Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Psalm 16 verses 2-4

These are a conundrum. Who is speaking to whom? All I can do is to see if my own experience fits the dialogue in any way - does this make translation personal? Perhaps unavoidably. And maybe this is a good thing.

Problem 1: is it אמרת or אמרתי? You said (feminine or masculine) or I said?
Problem 2: is בַּל negative or positive?
Problem 3: are those foreign Gods - the holy ones and the majestic or the mighty?
Craigie says they are in parallel, but his translation is not parallel and there is a significant problem with the switch in pronomial subjects I, you, they.
You have said to the LORD, you are my master
to the holy ones ... they are my mighty ones
You can hear he has addressed one second person and the other indirectly, third person - not a parallel (and not the kind of 'person switch' which the Psalms are fond of). Of course they are not the same - yes I trust God, but don't lose my pension. I trust God, but I need the consumer society.

If this is a reasonable analogue then I need to recognize in the poem both the covenant dialogue and the rationalizations for behaviour. If I skip ahead to the central instruction:

אַף לֵילוֹת יִסְּרוּנִי כִלְיוֹתָי

Surely in the night instructs me my centre - raw first cut avoiding reins, kidneys, and other euphemisms. What is it instructs you in the night? Take care through consecration - you shall be holy. And be still. This is one sign of our hope. Our psalmist is anointed. If I skip ahead, then in this one unit of poetry, I need to find where he is coming from that he can get to this security and have such security apply to the untimate end.

If we can't do this, it is not a poem. Since it is a poem, we must be able to do this. (Or fail).

Back to problem 2: it is a negative, but fortunately it is used 4 times in the poem - maybe it is a bit of irony, reversing its meaning by position. Hardly! (Is that a negative or a positive?) It is very helpful that it is repeated - could it be such an exclamation?

Will I trust in my (unspecified) pension? What! בַּל ! I don't know what will happen tomorrow - and certainly my pension doesn't either. But I know some things, says the Psalmist: my flesh will live in hope, my heart joy, and my glory rejoice, and I will continue as instructed in the night. Such is the nature of eternity.

So all three problems in the shopping bag, let's see if we can get them out.

I said to the LORD, you are my Lord
My good?
not beside you.
Of the holy ones that are in the earth
Of them, my securities, all my delight in them?
They will continue their mortality
hastening behind
I will not worship there
And I will forget their names.
The LORD is my inheritance and my cup
You maintain my stay.

OK OK - too fast and loose - but we are over the first hurdle. Did I stumble on it?

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