Sunday, August 26, 2007


I have now read through and drafted 49.9% 50.6% of the verses of the psalter. When I began, I figured it would be a 6 year project. And it still will be, but getting to draft is going faster than I anticipated. The whole experience as blogged is a record of a bootstrap process on learning Hebrew though using modern technology rather than quill pen - some day I will reflect on what I have learned. There were a few really helpful people last fall that did not laugh me off the street - particularly note Peter Kirk and Joel Hoffman and Harold Holmyard on b-hebrew. I took a couple of classes at my local synagogue on prayerbook Hebrew that also helped the hearing process.

The psalms in draft are in various states: a few (e.g. psalm 2, 16, 19) have been discussed on other blogs, so I have studied them further and refined my translation or justified my choices through structural analysis.

A few of the early ones are filled with colour - some of it apparently random! (But there was a reason for each one). Some later ones like 119 are also coloured and variously imaged to try to see through them.

When I began, I thought form and genre criticism was the important thing - I don't think so any more. What is the point of knowing a form when they are all so intense and unique? Does it help carry them around? Even the history is of limited value. The coherence of the psalter is in the covenant dialogue by many poets over a long period. It appears to have a shape - just judging by the use of the divine name - but that too, likely deliberate by collection, may not be of much import.

There are one or two (19, 46) also where I have attempted recently to show the prosodic structure laid out by John Hobbins providing such a depth of form for consideration - but by no means easy to model. This kind of analysis should contribute to some naming - much as we can recognize a sonnet whether of Donne or Shakespeare. It is early days for this but I hope our interactions will bear the maturing fruit of diligence without excessive pain.

I have enjoyed this project and hope to continue to enjoy it. If there is a word of encouragement to another, then I am also encouraged. Do learn the language if you are only thinking about it. As my son-in-law said to me, it will change your life.

Psalm --1 August 2006 (67)
Psalm --2 August 2006 (108)
Psalm --3 September 2006 (70)
Psalm --4 October 2006 (77)
Psalm --5 October 2006 (111)
Psalm --6 November 2006 (84)
Psalm --7 November 2006 (142)
Psalm --8 September 2006 (77)
Psalm --9 November 2006 (165)
Psalm -10 November 2006 (162)
Psalm -11 November 2006 (68)
Psalm -12 November 2006 (79)
Psalm -13 January 2007 (55)
Psalm -14 / -53 January 2007 (93)
Psalm -15 January 2007 (55)
Psalm -16 January 2007 (97)
Psalm -17 February 2007 (124)
Psalm -18 May 2007 (397)
Psalm -19 January 2007 (126) prosodic
Psalm -20 May 2007 (70)
Psalm -21 May 2007 (104)
Psalm -22 April 2007 (253)
Psalm -23 September 2006 (52)
Psalm -24 May 2007 (89)
Psalm -25 May 2007 (159)
Psalm -26 June 2007 (85)
Psalm -27 July 2007 (149)
Psalm -29 June 2007 (91)
Psalm -42 January 2007 (132)
Psalm -43 February 2007 (59)
Psalm -44 June 2007 (197)
Psalm -45 June 2007 (160)
Psalm -46 September 2006 (99) prosodic
Psalm -47 May 2007 (77)
Psalm -48 June 2007 (111)
Psalm -51 December 2006 (153) French
Psalm -52 July 2007 (90)
Psalm -54 July 2007 (62)
Psalm -55 July 2007 (193)
Psalm -67 December 2006 (53)
Psalm -73 December 2006 (193)
Psalm -84 June 2007 (116)
Psalm -85 June 2007 (96)
Psalm -86 August 2007 (...)
Psalm -87 June 2007 (54)
Psalm -89 December 2006 (384)
Psalm -90 May 2007 (140)
Psalm -91 May 2007 (112)
Psalm -92 May 2007 (112)
Psalm 100 December 2006 (44)
Psalm 107 January 2007 (278)
Psalm 115 May 2007 (135)
Psalm 117 March 2007 (17)
Psalm 118 March 2007 (198)
Psalm 119-A-H March 2007 (241)
Psalm 119-K-* July 2007 (305)
Psalm 119-Ts-T July 2007 (292)
Psalm 119-V-Y July 2007 (258)
Psalm 120 June 2007 (51)
Psalm 121 May 2007 (56)
Psalm 122 June 2007 (62)
Psalm 123 May 2007 (41)
Psalm 124 May 2007 (57)
Psalm 125 June 2007 (49)
Psalm 126 June 2007 (50)
Psalm 127 June 2007 (60)
Psalm 128 June 2007 (47)
Psalm 129 August 2007 (54)
Psalm 130 August 2007 (54)
Psalm 131 August 2007 (33)
Psalm 132 August 2007 (131)
Psalm 133 May 2007 (40)
Psalm 134 April 2007 (25)
Psalm 135 August 2007 (167)
Psalm 136 August 2007 (166)
Psalm 137 August 2007 (84)
Psalm 138 September 2006 (75)
Psalm 139 August 2007 (177)
Psalm 145 September 2006 (161)
Psalm 146 May 2007 (85)
Psalm 147 June 2007 (141)
Psalm 148 June 2007 (111)
Psalm 149 July 2007 (63)
Psalm 150 December 2006 (37)

