Monday, February 25, 2008

Psalms 89-91 - an inner ridge

I think of Psalms 89-91 as a kind of inner ridge of the Psalter. Psalm 89 ends the third book. It is a serious lament. Where is the promise of completion? In Psalm 90 we get two words, unique in that Psalm, which translate differently due only to pointing differences.

כָלִינוּ we are consumed, and
כִּלִּינוּ we complete.

In Psalm 91, which John suggested on his birthday is an answer to Psalm 90, we get seven promises each of which is a hapax in the Psalter (see the image to the right, Psalm 91:14-16). By this I mean that each word in exactly this consonantal form occurs only in this psalm in the Psalter. It is typical of poets that they would want to express things uniquely and thus find a way into our stubborn hearts.

And here's another intriguing hapax. From generation to generation is not exactly a unique phrase - ldor vdor - but as I noted earlier, in Psalm 89 VDVR occurs only once out of 18 occurrences of 'and generation' in the Psalter and in Psalm 90, BDR is a unique form. There are 15 other occurrences of DR(4) and DVR (11). Perhaps these are just coincidental ancient spelling variations. (Not of course if you believe in the letters of fire - and while I might defer to the human variation, I would not put it past my Love to consider hiding a message in a mater lectionis - just [ed: did you mean 'righteous'] for fun).

Psalm 90-91 together will be found here. The singularities are boxed in the Hebrew and weirdly coloured in the English. The border width indicates their repetition (within the psalm) as well.

And while we are on notes on translation, I note that translators often slip from one concept to another. So it is here with a common translation: Lord, thou has been our refuge - No - it must not be refuge. It is our dwelling and it recurs as home in Psalm 91 and with much of the dwelling of God with us all over the place. Refuge is used in Psalm 91 and here it means shelter as in Psalm 2, but shelter is not the only role for a dwelling (and I see I have not been too consistent either - not that consistency is that important - only within the recurrence context).

1 comment:

Mark said...

I appreciate your work on the Psalms. I will read some of your posts in more detail when I have leisure.

I have finally caught up to the post you first asked about, I think, on Theological German. I have posted translations of "More Religious than God" and some others on

Bonhoeffer's thoughts on the OT are also interesting and important. Have you read his book on the Psalms. Of course it is devotional and theological--not philology. I think we need both.