Sunday, December 24, 2006

Psalm 6 revisited

I just uncovered a scansion of Psalm 6 by John Hobbins along with several other articles on Hebrew poetry.

I have compared this structure as described with Fokkelman's. It is still too early for me to confirm or deny syllable counts but the comparison helped remove a few errors and extra words from my own first cuts. See here for Fokkelman's version using my word by word structuring; and here for Hobbins using his line by line structuring (much more compact).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


You know of course that my translations are raw - not pious or poetic yet - but raw. Repeat: talk to me about corrections if you can see any. Sometimes the most familiar psalms (like 51) are the hardest to translate. I am looking for a way to reread the ones I have done so far to see what I can remember and learn from. It's still a foreign tongue to this 3 year old.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Psalm 89 is a serious lament to God. The last verse is the doxology for the third part of the Psalter - It fits as an end to this psalm, but it is not a part of the poem. The poem itself ends with the possible allusion to Genesis 3:15, but certainly with a continuing reminder to God that there are promises to be fulfilled.

The poem's structure begins with a concentric first stanza around the pair of verbs: establish and build up. Several words contribute further (coloured in green) here. I have drawn lines to show the structure as well as marking it with colour.

The second stanza - if indeed it is a stanza, is marked by 'the congregation' as opening and closing brackets. The rhetorical question - who is like the LORD is in the centre of that circle with a coda following.

The third section (top of column 2) recalls Psalm 46. In the centre, Sabbath is allowed for the waves of the seas (bless Christopher Smart - Jubilate Agno).

The fourth section has 'lifted up' and 'righteousness' marking the inclusio.
This motif is carried into the third column where the 'lifted up' verb is repeated three times, reinforced by the additional word - horn. Note also the refer-back to the sea and how even the seas are subject to the anointed.

The next long column is bound with the words 'forever', 'seed', and 'throne' - the section spilled over into column 5 ending with the Selah just before the change in mood - so I moved the verses into a single column to see better the concentric structures.

Column 5 balances the power of the verbs at the top of column 2 and the power implied by the covenant promises - as noted in the white on black colours. Here there is no need to 'explain' God's displeasure. There is a 14-fold repetition of the complaint.

Re the final column, where is the concept of 'the anointed bearing on his breast the multitude of peoples' coming from in the poet's mind? It is a primal human experience: the care for others. As Bruggeman points out in his book, Israel's Praise, the Psalms are world-making and the King though the patron of the cult, is also subject to the cost of the tender loving kindness of God: his people and all the others are on his breast. A father with a disabled child who refuses to learn independence and choose the good will know a similar responsibility that weighs heavily on the breast.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Psalm 150

Nothing like getting to the end before the journey is done. Psalm 150 is one I have sung many times but never before observed its simple structure: praise of the LORD who is God and praise with the means at our command. Conceptually at least, the whole is in two parts - 1. who 2. how and with a wrapper: Praise the Lord. I have republished all the images with no reduction of jpg size - so they are large, some of them. Yesterday I lost a day - but I was not alone; two of my staff also thought today was Thursday! So it is not just my involvement with learning a new language. Actually the form of the language is new but the human content is not. The poems are new and fresh but the forms of the poetry are not. Psalm 89 verse 38(39) was an issue - there is no mention of transgression, but a piling on of verbs - anaphoric almost. You have rejected us, you have cast us off, remember that we are but dust. I at first misread the verb as ZNH rather than ZNX - the first is really impolite, virtually accusing G-d as behaving like a harlot! The second is just rejection, not unfaithfulness, though the psalmist comes as close as he dare to pile on the compaint: 13 verbs in a row.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ho hum - not bored or anything, but more psalms

Psalm 100 and 67 are coloured; Psalm 89 is nearly finished, but wondering what to do with the very nasty word applied to God in verse 38 - dreamt of a tiger last night - sleeping with such - hmmm, growly. (At least it was a rare creature, not a roaring lion - ya gotta love those tiggers).

Psalms 51 and 91 are next, Psalm 119 in the wings (for ever) and Psalm 90 and 96 have to come soon and 42 - getting hart and water together again. Sooooo much depth and content here - if you don't know it, try it. Taste and see that the Lord is good (34) and dance with the ark to the holy mountain (134).

