Sunday, November 25, 2007

Psalm 78

Psalm 78 resolves better into five sections than 9. I have put the section boundaries as follows:

1-12 - Theme
13-27 - The temptation in the wilderness part 1
28-43 - The temptation in the wilderness part 2
Verse 43 has a direct repetition of verse 12
44-58 - Remembering the Exodus
59-72 - Rejecting Shiloh, the choice of Judah and David

There are innumerable connections between the parts. In the diagram, (3.6M) I have marked a number of relationships which show me that I am not totally off base. But there is much to ponder. Weiser's decomposition agrees with my first cut - that 1-8 is a section. But I doubt it. The minimizing of inter-section connections and the maximizing of recurrence within a single section seem to indicate that the first section is longer. The repetition of verse 12 in verse 43 seems to indicate the poet's clue that the first section ends at 12, not earlier. Dahood gives no structural clues and I could spend a lifetime on every psalm so I will leave this one for a while.

Two things to note: the repetitions of verbs and nouns seem to occur in pairs. And there is a significant sense from God of the difficulty of the exodus and the settlement: 'he' against 'them'. It reads a bit like the reproaches. A number of words indicate the cost of redemption and the love of God for his recalcitrant peoples.

My colour coding of connections is significant in the diagram. Black indicates that a connection begins and ends in the same section (=column). Blue indicates a connection starting in column 1 but ending in a later column. Red starts in column 2 and ends in a later column. A darker red starts in column 3 and ends in 4 (or 5 but I have not noted any connection here). And gold starts in 4 and ends in 5. It is really easy to get tired doing this even with super software. I will leave my wondering on how the poet worked to build this poem in my subconscious.

I have marked the he stress-units with a forecolour of gold, and the they stress-units with a forecolour of muddy green. If I had to choose, I chose based on the actor of the verb. The red border colour indicates first person, for the psalmist is owning this history and the invitation is to 'my people'.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Psalm 78 - section 1

Psalm 78 is very long - 72 verses. I have not found its structure yet but I have found a large number of repeated verbs. I am going on the thesis that I will isolate candidate cells / stanzas / sections through concentric or sequential-overlapping circles, and distinguish these from recurrence indicating interlocking themes through the repetitions that are not within such circles. There is ambiguity in my method since a circle based on a repeated root can be as large as one wishes - so the difference is really in scope. Yet I maintain that in the human perception of form, some repeated words define sections and others link sections. Repetitions that define sections are more plausible if they form a set of related circles. (For the clearest example so far see Psalm 51. The English only version is a little more developed than the Hebrew-English diagram.)

Here is a list of some of the repeated words of Psalm 78 - section 1. This is a step towards finding structure based on word usage patterns at the macro level rather than observing and bulding up lines, strophes, and stanzas from consecutive prosodic elements at the micro level.

hear (שָׁמַע) - with three subjects: we, the Lord, and God. Hearing is a linking theme.
know (ידע) - with three occurrences all in the first section - knowing defines section 1.
follow / behind (אַחֲרוֹן -'axaron) occurs 4 times - twice in section 1 and twice in the last section - maybe bookends.
establish / stand (יָּקֶם) - twice in section 1 - the testimony and the children.
set (שָׂם) - twice in section 1 - Torah that God set, the children to set their hope in God.
prepare - (הֵכִין) Prepare is a linking theme.

Section 1 is thus defined by three different verbs repeated in sequence: know, establish, set. These words are not used again in the rest of the psalm. Section 1 links to other sections in the psalm through two other words: hear and the root אַחֲר which is a candidate for unifying the psalm as a whole and in the last verse, prepare.

There are other verbs in section 1 (verses 1-8, column 1 in the diagram) that are used only once in the psalm and 1 verb that is used three times in section 1 (ספר) but not in sequence: the verbs are repeated as declare-declare-establish::stand-declare and are therefore concentric rather than sequential. The nucleus surrounded by these circles is the intergenerational requirement of Torah and testimony laid on the chosen people - clearly announcing the subject of the psalm.

There are additional noun repetitions in section 1 that confirm its status as a section. Curiously, considering the intergenerational aspect of the psalm, only 'fathers' is repeated in other sections. Children, generation, repeated in section 1, are not used again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Blogging In

Well - I never really blogged out - my alter-bloggo did. But I will blog in - just enough to say that my wife, Diana, and I have returned safe and sound if a little saturated from SBL. I cannot count the number of papers I heard - somewhere around 30. I expect them to inform a few comments for me on the psalms over the next several months, and also to inform a few story fragments for the deaf Secundus on the gospels.

