Monday, March 31, 2008

Letter usage

Here's another diagram of letter usage, comparing the Songs of Ascent with the rest of the Psalms.

Missing Letters

I have noted recently a couple of articles on letter-counting. Today I decided to count all the letters in the psalter by psalm - just for fun. I threw in Genesis 1 at the bottom of the diagram. My counts are slightly more accurate than reported previously since I am now counting repeated letters in one word, whereas my first cut overlooked these.

What I notice is not worthy of gematria nor of the significance of Ayin so interestingly reported in this article by Ronald Benun. But there is a significant absense of some letters in the Songs of Ascent.

8 psalms are missing the use of gimel
12 are missing zayin
2 missing a het
21 missing a tet (I assume taw is preferred)
16 missing a samek
3 missing a peh
5 missing a sadeh
8 missing a qop
13 missing a sin

The opening of Genesis uses all letters except samek.

The 15 songs of ascent account for 36 of these 88 missing letters or 40%.
That's 144 verses out of 3209 or 4.5%.

I would say there must have been a change in use of the writing system when these psalms were composed or written down. I am sure we could make up some significance to the 88 - after all, it is 1/2 the number of verses in Psalm 119 and 4 times the number of letters in the alefbet. Perfection appended to perfection.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Interpreting the Bible

This is yet another post on the thinking out of a hermeneutical process stimulated by Iyov. We are very fortunate to have scholars - many of them - willing to struggle with the expression of history and faith to those of us who have read less. I too struggle to express - and in writing, I learn what it is I wish to say.

The focus of this blog is the psalms. The posts from the last 20 months reflect that slow lift-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps learning process. In the gear-change between my first full pass of translation and learning Hebrew and my second full pass at notes on the ancient texts using both the Hebrew and the LXX (gotta learn Greek now!), we have had a session of several posts on approaches to reading and interpreting these works. 1 2 3 4 5 6

In the early days of my first classes in Hebrew, I was introduced to PRDS in an art-show at our local Synagogue. What a lovely story it is. And our favorite, Rabbi Akiva comes out in peace. As Iyov explains, the fourfold approach to Scripture is in these steps:
  • Peshat -- "plain" -- the plain meaning of the text
  • Remez -- "hints" -- the allegorical (or "deep") meaning of the text
  • Derash -- "seek" -- the homiletic meaning
  • Sod -- "secret" -- the mystical meaning

If I were to summarize my thoughts briefly, I would say that the twofold division of Neale (plain and mystical = Christological) can use the P and the R-D-S to explore the unfolding of his second component, perhaps to see if the anointing can be more universal than exclusive.

The story connected with the acronym, Iyov also summarizes - so much in so few words:

The four entered the Pardes by meditating on God's name. Ben Azzai gazed at the Divine Presence and died. Ben Zoma gazed and became insane. Acher "cut down plants in the Orchard", that is, he became a heretic. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.

If we dare enter the Garden, what will become of us? Ben Azzai, שמעון בן עזאי if his name is etymologically related to azazel, he must die. Ben Zoma בן זומא is also a Simon - one who hears. His name seems to be unrelated to anything, perhaps device or plan. I suppose paradise cannot be planned. Acher אחר had to 'remain behind' to cut the plants down. Who is it that can go in and out freely and find pasture, surely the one whose interpretation of the Song has moved me so. Akiva עקיבא was also I believe a late starter. His name, from 'follow at the heel', seems to be etymologically related to Jacob. I wouldn't put planning out of mind, but perhaps his diligence amounted to the kind of 'waiting' קוה that is prized and rewarded.

I think there is a danger for me that I will cut the plants down. Perhaps as reductionism, perhaps also I will wait for growth. All of me has died already. There is certainly a risk of madness. I was once told that no direct approach to God is possible except through the Son - especially not 'through' the Spirit. That way lay madness, he said. (I don't remember his name - he was the stationery clerk at the Information Systems Department in Don Mills at IBM in the period 1974-77. He was open-table Brethren and the only person who ever spoke to me plainly about the bridal aspect of faith - things he would never utter in the assembly.) We are told to work in the Spirit and by the Spirit and that the Spirit is in us. Do I exclude anyone? No - for he has poured out Spirit on all flesh. Will I go in and out freely and find pasture? How could it be otherwise?

Appropriate variations in preposition reveal a native speaker. Here, we all suffer limitations of language. The one tree still standing in my garden is in a post I wrote yesterday here. Does it not combine death, madness, reductionism, and ecstasy?

Monday, March 24, 2008


ח קומה יהוה הושׁיעני אלהי כי-הכית את-כל-איבי לחי;
שׁני רשעים שׁברת
8 Arise, LORD; save me, my God; for you have smitten all my enemies upon the cheek,
teeth of the wicked broken.

Opposed to these are the teeth of the righteous preachers of the Church, who bring men into the body of Christ, teeth which should not decay through luxury, but be white with innocence, joined in charity, even in justice, firm in constancy, bony in vigour, biting into sin with doctrine and truth. Of such is written, "Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing."

S. Albertus Magnus. in Neale op. cit.

Psalm 3 - of ten thousands

ז לא-אירא מרבבות עם אשר סביב שתו עלי
7 I am not afraid of a multitude of people, that surround, set against me.

Thus in the arena he stood by himself, one minute, not longer :
Here on this side a child ; on the other a myriad pagans.
Then did the Christians in peace send up one deep supplication,
God would again show His praise in the mouth of babes and of sucklings :
Trembling nor fear none now ; but Philemon came forward a little
Nearer the mouth of the den, where the creaking winch told was the lion.
Back flew the gate : black maned, the beast, with the roar of his fury,
Sprang in one bound on the child, - and the child was in Abraham's bosom.

J.M. Neale: Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

Is there any secret?

As I have considered the interpretations of Christendom, I think I can begin to understand why Neale (Commentary on the Psalms, Neale and Littledale 1860/1874) distinguishes only two forms of interpretation, the literal and the mystical, but multiple meanings within the mystical with respect to typology, metaphor, and so on. And that for him, the mystical is always Christological.

His image of the scripture is not of a table with three or four legs such as I have put forward in the last few posts on subdividing meaning, but of a Man with two legs. The Man's stability is assured by God, not by a third leg - whether it be plain, typological, or hidden.

It always strikes me as odd that people quoting Paul's 'Eye hath not seen nor hath the ear heard...' - even Hans Küng's translator of Eternal Life?, fail to read the rest of the passage.
That eye has not seen, nor ear heard: neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for them that love him. But to us God has revealed them by his Spirit.
So from the point of the New Testament, the things that are hidden have been revealed to those who are in Christ by the Spirit. Paul goes on to say that there is no searching this out 'by the flesh' that is possible. The things of the Spirit are communicated only by the Spirit who searches even the depths of God - not to mention the depths of the human. That is not to say that the metaphorical is 'spiritual' or 'mystical'. It too can be 'of the flesh'. In a word, the revelation is of the Bridegroom.

It is not without some fear that anyone should put forward this view, for would it not be possible, even too easy, to lapse into a vague subjectivity and a private interpretation of Scripture?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Yesterday my wife bought tulips. Closed yellow tulips. I said, let me help you take them out of the packages. I broke one. Its bulb fell into the sink.

Three toothpicks piercing the side of the tulip allowed me to immerse the bulb vertically in a small candlestick holder. Today, the tulip is blooming - stemless.

This is not derash - nor is my faith in tulips.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Subdividing Meaning - 4

[update: remarkable synchronicity that this subject should arise when a significant review of von Balthasar is in progress - see particularly this essay.]
In the comments on the previous post, Iyov has described some aspects of derash as a part of the fourfold division of interpretation.
It is important to note that in Jewish traditions just because a story is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean it is not considered as "Torah" -- the Midrash is included as part of the "Oral Torah" and is also held to be holy.
He also implies an expanding authority of derash in other traditions. In raising the issue of canon in the context of my image of a table and legs as text and interpretive schema, he appears to be redefining the idea of the table surface.

Canon is by itself a big subject as we discovered in much blogging last year. See the series of posts beginning here. I have limited experience with additional stories that might be considered 'canonical'. It is enlightening to hear of the holiness of Oral Torah. I do not find it helpful, however, to extend the traditional canon for two reasons:
  1. we get claims of extension that are clearly wrong. (Not that all the canonical material is necessarily 'right' but there is enough to illustrate the need for discernment.)
  2. if we extend the table top, we have lost the role of canon as measuring stick.
I regard with great respect and interest the opinions of the Rabbis when such stories are related to me. But for me they are not Torah in the same sense as the Five Books of Moses are. To focus the question:
is derash a method of interpretation that differs from the plain, the figurative, or the mystical?
Example 1, Targum: I was introduced to Targum Jonathon on the binding of Isaac by the Milgroms in Cambridge in 2002. This is a story in Aramaic woven into the Hebrew story of Isaac. Would it ever occur to me to consider it canonical? No. What it does is extend the story in its own time as story by including plausible imaginative conversations between the characters. It extends the plain meaning (though in a very different way from redaction or form criticism.)

Example 2, A Purim celebration: the hamentaschen representing Haman's hat: This brings the story of Haman into a modern Purim festival in which the participants eat Haman's hat in the form of a cookie. In this respect it is making present an ancient reversal of fortune. It is a figurative extension of the story with application of the figure in the present.

Example 3, Christological interpretations of the Psalms: much as though I think they may apply, these interpretations of the early fathers and medieval commentators are not canonical. I do not measure by them, even if I might enjoy the inventiveness or their application.

Example 4, the extended canon of other traditions than my own (e.g. the Catholic, or Serbian Orthodox deutero-canonical books): as Doug Chaplin and John Hobbins both argued, these books are important for placing the more limited canon into a historical context, especially where canonical passages reflect or clearly allude to the non-canonical ones as if they were authoritative. The limited canon is not sufficient unto itself socially, historically, or scientifically. But it is sufficient within the context of its purpose: the effecting of salvation, the work of liberation, the confrontation of God with the children of dust, the engagement in the process of tikkun olam - healing the world.

What will I do with interpretation if Christians with their Mystical tradition (per Neale as critiqued by Scott) can make 'anything out of anything' and if Jews really have an open canon?

For me, my motivation and my life are from the death of Jesus, and the utter surprise of new life which I can only put down to the working of the Spirit. My understanding of the psalms - to date - and provisionally - is that the psalmist, the anointed king, and I are in the same place. To illustrate this, I must exercise a discipline in research to begin to appreciate the creative work of the psalmist. I must decide what figurative language is applicable. And if there is a hidden anointing in the plain and figurative meaning of the presence of the Beloved, then I must find a way to express the question - first for myself and those with whom I live and work and second in such a way that I do not blunt the apprehension of the gift to anyone who might come across my work. Then perhaps I will have a new appreciation of the hermeneutical approach to the text that the New Testament authors used - and perhaps I can better understand how Jesus read the psalms.

There remain for me these three legs to the table. Each of them can be elaborated, storied, or sought out. Derash seems to me to be method rather than subdivision of meaning. There remains for me a table of fixed dimensions. The Confrontation I have known through its witness and in which I am known is sufficient for the task - at least as far as I can see at the moment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quote of the Week

From Augustine via Neale: (noted during the ads while watching tennis)
His delight is in the law Yet the Apostle says that
"the law is not made for the righteous man." (1 Tim. 1:9)
But it is one thing to be in the law and another to be under the law.
He who is in the law, deals according to the law,
he who is under the law is dealt with by the law.

Subdividing Meaning -3

Continuing from my first post on this subject

I am troubled by this foray into a field of semantics and philosophy of thought that is beyond me. It seems, the more I study, the further I get from my goal. But I was at my goal from the beginning of my study whether it was the knockout punches delivered with every psalm I translated - you can see my warnings in this blog - how dangerous the road is. It is not a human enemy I strive with! But an enemy who loves me - so much that he will stay invisible, yet drive me by circumstance and conscience, by apparent coincidence and glory of tenderness - in himself and in those he sends to be with me whether as judges or as companions.

But having begun, I must make the attempt to continue the writing about method. So I have divided interpretation of text into three:
  1. the plain
  2. the figurative
  3. the hidden
I thought I should work one or two examples - and I will start with the first that Neale uses:

טו ומצא בה איש מסכן חכם ומלט-הוא את-העיר בחכמתו ואדם לא זכר את-האיש המסכן ההוא 15 now there was found in her a man poor, wise, and he delivered the city by his wisdom ; yet no human remembered that same poor man.

מסכן is unique to Ecclesiastes - according to my firefox dictionary, it is not a nice word - meaning pipsqueak, a person of no account: poor, miserable, pitiable, wretched, squalid; wretch, pipsqueak. Nice start off to a Christological interpretation which is of course where Neale goes with no pushing.

He cites Scott (without letting me find just who he means) who writes: I would gladly know by what authority any man, ... sets himself by the help of a warm imagination, to discover Gospel mysteries in this passage?

How does Neale interpret? - in his word, Mystically. This is an aspect of the hidden (for Neale) and his Mystical is in this case Christological (as I expect it will be in most cases.)

How does Scott interpret? - plainly. And Scott complains (rightly) that you may prove any doctrine from any text: everything is reduced to uncertainty, as if the Scripture had no determinate meaning, till one was arbitrarily imposed by the imagination of men.

Possibly this is a distinction between the mystical and the plain, but let's see if we can work it further.

Plainly, it is a little parable. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is just that - don't try and do too much, or deliver the city, because you will be forgotten anyway.

