Thursday, October 25, 2007

Psalm 109

I noticed that at SBL the subjects on Monday are Psalms 102 and 109. I just happened to have chosen 109 as my next target for draft. This poem exhibits a structural property that I have not seen named. It is evident in many other poems - e.g. Psalm 67.

We have the parallelismus membrorum. We have concentric structures and chiasms, and we have a theory of prosody - but this also is of interest: Hebrew poems are like cell structures in the process of division, an image of a fertilized seed. The edge is marked by a series of concentric circles. A nucleus often reveals the scripture that the psalmist is using as starting point. Arising from some strand are words that connect between cells. Cells are related by association and repetition of language. Often the cells are within a larger concentric structure. One cell may trump another. If one could see the poet at work, it might be like watching a film of cell division.

So Psalm 109 has an outer shell - prayer, speak and mouth are the keywords. A second shell - verses 4 to 20, with keyword accuser is about the rebuke of the enemy and itself divides (4-5, 6-15, 16-19, 20). Verses 16-19 share in sequence 9 words with verses 21-22, 28-29. I think this is longer than an accident would allow. The bitter complaint has given rise to a prayer for the accused using exactly the same terms as the complaint against the accuser. The self-description and prayer of the accused are thus made the central feature of the last section (23-27) before the closing of the outermost circles.

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