Psalm 137

There was a long - very long - dozens of posts - talk on the Biblical Studies list about Psalm 137. It culminated with a post from Chris Heard that knocked my socks off.

The last verses of the Psalm are not a plea for vindictiveness but a matching of the mockery of the beginning. The poet turns his own beloved letters of fire into darts. The weaned child plays at the hole of the asp indeed.

גָּמַל is a word I first met in Gimel, part 3 of Psalm 119 as gmol which I rendered grow for the G for my exercise in keeping the acrostic. Notice also the use of Shalom, of course.

At the beginning of this Psalm, the exploitative, insincere, forced, and mocking request of the captors for a song when the instruments are hung on a weeping tree, is met poetically at the end of the psalm with a melody that is played on the tenderest of lutes, the human body as giver of milk to the helpless.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Psalm 19 prosody

How do you love me - can I count the ways?

I have to confess, I am not as convinced by counting as by inner structures. And I had some difficulty applying the general rule. But I have given it a detailed try here. I find it difficult to think in the full structure and the line lengths are often quite varied. Were these to underlie a performance feature, then I think I would be convinced.

Psalm 19: [link is full size] 2 Sections; 4 stanzas [2 each] ;

section 1: stanzas 1-2 verses 2-7
stanza 1 - 3 strophes
6 lines with verset counts [2/2, 2/2], [2/2, 2/2], [2/2/3, 2/2/3],

stanza 2 - 2 strophes
4 lines [2/2,2/3],[3/2,3/3] - this makes a very long line.

section 2: stanza 3 - 3 strophes
9 lines [3/2,3/2,3/2], [3/2, 3/2,3/2], [2/2,2/2, 3/3]

stanza 4 - 2 strophes
5 lines [3/3,2/2,2/2/3],[2/2/2,2/2]

(The colors are over the top - I can eliminate them all with a keystroke but I am sort of fond of my little suns and sunspots.)

Psalm 19 and the works of the Lord

John has written a translation of Psalm 19 which with the wisdom of his general rule of prosodic structure I hope to reveal further.

