Monday, September 03, 2007

Psalm 68

I have a few more psalms drafted

Psalm -68 September 2007 (310) update: see also prosodic
Psalm -86 August 2007 (147)
Psalm 103 August 2007 (167)
Psalm 116 August 2007 (131)

Psalm 68 is the subject of several recent posts from Suzanne, John, and Lingamish who allows the psalm to stand as "one of the most difficult of all psalms to understand and interpret".

For some time the mantra - psalms are more than poems - has been in my head - with instruction to write. What shall I write? Psalms happen to you. Poems can be interpreted. Sometimes when I approach a psalm, I deliberately ask that it not 'happen' to me (now that I know this truth). But equally - let Psalm 139 happen and 86 and let us be able to know the signs of the times.

If I had to note a suggestion I received while musing so far, I would reference Christopher Smart and the Jubilate Agno Fragment B, 2 (set in part by Benjamin Britten)

For at that time malignity ceases and the devils themselves are at peace. (Check this poem out if you don't know it.) Even the rebellious get a benefit in Psalm 68. Do you know anywhere else that this happens?

My draft of Psalm 68 identifies a few structural aspects - perhaps they will help in the understanding:

The word I translated presence (literally faces) occurs 8 times in the first 9 verses. If this psalm isn't something about presence, I would be surprised. This word does not occur again - so if it is a prelude, it is not balanced. If not perhaps there is a centre in the first 9 verses to look for. It is likely balanced by the end sections on strength (6 uses in the last 8 verses).

Selah interrupts a thought each time it occurs - so it is not marking cadences as it often does.

Sing, make music, and God riding a chariot occur twice - once in the desert, the second time in the heavens - the centre of the concentric structure on strength.The centre also encompasses the fate of the kings who are the ones singing and making music to God at the end. So the righteous of verse 4 are not parochial. A third referent to the chariot is in the middle section.

The place of God's holiness occurs 4 times.

God as El, Eli, Elohim, Elohay (31 times), Yah(2), YHWH (2), Shaddai (1), Adonai(7) - I wonder about the density (12.5%) and variety of the names of God in the Psalm.

Verse 12 - My Lord gave a word; those publishing are a great host

This verse seems to head the rest of the poem. The content is about kings fleeing and yet further on kings returning with gifts and homage. In the middle is where the triumph of God is recorded: Adonai desires to make his permenant home on mount Zion, Even the rebellious are in the tent of Yah Elohim.

Verse 21(20) may be the centre of the poem - I have no idea what to do with the last word of that verse which I have rendered exeunts. The tetragrammeton occurs only here.

verse 22-24 uses rare language (= Psalm 110).

There are many allusions that are used by New Testament writers.

There are some really odd verses that maybe if they happen to you, you will sing about. So what does it mean to lie down between the whatevers - as KJV has it - though ye have a lien among the pots! Or what has the snow of Salmon to do with kings? (Except as an image of forgiveness of course).

I look forward to future posts and resolution of some of these difficulties - maybe.


lingamish said...

Thanks, Bob for doing this. I'm downloading the Ps. 68 chart as we speak and will benefit from your work.

The Smart thing is bizarre.

Any other literary or musical connections? You mentioned Handel's Messiah. Does it explicitly reference 68?

Have a great day.

Bob MacDonald said...

for the scripture references of the libretto of the Messiah see e.g. here (2 citations 68:11, and 18)

Psalm 68 also gets a mention in the first century libretto of the Messiah (NT) e.g. Hebrews 12:26 (68:8) (and 22? = 68:17); Ephesians 4:8-10 (68:18)