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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Bob, I just discovered your blog through a post on Henry Neufeld's blog. If you don't know it yet, you will be glad to know that Robert Alter is completing work on his own translation of the Psalms. As you do, he believes in retaining as much of the structure of the Hebrew text as possible.