Thursday, November 30, 2006


There are some changes to the published images - still experimenting; see here. Also experimenting with the Greek and structure of John - not sure where this will lead. See here

Monday, November 20, 2006

My Heart is Inditing

רָחַשׁ לִבִּי, דָּבָר טוֹב My heart overflows with a good word. I am astonished how quickly some things move. I have loaded several more psalms into my workspace. The load preparation program for transcription now loads the transcription into the place where I will put the English. The database engine for the lexicon support is improving. I partially isolated the roots so that the Hebrew will sort by root for comparision purposes. The diagram surface has had up to 22 diagrams open at once and it has been very stable. The multi-tier framework is marvellous to work in - supporting a complex thought process and memory in ways I could not have imagined before doing it. My technical, historical, personal, and theological rivers have merged into one Amazon - hope there aren't too may of those sharp-toothed fish around.

Just loaded psalms 51, 67, 91, 100, and 119 (2195 nodes) - no problem with volume. Just over 6500 nodes are loaded of which 46% represent the 16 psalms translated to date.

Shades of Meaning

There are now Psalms 1-12 and 23, 46, 138, 145 in full colour draft form on the emerging content. In addition Psalm 89 illustrates a lexicon constructed from these first 16 psalms. New features will allow dynamic sorting and filtering of the lexicon in real time in my translation framework. My overall title is 'Shades of Meaning'.

How do we learn what we and others mean in our language and action. Psalms 11 and 12 illustrate this. Would you notice that Psalm 12 is about words? The colour coding shows it - the speaking of humans to each other and the word of God kept in the heavens - (and the heavens are not far distant but immanent). Note the inclusion -beni adam- (children of the dust), between verses 2 and 9 showing that the psalmist responds to the dejection of verse 1 with a complete answer to the issue of faithfulness. Similarly the verses 2-7 in psalm 11 answer the jibe in verse 1. Curious to me that the fire and brimstone imagery are fully present in these early psalms (7,11) - but can they be seen as the refiner's fire rather than solely as destructive and punitive? I think they can if we see the psalmist as reflecting on his own limitations - as surely David has done. So Psalm 3 prepares the way for a pivot at Psalm 51 - but I get ahead of myself. (And Psalms 6 and 9 with their references to Sheol are not connected specifically to punishment but rather to repentance and judgment in the face of the presence of God).

After even so little work (four to six months at an average of 1 hour a day) - I will never read a psalm in any translation the same again.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Reading Lawrence Hoffman's JourneyHome - nice introduction to Jewish thought. His section on translation (literal, contextual-historical, spiritual) reminds me that my translations so far are mostly literal - even to the point of keeping Hebrew word order for the most part. You have to start somewhere. Some of my translations are not 16th century pious literal - He restores my soul becomes he repairs my life. Some are surprising - mercy and reproof will follow me - because the presence of God in reproof is proof of presence and therefore also mercy and loving kindness - but it makes you stop and think.

I have done about 10% of the psalter in this first five month period. I am still a child - hardly at the point where I can sound out the Hebrew words. I am a long way from Ugaritic or textual criticism - but I have focussed on structure - a point which most if not all translations ignore. One day I may do a Berrigan (Uncommon Prayer, A Book of Psalms) but never a Baumann (Ancient Songs Sung Anew) - but first I will be straight up with the words and transfer them to my era only as they move themselves in me.

Working on 10,11,12 and 89 ...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Psalms 6, 7, and 9

Three more - or 2 + 1/2 a psalm more are available in the emerging content; Psalms 10-12 are pending. With Psalm 9-10 I haven't paid any attention yet to the acrostic - too impossible. Still alive after the danger of Psalm 6 which I lost and had to struggle through again, waiting for the miracle of memory. The tool I am using continues to evolve - a lexicon of what I have done is available - but the problem of sorting Hebrew words in root order is formidable. The coding of grammatical rules is only part of the problem of order in a non-alphabetic language. The other parts are variable spellings and vowels. I think I will try sorting with elimination of vowels from the transcription.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


These poems are dangerous. I find it impossible to avoid the reality they portray - judgment and mercy; enemy and chosen; how can one cry out or whisper in safety when the answer comes from consuming fire?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Psalms 4 and 5

Two more early psalms are in the images. 3, 4, and 5 all seem similar in tone - dealing with the enemy and the righteous. In their human capacity, I have coloured both the same as if the poet was not just concerned with the other, but with the humanity within himself that he fights with - the accusing voice. This is particularly clear in Psalm 4. The third psalm answers the sardonic - no salvation for you, fellow - which comes from the other human, but Psalm 4 has such an accusation from the Lord - how long are you going to turn my glory to shame and seek emptiness? This is the Lord talking to the poet, not to the poet's enemies. (At least that is what my colouring implies.)

