locally, I don't know, but I was able to restore them since I have them all in the database as well - and after I restored them, and spent 10 minutes away from the computer, the problem went away. (!)

So having fixed the blog, I clicked the link for /gah/ and searched again for pride. It is somewhat frequently used. How could I narrow down the possible unique uses of this word with other adjacent words without the use of the database? I could copy all the words into an offline table from the web page. Then look up the references and see where those references also occurred in other concordance pages. Wait a minute, there are a hundred pages of those - that would be painful. 

It takes several minutes to load the whole glossary on a single webpage. This can be searched but that too is more than cumbersome. Finding the join between gah and lbw cannot be done reasonably without a different strategy.

So I come back to the question, how useful is the unique combination concept? There appear to be several roots that are uniquely used with /lbw/ - not just pride. I was trying to answer this question too quickly. It needs to be reasoned from the most basic data.

lbw (clothe, לבש) has 157 instances. gah (pride, גאה) has 94 instances. So there are 157 other roots that precede lbw besides gah. Surprisingly the first I noticed in the query output was lbw itself. Three times lbw precedes itself: Once in Psalm 93! - but it is across cola and I was measuring by verse. I don't want to see it when it crosses cola, just when it is the same colon - i.e. part of the same phrase between pauses in the verse. The other two are real occurrences: Zephaniah 1:8, clothed in alien clothing. And Job 29:14, Justice I clothed and it clothed me.

It turns out there are 71 instances of /lbw/ where it occurs only once with its preceding root. So uniqueness of paired words is not rare. It must follow that the remaining 86 instances are not unique. Either there is no root preceding /lbw/ in the verse or there are several instances of a few roots. We have already seen that it recurs with itself 3 times. Here are the 25 instances that recur more than once.

aiw 6, alvh 2, argmn 4, at 2, ath 2, awr 2, bgd 7, bit 2, bli 3, bwr 2, chn 3, ci 2, cl 2, csa 2, hdr 4, la 3, lbw 3, mlc 2, ntn 2, qdw 3, qrb 3, raw 3, wrt 2, yl 4, yvr 3. (Total is 73 leaving 13 with no preceding root. It adds up!) Of course all the references are in the post for lbw. (and that's not leg-before-wicket).

Would this be the pattern for other pairs of roots? I would only need to test about 2000x2000 possibilities to find out how many of these 4 million combinations occur only once. Maybe not but let's leave it for a while.

What Psalm would summarize this complexity? Is there a psalm that expresses large numbers and theories of combinatorics? Maybe Psalm 3. It's important anyway. Psalm 2 has just mentioned the enemies of the anointed. Psalm 3 multiplies the straits.

spr thlim

Book of Psalms



amzmor ldvid,
bborko mpni abwlom bno.
1A psalm of David,
when he ran away from the face of Absalom his son.
bihvh mh-rbu xrii!
rbim qmim ylii.
2Yahweh, how multiplied my straits!
Many arise over me.
grbim aomrim lnpwi,
ain iwuyth lo balohim slh.
3Many say of me,
There is no salvation for him in God. Selah.
dvath ihvh mgn bydi,
cbodi umrim rawi.
4But you, Yahweh, a shield about me,
my glory, and lifting high my head.
hqoli al-ihvh aqra,
viynni mhr qodwo slh.
5My voice, to Yahweh I call,
and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah.
vani wcbti vaiwnh.
ci ihvh ismcni.
6I lie down and I sleep.
I awake,
for Yahweh supports me.
zla-aira mrbbot ym,
awr sbib wtu ylii.
7I will not fear the multiplicity of people,
that surround set over me.
kqumh ihvh howiyni alohii ci-hcit at-cl-aoibii lki.
wini rwyim wibrt.
8Arise Yahweh. Save me my God for you strike all my enemies on the cheek.
The teeth of the wicked you break.
'tlihvh hiwuyh.
yl-ymç brctç slh.
9Of Yahweh is the salvation.
On your people your blessing. Selah.

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