Thursday, June 17, 2021

The last verse of Psalms 9

 Psalms 9 discussion is completed today. I am going to put my comment here since it has too many things for a comment on this first section of the Psalter. (The comment stream is extensive at Christopher's site. The whole is worth some effort.)

There are two words in this section that are used in a circular structure a-b-b-a. This form has come to be known as a chiasm since on paper if you join each of the word pairs with a line, you might see an X, like the Greek letter Chi. These two words, nation and mortal, also tie together these first 10 psalms and focus us on the last three in particular.

Here's the pattern in this last section of Psalms 9. 

Arise Yahweh, let a mortal not be strong.
 Let the nations be judged in your presence.

Impose, Yahweh. Fear to them.
 Let the nations know
 their mortality. Selah.

Note also that the final verse has a strange pause in the middle of a sentence in the translation. This pause is actually on the word goyim, right in the middle of a sentence. It emphasizes the word nation outside of its grammatical context. It is a musical 'rest point'.

The word mortal, enosh, ties Psalms 8, 9, and 10 together. What is this mortal? mh-anow? roughly (ma enosh) The nations first appear in Psalms 2 (twice) then Psalms 9 and 10 - really a single poem in two sections, (6 times).

It is important to use the same gloss if you can in a translation because it is respecting the poet's desire to repeat sounds. This is done both for structure and for emphasis. NRSV in this case imposes a colloquialism (only human) onto the translation. It is not a good choice here because it obscures the repetition of mortal. And it is not a suitable word for human anyway. That should be /adm/, since the human is from the ground (humus).

This section also contains an appeal to y-h-v-h to 'arise'. To do something. To deal with the ruins. This is the third time we have seen this construction qumh ihvh, Psalms 3, 7, here, and again in Psalms 10. This is another verbal connection giving coherence to this section of the Psalter. The first question in Psalms 10 will make this request even more poignant.

There is a general warning that I have expressed here about translation. HP (the Hebrew poet) deliberately repeats words and sounds as a foundational part of Hebrew poetic strategy. Such repetition (two sounds too close to each other) was considered bad style in English composition. The King James and all translations based on it do not allow this technique to be heard. This is even mentioned as a feature in the intro to the KJV. It turns out to be a fundamental error in translation strategy. So for instance, the KJV likes heathen as a synonym for nation. The revisers don't like that word heathen and for good reason. It shows a bias and this revision (at least) is to be welcomed. KJV was making a second more insidious translation error using heathen - imposing their attitude on foreigners.

I have built a concordance these past 16 years to make public the discrete roots of every word in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is available here ( and is very easy to use. If you hover over a reference, you will see both NRSV and my translation together. My translation has been published (but it's not famous) and is available in ebook form. (See the links on this page.) 

The SimHebrew Bible is nearing completion. Only Chronicles remains. Publication dates are not yet announced. If anyone is interested in reviewing or critiquing a part of the Bible before final release, please let me know.

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