New features in the diagramming tool allow me to experiment more with shading - fun if nothing else.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Translation is a nice review of how wrong translations can be. But there are many reasons nonetheless for translating. 1. you learn something of the language; 2. you learn how different translations are; 3 you reach deeper into historical communication with the distant past -

I have come across many personal translations of the Psalms in the last 3 months as I have begun this study - from Berrigan to Buddhist; from literal to pious; short and long. What is the attraction? A commonality of human experience expressed in poetry in relation to a known yet unknown presence. I likely have what would be seen as a pious bias but there's more to faith than piety, and more to being than just being right about what you think you ought to think.

I cannot see yet where I am going - but I think that there is a reality to search for in the Psalms and that it has something to teach me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The LORD is winning on wordcount by a country mile

The divine name is clearly the most used in the first 11 psalms I have in the database. There are some hard issues in counting words though - the prefixes and suffixes mean that I will have to list the roots separately - not an automatable job, so I will have to see what can be done to enable it. But time is not of the essence in this work. Many people have done Psalms before me and in much greater and more experienced detail. For a rough cut of wordcounts, see here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Time for an update

In the last two weeks, I have been somewhat stationary. Psalm 145 did get colourfully translated with some attempt to follow the acrostic at least for the first 4 or 5 verses. After that it is impossible - a word I do not like, but I could not choose whether to use Latin letter order or Hebrew letter order and z stumped me as did i and j.

I asked a few questions on the b-hebrews list - very helpful and considerate responses - given the blindness of the questioner. Some keyword analysis is going to happen since I can largely do this with automation, at least at a preliminary level. It is clear that some translations are sensitive - e.g. when deciding to use a first century rather than an earlier or later reading. I am trying to avoid a first century reading; but sometimes the first century reading hits the poet's experience better than any other. That is, the LORD, as deliverer - whether the troubles be our own projection or real 'enemies'.

Questions: how did the writers of the NT read the psalms? (Certainly not like their interpreters - at least sometimes). Did the Psalmist (s) have a similar human experience to their first century interpreters? to later interpreters (including us)?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Psalm 145

My first acrostic - how would you color and translate an acrostic?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 is now available in the emerging content. Drafts now 1/25 complete :). The overall content - I wonder to what extent it will yield to abstraction. If God will not so yield, I doubt that the image will either.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Psalm 3

Psalm 3 has a first draft. Not only am I learning Hebrew - and soon will do a diagram of Hebrew verb forms; but I am learning to find colours for concepts. Psalm 3 was not an easy one. Looks early to me (like the work of a young and not so experienced poet). The danger of assuming that enemies are other than of our own making and projection is a serious one. Psalm 1 mentions the wicked more than the righteous. So I have coloured Psalm 3 showing the wicked (from David's point of view - and who was Absalom anyway - eh - just his son by Bathsheba - right !!) in the same colours as David. Did David love his enemies? Of course - if he was, after all, a man after God's own heart. Not only is our piety 400 years old, but also our attitudes to colonial righteousness. We still make war - in contrast to the prophetic word in Psalm 46. Psalm 3 is now in a completely updated table of contents - you will see that all 150 psalms are ready for a high-level colour coded hierarchic, chiastic, form-critical, supercalifragelistic view.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The first cut at a table of contents

The tool I am using is amazing for learning - no limit on nodes, lots of hooks for links, queries, alerts, charts - but I am not using these yet; a colour palate way beyond my abilities - and now some pending improvements in publishing allowing the linked diagrams and all their supporting links to be published at the click of a mouse.
In the meanwhile, I have a manual portrait of the psalter and the four and a half psalms I have done so far (see the sidebar for the full map).