It was good to meet several e-acquaintances in the flesh. Now connected are at least some names and forms. On my way home, puddle jumping from San Diego to San Francisco to Vancouver to Victoria, I asked Rikk Watts about what an old man should do. He said - "Go sailing. On your death bed you won't be lamenting that you didn't do another 100 hours of Hebrew study!" Diana agreed. And as for me, I don't imagine I will be thinking about sailing either. Who knows the time of his departure? Suffer us not for any pains of death to fall from thee. But an equally suitable question: Who can say on what errand the insolent emu walks between morning and night on the edge of the plain?

If I can, I will continue the pursuit of my joy which is to communicate with those ancient poets and their first century readers. What SBL taught me is the extent of my ignorance, but that is no more depressing than my usual unnecessary worries.

I started out Friday afternoon with April DeConick on the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar. For me, the initial subject continued the lectionary from the previous week (Luke 20:27-38 - the Sadducees and the resurrection and parallels). I thought this was a happy co-incidence. I remember that still small voice saying to me 5 days earlier - pay attention - and look up the parallels. O yes, I thought, I remember this is where you said that they know neither the scriptures nor the power of God (omitted by Luke). I expect Secundus may get to this reflection sooner than later. He will also benefit from hearing the discussion over Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and a forum on John where I picked up Mary Coloe's second book, Dwelling in the Household of God. In spite of Rikk's advice, I read some of this on the plane and I really like where she is going with the intense symbolism and extended metaphor in John of the Marriage customs in the first century. The consummation of my death in the Bridegroom of blood is dowry and promise, and the dowry (the Spirit) reverts to me if the engagement is broken off. Not only is God bound to us by this self gift, but the Spirit is given without reservation because God in this New Creation has no need to repent. All this is lost in the move from Hebrew נחמ (naham, repent - used of God only, sigh, comfort) to Greek Paraclete (Comforter, Advocate) to English - just consider the word play.

Two papers by Jewish scholars stood out for me: Joshua Berman on Lamentations 1 as the Drama of Spiritual Rehabilitation. His translation of מְנַחֵם as the Comforter (his capital) was a surprise to me. But I see that the JPS version translates it with definite article but without the capital. It is such a direct connection to John's Gospel. But that may just be my own short-circuiting thought process. The second paper was on Psalm 119 by Naama Zahavi-Eli who pointed out that the words used only once in Psalm 119 are 50% of the text and they are commonly repeated words in non-poetic sections of Scripture. It may be that poetry statistics are important both for repetition and for unique uses also.

I took in most of the groups on Psalms and Biblical Poetry. My last paper was Monday evening, delivered by John Hobbins on Parallelism in Ancient Hebrew Verse - a Review of Recent and Ongoing Research. But I missed one of John's papers - the one on teaching Hebrew. I will cite the papers that impact analysis of the Psalms as I review the subject psalms. One by Jinkyu Kim, Strategic Arrangement of Royal Psalms in the last two Books of the Psalter, has some potential to help organize the psalms table of contents.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

List of drafts in the last month

It has been a while - 26 days - since my last update on status. I am 83% drafted by psalm. On the next draft - psalm 78 - I will catch the verse (79.9) and phrase (80.1) percentages up to the psalm percentage since psalm 78 is very large - 456 phrases, 530 words, 72 verses. Considering I divided psalm 119 into 4, psalm 78 is the largest diagram I am working with: 1002 nodes.

Many of my drafts are quite incomplete as to interesting structure. In some I have hardly touched the circles and internal references. If anyone wants to help - feel free. One way is to print the diagram and draw your own lines and then somehow tell me about it.

I continue to draft. I will be presenting psalm 51 at a Bible study on November 26 in Victoria.

I will be presenting technical issues at the Bibletech conference in Seattle in January. I would be happy to hear technical questions that interest you.

You can reach me at bobmacdonald /\

Here's the list since my last update.

Psalm -31 October 2007 (220)
Psalm -33 November 2007 (161)
Psalm -35 November 2007 (229)
Psalm -36 November 2007 (100)
Psalm -38 November 2007 (168)
Psalm -49 November 2007 (167)
Psalm -50 October 2007 (178)
Psalm -63 October 2007 (93)
Psalm 102 October 2007 (212)
Psalm 106 October 2007 (331)
Psalm 109 October 2007 (228)
Psalm 140 October 2007 (116)
Psalm 141 October 2007 (95)
Psalm 142 October 2007 (75)
Psalm 143 October 2007 (117)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rebuke me not

After psalm 6 comes psalm 38, a reminder. No wonder I have been fearful these past two weeks - preparation for meditation on the wounds of folly.