But wait, the word is unique - at least to Ecclesiastes in the Biblical text - and it seems to be derisive. Where else do I read that there is a man of no account, having 'no form or comeliness... or beauty that we should desire him'?

א מי האמין לשמעתנו וזרוע יהוה על-מי נגלתה. 1 'Who would believe our news? And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
ב ויעל כיונק לפניו וכשרש מארץ ציה לא-תאר לו ולא הדר ונראהו ולא-מראה ונחמדהו 2 For he will grow up as a sapling before him, and as a root from dry ground; no shape to him, no honour that we should look upon him, no beauty that we should covet him.
It is a stretch, but not much of one for Neale to get to his Christological application.

But is this mystical? Is this the hidden meaning? My subdivision says that the mystical requires a confrontation, and a presence which claims or invites a response, the invitation to love, the claim of obedience through the recognition of the same claim for others. I might want to pick the word זכר remember - and consider how Jew and Christian use this word to make present the formative event of their faith - exodus the one and the death of Jesus for the other. Then we could look at את-העיר the city - note the object marker, an invitation to recognize when more is intended than the object can hold. Perhaps I will light on Psalm 68, that great enigma so loved by the writer of Ephesians and think of the city built on the hill that God covets to live in.

Can I distinguish them? (so far so good)
Can I understand where Christological interpretation fits? (so far so good)
Can I recognize the other subdivisions as part of these three, or as methods that must be applied within and over each of the three.
  1. through concordance of authorities, - may apply to all three

  2. through discussion of words, - applies first to the plain, then to the figurative

  3. through explanation of the properties of things, - all object classes have properties

  4. through a multiplication of senses, - this is what it is about

  5. through analogies and natural truths, - analogy=figure, natural=? who knows

  6. through marking of an opposite, - can apply as method to all three

  7. through comparisons, - can apply as method to all three

  8. through interpretation of a name, - surface then figurative

  9. through multiplication of synonyms. - =2 above

These 9 do not speak to me of more legs for the table.

  1. according to the sensus historicus or literalis, = 1.

  2. according to the sensus tropologicus, = 3. (I subsume this to the confrontation)

  3. according to the sensus allegoricus... a sense other than the literal. = 2.

  4. the sensus anagogicus, used mystically or openly, 'the minds of the listeners are to be stirred and exhorted to the contemplation of heavenly things.'" = 3. (except I don't know much about heaven that I could say - but eternal life - a quality that brings hope and forgiveness and knowledge - here I will rest awhile)
Similarly these four
  • Docet - teaching - from the written letter. 1, 2, and 3
  • Allegory - similarity, metaphor, image, applicability. =2
  • Anagogy - hope =3
  • Tropology - = 3
and these

  1. Peshat -- =1
  2. Remez -- =2
  3. Derash -- a method required for 1 2 and 3
  4. Sod -- =3
and what about these
  1. litteralis, historicus = 1.1, 1.2
  2. allegoricus, parabolicus, = 2.1, 2.2
  3. tropologicus, etymologicus, 3.1, 1.3
  4. anagogicus, analogicus, 3.2, 2.3
  5. typicus, exemplaris, 2.4, 2.5+3.3
  6. anaphoricus, proportionalis, 2.6, 2.7
  7. mysticus, apocolypticus, diuinis atque ineffabilis 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7
  8. boarcademicus, primordialis [help - I have no idea what this is - a misprint?] 1.4
Peace to all who come here.

On subdividing meaning - 2

In my first post on this subject I ended up with a subdivision of meaning by three:
  1. the plain meaning: whether it be historical or linguistic or redactional and whether the work is written over many years and authors.
  2. the figurative meaning: whether allegory, or parable, or type. The text as story and as we have it.
  3. the hidden meaning: how the text relates to the encounter and presence and the commands and demands thereof.
If I treat these as object classes, then can I distinguish them? Also, can I recognize the other subdivisions as part of these three, or as methods that must be applied within and over each of the three. Also, can I understand where Christological interpretation fits?

More to come, I hope...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is Ayin significant

The remarkable essay by Ronald Benun (it is a really good case for the completeness of the Acrostics as they stand) makes a claim for the significance of the count of Ayin, the letter in Psalm 37. I measured the relative count of Ayin and discover that Psalm 37 does not have the largest number of Ayin's per word of the psalms. (It is 6th from the top - see the bottom of the following list - who can tell top from bottom!)

Link Count Ayin Words Ratio
Psalm 128 3 47 0.06383
Psalm -93 3 45 0.066667
Psalm -43 5 59 0.084746
Psalm -63 8 93 0.086022
Psalm -76 8 90 0.088889
Psalm -58 9 100 0.09
Psalm 142 7 75 0.093333
Psalm -84 11 116 0.094828
Psalm 120 5 51 0.098039
Psalm 116 13 131 0.099237
Psalm 127 6 60 0.1
Psalm -56 12 119 0.10084
Psalm --2 11 108 0.101852
Psalm -16 10 97 0.103093
Psalm --4 8 77 0.103896
Psalm -19 13 124 0.104839
Psalm 137 9 84 0.107143
Psalm 144 14 130 0.107692
Psalm -49 18 167 0.107784
Psalm -68 34 310 0.109677
Psalm -64 9 82 0.109756
Psalm -29 10 91 0.10989
Psalm -33 18 161 0.111801
Psalm 147 16 141 0.113475
Psalm -75 10 87 0.114943
Psalm 114 6 52 0.115385
Psalm -96 13 112 0.116071
Psalm -12 9 77 0.116883
Psalm 148 13 111 0.117117
Psalm -11 8 68 0.117647
Psalm 117 2 17 0.117647
Psalm -25 19 159 0.119497
Psalm -44 24 197 0.121827
Psalm 124 7 57 0.122807
Psalm -24 11 89 0.123596
Psalm 118 25 198 0.126263
Psalm 149 8 63 0.126984
Psalm -70 6 47 0.12766
Psalm -74 25 195 0.128205
Psalm 119-A-H 30 233 0.128755
Psalm -54 8 62 0.129032
Psalm -86 19 147 0.129252
Psalm 140 15 116 0.12931
Psalm -82 8 61 0.131148
Psalm -45 21 160 0.13125
Psalm 135 22 167 0.131737
Psalm -67 7 53 0.132075
Psalm 102 28 212 0.132075
Psalm -61 9 68 0.132353
Psalm -99 11 83 0.13253
Psalm 115 18 135 0.133333
Psalm -91 15 112 0.133929
Psalm -30 13 97 0.134021
Psalm -27 20 149 0.134228
Psalm --5 15 111 0.135135
Psalm -48 15 111 0.135135
Psalm 143 16 117 0.136752
Psalm -97 13 95 0.136842
Psalm -51 21 153 0.137255
Psalm 110 9 65 0.138462
Psalm -78 74 530 0.139623
Psalm -35 32 229 0.139738
Psalm -55 27 193 0.139896
Psalm -40 26 185 0.140541
Psalm -69 41 291 0.140893
Psalm -26 12 85 0.141176
Psalm --3 10 70 0.142857
Psalm --8 11 77 0.142857
Psalm 105 42 294 0.142857
Psalm -66 22 154 0.142857
Psalm -41 17 119 0.142857
Psalm 109 33 228 0.144737
Psalm 145 22 152 0.144737
Psalm 122 9 62 0.145161
Psalm -62 17 117 0.145299
Psalm -31 32 220 0.145455
Psalm -85 14 96 0.145833
Psalm -89 56 384 0.145833
Psalm -59 23 157 0.146497
Psalm -39 19 129 0.147287
Psalm -87 8 54 0.148148
Psalm -98 11 74 0.148649
Psalm 119-V-Y 38 250 0.152
Psalm -57 16 105 0.152381
Psalm 139 27 177 0.152542
Psalm -17 19 124 0.153226
Psalm -23 8 52 0.153846
Psalm -22 39 253 0.15415
Psalm -32 17 110 0.154545
Psalm -38 26 168 0.154762
Psalm -52 14 90 0.155556
Psalm -65 17 109 0.155963
Psalm -71 32 204 0.156863
Psalm -50 28 178 0.157303
Psalm -34 26 165 0.157576
Psalm 119-Ts-T 45 284 0.158451
Psalm -36 16 100 0.16
Psalm 134 4 25 0.16
Psalm 138 12 75 0.16
Psalm 126 8 50 0.16
Psalm -46 16 100 0.16
Psalm -73 31 193 0.160622
Psalm -42 21 130 0.161538
Psalm --7 23 142 0.161972
Psalm 150 6 37 0.162162
Psalm -21 17 104 0.163462
Psalm -14 12 73 0.164384
Psalm 129 9 54 0.166667
Psalm -53 13 77 0.168831
Psalm -77 26 154 0.168831
Psalm -72 28 162 0.17284
Psalm -18 69 397 0.173804
Psalm -79 23 132 0.174242
Psalm 133 7 40 0.175
Psalm -83 23 130 0.176923
Psalm 112 14 79 0.177215
Psalm 121 10 56 0.178571
Psalm 101 15 83 0.180723
Psalm -13 10 55 0.181818
Psalm -47 14 77 0.181818
Psalm 131 6 33 0.181818
Psalm 132 24 131 0.183206
Psalm 113 11 60 0.183333
Psalm -80 26 141 0.184397
Psalm 130 10 54 0.185185
Psalm 103 31 167 0.185629
Psalm 106 62 331 0.187311
Psalm 146 16 85 0.188235
Psalm 119-K-* 56 297 0.188552
Psalm -88 27 142 0.190141
Psalm -95 17 89 0.191011
Psalm --6 16 83 0.192771
Psalm --1 13 67 0.19403
Psalm 107 54 278 0.194245
Psalm -60 22 113 0.19469
Psalm 100 9 44 0.204545
Psalm -10 33 161 0.204969
Psalm --9 34 165 0.206061
Psalm 104 56 271 0.206642
Psalm 141 20 95 0.210526
Psalm -90 30 140 0.214286
Psalm -92 24 112 0.214286
Psalm -15 12 54 0.222222
Psalm -94 38 169 0.224852
Psalm -20 16 70 0.228571
Psalm 136 38 166 0.228916
Psalm 108 23 98 0.234694
Psalm -37 70 298 0.234899
Psalm 111 18 74 0.243243
Psalm 123 10 41 0.243902
Psalm 125 12 49 0.244898
Psalm -81 31 125 0.248
Psalm -28 24 96 0.25

Subdividing Meaning

With thanks to Iyov for the stimulus.

Harry Caplan in "The Four Senses of Scriptural Interpretation and the Mediaeval Theory of Preaching", Speculum, Vol. 4, No. 3. (Jul., 1929), pp. 282-290 lists nine methods of expanding a sermon from a late Dominican tractate professing the influence of St Thomas Aquinas:

  1. through concordance of authorities,

  2. through discussion of words,

  3. through explanation of the properties of things,

  4. through a multiplication of senses,

  5. through analogies and natural truths,

  6. through marking of an opposite,

  7. through comparisons,

  8. through interpretation of a name,

  9. through multiplication of synonyms.

He then subdivides number 4: "Senses are multiplied in four ways:

  1. according to the sensus historicus or literalis, by a simple explanation of the words;

  2. according to the sensus tropologicus, which looks to instruction or to the correction of morals.

  3. according to the sensus allegoricus... a sense other than the literal.

  4. the sensus anagogicus, used mystically or openly, 'the minds of the listeners are to be stirred and exhorted to the contemplation of heavenly things.'"

A nine by four subdivision of concept is a broad table supported by one leg and is inherently unstable. Of the making of many taxonomies, there is no end - but hierarchy and subdivision is a key method of visualization and understanding.

The saying - on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets - distinctly organizes for us, the hearers, a challenge to interpret the instruction and the prophetic corpus in terms that are subordinate to love of God and love of neighbour. At the same time, we are told that love of God is to be with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (with variations) and that the two great commandments are similar. So here we have a laminated table supported by three or four legs, an inherently stable structure. One can not only sit under it but one can stand on it with some degree of safety. One can also liken the saying to the identification of a pair of handles with which we can lift the canon and watch the hanging pieces as one can watch a mobile in a child's bedroom.

Point 3 above, the sense of allegory, is apophatically defined in such a way as to allow us to make "anything out of anything" as J. M. Neale puts it in his Dissertation on the Mystical and Literal Interpretation of the Psalms. (p 429 Commentary on the Psalms, Neale and Littledale 1860/1874.)

The problem of subdivision is one I have spent my life with as a student and teacher of data analysis. The content of theology and Biblical Studies is different but the principle of differentiation of difference is the same. Data is notoriously difficult to pin down - when are two classes of thing different, when will they subdivide into three, how does one balance a useful subdivision? The emphasis, for the limited time we have, must be first of all, useful. Our birth and death make usefulness a necessity. To be useful, a taxonomy needs to be understood and retained by our limited memory. So we frequently find subdivisions into 4. These are common in teaching - for example the medicine wheel of North American native tribes where many concepts are subdivided into the four directions, and animals, colours, and so on are used as imagery for pedagogy in themselves encouraging a metaphorical view of life and its many problems and mysteries.

We can see by the title of Neale's dissertation that he is dividing the Interpretations into the Mystical and Literal. His twofold division would not be understood the same way today, for his Mystical is largely Christological and Typological or as he later notes 'spiritual' and his Literal encompasses today's historical critics rather than those who might be named literalists today.