The general comments are from Creach, Jerome F. D. Yahweh as Refuge and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter ( JSOT SS 127 1996). When I finish, I am not likely to have such a high-level summary, but his starting point has been very helpful. Note also the link to a Wiki site on an overview of the psalter.

more to come ...

Psalm 138 - and jpegs

Here is this short psalm. I find every psalm is taking time - an average of two weeks per psalm. I am not in a hurry, but at this rate it will be 6 years before I get to the end. Undoubtedly, my understanding will improve - but then I will have to review all the first work to consider the howlers in my translation. Oh well... Click to show psalm 138 portrait in colour.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Psalm 138

A short psalm in three; an I section, then a they section, then an I section; but the content is not at all obvious. A portrait will appear, but not yet...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why the Psalms

Why study the Psalms: 3 reasons for me. First, the dialogue between the Father and the Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews is comprised of words from the Psalms. What was that first-century preacher doing? Second, structure is an intriguing study. Third, can one communicate across 2500 years with an ancient mind?

My first diagrams on Hebrews are here - there are about 7 diagrams including a structural overview which I derived from the work of Albert Vanhoye.

Psalm 46

I did a first portrait of Psalm 46. Looking at it, I wonder if the reconstructed refrain should not be omitted except for the one word Selah. The reason is that the centre piece, the security of Jerusalem, is lost with the extra chorus. In the background also is the eschatalogical vision of the second to last section, followed by God in the first person, hinted at throughout the Psalm.

So here is an alternate portrait - making the Psalm bi-partite with God's presence and promise at the centre of each part. here

Ibn Ezra connects the river whose streams make glad the city to that of Psalm 1 (Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms - Uriel Simon p 322) . It is the same phrase in both psalms. It is a reference to God's fruitfulness and the tree of life. Dahood suggests fertility instead of desolations in verse 9. This is a reading that fits the movement of the Psalm.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Psalm 23 has some surprises; currently working on psalm 46 – I think I will skip through the 150 by 23’s or the like to get a first cut.

Psalm 23 is usually read as the ultimate piety - but I think that the poet had less than that in mind. He was more concerned with the marvel of YHWH's presence as blessing and as correction. Having been blessed in correction by God (as opposed to by persons, however much they play a role) it shows the poet that God is with him in all forms of distress. In fact, Psalm 23 has an entrenchment metaphor - the same Torah metaphor as Psalm 1 running through it. So I have avoided the usual translation of HSD as loving kindness - and used the rare reproof. For such real presence in trouble - and trouble is often of our own making - is as great as the cup overflowing. That word for cup, כּוֹסִי can also be translated owl - due to the shape of the face - it would make a good poem also - as in that book I heard the Owl call my name. It has the sense of unclean. But the poet is telling us that a vessel that overflows because God fills it cannot be unclean. So I chose in great piety myself a word that would resonate with that close relationship to God that is embedded in the marriage idiom.

Raabe is very detailed on Psalm 46 and critiques several proposed chaistic structures. I will do mine first then read his critique.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Here's what I am currently reading on the Psalms - suggestions appreciated.

Anderson, A. A., Psalms (73-150)
Baumann, Lynn C., Ancient Songs Sung Anew, the Psalms as Poetry (2000)
Bruggemann, Walter The Message of the Psalms (1984)
Creach, Jerome F. D. Yahweh as Refuge and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter ( JSOT SS 127 1996)
Dahood, Michael, Psalms 1-50 Anchor Bible Commentary
Fokkelman, J. P., Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible, Vol II Psalms and Job 4-14 (2000)
Mays, James L., Interpretation, for teaching and preaching Psalms, 1994
Mowinkel, Sigmund, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (1962, 2004)
Raabe, Paul R., Psalm Structures (JSOT SS 104 1990)
Simon, Uriel, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms (1982, tr. from the Hebrew 1991)
Wiser, Arthur, The Psalms, Translated by Herbert Hartwell (1955-62)

First links

Psalm 1 - help me fix my translation here
Psalm 23 - help me fix my translation here
More to come

Bob has a new Log Space

This space will be devoted to the analysis of Psalms, particularly the structure and readings of the Hebrew Psalter and Literary analysis and such.

The old personal log is at