Sunday, May 13, 2007


J.M. Neale and R.F. Littledale have collected commentaries on the Psalms from primitive and mediaeval writers. Like Westcott on Hebrews (1889), the assumptions of Christendom are simply a given for Psalm 16. Every phrase, one at a time, is put into the mouth of Jesus - more than the writer to Hebrews even! It is simply assumed that this poem belongs to the Son in his manhood. It is a shock to move to Dahood and find that Psalm 16 as a "profession of faith was composed by a Caananite convert to Yahwism."

So how will Psalm 16 stand up and allow itself to be read in the 21st century - with new eyes? Or to be heard with new ears?

I begin with the inscription: מִכְתָּם לְדָוִד - miktam ldavid. There are three words suggested for the root MKTM: inscription related to KTB (to write), golden related to KTM gold and atonement related to Akkadian KTM to cover (not the Hebrew which almost sounds like English Cover KPhR). What kind of choice will we give to the poet or to ourselves or to our readers?

From gold, concerning atonement, through inscription, of David.

It has to be gold because it speaks (if silently) of ultimate satisfaction at God's right hand. Silent because such things cannot be spoken. Of atonement since it is about being at one, not being abandoned, not being subject to chance, not being without hope, yet it knows of such abandonment, chance, and despair.

But it is only one word. Some translations leave it as Michtam. Not very helpful. Craigie suggests reference to Jeremiah 2:22 translating - your iniquity is inscribed before me. Also noted are the other psalms with this title (56-60). I defer their discussion to a later unspecified date.

The next line: שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵל, כִּי-חָסִיתִי בָךְ. Shamreni el, ki xasiti bak

XSH - trust surely is the other side of XSD loving kindness - for I have trusted in you. Here are the words in that part of my BDB (without the vowels):

חסד verb - to be good, kind, noun loving kindness.
with yodh mater before the D, adj - kind, good,
with yodh mater before the D and a final H - stork - one who is kind and affectionate to her young and that same word can mean Yah is kind (name of the son of Zerubbabel),
and a rare usage: XSD as reproach (verb and noun) - but if you are reproached in covenant by God, it is an act of kindness after all for God is with you.

Then there is XSH - to seek refuge and nouns: XSH (only used as proper name), XSuT with mater, refuge, MXSH, refuge, shelter.

Maybe trust is a poor translation - too cerebral a concept in comparison with take refuge or shelter. Shelter implies safety and there is safety in loving kindness if the strength can be trusted. (Hah!)

So what about the verb ShMR? Seems more straightforward than XSD. If whoever has 'taken refuge' then that whoever should be praying to be guarded, kept, or preserved.

So not yet knowing where we will go next (except to the difficulties of verses 2-4), here is the first 'refined' translation: Keep me, O God, for I take refuge in you. But it feels too long so I revert to

Inscribed of David

Keep me, O God, for I trust you

No comments: