Monday, January 12, 2009

Rarely used words in the Psalter - 12

On to Psalm 9. What is this odd title?
עַלְמוּת לַבֵּן
To death / of the son? or perhaps instead of to death it is one word related to 'women' עַלְמוֹת (suggested in BDB page 761). Is this maybe an acrostic for a children's choir?

The word is separated in the dictionary from other uses of death. Perhaps due to the preposition. A similar construction, this time with maqqep (hyphen), is used in Psalm 48:14 in what is a rare sentence.

He will be our guide to death
הוּא יְנַהֲגֵנוּ עַל־מֽוּת

I need to make a disclaimer. I am sure there are errors in my translations and my analysis. So read these pages with care - and check up on my work or challenge it. Make me do my homework too. This particular word is not translated in the Septuagint as having to do with death:

He will shepherd us for ages to come

The RSV follows the Septuagint and (if only I could read the apparatus!) it looks like there may be manuscript variations that support reducing the words to 'for ever and ever' עֹולָם וָעֶד as in the prior colon. So perhaps the phrase is nothing that special after all. Maybe just another copying error.

On the other hand, maybe the Septuagint translators followed a text that had slipped when copying the second colon and made the two the same when they shouldn't have been. And I really like the "he will be our guide to death". Death is worth having guidance for, and I doubt that a better guide can be found.

What do you do with poems where there are possible copying errors and you think somehow you should be able to put your trust in them? Simple - don't eat the menu. Our trust is to be in God, not in words. The words are pointers. It doesn't mean we are without correction or solace, exactly the opposite. Words without God would be no solace at all.

2 comments:

Tim said...

On your last paragraph, I am also becoming more and more (as I get older?) ready to remember that the Bible was handed to us by a tradition that did not stop when whoever (and usually we simply do not know who or when) composed the "final form" - there simply is no such thing as a final form, just the forms we have, and those we have access to. This would mean inclining to read the text the way the tradition has, unless there seem to be good reasons to push for a change ;)

All very vague and wolley, and unscientific, but nevertheless modest and dependable :)

Bob MacDonald said...

Tim
thanks for the input. I am intrigued at how I brushed against the arguments in my youth for this or that 'interpretation', and how I avoided the polemics for a while - in spite of my intensity, and now how I am finding myself having to interact with various traditions in my later years. Yes - I think our rereading - if such it is - must have good reasons. I will take this as a prod to say more about why I think such and such a reading is 'useful'.

I am glad you read some of what I note - it gives me confidence that if I say something totally 'off the wall', you will correct me.