Tuesday, March 24, 2009

For the love of the language

An 11-year old student has overcome the enigma of Hebrew letters in a short three weeks. At his lesson tonight, we read through Psalm 112, reading alternate lines. He corrected me once. Now here is a challenge - I wonder if anyone will respond: Can we develop a series of readings that will cover sufficient memorable vocabulary and be fun and inspiring to read so that at the end of 12 weeks of reading, we would have sufficient vocabulary and usage that grammar and forms would begin to appear before us?

This student is not afraid of memorizing rules. He clearly remembered a few rules from the sections of Putnam that he had read. But to push the University level reading any further would be a mistake at the moment. What is needed is short pithy exercises and translations - then a sorting of all the words and a shaking out of pronouns, prepositions, parsings and other paraphernalia of the language.

What do you think of using the acrostics for just such an exercise? How much vocabulary and grammar would fall from them after three months of reading? It works out to 2315 separate words - here they are. (Update - sorted by root maybe. Update 2 - sorted by psalm etc)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rarely used words in the Psalter - 21

That day - let it be darkness
let God not ask for it from above
nor let a sunbeam on it shine

Job at the beginning of his opening speech. Can't you just imagine the comic strip 'For better or for worse' and the sunbeam that the little one used to greet?

I have been buried with Job and paying little attention to rare words over here. It turns out that I have seen dozens of linkages in the first five chapters of Job to the Psalms and some of them are rare words in both. If only I would stop long enough to make a note or two - and then be able to find the note!

But here is one - that word 'sunbeam' traditionally rendered as 'light'.

Light rare? What are you saying? Light is that initial statement of faith.
And God saw the light that it was good.
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאֹור כִּי־טֹוב

No this sunbeam is not the אֹור, a word which Job also uses at the end of his first speech:
Why give to the miserable light
לָמָּה יִתֵּן לְעָמֵל אֹור

but the נהר as in the enlightened used in Psalm 34.
הִבִּיטוּ אֵלָיו וְנָהָרוּ וּפְנֵיהֶם אַל־יֶחְפָּרוּ (Psalm 34:5)
him they paid attention to and were radiant,
and their faces were not embarrassed.

I wondered how many words begin with nun and end with resh? Some are among the first we learn in the old grammar books - like lad נער, and river, נהר. That looks so familiar! Light as a river? A stream of light as an ancient metaphor? No. BDB simply lists the second meaning of 'beam' as derived from other languages.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Psalm 107 and the structure of the Psalter

Henry asked for some input on the seam between books 4 and 5 here (but I did respond a bit too quickly - writing is dangerous. I shortchanged the complexity of the doxologies. Here is my penance.)

I had fun rereading these psalms - which of course I encourage all to do .

Apart from seeing the odd relationship between Job and Psalms, I have been idling as you can tell. I have some ideas but am percolating them offline between snatches of Job which itself will be slow going.

Monday, March 09, 2009

I have accepted the challenge

My translation of Job will emerge gradually over the next several months... Here is chapter 1.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Rarely used words in the Psalter - 20 - lions

One Lion is rare - but lion is used to translate several words in the Hebrew Bible.

In Psalm 91:13 שחל is used just this one time in the Psalter. It is used 3 times in Job 4:10, 10:16, 28:8, and twice in Hosea 5:14, 13:7 and once in Proverbs 26:13. The more common words כפיר (young - or per Tur Sinai, large lion) and ארי (lion) occur 6 times each in the psalms and many times in the rest of the Bible. (And there are more.)

How do we know what these words mean? Partly by the fact that they are used in parallels. Here's Hosea 5:14.

כִּי אָנֹכִי כַשַּׁחַל לְאֶפְרַיִם
כְּפִיר לְבֵית יְהוּדָה
אֲנִי אֲנִי
אֶטְרֹף וְאֵלֵךְ
אֶשָּׂא וְאֵין מַצִּיל
Here I have marked the lion words and the acts that seem to correspond - (Tur Sinai gives beast for the first word.)

For it is I who am as a lion to Ephraim
and as a young lion to the house of Judah
I, even I Myself will tear and depart
I will carry away and none shall rescue

Do I sense that the young lion tears and departs and the שחל carries away.

How do we interpret the phrase the Lion of Judah given this background? Is the genitive subjective, objective, attributive or of apposition, or should it be considered an accidental genitive? It seems God himself is Judah's Lion and is necessarily a force that both corrects and heals.

Let's test further with Job 4:10-11 where we find all three words and two more לביא (used fourteen times in the Bible - once in Psalm 57:4) and ליש (only 3 times and not at all in the psalms)!

שַׁאֲגַת אַרְיֵה וְקֹול שָׁחַל
וְשִׁנֵּי כְפִירִים נִתָּעוּ

The lion's roaring and the aged lion's voice
and the teeth of the young lions are destroyed
לַיִשׁ אֹבֵד מִבְּלִי־טָרֶף
וּבְנֵי לָבִיא יִתְפָּרָדוּ

The old lion perishes for lack of prey
as the lion's-children are scattered

Notice how the old lion perishes because the young have failed to leave their torn carcasses lying about. And note too the roaring that is attributed to the אַרְיֵה. The word נִתָּעוּ is a hapax - interpreted by BDB as from נתץ through the influence of Aramaic (but see comment).

The search widens, however, so let's try another test, Psalm 57:4

נַפְשִׁי בְּתֹוךְ לְבָאִם אֶשְׁכְּבָה לֹהֲטִים בְּֽנֵי־אָדָם
my life is among lions
and I lie with those on fire
the children of dust
שִׁנֵּיהֶם חֲנִית וְחִצִּים וּלְשֹׁונָם חֶרֶב חַדָּה
their teeth like spears and arrows
and their tongue a sharp sword

Here we have teeth also - but they are those of the children of dust. Perhaps lions were used metaphorically in many places.

With Psalm 91:13 we seem to be able to live with the same interpretation of these words.
עַל־שַׁחַל וָפֶתֶן תִּדְרֹךְ
תִּרְמֹס כְּפִיר וְתַנִּין

you will make your way over lion and adder
you will trample young lion and dragon

Psalm 91 is an answer to Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses that begins Book IV of the Psalter. But we still have only a touch of אַרְיֵה the most common word for lion - part of the circles of animals in Psalm 22. Here we see the tearing action attributed to the אַרְיֵה as well as its roaring. So I guess we have illustrated that we could bear with the possibility that these are all words which may mean 'lion' of various sorts.

פָּצוּ עָלַי
פִּיהֶם אַרְיֵה טֹרֵף וְשֹׁאֵג

They gape at me
their mouths a lion tearing and roaring

This is a word that is rare yet not rare - I will not continue for now the extensive set of examples that could be collected...

reference: Tur Sinai - Commentary on Job 1967