Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More about the keywords of Psalm 119

It is rare that I have sung more than one or two parts of Psalm 119 at one sitting. Usually the choir master spares the singers such a long journey. On some special occasions like tenebrae, one might sing many psalms, but still no single run at such a long psalm.

It is a psalm that bears meditation. I have not seen a compelling commentary on it (though I may have missed one in all those books I have looked at). Here's what I am learning about it - starting at the most elementary statistical level.

The counts of the words - the noun keywords are as follows:

תורה [torah] law, teaching, instruction (23)
עדה [edah] testimony (23)
אמרה [imrah] word, promise (18)
פקּד [piqud] precept (21)
חק [chuq] statute (22)
מצוה [mitsvah] commandment (21)
משׁפּט[mishpat] judgment (23)
דבר [dabar] word, thing (22)

The counts are variable. This editor does not support tables, so the summary is a bit awkward to format:
---trh-`dh- imrh-pqd-chq-mtsvt-mshpt-dbr
01 - 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 --- 2 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 0 - 7 missing 2
02 - 0 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 2 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 2 - 9 missing 1
03 - 1 --- 2 --- 0 --- 0 --- 1 --- 2 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 2
04 - 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 2 - 8 missing 1
05 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 0 - 7 missing 1
06 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 2 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 9
07 - 3 --- 0 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 2
08 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8
09 - 1 --- 0 ---1 --- 1 --- 2 --- 1 ---- 0 ---- 1 - 7 missing 2
10 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8
11 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8
12 - 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 2 --- 0 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 7 missing 2
13 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 2 --- 0 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 1
14 - 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 ---- 2 ---- 2 - 8 missing 2
15 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 2 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 1
16 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 0 - 7 missing 1
17 - 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8
18 - 1 --- 2 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 1
19 - 1 --- 2 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 8 missing 1
20 - 1 --- 1 --- 2 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 ---- 2 ---- 1 - 9 missing 1
21 - 2 --- 2 --- 1 --- 1 --- 0 --- 1 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 9 missing 1
22 - 0 --- 2 ---1 --- 1 --- 1 --- 2 ---- 1 ---- 1 - 9 missing 1
tot -23--23 --18 --21 --23 --21 ---23 ---23 --

The poet didn't care to be exact in the use of the 8 words. Only parts 8, 10, 11, and 17 use all 8 words exactly once. [not 5] but 4/22 for perfection! There is a thought of perfection in the poetry which we will eventually get to (expecto patronem). [part 16 is missing in the image - too many late nights]

I find it curious that the word which I have rendered 'promise' is used significantly fewer times than the others. (KJV renders DBR and IMRH both as 'word' - I think this obscures something.)The word salvation is used 5 or maybe 6 times. The two together would balance the form slightly better. Because I am not presupposing that I understand what these words mean, I want to look now at the verbs that are used with them to see what separation and what overlap there is.

Here is the summary - my understanding of the verbs may also be questionable - so how will I surround the chariots (of fire) to see the centre of the meaning? Every one of these 8 things belongs to God but the poet has use of them (except maybe the promise) - the verbs are somewhat easy to see in Hebrew in this summary diagram:

תורה [torah] - something you walk in with others (הַהֹלְכִים), something you see wonders in, it graces you, you can observe it and watch over it (guard), it is not to be fallen away from, some forsake it, the psalmist does not ignore it, it is delight (4x), it has its opposite - the pits, it is loved (3x), the psalmist has not forgotten it (2x), some do not keep (=watch over, guard) it, it is truth, some are far from it.

The positives outweigh the negatives. Even the allusions to the psalmist's enemies and troubles (which the psalmist does not avoid aligning with himself) - are in themselves possibly hopeful. 8 of the 23 verbs are more than positive, invoking the most cherished, delight, love, and wonder.

עדה [edah] - These 'testimonies' are also observed (2x). The poet rejoices, has delight, sticks to them, is heartened by them, speaks about them, turns his steps to them, knows them, keeps them, pays attention to them, are meditation (2x) for him, they are taken, loved, are wonderful, righteous, known from of old, not wavered from, savoured, and kept. I see I have been unable to completely distinguish NSTR (נֹצְרֵי) and SHMR (אֶשְׁמְרָה) in my translations - what do they mean? Are they similar?

It is hard to assess the difference from Torah. Because the poet speaks about the testimonies and does not say he speaks about Torah, then he is silent about his greater delight. So it might be that testimony is more public. Let's see if there are other clues.

אמרה [imrah] This is something hidden in the heart, held up by God to his servant inspiring awe, something that puts salvation in parallel with steadfast love, gives life (2x), stands on its own as holding God to mercy, guards and strengthens the individual, the psalmist faints for it, it is as honey to his mouth, supports him, he wants God to place his steps in it, smeltered it is צְרוּפָה (I needed an 's'), bears meditation, inspires singing, and will be spoken about - like the testimony.

This is worth real consideration to say the least. The verbs applied to it are different from the first two words we have considered. I feel overfilled by this piling on of uniqueness.

פקּד [piqud] These are kept (SHMR 3x), mused on (2x), they direct discernment, are longed for and sought, kept (NTSR 2x), and others keep (SHMR) them, the poet does not leave them, wishes never to forget them (2x), has sought them, has diligence to them, did not depart from them, loves and chooses them.

These seem useful though I don't find quite the same degree of fire as directed to the 18 instances of promise.

חק [chuq] These too are kept (SHMR 2x), taught (4x + 3x teach), meditated on (=mused 2x), needing help, sung about, make the heart complete (there's that word), not forgotten (2x), to be done, to be looked to, not to stray from, kept (NTSR), and some do not seek them.

Sounds like something may be missed here - it's about the ongoing teaching (7/21 uses). Perhaps the reality of the covenant dialogue is here including the wonder of testimony and torah and the exaltation of the promise of salvation.

Can you believe there are still three more keywords to take in! 8 is beyond my comfortable complexity limit.

מצוה [mitsvah] These are something to look to, to avoid straying from (2x), a plea that they not be hidden (a wrestler here), to be run, to go in a path, to lift up hands to, to keep (SHMR), to believe (a haphax), that the human will teach! They are faithful, wide and great, make one wiser than ones enemies, to be observed (NTSR), are desired, a delight, truth, to be done, are righteous, and not to be forgotten.

משׁפּט[mishpat] These are to be learned (2x), declared by the human, are longed for, agreed with, are good, are hoped for, brought to presence (ZKR), are a product of God's righteousness (5x), desired for persecutors (love your enemies), they stand, the human must not turn aside, they are feared, presented to others who love the name, they are straightforward, they give life (2x), are a source of aid!

There is much to unpack here.

דבר [dabar] Finally, the word, is kept (SHMR 3x), not forgotten, strengthens, gives life (2x), is trusted, gives hope (4x), is how God deals with his servant, is set in heaven, lamp to the feet, must penetrate (I needed a P), some forget it, is waited for, is truth, inspires awe, gives understanding.

The variety and overlap betray a grasp of personal and dialogic language in the poet. There is almost too much to grasp at once.

About those keywords

There is something very deliberate about Psalm 119, the psalter within the psalter. Of the 8 keywords, only three four verses out of 176 do not use at least one of them. I have spread them out in a line showing all (most of) the verbs that are used with each keyword in an effort to distinguish their meaning by their usage. I know I should have used column rather than line design - but more later...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Historical Criticism, Faith, and Writing Psalms

Where is the blog world going?

Five converging thoughts and more - or are they diverging...

James Tabor writes about the recently discussed day of infamy with a well-reasoned exposure of his historical methodological assumptions: Q and Paul are pre 70, early non-Pauline views are lost (citing Crossan's the dark period 30-50), the Gospel and anything else that alludes to the destruction is post 70. That is an oversimplification of what he has written but I think catches the essence. James probably didn't notice, but some time ago in a post on incarnational theology I thought one of his posts' assumptions about Paul materially wrong. But I can't prove it - that's the nature of assumption and the limitation of communication by words.

Kevin Edgecomb recommends The Canon Debate by McDonald and Sanders (not related to me - I don't spell that way). There was a discussion of canon a few months ago stimulated by John Hobbins. What a way to learn! Many of the questions raised are long-standing.

Kevin also talks about the one Author and unity within the canonical writings.

And before I read any of these morning posts, I had been lying on my bed in the twilight (as the Psalmist describes in several places) wondering (if you say God is out of the discussion) or in dialogue with my LORD, (if God is in) how the Psalms got written. Were there versions? (See the theological engineering discussion). Was there Peer review? How do we fare today as each one brings a psalm or a revelation to the table? Lingamish has provided an interesting example of how the blog world can react and respond. Doug at Metacatholic and many others - even academics! - have posted poetry over the past few months.

Addendum: while browsing Mark Goodacre's latest blogroll, I found this poetic post.

Thank you all for such stimuli.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Psalm 119 drafted

I have finished a first draft of psalm 119 - some of the starting letters are a bit odd. Attempting the acrostic in English is over the top. But I did it! The last parts are here.

I laughed out load (but not in derision!) at the final verse, I wasn't expecting it after all those promises and petitions that he would finally end with : I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost, seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commandments. The word for lost is a bit stronger - perished perhaps is more accurate - but now the draft is done, the real work begins. Do you think there is any structure in this psalm? Apart from the obvious 22x8 acrostic of course.

Searching for strophes

A new drawing of Psalm 67 has appeared. I didn't know I was going to do it, but my eye fell on psalm 67 as I was returning Les psaumes redécouverts by Marc Girard to the library, and instead of returning it, I renewed it. So this morning instead of finishing a draft of Psalm 119, I revisited Psalm 67 and it stood up and said hello!

The centre of the psalm is absolutely identified by the structure. It is the most loving statement reflecting Abraham's question to God - shall not the judge of all the earth do right! (I want to warn those who use that little clicky thing on your blogs - the related links may not be what you would desire - like visits to pagan temples and such.)

Having found the centre, the relationships in and between the external strophes are inviting. See if you agree with me (and Jerome) in discovering some of them by studying the links I have drawn. Tell me please what you think.

I am indebted to Girard for the detailed confirmation and correction of some of my structure. I do not agree with Girard as to where the strophes are or what is the macro chiasm. He has A (2-3) B (4), C(5), B (6), A (7-8). I have A(1-2), B(3-4), C(5), B(6), A(7-8). Three reasons: 1. the Selah - aha another use of Selah - similar to psalm 46 where a 3-fold and 2-fold structure are both present. and 2. the repeated earth forms the outer fragile container for the centre. and 3 - it is a song. Girard ignores the titles - not a good idea.

I have always sung psalm 67 as if poetry were linear just because there seemed to be a chorus. Poetry, clearly, is circular, as is time. And what is the centre of time? - the lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world, the cross radiating to both past and future, the shining countenance of God - diametrically linked to the produce of the earth. The cross is a singularity - by man came also the resurrection from the dead. Come Hebraists, humour me, where are the strophes et pourquoi?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Approaching the 50% mark...

I have not had much time for psalms in the last two weeks. On the sufficiency blog, I have been writing a chapter by chapter review of Frymer-Kensky among other things. At work, I have a major new project starting which I hope will keep going. But in the last fortnight I have still made a little progress: 119 ayin, peh, tsade, and quf are drafted and also since my last list:

Psalm -52 (90 words)
Psalm -54 (62)
Psalm -55 (193)

When I have completed a draft of 119, I want to have a really close look at what all these key words seem to mean by the usage of other words with them.

תורה [torah] law, teaching, instruction
עדה [edah] testimony (plural in the psalm)
אמרה [imrah] word, promise
פקּד [piqud] precept (pl.)
חק [chuq] statute (pl.)
מצוה [mitsvah] commandment (pl.)
משׁפּט [mishpat] judgment (usually pl.)
דבר [dabar] word, thing

It is easier to read and type without points, but I've probably got some of the vowels wrong.

I heard or read somewhere that this is a boring psalm - I haven't found it so.

Psalm 119-A-H 5 parts March 2007 (240)
Psalm 119-V-Y 5 parts July 2007 (257)
Psalm 119-K-S 5 parts July 2007 (255)
Psalm 119-Ayin-T 7 parts in progress (341)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shivering and Fear

If you are going to Samech a set of verses, you need words like shivering. What stops shivering? A hug. Be hugged - be touched.

Rachel Barenblat has begun a series of postings on her recent week of Sabbaths - here is love working. One line from her last post, quoting the course description, is this:

"The physicist Neils Bohr once said that the opposite of a simple truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth."

I want through just a simple list of connected things to end with one word: fire - which I will come to. The connections are everywhere - even the middot (from Rachel's post) - what to measure, connects to all that we measure wrongly (why God was angry at one census and yet commanded others!) Iyov pointed me to the witheringfig also this morning - where Stephen Hebert (I will run out of capacity for reading soon) has noted some problems with census and focuses only on the one key - relationship.

John Hobbins reads Nahum to us with a warning: the following program requires reader discretion. And I yesterday completed a draft of part Samech of Psalm 119. I still have the acrostic working, but I have had to degenerate into street language and extra words occasionally. And I may have to disallow sh among s's or use only soft c's. But the psalmist had advantages too with Hebrew prefixes.

The last verse of Samech is about shivering and fear. Nahum is about wrath. What do we do about the profound truth of God's wrath?

Here is a little ditty from Blake on human wrath

I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath
my wrath did end

I was angry with my foe
I told my wrath
my wrath did grow

The psalmist loves God and God's statutes, teaching, testimonies, word, promise, precepts, and judgments (more on these when I really finish this psalm) - but also fears them, flesh shivering from dread. I cannot put my thought so carefully as Blake but here it is prosaically.

There is one fire. If somehow we turn, our faces are brightened. If we flee, we are pursued. So the fire is never far from us that we should have to do something too hard. But not to turn is both not to be able to face ourselves and not to be able to receive what is truly ours. The fire of wrath burning through our back is fear and shame. The same fire is of love when we have turned and been fully found by the covenant rebuke. With God, whether friend or foe, we can really begin to learn with the Psalmist's confidence, for our lament is to the source and substance of fire.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wiki and TC

My Hebrew reading partner has drawn my attention to TC and the Bible at Wiki. Well, Jim? Or John, shall I rely on this? (Besides the fact that I can't read it.) I will start tonight while waiting for the granola to cook.

I should note that critical reading aside, many still read the texts as if they were composed of blocks of wood, without shape, without rhythm, without tone - so who cares about history or meaning when even the literate and fluent only see or hear a blob. Tim, I'm interested in reading for love - another long term project.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Studying Hebrew in French

My study partner whom I met again this morning at synagogue needs to practice French - so having survived my cycling I went to the Morissette Library and got out Les psaumes redécouverts (51-100) by Marc Girard, Bellarmin 1994, (he was born in the same year I was - and both of us in Quebec). It looks like he has taken Vanhoye's approach to structure, an approach I like very much.

I began with his translation of Psalm 51. The outline is very clever. He arranges the words in a circular table so you can read down the left column and up the right column. This allows him to show the concentric structure and place the keywords adjacent to each other on the page. (I have used the same colours I did the English in since the tool I am using supports English and French concurrently. But the idea of representing the nested macro and micro structures is appealing - it would fit with John Hobbins' request for more of the prosodic structure to be shown - must consider this ... flat surfaces are a challenge to multi-dimensional thinking.)

I am somewhat astonished at how close his French is to my literal English - but maybe I have had too much French wine with my chicken. See the French here. (And I am delighted to have absorbed some of the tedium of correcting my own missed plural constructs from last year.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Psalm 119

Some new psalms in a slightly revised table of contents
Psalm -27 July 2007 (149)
Psalm 119-V-Y July 2007 (257)
Psalm 149 July 2007 (63)

I am astonished at the personal love in the 119th psalm. So far I have managed the first 10 parts and have preserved the acrostic!!!!

