Sunday, March 25, 2007

Structure and Readings

Somehow when I began this translation project, I knew there was something missing from the traditional English psalter. On at least two fronts, I have now seen what is missing.
1. Translations that fill in the blanks for you prevent you from seeing the gap that the poet left for you to fill in. Sometimes the gap is impossible - it asks for you or your enemy or even God to be filled in - can we live with such ambiguity? (See Psalm 7:13-17 for one example) Some translators just say the Hebrew is difficult and pick one way and leave it at that. Others don't tell you there is a problem, and fill the gap anyway. The reader of the translation may never know that there were other possibilities.
2. Translations that change word order unnecessarily. There was a reason for the Hebrew word order. It reveals a thought process; it contains the equivalent of parentheses - key words bracketing the thought process. These may be a simple or complex parallel, or a chiasm, a parallel deliberately reversed, or they may be tips to a much wider structure. It's a poem - if we are going to sing it in a strange tongue - let's not break it.

I feel vindicated by a recent reissue of A Rabbi Reads the Psalms by Jonathan Magonet. What a lovely book. I love it because he is doing exactly what I have been looking for: revealing the structure and the convenantal dialogue in these poems. He outlines his discovery of the structure of Psalm 25 (and since I haven't translated this yet, it will be easier for having read Magonet) and then laments briefly that his work was rediscovery (Möller 1932 ZAW) of structures confirmed by others - but doubted by Ridderbos. Having looked at this passage in Craigie, it is clear that for once, I am following a set of scholarly links. Craigie is read in London too. So Magonet goes to some lengths to show his structure in detail. He reads it in the context of Exodus 33 and 34. It is convincing in my opinion and will appear soon in these notes.

(My wife likes his book too! It may be the first Biblical Studies book I have read in our 39 years of marriage that she might read too.)

When I was last at the library, I at first only got two commentaries out (Dahood on Psalms 101-150 and Pope on the Song). I got down the three flights of stairs from the BS stacks and heard an inner voice saying: you didn't check out BS-1430 - go up and see what you find. I found these two and several other books that I added to my checkout pile. These two were both good calls.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Psalms - by P. C. Craigie

What a joy it was to stumble over the Word Commentary on Psalms by my too briefly known teacher and friend, Peter Craigie. Reading his introduction to the series and his overview of the first 50 Psalms has put my psalmic house in a new order. I even know a bit about Ugarit and the first music (recorded here) - a find just discovered a few years before Peter's untimely death in 1985. I think I will review all my translations to date for he writes often and clearly about structure - the very thing I have sought. I was pleased to note in the introduction that I had discovered many of the things he was pointing out - and all by myself! So it shows that a careful reading can yield its own fruit. We can be helped by scholars but it is not a scribal necessity.

What a shock it was to me, today, only a day later, to attend a nearby parish (familiarizing myself with the local Anglican landscape) and to see the omission of the Psalm. There was not even one Psalm in the liturgy, though there was mention by the guest speaker of a native dance based on Psalm 91. How will the Lord inhabit the praises of the people if they omit Psalms? I was led to believe, in brief conversation during the peace with the director of music whom I happen to know, that this is their habit. Well, this needs pondering. I have to admit also that I did not stay after the peace when I discovered this. I was too much in shock.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Psalm 119 - parts 1-3 rough hewn

It is a challenge to use one letter to begin every verse - and I fail somewhat. It has also been over 3 months since I first drafted the panels for Psalm 119 - and finally I am starting to translate. The first thing I notice is that these halachic psalms (1,19,119) are not pious as I thought when I grew up with them - again and again the Psalmist knows personal weakness - Ah that my ways were so accurately drawn... And so it is - at least for me. Also the Psalmist's confidence is never lacking - even in weakness, rejoicing in the testimonies more than anything else that satisfies: I am working with a Hebrew-Latin concordance - what a riot! So הוֹן is translated as facultates, opes, large, satis. Translating into Latin gives a different perspective from online literal translations like BLB and scripture4all and my copy of BDB. So what word can I use that begins with G for גַּם ?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dialogue with the Song

I have put together a brief dialogue in English.

The Song is not either / or but both / and. It is an erotic love song - and they are not 'married'! And it is also a song about the desire of God for us and our desire for God, both at great cost. The Beloved is both present and silent, real flesh and real presence. The seeker is both female and male. There are some double entendres in the poem that invite full participation in holiness.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Song - a second try at seeing the structure

The Song will not yield easily to a structural analysis though it is 'obviously' a tightly structured piece of writing. Two more images are available for view. I combined the English and Hebrew into common nodes so as to reduce the complexity and I have done a little colour coding of keywords - but not many of them. Each verse has so many resonances that it is impossible to use colour effectively at this level. See if you can help: Full size;
Pint size; text in html format - suitable for correcting my errors