The Psalm has an obvious relationship to Psalms 1 and 119 but it also has a surprising relationship to Galatians (for me) in view of the two phrases of Paul that we traditionally interpret negatively and a third that is revealed by Psalm 19. The negatives have been slightly reframed by my reviews of Frymer-Kensky in which I note how Rav Simlai's interpretation of Habbakuk 2:4

perhaps sheds light on some of the polemics of Paul that should be seen as positive towards Jewish tradition: e.g. that if a Gentile is circumcised, he is obligated to keep all the Torah (Galatians 5:3). Also the issue of completing in the flesh what was begun in the spirit (Galatians 3:3).
Psalm 19 has a surprising relationship with Galatians 3:10-14. Bear with the chasm that my motorcycle has just jumped - I think it will become clearer that there is a bridge. I could not have picked a more contentious phrase to associate with Psalm 19. Let the thinking begin. After a full exploration of both prosodic structure and internal structure set up between the glory of God, the works of his hands, and the love of Torah in the second part of the Psalm, we will be able to better consider the potential for reframing the polemics of Paul - not that they are not contentious - but let's get the real contention out on the table - and in this case it is both an operating table and an altar of sacrifice.

The following image shows why prosodic structure alone is not sufficient as a means to the end of translation.

Catching the centre point of the Hebrew will be difficult in English because of word order - subject verb predicate - but it must be done.

How about

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the work of his hands, revealed by the firmament.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Practising a new not quite skill

Looking at the prosody alone and following the rule of 2 or 3, I have divided verse 2 (1) and 12 (11) as above. I picked verse 12 since there is a verbal connection with verse 2 - but the prosody is different.
For Suzanne at BBB.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's a strophe!

Born from the collocation of lines and versets. I think I understand. All those other things we see are named in ways that do not reveal this pattern underlying the poem. The prior posts represent the learning - and how hard it is (for me at least) to see just by reading or from someone telling me - even when it is well written and well told with great accuracy. Here is the picture with a few things removed.

Stichoi can go - they are a Homeric measurement. Cola can go - they are not so clearly defined. The Strict layer hypothesis is fine but it is I think at a lower level of the structures than the eye (or ear) needs. And it provides too many words. What is left is John's hypothesis. We may still have 'verses' and parts but there is something else that is regular and somehow, strengthening. And stress-units are divided into syllables.

In the Isaiah 40:3 passage we have 5 versets

קוֹל קוֹרֵא
בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ
דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה
מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ

in two lines

קוֹל קוֹרֵא בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ

making one strophe.

The stress units are what we think of as 'words' - things delineated by a space.

How important the inner structure becomes to see the meaning - for the containing structure does not show it. I expect the performance - phonologically - must allow the unambiguous hearing of the inner structure.

Language about Lines

Once more to look at differing sets of terms for describing the container structures in a poem. Our traditional visual absorption of Biblical poetry, if we are lucky enough not to get just a square borderless box with letters in it, includes words, lines, and verses in psalms. Occasionally an extra space will demarcate a set of verses. Sometimes a Psalm will be divided into parts. None of these divisions obeys the 'general rule' of Hobbins. In the glossary and other articles on poetic structure at his site, he also uses the terms of other scholars. I have noted a couple I have heard or seen where I think they might lie in relation to what our eyes observe on the typical page.

Some Bibles do use indentation to show that the words are in poetry. While this is helpful in reading, the indentation and line lengths I have noted seem to be arbitrary, one might say without rhyme or reason. Sometimes these visual constraints are determined by paper size and other publishing considerations. And of course there are the translation issues that are unavoidably complex.

If I have these right, [update - and I don't - see later post] then the lines of Isaiah 40 in my previous post are lines = phonological phrases = cola [wrong - they are versets; lines combine them]. These are the units I will try to put in 'one' box in revised diagrams. My draft diagrams are at the even lower than verset or prosodic word layer (sort of).

If the general rule is right, then Psalm 119 should divide nicely into sections (perhaps enjambed over parts) and stanzas. We'll see when it comes off the back burner.

The other thing to notice is that it is hard to concentrate on more than 3 levels at once.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Seeing Definitions

I am left-brained. The right brain (supposedly) can also process information, but does it differently.

My eldest son sees
but I read.
He processes in three dimensions
but chokes on dragon's teeth.
I elaborate with letters
but put all mechanical things together backwards.

a b
c d
a' b'
- d'
c d''
- b''

Yet I can learn from a diagram. Here's one expressing the continuum from apposition to hypotaxis. What's that? you ask. I don't know yet, but here it is.

Now about all those other words that we use to describe textual art, I think I am seeing two global structures as I intimated in my last two notes: the container external structure and the contained inner structure. The containers seem more useful for carrying around the text by description. The inner structures seem more useful for discovering meaning. I am not a professional linguist, so most of the terminology is new to me.

First about inner structure: parallelism qualifies, as does the continuum of apposition above. Apposition is a category of parallelism. I have not yet seen a perfect taxonomy of types of parallelism. Another inner structure is repetition of a word or set of words. Repetition of two words in reverse order is named after the letter Chi. The rhetorical technique of parallelism combined with chiasm can disambiguate meaning. An example is Isaiah 40:

ג קוֹל קוֹרֵא--בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ.

a voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD
make plain in the desert a highway for our God.

The first phrase is ambiguous - is the voice in the wilderness or is it the way of the LORD that is to be prepared in the wilderness? The parallel phrase makes the meaning clear.

a voice cries
in the wilderness
prepare ...
make plain
in the desert ...

Whether this is prose or poetry or could be described as a verset or colon or stich or whatever, this structure sets up the intention of the words. The communication of meaning is the purpose. I am beginning to think that the containing structure, in contrast, is there for assisting hearing and memorization rather than directly contributing to meaning. As such it has a complementary usage. Well designed containers are also coherent: relating to one aspect or object. (How useful being trained in software is sometimes.)

Being either foolish or brave, let's try and decide what the prosodic structure is for this verse.

קוֹל קוֹרֵא
בַּמִּדְבָּ פַּנּוּ
דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה
יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה
מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵינוּ

If this is poetry and I was to follow the general rule (the rule of 2 or 3), I would have to divide it as above.

a voice cries
in the wilderness prepare
the way of the LORD
make plain in the desert
a highway for our God

In just using text, not a diagram, I am reducing my scope for painting to html in a limited and defective editor. But for a short line we can still see clearly an internal structure to the word units:

a, b,
c, d,
e, f,
d', c',
e', f'

where the apostrophe indicates the same concept in this case in a synonym. I am not ready to name these pieces. Maybe in the next note after more study and examples.

Source for these musings is from John Hobbin's Glossary and the article on Poetic Structure - both requiring more than one day's reflection. (I admit to reading them two or three times this year, but they went in one eye and out the other.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Applying the theoretical structures to Psalm 46

In my usual fashion of 'showing my bookwork', I am putting my questions and a fresh diagram on the blog.

I have tried to apply some of the structures. I am confused. [update: eureka} Are stress-units = syllables? [NO] Do some of the container structures co-incide in a small poem? [not relevant]

How useful are the a,b,c etc if the arrows or colours in a diagram show the concentric structures? I am showing all chiasms with arrows. No need for the x. Is enjambment only when a sentence stops in the middle of a line?

What does strophe correspond to? seems to be close to the traditional 'verse' [NO]. And line seems to be what Fokkleman calls a colon [NO].

How could one show a significant feature - like the 7 x Elohim in this poem - I have used colour - but does it need more. It is the real outer framework. God for us, YHWH of hosts with us. (You might almost call it a latticework - since I think there is both love and mighty warrior in this poem - both centres are of love. That's why I coloured them green - of still waters and green pastures.)

I have also suggested some translation changes - picky - but I want to avoid the English 'generic' definite article if there is no definite in Hebrew, at least where possible. I must admit Desist and stand have something going for them - but I wonder if there are additional possibilities - like Be still / exalt / lift up - is there a significance to the pronoun? Who speaks? The Captain of the Hosts?

Where are the strophes and do they follow the 2/3 rule? [update: please see later posts on the emerging understanding of these terms]

What to See in a Psalm

In my last notes, I began to explore the container structures that John Hobbin's has pointed to and the problem of managing the complexity of presenting multiple factors in a psalm. What sorts of factors outside of structure could be represented visually for a psalm?

John in this essay cites Collins: "The line is made up different layers – grammatical structure, semantic structure, stress patterns, syllable counts, alliteration." We now routinely note that on the surface of a psalm there are parallels. The meaning intended by the parallel is often disambiguated or confirmed by chiasm, and may be obscured or elaborated by enjambment. Groups of word pairings in reverse sequence extend chiasm to concentric structure often literally encompassing a single (e.g. Psalm 67) or dual centre (at least that is what I see in Psalm 46 so far). Concentricity is potentially independent of the container structure. Both of these are very visual images for describing units of aural performance. It is likely that what we 'see' must also work for the ear.

Perhaps this can be summed up with another quotation from the above essay:
Language in general and poetry in particular display iterative, constraint-governed patterns at the levels of phonology, prosodic hierarchy, stress alignment, lexical, grammatical, and rhetorical stress, morphology, syntax, sentence intonation, discourse grammar, and grouping and closure preferences.
If we add apposition, syndetic coordination, and hypotaxis sequences, we have between 17 and 24 characteristics of a psalm that might be shown.

John posted his translation and notations with respect to Psalm 46 here. With that preamble, it is time for some questions on Psalm 46 to see if there can be a visual mapping of the superscripts, subscripts, and coded messages he has put to the left of the Hebrew.

It is easier to do than to say - so I will draw first and describe later. But if you have any ideas, do let me know. For instance, rather than letting me guess the container structure (section / strophe, etc), leave a comment. And if you have any questions or suggestions on John's translation, leave him a comment here.

Beauty, Structure, and Space

I have a theory that Beauty is a function of 2 and 3.

1. Suppose we have an unlimited set of 2's and 3's. 2 and 3 are Fibonacci numbers. Add them together (2 of them) and it makes 5. Add the previous to the two (three of them - 1 2 and 2 3's) and you have 8. 8:5 (or 5:8) is a good approximation of the golden mean as seen by our eyes.

Pleasing proportion is in the ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:5, 5:8, converging on the Golden Mean).

2. And take 3 2's as in 2 to the third power 2x2x2 - again you have 8, one more than the conventional comfort zone for short term memory of simple things (7 being 2 2s added to a 3), the point +/- 2 of our tolerance for breadth - things that have to be seen all at once.

Comfortable reading requires space - a maximum list length without a break is 2**3 +/- 2. If the list is complex, limit to 5, if simple, stretch to 9.

3. Consider 3 alone. This is the comfortable maximum nesting level. Your reader will forget the top of the argument by the time you reach the 4th subdivision of your paragraph structure. We can go visually and intellectually much deeper than 3, but our concurrent consciousness of more than 3 complex things seems limited. (This is why the structure of Romans is difficult for us. It has a length of 10 at depth level 4, a depth of 5, and a sustained sequence of 55 questions essentially without a break.)

Beauty is a function of proportion and complexity (breadth and depth) - so when writing, what should we do with our words and images to enable understanding? Chunk them, group them, and place them in recognizable relationship to each other in 2s and 3s. Curious that John Hobbin's theory of ancient prosodic structure conforms to these guidelines in his choice of 2 and 3 when measuring verse and if we stay above the syllable level. Qinah meter conforms most closely at the syllable level.

These principles have emerged for me from long experience in software engineering. They are not limits to complexity but guides to effective communication. They have wide application. It is one reason why software cannot be complete as a one-person effort. (That's for zhubert.) Yet do not despair, though we must have 2 or 3, we are also made safe even in solitude -
Psalm 4 - לְבָדָד לָבֶטַח תּוֹשִׁיבֵנִי
in separation, in safety, you make me live
(per Fokkelman's interpretation).

Friday, August 17, 2007


John Hobbins has summarized the work of Benjamin Harshav on the relationships among the parts of ancient poems here. It's a seven-layer dip using these words. [I have added what I think the traditional names are for possible further clarity]
Stress-units are further subdivided into [update: equivalent to] syllables. That is a lesson in the early chapters of Lambdin - and not too easy to master for a novice. Understanding a syllable in Hebrew is tricky - when does a shwa contribute to the syllable count for instance? The regularities are not easily named. The table below relates the three lowest levels of the now 8-part structure. I think I copied the numbers accurately. (Click for a larger image).

Psalmody 50%

Just squeaked in over 50% drafted (77/153 - 119 is in four sections) with the three-verse Psalm of ascent 131. What does that first verse mean? Was the worshipper recognizing a lack of readiness for the liturgy to come?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Late night thoughts on rereading Psalm 46

Psalm 46 is a favorite among Anglican choirs with its three-fold chorus traditionally sung to unison and descant. The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. But there are not three chrouses, only two. The Anglicans have turned a bi-centred poem into a sequential thought process. The first chorus is represented by 'Selah' only. It is very tempting to add the chorus, but it obscures the double centre of the piece. The first opening brackets are in the word sequence: earth-moved-murmuring - with centre in 'she shall not be moved' - and the closing brackets are in reverse: murmuring-moved-earth. The second centre is between the two sequences: nations-earth-chorus - with centre at the Lord's doings - then nations-earth-chorus.

John Hobbins has much more to teach us about the structure - but our success as learners and his as teacher depends on our understanding the superscripts and subscripts of his annotations. I hope I can learn what he means and morph the codes into a visual representation. I have to admit it is not a short term goal. My original draft of this poem, done in September 2006, was among my first 4 or 5 psalms, an early part of this bootstrap process. Now, almost a year later, I can begin to read and appreciate the colometry which John's version engages with such fluidity. Like Secundus, I was deaf to the word and needed visual aids to teach me. Now I have a limited feel for the sounds though I cannot hear or read them with fluency. I took the liberty of collecting John's translation into a diagram showing the Hebrew and English together.

As I lay awake in the early morning, I thought about the words I fought with back in September - שַׁמּוֹת בָּאָרֶץ - (shmot b'aretz). The Anglican psalter has the lovely - what wonders he has wrought upon the earth. But the word is unmistakeably desolations. I mistranslated it as fertility(!) - and often have thought of the fruitfulness that comes out of the desolation of the cross. But will the word stretch to its opposite? There appears to be no justification for my earlier thought in any dictionary I can find even though the three cola following the statement are all works of peace. Let's have Anglican chant for the briefest of translations capturing the shortness of the twos and threes of the Hebrew:
who makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth

the bow he breaks
the spear he snaps
wagons he burns in fire.
But it is the double use of the verb 'to lift up' that further grabs my attention. Traditionally this verb is translated as 'exalted' - I will be exalted among the nations and I will be exalted in the earth. Now there's a good religious word. John has 'stands above'. I chose lift up because of the desolation of the Anointed having been lifted up from the earth for me, among all those that fear him.

I know I am in danger of reading this Christologically - but I am following in the footsteps of the NT writers. In Hebrews, the entire dialogue between the Father and the Son is taken from the Psalter. What is the dialogue between the Father and the Son in this Psalm? Or what works of the Lord are being referred to that really make a difference? Does Psalm 46 stand behind John 5? If you do not believe me, at least believe the works that the Father has given me to do (John 10:22 referring back to the issue of witness in John 5). Clearly, I can ask anyone who would ask me concerning the Messianic age, why war has not ceased. The psalmist has said it is done and bids us to look to the work of YHWH in the doing of it. The required 2 and 3 witnesses are in the microstructures of the poem.