My comptroller and I were meditating briefly on what people expect of each other. They may expect perfection, or we may feel that it is so expected and therefore even expect or demand it of ourselves. But what is this 'perfection'. Hey - if we can't do it, let's redefine the objective. Not perfection in the sense of flawless, but rather perfection in the sense of useful and a sufficient completeness. While there remain spots and wrinkles, and while there are burdens, we need, in that meanwhile, an inscrutable quality of grace in order to be able to live with each other.

Is it a reflection of original sin that we impose an unachievable expectation on others for we imagine we could have or have achieved it ourselves? Or is it better to think of it as part of the price of our wounds (the link to Isaiah 53 is in the psalm) that we learn to bear for each other as part of our emerging wholeness?

I am of the opinion that no human should say 'never' - as in 'he will never be ...'. (And let those who think they stand take care lest they fall.)

This trade-off between completion as usefulness and unachievable perfection is contained in the French proverb: Le meilleur est l'enemie du bon. Likewise it spans the tension between - If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and Does this company ever deliver anything?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Verbs and Grammar

I imagine one should never try to learn a language by studying grammar first. But eventually, one has to study grammar. I have postponed really really studying verb forms but I have had to feel my way into them as it were gradually. Is there anyone out there who will answer a simple question?

The third person plural feminine of the imperfect - tiqtolnah - appears to be identical with the second person plural. Why isn't the third person plural yiqtolnah? (like the 3pp masculine)

The paradigm looked like a misprint to me - but it was the same in my Lambdin. After 15 months of slogging, you would think I would not have such a dumb question - but there you are. I do.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Presenting complexity simply

Most people don't read by imagining the shape of the text 'visually' - they read and internalize whatever is in front of them. They will also hear internally and when a psalm is sung, they will hear and be en-chanted. Here is my first attempt to say a little about Reading a Psalm.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Issue of Translating

Lingamish and Aristotle (a.k.a. J.K.Gayle) have raised some nice questions about our wordy communications. Lingamish rightly shows us why word order should not be followed. For me for the moment, I slavishly follow word order as an experience of learning a foreign tongue. When I move into 'real' translation, and not this basic learning process, I may become freed from some voluntary restrictions. J.K.Gayle has a brilliant post on Aristotle - so fast moving, so undermining of assumption, so secure in his study - what a delight to try and catch the wind in his wild ride.

He also asked me some questions best answered in a separate post.

The questions: I see the work with patterns (in the text). Do you believe God had agency with translators (even with their reversals) AS he was inspiring the scriptures? If so, do you believe God has any agency with your translating the scriptures now? As you see the patterns and transpose them into the wonderful prosodic images, is he inspiring his scriptures still in that? ... One more thing: I think Aristotle has no Christian translation theory. But I do think we translators get theory and practice in translation from Jesus. Would you agree?
The first clarification has to do with canon. Canon is sufficient and inspired is a word that canon applies to itself - as in that usual citation from Timothy somewhere. But canon is not exhaustive. The work of the Spirit, and God is Spirit, is not confined to the book. (The canon also says this in John's Gospel towards the end.)

Secondly, does God have agency with translators? Of course. And with the citations of the LXX in the NT? We assume so. And with my vision and drafting? (Hiatus) Translation is too big a word for what I do at present. I feel I have only 'translated' perhaps 2 or 3 of the 115 I have drafted so far. I am translating first to my own framework. Then I will refine and correct my drafts. Then, if possible, I will attempt some translations. But is God in it?

God in a sentence is like null in an expression. Unqualified, null means "I don't know". In any well-formed expression, a programmer must qualify a potential null value, or the result of the expression is also "I don't know". So it is with God in a sentence.

But as with C. S. Lewis whose book Surprised by Joy J.K.Gayle cites, I work on the basis that my surprise is from God - because I learned what I think I know, and the name of the one by whom I am known, through the obedience of the faith of Jesus Christ. What my end is, I do not know, but the beginning and the continuing is - Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the one who trusts in him.

The qualification of God in the sentence is the human. As Rambam said of his work (thank you John for the hard work) - "... should you have been the only one during my lifetime it would have satisfied me".

Finally, do I think translators get theory and practice in translation from Jesus? Just considering the historical aspects of the written words that we have from the NT:
  1. The NT in testifying to the faithfulness of Jesus uses the Psalms more than any other book of Scripture.
  2. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews uses the Psalms exclusively to document the dialogue between the Father and the Son.
Quite apart from the personal experience of being human in the presence of his faithfulness, these observable facts of the textual record invite a serious reading of the Psalms. How indeed, did Jesus read them? How does he read them with us today?