Saturday, 1 May 2021

Psalms 82

 This psalm features in the latest carnival in a post by Claude Mariottini. Claude reviews a work by Moberly. I will continue my reading of Tate in the Word Biblical Commentary and add a few thoughts on the psalm based on structure and music embedded in the text.

First, here's my translation.

thlim pb Psalms 82 Fn Min Max Syll
a mzmor lasf
alohim nixb bydt-al
bqrb alohim iwpo't
1 A psalm of Asaph.
God takes a stand in the divine assembly,
in the close combat of gods he judges.
3e 4B 5
b yd-mtii twp'tu-yvvl
upni rwyim twau-slh
2 How long will you judge with injustice,
and with the presence of the-many wicked you bear? Selah.

3e 4A 7
g wp'tu-dl vitom
yni vrw hxdiqu
3 You judge weak and orphan,
poor and those in want. Do what is right.
3e 4B 6
d pl'tu-dl vabion
mid rwyim hxilu
4 Secure weak and needy,
from the hand of the-many wicked, deliver.

3e 4B 6
h la idyu vla ibinu bkwich ithlcu
iimo'tu cl-mosdi arx
5 They do not know and they do not understand. In the darkness they walk.
Dislodged are all the foundations of earth.
C 3e 4C 16
v ani-amrti alohim atm
ubni ylion culcm
6 I myself said, Gods you are,
and children of the Most High all of you.
3e 4B 9
z acn cadm tmutun
ucakd hwrim tipolu
7 Nevertheless as humans you will die,
and as one of the nobility you will fall.

g 3e 4B 8
k qumh alohim wop'th harx
ci-ath tnkl bcl-hgoiim
8 Arise O God, judge the earth,
for you yourself will inherit among all the nations.
3e 4B 10

Here is the usage of ysd (foundation) in the Bible. Do these 15 occurrences in the Psalms help in understanding this assembly of the Gods refers to in the Psalter. Note that I have connected reason with foundation in the Psalms. (I overlapped reason with contend for the acrostic in Psalms 119 - this is play as well as serious.) Is reason a part of the foundation of the world? This root is also the root from which /svd/ is derived.

Though I used an English gloss for wit (the Hebrew root that is) in Psalms 11 (if the fundamentals are overthrown...) and in five other places in the Bible, this root /wit/ (primary gloss set) is separate from /isd/ but there is an analogy, just as the settings in a computer program determine how it will work with respect to the foundational principles in the coding of the system. So yesterday's post on Psalms 11 is related by concept, but not by word usage in this case.

Claude asks the obvious question: what does a 'council of the gods' have to do with us today in the postmodern 21st century? (postmodern is clearly an oxymoron). Note that I did not use council (svd) because the word is assembly (ydt). bydt-al is a hapax. It's not therefore connected to Jeremiah by word similarity, though conceptually it is not an impossible connection - but Jeremiah has the phrase bsvd ihvh - which has its double in the acrostic psalm 25, the only other place where ihvh is preceded by svd in the Bible. You can check it out in the concordance here.

His review of Moberly's writing is quite reasonable. But how different is 'the assembly of the gods' from the governing of the nations by their various forms of government and the multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations in the world today? What is the justice we expect? Do the structures under which we live 'bear with the presence of the-many wicked'?

Tate has pages of comprehensive commentary. They could be the subject of dozens of posts. The long and short of it in his final explanation, even given the uniqueness of this 59 word poem, is this: 
The responsibilities of the gods are ours. Thus despite the heavenly setting in the psalm it points us toward firmly grounding our religion in the earthly needs of people. An abstract theology which seeks to separate itself from human affairs leads to a sentence of death. ... the world is prone to believe that ... the gods of indifference and injustice are still in control... (p 341).

I am troubled by his separation of heaven and earth and his invocation of religion in this context. I think he is getting at the right result though. 

So who are the gods? The gods are not 'indifference' or 'injustice'. This is confused language. The characteristics of the gods are self-interest, privilege, and opportunity. What will they, i.e. we, do with such a situation? To place the poem in an ancient setting, I think the gods are the princes and kings round about Israel and including Israel and Judah. They arise out of the people or they inherit their wealth and privilege. They are the not-poor. 

We are to identify with these 'gods', whether localized in heaven or earth. And we have a responsibility towards the poor and disadvantaged. 

The psalm is not archaic with respect to its intent: that we should have the same preferential option for the poor that is evident in the character of God. The existential threat is obvious, or should be, to us all. 

(What happens to people when they have such privilege? The Atlantic today has an article on riches - is it true - does privilege lead to a lack of compassion?)

I have no performance of the music. Structurally, Tate sees this psalm as chiastic with verse 5 at the centre of three circles. 

a mzmor lasf alohim nixb bydt-al bqrb alohim iwpo't
b yd-mtii twp'tu-yvvl upni rwyim twau-slh
g wp'tu-dl vitom yni vrw hxdiqu
d pl'tu-dl vabion mid rwyim hxilu
h la idyu vla ibinu bkwich ithlcu iimo'tu cl-mosdi arx
v ani-amrti alohim atm ubni ylion culcm
z acn cadm tmutun ucakd hwrim tipolu
k qumh alohim wop'th harx ci-ath tnkl bcl-hgoiim

Does the music support this? The first four verses approach the atnah from below. The last three approach from above. Verse 5 is clearly unique with its initial note being the high C. Identifying the centre is clear. The other 'circles' are more subjective. Recurring words support a movement from judge to a focus on earth.
Recurrence pattern for selected words in Psalms 82

God, by the way is not just standing (ymd), God is taking a stand (nxb).

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