Themes in a picture

The thematic image I started yesterday is (sort of) complete. I am musing on what it might mean. The psalm is surely complex and an act of love. I can't say much more except that it was difficult to keep my eyes straight and some of the boxes are probably missed - and I really need to recolor most of parts 6 through 22 since I was woefully inconsistent in my observations of structures in them - kept getting stuck in parts 1 to 5. The thematic map will help in the second pass at correction - but I think I will leave Psalm 119 for a while to ferment...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I have used a prayer of Pascal at Compline occasionally - the one in the Oxford Book of Prayer - about fire. Here is his take on Psalm 119 (he obviously did more than wager):
Cette supplication déroule lentement ses 176 versets en un long récitatif et n'est en son fond que la même protestation d'amour indéfiniment répétée sous diverses formes. *

"This supplication unrolls slowly its 176 verses in a long recitative and is at its base but the same protestation of love repeated without limitation in diverse forms."

O that the trace of your love should be treated with such a pedestrian translation. By my measure, joy is the first and love the last of the great themes that the Psalmist introduces in this work. I am half-way through a new diagram showing the distribution of my selected themes. I find it interesting also that in many of the briefs I browsed in the library this evening, it was noted that the 8 keywords are all synonyms for law - I wonder if this is helpful. I noted that at least one other translates imrah as promise as I have done. But what was the state of the written or oral Torah at the time the psalm was written that the psalmist should see 8 synonyms? I think it is more a matter of passion than definition.

In my selected themes, I have ended with love, but there are other repeated words that the psalmist uses after the introduction of love in part 6 - not many, but perhaps strength, thankfulness, fear, knowledge. I had to pause somewhere at least for the moment.

There is no doubt this psalmist has known trouble. Little doubt to me that he also prays for his enemies (not, on the surface, nice prayers - but what do you expect!)
*Pascal: (Cited in Les Psaumes, Desclée de Brouwer - no specific reference given.)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Psalm 119 - theme and variations

I have been dreaming this psalm. There are patterns, some more obvious than others, some small, some related to what one might call a springboard word - a word introduced and then elaborated on in subsequent parts. Whether these are deliberate on the part of the writer(s) or not, I am not yet 'sure'. The pattern of the missing nouns is there of course as described in this earlier post.

I have coloured the themes as they appear - see what you think of the patterns and presentation (an acrostic coat of many colours). I have missed some - feel free to point them out and I will adjust the diagrams.

Excluding the main nouns, here are the colours I have used:
forecolor red - indicates completion achieved or presupposed
blue - indicates continuing action (walk הלכ hlk, keep שׁמר shmr)
gold - teaching/learning (למד lmd)
purple - aspects of the heart
green - observed (נצר ntsr)
grey with red bordercolor - human emotion - delight and shame

backcolor without gradient - shows one of the big 8 - definitions here
backcolor with gradient
grey - 'will not forget' - often in a negative/positive contrast in the verse
red - the life motif
pink - being/soul (somewhat negative to begin with) and righteousness (צדק tsedeq)
green - troubles
teal - covenant mercy and correction (חסד chesed)

There are additional motifs I have not yet coloured - love, hope, trust, faith, superlatives [to the max מאד m)od]

Promise motif and servant are connected by the same colour scheme - I think the completion and salvation theme are also connected as noted in the earlier posts.

If a border color = main noun color (the big 8) - it is often a verb used with one of the main 8 nouns - explored in this post. (Note there are other nouns belonging to God that are significant - e.g. truth and faithfulness.)

connectors - fat - first diagram only - show connections among the big 8 (and occasional displaced nodes)
thin connectors - show some displacement of words when required for the acrostic in English
thin connectors of various colours - show individual part structures and some interpart connections.

One thing I am imagining is the emergence of a motif and its continuance - when is it first mentioned - when is it last mentioned and what if any significance for the poet's thought this tells us. E.g.

Righteousness is in part 1 and 22
The life/live motif begins in part 3 with servant and continues to part 22
Teaching goes from 1 to 22
The human emotion of delight is noted in part 2 and continues to 22
Covenant mercy - in contrast, does not appear till part 6.

The jpgs are large - be patient and the reward will come :) - hopefully someone will get some enjoyment from them besides me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

MS Repair

I repaired the defective summary diagram of the keywords of Psalm 119 and the counts - poor old ayin got left out completely. You can clearly see what was missing since I left the borders in on the image.

I will be staying in a beautiful hotel on Central Park with a room overlooking the park for the next 5 days and I am not taking a computer. So I will get way behind on my google reader and I will spend what time I have with pen and paper writing whatever happens and hearing my daughter's work at the girls choir school she is teaching at St Thomas's, Fifth Ave. where I will be for evensong today, if all goes as planned ...

Blessings to all the bloggers and readers

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Still more on the keywords of Psalm 119

I thought it was time I looked up the meaning of these words in my BDB which I have lugged around with me on the road these past 4 weeks.

Here's a bit about each:

תורה [torah] BDB direction, instruction, law - it is always tricky to find anything in BDB. This one is listed on page 435 under the yod - that's Bingo for you. Is it related to early rain (yoreh)? or throw or shoot (yarah)? It lists below teacher (moreh). I would never have thought of looking up torah under i in an English dictionary! At its simplest, it is an ordinary word meaning the instruction of a mother for her child, or a father, or the sages, or a poet.

עדה [edah] testimony - I found this under ayin as expected. ayin-daleth has lots of meanings - time related, perpetuity, even to, up to, until, during, while ..., booty! Then several pages later, I find ayin-daleth with a tsere under the ayin - aha, testimony, witness, , evidence. While these can be applied with due solemnity to the testimony of the ancient stories, I also find resonances of two or three witnesses, the subject of John 5. I admit to showing my bias here, but the problem we have with testimony is just that - believing it. I see I (correctly but accidentally) listed the feminine noun above (with the 'ah' ending). BDB has a distinction of 13 times this word in the plural, and 8 times also in the plural a slight variation on the same word (edut). The observable difference in the psalm escapes me.

אמרה [imrah] word, promise - there are quite a few words in the class aleph-mem-resh - this one based on the verb to speak, utter, etc, others based on the idea of a bond. BDB does give promise as a possible translation - so I am not beyond the pale.

פקּד [piqud] precept - In this form, the word always plural only appears in the psalms (19, 103, 111, 119) 21/24 times in psalm 119. It is as it sounds, good advice, it appears to agree with other roots PQD - the verb, attend to, visit, muster, appoint and the nouns PQDH oversight, or PQYD - commissioner, overseer. The precept is the thing appointed, God's precepts are the charges laid upon us.

חק [chuq] statute - nothing too surprising here either - something prescribed, a decree, a due, related to the verb, inscribe, decree and the issues of being just, right, obligatory, etc. Interesting that these are not legal - but perhaps they also encompass those uninscribed but expected behavioural aspects of family and cultural life... God's statutes, which make the heart complete, are what direct in God's way as opposed to what may be the cultural or social way which may not make the heart complete.

מצוה [mitsvah] commandment - Loving of Torah embraces all the variations we have seen in this Psalm. Doing of Mitsvot reflects the Deuteronomy passage - we will do them and we will understand. Some readings of Paul make appreciating this love and this doing difficult. Naturally, this word does not appear under M but under Ts from the root TsVH to command (and other things). It is a command. I always think of command as meaning co-mandere - you have a mandate to work with someone. It is always an invitation for me. Nonetheless, I do not consider some Mitsvot as part of my work but this is a subject of a more complex essay still to be written.

משׁפּט[mishpat] judgment - lesson learned, I looked under shpt and lo and behold, there was mshpt! Derived from the verb to judge, or govern. God is a good governor by all accounts from the psalm.

דבר [dabar] word, thing. Primarily word, the same root as the verb to speak, can also mean a matter, an affair, a thing about which one speaks - a frequent word, pages on it in the BDB.

So I have traced some of the verbs used in the psalm, and I have a better idea of the meaning of the nouns - now to consider the impact. What is the impact of the engagement with the God of Israel?

It is substantial. Whoever, by whatever stripe, knows it, will not ever be disappointed. The psalmist has much to say about the impact on him and his prayers for others, even his enemies. This is a third essay on the psalm which I will leave till I have mused further...