What an enormous problem - 9 items are too many for one leg, but everything with only two legs is equally problematical. Where will we find a 'useful' decomposition?

Neale lists the same fourfold decomposition cited by Caplan which was, he writes, "well known from very early times: Litera scripta docet: qui credes, Allegoria: quid speres, Anagoge: quid agas, Tropologia." So he says "S. Gregory the Great composed his Morals on Job, keeping his skeins of meaning separate."

Let's wonder how we can put new whatevers into the skeins without their breaking and spilling whatever skeins might spill.

  • Docet - teaching - from the written letter. This summarizes the whole.
  • Allegory - similarity, metaphor, image, applicability. These invite consideration - of bread to teaching, of yeast to power, of escape, of promise, of making present an ancient event, of participation, of love. I would seriously question, however, the necessity of allegory for belief. But certainly, such creative work can express the engagement of faith.
  • Anagogy - hope
  • Tropology - this too is figurative but is used of action and moral edification.

It will be seen immediately that this is not a fourfold subdivision but is governed as a whole by the issue of teaching. It is really a threefold division. But surely it is too simplistic to identify the allegorical with the spiritual! Words are so slippery, and so creative. How will the word slip into us creatively? How will we learn? Our own 7 x 3 matrix reacts pleasantly to a fourfold subdivision. But we demand clarity! It will not do to make "anything out of anything".

Caplan has another fourfold division:

  1. Peshat -- plain meaning
  2. Remez -- allegorical meaning
  3. Derash -- homiletic (or midrashic) meaning
  4. Sod -- mystical meaning

Can we put 8 legs on our table? If I attempt a quick translation: Peshat and Derash are closely related - one is a seeking out of the other. What is plain is not obvious - this is clear from the last 200 years of division among the literalists alone! That means that the allegory related to the plain is hidden and must be sought out. Horrors! The legs are not divisible - the touching skeins have refused to separate their leathery surfaces and become separate legs to truth.

Caplan points out that Augustine had a different four: historia, aetiologia, which considers causes, analogia which studies the text from the point of view of congruence of the Old and New Testament and allegoria. Aquinas subsumed these first three under the 'literal' or plain meaning. Apparently (you must find and read Caplan - not in the public domain even after all these years) Aquinas escaped into the concept of 'subtype'. This is a common escape from normalization in database design also.

What is an effective subdivision of meaning? Caplan moves onto a seven fold subdivision from Angelon of Luxeuil:

  1. historical,
  2. allegorical,
  3. a combination of the historical and allegorical,
  4. the intimation proper of tropical (sic) of Deity,
  5. parabolic - where one thing is written in Scripture but something else is meant,
  6. with respect to the two comings of the Saviour
  7. moral and figurative

Regrettably, these animals are not well named. Adam - really!

Here's a better one

  1. litteralis, historicus
  2. allegoricus, parabolicus,
  3. tropologicus, etymologicus,
  4. anagogicus, analogicus,
  5. typicus, exemplaris,
  6. anaphoricus, proportionalis,
  7. mysticus, apocolypticus, diuinis atque ineffabilis
  8. boarcademicus, primordialis

I would be hard-pressed to follow these as a means of organizing a treatise - even if I could translate them! There are too many to remember. We almost got to the original nine from Aquinas (though on inspection, some of those merge into or become subordinate to others.)

I wrote about The mystical interpretation of the Psalms a few days ago. In that note, I combined mystical and incarnate. What do I mean by mystical? Is there a subdivision of meaning that I can apply to the Scripture?

When I am involved in data analysis, there are a few questions that help: what are the object classes? how are they distinct? how are they related? what are the elements? does an element describe or identify an instance of an object? does an element run the risk of morphing into an object? What happens that creates an instance? Once created, can I find it again? If I update it, will that change affect other instances? Will it affect other objects? Can it be deleted? If an event does not happen, what then?

Events: birth, death, initiation into covenant, failure. Teach me. There must be a better way! Hope, engagement with the presence, time, forgetfulness, hurt, recovery, sin, judgment, a reliable record, love.

I have seen birth and death but had thought they were different.

  1. I think I must retain the historical. There was a Birth, certainly. So there is a plain meaning, a surface which divides the waters from the waters.
  2. I think I must retain the figurative. I am no longer at ease with the merely historical.
  3. I must retain the hidden. It encompasses the moral but is not itself moral in the sense that we can define separately. I will put it down to encounter and presence. I should be glad of another death.
I would hope to give some regulation to the figurative so that we do not make "anything from anything". But above all, I would decline to say that the hidden is without respect to our historical and literal, material life. [And, as afterthought, I think all three - the plain, the figurative, and the hidden meaning require seeking out (derash)]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The mystical interpretation of the psalms

About 165 years ago the Reverend J. M. Neale D.D. began a comprehensive collection of the interpretations of primitive and medieval commentators of the Psalms. I have the first 3 of the four volumes in hand. His work, he writes "is not, in the slightest degree, critical. My acquaintance with the Hebrew is far too limited to enable me to offer anything of value in that way." He strives rather to trace "above all things, their mystical meaning." Yet a paragraph later he also says that "not one single mystical interpretation through the present commentary" (2400 or so pages) "is original; and (if I may venture on the term) that fact constitutes its chief value."

We read that word mystical this morning in the prayer from the prayer book that follows communion - that we are members of his mystical body. Mystical and incarnate. Mysterious and flesh. Mystery and body. A post from Biblicalia this morning on Louth reminds us of mystery - what can and cannot be known and how much is undefinable without presupposition even when we write of what we consider "well-known" traditions.

It seems to me that what is there in the Psalms is the same as what is in the New Testament - the offer and the reality of relationship - mysterious and incarnate - now as then and for ever. In this I find myself unable to consider even the discussions of Paul in the last 60 years as really approaching the mystery. Explanation will not do as a substitute for understanding. To the extent that discussion of law separates the doing and the hearing, the form and the action, the obedience and the presence - to that extent, the law becomes a substitute for the reality of relationship.

I like the Reverend Neale's approach - collecting the record. I have yet to see if his filter is wide enough. But since I can only come to the record gradually, I hope his collection will help provide me a path through the psalms that will let me find a way to express that relationship - in such a way also as to relieve some of the tension in the interpretation of Paul and the Gospels that so pervades writing these days. (See e.g. this recent post on Ben Witherington's blog and the dozens of comments. I am also remembering Michael Valpy's Globe and Mail interview yesterday with Barrie Wilson out of Toronto, the author of a new book on Paul that sounds to me like a new book on a discarded view of Paul as religious genius and opposed to Christ - whatever that is supposed to mean.)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Psalm 25

[Update - for a fascinating thesis on the incompleteness of the acrostics of Book 1, see this article by Ronald Benun HT Rochelle Altman]
Psalm 25 is an irregular acrostic. א occurs twice once in verse 1: אֵלֶיךָ and again in verse 2, but ב is missing (unless you count the trust in the third word of verse 2). In the middle vav is missing. At the end, resh is repeated, and the last verse does not participate in the acrostic (but maybe it wasn't supposed to).

In rereading Jerome Creach's short book on יְהוָה as Refuge and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, I have been reviewing my diagram of the psalm but I have not attempted yet to correct my translation since it is so hilarious. Trying to imitate a Hebrew acrostic in English and returning to the attempt 9 months later makes the original too funny to change.

Have no fear, I am changing and correcting all sorts of things as I discover them. This psalm 25 also has a number of interesting structural elements besides the acrostic. There are no less than 6 significant word recurrences in verses 1-3 and 18-22 and two of them are related to the refuge word-field as Creach defines it. (Life, lift up, trust/refuge, shame, enemies, wait.) These create two pairs of concentric circles in sequence and the wait verb is also sequential: life, lift up, trust, ashamed, enemies, wait // lift up, enemies, life, ashamed, sheltered, wait. Note however the differing objects of lift up - and the enemies recurrence tangles the circles.

I will probably start with this word field for a global view of the theme of refuge in the Psalter - and I will hope to prove and make visible Creach's Appendix A with technology that will help us see his results better.

(What is holding me back is a reliable search mechanism by lemma. I started manually annotating the 19000 or so words in the Psalter and I realize a. that I will make too many typographic mistakes this way, and b. there are real decisions to make and I am not fluent enough yet to make them.)

There is also a significant meditation on the way דרך. This word (drk) appears 6 times as noun and verb in the body of the poem (vs 4-17). There are several other recurrences that are tightly tied into inner structures like remember (zkr) and goodness (tov - translated top-notch for the necessary tet), teach (lmd), loving kindness (xsd), set (yrd - translated teach in AV but not = lmd). [Perhaps the sinners noted as set are those who are forgiven much and therefore love much, knowing their debt.]

There is a lot of potential colouring here- and it is a really fun poem to boot. I have coloured a few significant words and connected a few others. [update - I did some connecting - it's a highly connected poem with a lot of recurrence]

John Hobbins is also coloring these days but his work is more on a micro basis than mine (not to mention more accurate). My eye sees gross structures easier than the fine points of grammar.