Monday, May 28, 2007

Psalms 20-21, 47, ++

With the recent celebration of ascension, my attention has been drawn to the king in the Psalms. Psalms 20-21 are described by Craigie as psalms of war - and so they may be. But what kind of war? And what is the role of the king? And how is the king related to God? Psalms 2 and 16 form the first basis of the role of the king in the Psalms - where would such a study take us?

I am not ready to go there, but after 10 months I can see a bit where I have been and how I have got here. Here is an outline of my method - the bootstrap of learning a new writing system and language concurrently.

First: don't worry about too many details; second: trust that you will be able to learn; third: there are mistakes - expect to correct them.

It is a multipass operation though I polished the first few psalms more than I perhaps should have to begin with. What was surprising was how easy Psalm 1 was - but how long it took: at least 6 weeks. The structure of verse 1 is beautiful - and it is missed by most translations - quite unnecessarily. I began with Fokkelman - a very hard book to read and not intended for beginners, but it introduced me to the idea of micro-structures and I remain keenly interested in structure. Structure has the capacity to resolve ambiguity and to enable communication. Pattern reveals and corroborates potential meaning.

If there is such a thing as the work of the Spirit and the Word of God, then it will be known in the pattern, not in a priori dictation of meaning. And the pattern will also be a fully human communication - a poet struggling to find words appropriate to his covenant dialogue.

I began also with Uriel Simon whose Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms showed me a completely different reading from the traditional piety of the Anglican Church. But I should note how much I love the Anglican liturgy and in spite of the limitations of 16th century piety, our traditional translations of the Psalms have not resulted in any loss of their power to heal and strengthen.

Having looked at these two books in part - for they are both still beyond my experience, I found I had four touch points in history for my start: my own time, the 16th century, the 11th century through Ibn Ezra via Simon, and the first century through the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. So now I needed to see what the original poets' mind might be.

I have no doubt there were original poets and editors and that what we have is close to what they authored, performed, and had written. I find I can hold the multiple-author thought together with the five books being a second Torah revealed to David. My earth is flat and round at the same time. My only problem was to learn the language. Some of my previous posts show this process. [This reminds me that we need a study of LDAVID - is it better as 'to David' rather than 'of David'?]

I begin with the text - and largely leave it in its Masoretic form. I have a program that loads the database from extended html by word and phrase. I arrange the text into three groups: labels, being the verse numbers, input on the left, being the Hebrew, and output to the right, being a mechanical transliteration of the html into Latin characters. It is a very simple set of replace statements done in one pass - so it probably has some really oddball results - but it seems to compare reasonably well with other systems (so far). I then select the various classes of text and format them - Hebrew right justified reading to the left and transcription left justified reading to the right such as is used in the Mechon-Mamre site.

At this point I have a black and white boxed surface with pairs of columns roughly 5 to 6 verses deep. The challenge is to find the verbal structure. Sometimes I look in the Hebrew first but usually I translate a verse at a time using several tools: the Blue Letter Bible is very helpful - It has a reasonably full interlinear and I have to this point depended on it for most of my judgment of the verb conjugations. (But I have not followed its lead in translation since I think there are more assumptions being followed than are justified.) Sometimes since I know the King James version by heart in many places, it is difficult to escape from the 16th century tradition. But it is important to refuse the path of tradition since the mind of the ancient poet is not mine nor is it in full concord with the traditions of Christendom.

A second help is the site Scripture4all since its translation is word for word and therefore literal to the point of unreadability. Some words are very hard to find in the dictionary. Suppose in English you wanted to look up the word international, but the only place you could find it is under the 'root' ntn. Hey - it begins with I - why is it not under I? Dictionaries are a long story. I use two: the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon - marked with many yellow stickies so I can find the letter I am looking for, and a wonderful loan from my Hebrew teacher, Gidi Nahshon, of a Hebrew to Latin concordance. In the BDB it is hard to find the first letter of a word. In the Concordance, it is hard to find the first page of a letter because in this case, all the uses of a word are listed together. So for example: אוֹר - lux, lumen, splendor, nitor ... is followed by וְאוֹר - you can see that under the letter Aleph will include all words containing prefixes also. It gives a whole new meaning to 'begins with'.

Using the four tools then I proceed to find words for the poem. What I do is immediately part of a database, so I can get a query to show me what I have translated and to 'sort' it all - well - it's easy to say - roughly by English or Hebrew so I can see how arbitrary I am being with these silken gems of human understanding. I have an algorithm for root determination - but it is very difficult to pare the enclitics with rules.

After a rough cut translation, I have usually noticed many of the structural aspects of the Psalm and I colour them - I check these against any commentaries I can find. I have looked at several - none is sufficient by itself. Then I manipuate the diagram into an optimum form for showing the structural relations: get the columns to conform to the shell and centre(s) of the Psalm, colour and connect the dots; refine the words; split boxes where needed. Once in a more or less seeable form, I publish the database image as a jpg - it is one of several publishing options I could choose and it suits for now.

After several psalms, I often come across a comment that changes my mind or gets me to look at the whole from a different point of view. More recently some word studies have emerged. The most obvious is the usage of Elohim and related words against the usage of the tetragrammeton - clearly the Psalter has been edited into a sandwich structure. I am sure that other macro structures will emerge. And then there are notes from other on-line professors which challenge me to dig deeper and justify or abandon a particular phrase. I went round in circles on Psalm 2 as can be seen from these links which themselves will link to the other blogs.

May 20 Craigie on psalm 2
(references the latest diagram of the structure Psalm 2 )
Staring at Psalm 2,
May 17 Palindrome and alliteration in hebrew,
The son, The Son, field, purity

This is a brief record of the learning and bootstrap process to date. My current state is one of a - perhaps now almost 4 year old sounding out the letters. I have some word recognition happening and just tonight, I realized I could read Hebrew letters upside down - it is the first time I have noticed this. So to sum up in reverse order: mistakes are correctible; the brain works; and the details evolve.

Confortare et esto robustus - be strong and of a good courage. There is more promise in the land than one might think.


Tim said...

On לְדָוִד I suspect that "for David" or "belonging to David" comes closest to the sort of notion that is intended, which I take to be "this psalm forms part of the David collection".

Mike said...

Hi Bob, sorry this comment doesn't fit with your post, but I wanted to give you a rely to what your comment on my site,

I do plan on working through Ephesians dealing with the multiple levels of discourse as I go through. My next plan is to examine how semantic chains hold sections together and indeed the whole letter together, which I've touched on in another post: