Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thinking more about macro structure

I have been working gradually through the psalms in sequence - up to Psalm 29. see (here for the evolving structural map). A structure in a document happens when verbal relationships are found both in sequence and recurring deliberately in a form that allows for conceptual summation or recapitulation or emphasis.

When the recurrence is of the form a-b-a-b, it is a parallel sequence. If of the form a-b-b-a, the sequence is called chiastic. If of the form a-b-c...c-b-a, it is called circular or concentric or ring. Psalm 51 contains a ring of depth 4.

Chiasm is named after the Greek letter Chi. The Chi can be seen if the second half of the structure is written below the first and the related letters joined to each other a-a and b-b.


Clearly, a concentric structure is a chiasm of depth more than 2, but the letter chi is no longer seen so clearly - the name is abandoned in favour of the drawing of circles to connect recurring words or concepts in the text. The structure is a ring if the circles don't intersect. Structures can be mapped at the micro level and the macro level. So ABBA is a word with a chiasm - and it is easily seen that it is also a palidrome. It reads the same forwards as backwards. The opening of Psalm 1 contains a grammatical chiasm based on word order verb-noun phrase/noun phrase-verb. Such parallels are primarily for disambiguation or confirming the meaning of the passage, and repetition for effect, usually to bring about 'hearing' in the conversation.

It is possible but becomes increasingly subjective, to find conceptual parallels and circles within poems and groups of poems. In modern hymn books, seasonal and subject oriented hymns are grouped so you are not likely to find hymns on the subject of Christmas at both the beginning and at the end of the book. Moderns just don't do completeness this way. It is not our signature. It is often, however, the signature of a story teller, or a poet with a purpose. The books of the Bible do appear to show these larger structures - and that is the question of my current research in the Psalter - does it show such structures and thus convince us of the coherence and completeness of its 'storyline'?

In the psalms up to Psalm 29, I have identified 9 categories and I have a tenth labeled ?

These are in the image: Torah, Royal, Personal, Penitential, Acrostics, Miktamim, Maskilim, Prayer, and double.

Clearly there are more on the surface - from the labels, Song, Do not Destroy, Author attribution, etc. There is also a super-macro structure on the use of the names for the divine actor. This is shown in the structural map as the central Elohistic Psalter. In the table of contents, the graph at the bottom shows why the structure is evident.

Thus it is obvious by extension that key terminology could also contribute to structure mapping. So at the bottom of some of my detailed translations, you may find a list of where a word in that Psalm is used in the rest of the Psalter.

But my 9 or 10 columns betray an analytical problem - they are of different categories themselves and many psalms must belong to more than one. So which will rule as the structural element when more than one is evident? E.g. Psalms 9-10 are a Royal Acrostic. And Psalm 24 exhibits both Torah and Royal aspects. I would see these as deliberate overlaps - allowing our analysis and refusing its over-simplification at one and the same time. So Psalm 6 reflects a personal rebuke at the voice or silence of יְהוָה but it is also the first of the seven penitential psalms. (The first occurence of mercy is in psalm 5.) So the categories are not exclusive and they are an attempt at reductionism! Who wants to reduce the relationship to God to a soundbite?

Here is a summary by psalm to psalm 29:

Just for the moment considering only Psalms 1-29 - how many differing themes emerge in these psalms?

Psalm --1 Torah Wicked Psalm 1 introduces at least 2 themes: the way of Torah and the way of the wicked. Psalm 1,2, and 149 recognize groups of people without circumscribing their overlap or their separation: the wicked, sinners, the scornful, the righteous, the 'saints' (those who have received covenant mercy = chasidim, חֲסִידִים ), the poor, the congregation, the children of Zion, the kings.

Psalm --2 Royal Psalm 2 introduces the anointed king. There are two ways to look at the designation Royal: the psalms related to royal functions in Israel, and the psalms related to יְהוָה as King. I have one connection on the diagram but two columns here to see if these should be divided.

Psalm --3, 4, 5 Personal Psalms 3, 4, and 5 all represent individual psalms expressing parts of the dialogue with יְהוָה. One could think of it as the introduction to the changes of mind that come with reflection on the covenant promises and the confidence that comes as a result.

Psalm --6 Penitential Psalm 6 is the response to a rebuke from יְהוָה. There is a hint of rebuke in Psalm 4, but it is too brief to sink in. Psalm 38 is a reminder of Psalm 6. Psalm 6 is traditionally seen as the first of the 7 penitential psalms.

Psalm --7 Wicked Having seen the first rebuke, Psalm 7 returns to the issue of the wicked. Include in this group Psalms 11, 37, and 149 though the histogram of wickedness is more pervasive.

Psalm --8 Royal Psalm 8 doesn't look very directly 'royal' but it does let יְהוָה give the human, the child of the dust rule תַּמְשִׁילֵהוּ over creation.

Psalm --9-10 Royal Acrostic There is a considerable seriousness to the beginning of the Psalter. Now we get to play as well with our first acrostic.

Psalm -11 Wicked Like Psalm 7, Psalm 11 foreshadows hell and the judgment of the wicked. Let this not be trivialized, God's interest in the wicked extends to their redemption and the ambivalence of the psalmist over who is the subject of the suffering is clear. (How can ambivalence be clear?)

Psalm -12 Torah It includes the recognition that mercy (חסד) is not a property of the children of dust.

Psalm -13 Personal There is a common change of heart in the Psalmist as the dialogue progresses. In this case just before the last three sentences, the prayer is answered and the prayer's confidence returns. Does the bounty of יְהוָה suggest Psalm 139?

Psalm -14 Maskil A double of 53 - but not itself a Maskil - perhaps it too early to introduce insight. Such must wait till the great penitential Psalm 51 is read.

Psalm -15 Torah With 24 and 1 and 119, a Torah stream.

Psalm -16 Miktam

Psalm -17 Prayer

Psalm -18 Royal A psalm of completeness. A theophany.

Psalm -19 Torah Of instruction from nature and from God.

Psalm -20 Royal Prayer for the king - answer in 21.

Psalm -21 Royal Psalm 21 like 102 plays on presence. The answer to prayer is in the face of God.

Psalm -22 Personal Following 21 - this is a remarkable statement: so distant from my salvation

Psalm -23 Personal The first note about shepherd.

Psalm -24 Torah Royal This psalm has elements of both Torah acceptance and the kingship of יְהוָה. As such, it links themes from Psalm 1 and the hints of יְהוָה's kingship not yet developed in the Psalter until we come to the cluster in 96-99.

Psalm -25 Personal Acrostic - also dependent on God for direction, so Torah related.

Psalm -26 Personal - walk in hope, sure of completeness in יְהוָה

Psalm -27 Personal Treasure in the presence of trouble.

Psalm -28 Personal The personal often borders on the Royal because of the presence of David or his descendant as the anointed.

Psalm -29 Royal Voice - If there is structure in the Psalter, then this sudden emphasis on the voice of יְהוָה appearing here for the first time needs some explication. (The word also is significant in Psalm 77 where is occurs twice as 'my voice' and twice as 'the voice of יְהוָה'.)

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