It's a bit odd at times and I substituted a few letters of course. I was translating this while alter bloggo was writing poetry on bread making (just kidding - there is only one of us and we are neglecting our other work). Open Hebrew grammars and lexica strew the apartment here - exercises half completed, a major RFP to read and respond to in financial systems, and the toilet exploded this morning - the input pipe, fortunately. And all the time we are supposed to keep up with the myriad of Biblical Blogs!

Is there anything about exploding toilets in Psalm 119? No - but the word about enemies is deep. People [yes - there are enemies among them] do actually take advantage of you if you give them the opportunity. When they are confronted inescapably with their abandonment of trust, perhaps they too will know that word of promise and love that the Psalmist so clearly speaks of.

Of two things let's be sure: don't take advantage of another - especially if you have power, or knowledge, or whatever; and the steadfastness of God is our strength as well as the strength of our 'enemies', even of those that have taken advantage of us. It must be true as a consequence that if we do make enemies, there is the possibility of reconciliation - though it is not necessarily ours to effect. There is a thought here - I am not sure I have caught it - something to do with the reality and cost of love as understood in the context of the everlasting covenant with our God.

I have counted 8 key words in Psalm 119 - and a host of verbs to go with them. The 8th word is slightly hidden - I used red foreground to distinguish it. I will work more on this - I think there is something to find. (A contained explosion of clean water, perhaps).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

July 11

Back in Ottawa for 7 weeks with a break in the big Apple on the long August weekend - will attend some choir school functions at St Thomas's and some concerts and stuff. I have my lexical assistants here so I will concentrate on getting to the half-way point in this project.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Psalm 1

Kevin Edgecomb has begun posting a set of translations - under the rubric formal and informal. I hope I can respond occasionally. I will be the tortoise.

I drafted Psalm 1 about 10 months ago. My first portrait was in pink, grey and blue. The Torah colour of purple also emerged.

Happy the man who has not walked in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners has not stood
and in the seat of the scornful has not sat

It is 'the man' (הָאִישׁ) but it brings to mind the birth of Asher (by alliteration - asheri ha ish asher) so it includes the woman Leah (ach! not to forget Zilpah). I cannot make this inclusive in translation without doing violence to the poetry. Also - even an informal translation should respect the threefold structure and variety of position: walk, stand, sit. And I am not happy, for whether I have taken advice of the wicked or stood in the way of the sinner, I know I have envied the repartee of the scornful.

Asheri - rejoice! How will I rejoice? I will compare the two ways that are to come in the poem - on the one hand, and on the other (כִּי אִם) and I will hope that I can find delight. I do, but I cannot judge my own fruitfulness or reliability. And prosperity also is not to be measured lest it get the better of me and I become such debris as is blown away by the wind.

Therefore - by the knowledge of the LORD, a division is foretold and confirmed. How will I stand if the wicked will not stand?

Here is a version of psalm 1

Happy is the man who walks
not in the advice of the wicked
and in the way of sinners stands not
and in the seat of the scornful sits not

for if in the teaching of the LORD is his delight
and in his teaching he meditates day and night
he shall be like a tree
transplanted by streams of water
that is fruitful and reliable in its time
and its leaf does not fade
and in all that it does it prospers

Not so the wicked - for if ... like the chaff that wind scatters
Therefore stands not the wicked in the judgment
nor sinners in the company of the righteous
For the LORD knows a way for the righteous
but the way of wickedness will perish.

I am still very close to the literal, perhaps too close, but there is such an expressive parsimony here that I like to imitate with less rather than more. With fewer words, I have more hope.

I see that in my first draft, I was not as careful with the definite article as I might be. Is 'the way' better than 'a way'? English passes over the definite article as generic in some cases and as specific in others. In this case, I think English needs to acknowledge that 'a way' is not referring to an exclusive or only way as if uniformity was the operative aspect of the article. Generally speaking, I think 'a' is preferable just to knock us out of our 'obvious' pietistic responses.