Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Various notes on the structure and content of the psalter

I will try and impose some discipline on this long project. So I begin a series of notes on the structure and content of the psalter - not necessarily in order, but necessarily attempting a complete second pass through the books.

I have a few piles of debris in the garden. Two are from severely pruned climbing roses and one from a hopefully destroyed ivy hedge with roots the size of your arm. There is also an old rusty fence post with attached concrete. The roots are easy to pick up but dirty. The roses are not so easy to gather and hold since they will catch your clothes and prick your hand. The fence post is too heavy to lift, but can be rolled or leveraged if needed.

We are preparing a new fence. I hope to save the ancient roses when the bulldozer arrives. And I hope the crew will remove the roots and old fence posts. The Psalter is more than piles of debris though some thorns need to be pointed out at least in passing and the roots are deep. Some aspects of the old hedge are like the fencepost, unfathomable. On this second pass, I hope some rooted prejudices have already been removed. They would grow if replanted, but it is not advisable. Perhaps also there will be some bloom and some guided trails for the one who walks in the garden.

The first notes have been indicated in prior postings:
  1. There is a grand inclusio: Psalms 1 and 2 together as opening bracket have their closing bracket in Psalm 149. The overall subjects of the 150 are Torah - better rendered Instruction than Law, and the anointed king, named son in Psalm 2. The murmuring kings of the earth - perhaps including 'self' - will be bound, according to Psalm 149. The ones who have been shown mercy are seen rejoicing at the end of the Psalter. Who knows but that the bindings of iron are also of love.
  2. Groups of psalms have a closing doxology: each book has its one-verse doxology. The Psalter as a whole has Psalm 150, and it appears that some Psalms may be a closing doxology to other sets - I will keep my eyes open for these.
  3. There is an overall shape to the Psalter that can be derived from the use of different names for the divine: the tetragrammeton in Psalms 1-41 and 87-150 and Elohim in Psalms 42-86. There is one exception: 108.
  4. Psalms 3 to 6 with a reminder in 38 are personal (among many others). The psalmist appeals in your great mercy (בְּרֹב חַסְדְּךָ). Though these psalms are personal, they anticipate the many who will be shown that same mercy. They begin the exploration of the issues of all my enemies (כָּל-אֹיְבַי), in all my troubles (בְּכָל צוֹרְרָי), and various vexations - both mine and 'others'.
  5. Psalm 7 is ambiguous. For me the ambiguity of verses 13-16 hints at the time when God in the person of the righteous one steps into the pit of destruction and completes the wickedness of the wicked (verse 10 יִגְמָר נָא רַע רְשָׁעִים).
  6. After the reel of Psalm 7, Psalm 8 is a relief - and a commonly felt truth about the nature of the heavens and the role of the human.
  7. Psalm 151 is a curiosity - definitely not inside the structure of the Psalter.

No comments: