A Short Paper on Psalm 100

Generally, I try to ensure that everything I post is pretty comprehensible. Recently, though, I wrote a very short paper for my course on Psalms. Feel free to read it. Note, though, that it is substantially more technical than how I usually write on this blog. Also, I had many footnotes; however, they did not transfer when copied and pasted the paper. Finally, note that this is not a perfect paper. There are some issues within the paper. Please don’t hold them against me.


 

This paper will explore the viability of reading the לא in Ps. 100:3 is as an asseverative particle. First, I will consider the comments from various Hebrew grammars. Following, based on the reconsiderations of how לא can function, I will analyze Ps. 100:3. I will do this in order to illustrate the extent to which reading לא as an asseverative particle in the Psalm is justifiable.

In §143e, Gesenius references an argument by P. Haupt that the ל particle should sometimes be understood as an emphasizing particle. Likewise, Koehler-Baumgartner continues in this tradition by including a definition for an emphatic, asseverative function: “II ל: emphatic, vocative.” Both Gesenius and Koehler-Baumgartner root their comments in arguments by Haupt. Furthermore, Waltke-O’Conner comments that “it is strongly possible that the emphatic or asseverative lamed is etymologically distinct from the preposition, though the Masoretes do not distinguish the two.” On this basis, it is reasonable to explore the possibility of reading לא as an asseverative particle instead of following the Qere of לו.

Some scholar push against an asseverative particle. Recently, M. McAffee argued that Hebrew grammarians should abandon the idea of an asseverative particle. Instead, they should “return to where they left off from the earlier explanations proposing a probable development from negative rhetorical question to affirmation.” Likewise, T. Muraoka claims that most cases with a לא may be interpreted as a negative rhetorical question.

The best way to proceed, then, is to analyze the לא in context of Psalm 100:3. In order to demonstrate the viability of reading לא as an asseverative particle, I will first offer a structure for Ps. 100:3. Following, I will lay out my argument for an asseverative particle in Ps. 100:3. Following, I consider consider the viability of reading it as the Qere לו and a negative rheotrical question

1a is the title. The imperatives in 1b, 2a, and 2b begin a chiasmus. They correspond to the imperatives in 4a, 4b, and 4c. The final clause in 5 is a doxology about the preceding chiasmus. In this structure, vs. 3 stands at the center of the chiasmus. Because the imperative דעו stands at the center, everything in the verse should also be understood at the center of the chiasmus. In order to do so, everything following the phrase דעו כי יהוה הוא אלהים is best understood as specifying the dimensions of what it means to know that Yahweh is God. Reading it otherwise would break the chiasmus structure shaped by the use of imperative verbal forms. Thus, we are left with three clauses: First, הוא עשנו ; second, ולא אנחנו עמו ; third, וצאן מרעיתו.

In each clause, the dimensions of knowing that Yahweh is God are detailed. One must know that “he himself created us”, “we (are) his people,” and “his grazing sheep.” Commenting on this passage, Erich Zenger recalls that this is part of the “so-called covenant formula, which traditionally is a general expression of the special position of Israel in contrast to the nations, and now place it also on the lips of the nations as confession of their relationship to YHWH.” In other words, the center of the chiasmus is a covenant formula focused on expressing the social and religious identity of the the psalmist. Consequently, interpretation must draw out the centrality of how the people see themselves as relating to Yahweh. This is expressed through ternary parallelism.

The first clause of this ternary parallelism uses הוא before עשנו emphatically. Structurally, then, we see the following: resumptive pronoun, also functioning as emphatic particle + verb with pronominal suffix. Reading לא as an asseverative particle in the second clause of the ternary parallelism is supported by the first clause. Just as “he himself created us”, so “indeed, we (are) his people.” Understanding the לא as an asseverative particle maintains the structure of the first clause: asseverative particle followed by a pronoun + noun with pronominal suffix. Although the parallelism technically differs, the basic outline is the same. The asseverative, or emphatic, particle is next to the pronoun. This is followed by a word, either noun or verb, with a pronominal suffix.

The third clause of this ternary parallelism is not nearly as consistent in terms of how it is structured. Although it lacks a clear emphatic element grammatically, syntactically the previous two lines suggest to the reader that the first word should be read with an emphatic force. It stresses, then, the sheep rather than the ‘being of his pasture’. The second word in this line fits with the previous patterns, being a noun with a pronominal suffix.. Thus, too a certain degree it, fits within the lines of ternary parallelism.

Naturally, this Psalm could be constructed in various ways; however, in light of the aforementioned structure, we will consider the possibility of the possessive לו and negative לא. Regarding the לו, such an understanding would break the structure of the ternary parallelism. In the structure, the final word of each clause ends with a pronominal suffix. Insertion of a preposition with a 3MS pronominal suffix would break this consistency. Furthermore, the לו would unnecessarily complicate the clause. Already the אנחנו is identified as עמו, an עם with a 3MS pronominal suffix. So, including another 3MS pronominal suffix prior to the pronoun complicates the syntax of the clause. Thus, the Qere reading of לו is the least viable reading.

The לא may also be a negative rhetorical question. As a negative rhetorical question, the translation would be as follows: “he himself created us / are we not his people / the sheep of his pasturage?” In terms of the syntax of the aforementioned structure, this reading works grammatically. However, it fails to consider context and parallel passage. In both Ps. 100:3 and Ps. 95:6-7, a covenant formula is expressed through this language. Ps. 95:6-7 is a declaration: “… Yahweh, the one who created us, for he himself is our god, and we are the people of his pasturage, the sheep of his hand.” Lacking any negative particle, this parallel passage is declarative. It follows that the covenant formula in Ps. 100 is best understood as a declaration, not a negative rhetorical question. In Psalm 100 declaration is a response to the imperative to know that YHWH is God (vs. 3a). By reading the לא as a negative rhetorical question, the declarative nature of the covenant formula is not clearly expressed. Thus, while a negative rhetorical לא is viable on grammatical and syntactic grounds, it is less viable on contextual grounds.

In summary, Psalm 100 is structured as a chiasmus through the use of imperative verbal forms. At the center of the structure is vs. 3. As a unified covenant formula, the ternary parallelism serves to define what it means to know that Yahweh is God. By dividing the parallel lines, it is evident that the first two clauses use a particle which has some sort of emphatic function, thereby suggesting an asseverative לא. Furthermore, understanding the Qere לו or negative לא in Psalm 100 do not hold water on the basis of syntax and grammar, and contextual grounds. Therefore, the best option for translating לא אנחנו עמו recognizes that לא is functioning as an asseverative particle.

 

More on the History of the Old Testament

Historiography is the narrative of what happened in history. Like any narrative, story, or account, it takes place from one particular tradition. The narrative is told from a particular perspective. One major example of this is in the Hebrew Bible itself.  The authors, editors, and compilers of the Hebrew Bible each had a particular tradition which informed their perspective. Thus, their writings and edits evident in the Hebrew Bible were historiography.

But is historiography history? In other words, in the Hebrew Bible history? The answer is simple: yes and no, and a little bit in-between. Okay, maybe that’s not a simple answer. Though, I ask that you bear with me. All will become clear soon (hopefully).

In a recently published volume about the reception of the Hebrew Bible between the 1st century CE and the 21st century, Walter Dietrich comments on the current status of how scholars understand the reliability of the Hebrew Bible.  He makes his comment in light of historiography, the notion that the writers and editors of the Hebrew Bible were telling a story from their own perspective and tradition.

“Contemporary research discussion moves between the poles of a sceptical hyper-criticism and an unbroken trust in the reliability of biblical history writing. On the one hand one thinks that it is only possible to write the history of Israel without or against the Bible and on the other hand one follows to a large degree the biblical view of history. The truth lies between these two poles. An avoidance of the use of biblical historical records is no less appropriate than their extensive and uncritical use. Many details provided by the Old Testament are plausible or have already been verified by extra-biblical sources [i.e. outside of the Bible], but many are fictional and have already been proven to be false through external evidence. There is therefore a need to find the appropriate balance of critical evaluation of biblical sources and a reasonable reconstruction of history” (HBOT, vol. III/2, pp. 468-69).

This is a somewhat complicated and dense idea. So, I shall clarify. Many people either disregard 100% or maintain 100% confidence in the Hebrew. Neither of these stances is true. Rather, the truth of the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible is between complete skepticism and complete belief. Already, non-biblical evidence has proved that many things in the Hebrew Bible are historically accurate. Yet, non-biblical evidence has also proved that many things in the Hebrew Bible are not historically accurate. Therefore, we need have a balance between complete dependence and complete skepticism of the Hebrew Bible for reconstructing history.

This is because much of what is written in the Hebrew Bible “is characterised by a combination of historical, aesthetic, and theological objectives” (HBOT, vol. III/2, p. 469). So, the Hebrew Bible, the historical books in particular, is not just a person writing a historical document, though it does have history within it. At the same time, the Hebrew Bible is not just a person writing a theological document, though it does have theology within it. For this reason, Dietrich comments that in the Hebrew Bible “the boundaries between historical facts and literary fiction are fluid” (HBOT, vol. III/2, p. 468).

Think about, for example, how different news stations present the same story. Fox News does not present stories the same way as CNN. Likewise, CNN does not present stories the same way as MSNBC. MSNBC does not present stories the same way as Al Jazeera. Rather, each of these television stations constructs and shares a narrative based in history. Because each station approaches the issues and events differently, they each present the story in a different way.

 

Broadly speaking, this is how scholars attempt to understand the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. It is a perspective on history; yet, just as some facts presented in the news are absolutely false or skewed, the same thing happens with the Hebrew Bible.

What are your thoughts? How skeptical of the Hebrew Bible do you think we should be? Or how trusting of the Hebrew Bible do you think we should be? I’d love you hear your perspectives.

 

Bibliography:

Dietrich Walter, “Historiography in the Old Testament”, in Hebrew Bible / Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. III/2. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.

Music Wrestling with Religion: Hopsin (Explicit Language)

Lately, I’ve been interested how music reflects upon religion and religious topics. So, I plan on sporadically posting the music of some artists who have wrestled with this issue through their own music. Regarding the explicit language, I am not interest in censoring how people deal with the question and issue of religion.

Ill Mind of Hopsin 7 (Explicit):

On Prophecy in the Ancient World

third_mari

Source: Wikipedia

More often than not, understandings of prophecy arise from hearing about or reading the Hebrew Bible. Books like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Isaiah shapes and form these understandings. In this blog post, I will briefly examine one example of prophecy which occurred before all else in the Hebrew Bible. By looking at this text, I hope to demonstrate, through non-biblical material, a function of prophecy in the ancient world. The letter which I will write about was written around the 18th century BCE (c. 1800 BCE) [1].

In this letter, Inibsina is communicating with her brother who she calls Kakkabi (Zimri-Lin) [2]. Within the letter, we first read the following: “Previously, Selebum the Assinu gave a prophecy to me… Now, one female Qammatum of Dagan of Terqa came to me.” Here, Inibsina is telling Kakkabi that she previously received a prophecy. Now, she received another prophecy from a religious priestess. What did this priestess prophecy, then?

“The alliances of the men of Esnunna (a city in the ancient world) are deceptive. And, under the straw, the water will go; and toward the net, of which it can be said I will bind, I will gather it. His city I will destroy, and his stuff, which from ancient times was not defiled, I will defile.”

What is going on here? For the sake of this post, there are two main things which should be addressed: what is the message and who is the speaker?

In this prophecy which was first reported to Inibsina, the message is fairly straightforward: current allies of Kakkabi are deceptive and will not remains faithful to the alliance. As a result, the god Dagan of Terqa will destroy the city of those in the alliance who are deceptive [3]. In other words, the god recognizes the unfaithfulness of some members in the alliance. So, he will destroy them. As for the speaker, it is Dagan of Terqa speaking through the Qammatum priestess.

What does this mean, though, for how we think about religion, politics, and society in the ancient world? As this text demonstrates, the gods are understood to be directly involved in politics and social relation. Consequently, religion is directly involved with politics and social relations. Viewing it the other way, politics is directly involved with religion. Either way we look at this letter, it is evident that the people living in 18th century BCE Mari did not make a large distinction, if any, between politics and religion. They were intrinsically intertwined, if not the same.

Likewise, prophecy was intrinsically intertwined into politics. Although popular modern notions of prophecy tend to distinguish it from politics, this ancient letter demonstrates that it was, during this period, understood as part of the political atmosphere. This notion of prophecy for both religious and political ends is important because it may inform how we understand prophecy within the Hebrew Bible. Though I do not advocate that all prophecy in the Hebrew Bible is politically driven, it is worth keeping this reality in mind as we read through prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible [4].

[1] ARM 10 80. Translation is my own.

[2] Martti Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, Atlanta: SBL Press, p. 28 n. b. For simplicity, Kakkabi is best understood as a nickname for Zimri-Lin.

[3] My attempt is not a careful and close reading. I simply want to present the gist of the text.

[4] Ancient Israelite prophecy is, in fact, a unique phenomenon.

Bibliography:

Charpin, Dominique (Paris), “Mari”, in: Brill’s New Pauly, Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and , Helmuth Schneider. Consulted online on 23 April 2017 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e723510&gt;

Nissinen, Martti, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near East, Atlanta: SBL Press,

A Translation of Psalm 93

In this translation of Psalm 93, my goal is not to present a ‘literal’ translation. Rather, my goal is to demonstrate the historical context and understanding of this ancient Judean Psalm through the translation itself. Furthermore, this is primarily an attempt to provide clarity for myself in my understanding and interpretation of this Psalm. That said, some of it may be unclear. I still hope it is enjoyable.

1a. Yahweh is King!
1b. In majestic attire he is clothed,
1c. He is clothed, namely Yahweh, in mighty attire.
1d. He himself is girded [for war].

1e. Moreover, he established the world
1f. It will not be shaken (or it is immovable).

2a. Your throne was established from a time of old
2b. From eternity you are.

3a. The rivers looked up to Yahweh,
3b. The rivers raised their thunders (in the sense of a loud war cry)
3c. The rivers will grow their crashing! (in the sense of more war cries.

4a. Great than the thunders of the sea,
4b. And more majestic than the breakers of the sea,
4c. Is Yahweh, mighty in the high place.

5a. They have greatly confirmed your throne (or testimonies)
5b. Your temple is befitting for the holy ones (or holiness)

5c. Yahweh is for all days!

Although it may be difficult to detect, this Psalm contains much mythical imagery. For example. the idea of a deity girding himself in might is a common idea throughout the ancient Near East. So, Yahweh is not just putting on an idea of might; rather, Yahweh is putting on a physical thing, namely might as armour.

In 1e-f, we see that Yahweh established the world! He established the world in such a way that no other deity is able to come shake it. Importantly, the notion of establishing the world is directly related the kingship. So, when Yahweh establishes the world so that it is immovable, he is also establishing his rule over the world.

Verses 2a-b confirm this. Here, though, somebody is speaking directly to YHWH. Due to this Psalm’s affinities with language from older West Semitic compositions, some have dated this text as far back as the 10th century BCE (cf. Shenkel, 1965). This means the Psalms may have actually been used for worship in the ancient world. Here, then, the people using this Psalm may have been involved. Responding to Yahweh’s status as a divine warrior and establishment of the world, they speak directly to him. They do this by acknowledging the antiquity of Yahweh.

In 3a-c, the myth of the defeat of the sea is told. Throughout ancient myth, the waters are often times the antagonist. We see the same thing in this Psalm. The Psalm begins by recounting the account: the waters looked towards Yahweh, and they raised their thunder! Now, they will make more thunder with their crashing. The question of noise is important because throughout ancient myth, deities often turn against those who make noise. We see this in Enuma Elish and Atrahasis. So, here the waters are the antagonist because they will become louder by crashing more.

In 4a-c, Yahweh is said to be great than all the mighty and majesty of the seas. In light of the idea of noise as a form of rebellion, 4a-c shows that this rebellion of nothing for Yahweh. After all, Yahweh is mightier than the seas. His high place, namely his temple, is so far above the rebellious waters that they pose no threat to him, for he is mightier than them.

Like 2a-b, we see more speech directed towards Yahweh in 5a-b. Here, they first comment that Yahweh’s majesty over and above the waters confirms his status as divine ruler. Regarding the choice of throne as opposed to testimonies, this is a complicated argument which I will not lay out here. If you are interested let me know. Following, the speaker(s) comment that Yahweh’s temple is befitting for the holy ones, or holiness. Again, this is a complicated issue. Even so, the point is that Yahweh’s temple represents the strength of the divine warrior.

Finally, 5c concludes with a declarative statement. It is like putting the cherry on top of the McFlurry.

What Do I Think About the Hebrew Bible?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14th century CE copy of the Bible (Source: Wikipedia)

Previously, I posted about how we can think about the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. As I continue this series, I plan to continue exploring this question. Although it may not seem important, one of the most important things we can do first is ask ourselves a question: what do I think of the Hebrew Bible? Preconceived notions of the Hebrew Bible will often times guide how we read and understand the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, this can happen across the spectrum. In order to demonstrate this, I will offer thoughts from both sides of the spectrum. I know these are not representative of everybody. I use these generalizations in order to make the point that we have to think about what we think of the Hebrew Bible, regardless of where we stand.

On the far right, we have conservative groups. These groups may be Christian or Jewish. Often times, when more conservative readers approach the Hebrew Bible, there is a preconceived notion that the text of the Hebrew Bible is holy in some manner. Being holy, it will speak the truth. Therefore, what we see in the bible is probably historically accurate.

Naturally, this view is not necessarily wrong. As I pointed out previously, some parts of the Hebrew Bible may be historically reliable. Other parts of it may not be historically reliable. So, in one sense, it is good that conservative groups automatically assume the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible. Many part of I and II Kings, for example, are historically reliable.

However, this view is also problematic. Think about, for example, Genesis 1:1-2:4. Many would argue that this text reflects and records the history of how God created the universe. When we look the Hebrew Bible’s historical context, though, it becomes apparent that there are many versions of how deities created the world and established kingship. Historically, these texts were never meant to present a material history of exactly how the deity created; rather, they were meant to demonstrate that the deity was a legitimate ruler. In other words, the goals was not to write history.

Therefore, it is problematic to see Genesis 1:1-2:4 as a historical account of how God created the world. I make this claim  based on the historical context of Genesis 1:1-2:4.

On the other side of the spectrum, though, we have people who are strongly opposed to religion. And the Hebrew Bible is a religious book. Therefore, we should be extremely skeptical about it [1]. In reading the Hebrew Bible, they may be substantially more skeptic about accepting anything in it as historically reliable. This approach, of course, is valuable. Like I posted previously, some part of the Hebrew Bible are absolutely not historical. Genesis 1:1-2:4, for example, is myth. It is not history.

However, some part of the Hebrew Bible are historically reliable. So, viewing the Hebrew Bible entirely skeptically is problematic. Consider, for example, II Kings 18-19. In this passage, we see an account of Sennacherib attacking Jerusalem. What is more, we also have written documentation by Assyrians during that period which reference this attack upon Jerusalem. Although both texts differ in how they understand the event, they nonetheless point to the same event. Therefore, we should be cautious to quickly dismiss the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible.

In either case, whether conservative or liberal and strongly opposed to religion, we must recognize that we often read our own preconceived notions and ideas into the Hebrew Bible. These notions may sometimes be valuable, such as skepticism of the historical reality of Genesis 1:1-2:4. Or, on the other side, acceptance of the historical reality of Kings. In either case, the reader needs to be critical not just of the text; rather, the reader needs to be critical of where they come from.

By asking ourselves, “What are my preconceived ideas about the Hebrew Bible,” we are able to approach it critically. We are able to ask questions which we normally wouldn’t ask. Only by doing this are we able to think about the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible [2].

[1] Please let me know if this is totally inaccurate. This was not my background. So, it is more difficult for me to explain.

[2] This is a constant process. No matter how long one has been reading the Hebrew Bible or studying the ancient Near East, we must constantly ask ourselves what our own preconceived notions are.

Psalm 100: Translation and Comments

This Spring Quarter, I am taking a Hebrew Reading course on the book of Psalms. Each week, we are required to translate one, pre-selected Psalm. This post contains a small snippet from my observations, notes, and translation of Psalm 100.

Translation:

  • 1a: A Song for Thanksgiving
  • 1b: Raise a shout to Yahweh, all the land!
    • 2a: Serve Yahweh in joy
      • 2b: Come before him in exultation.
        • 3a: Know that he is Yahweh // he is God
          • 3b: He created us.
        • 3c: And, indeed, we are his people // the sheep of his pasturage
      • 4a: Come to its gates in thanksgiving, its courts in praise
    • 4b: Laud praise to him
  • 4c: Bless his name.
  • 5: For
    • 5a(1): Yahweh is good
    • 5b(1): From Prehistory is his devotion
    • 5a(2): generation unto generation
    • 5b(2): and his steadfastness.

In following paragraphs, I will briefly attempt to make one point about the Psalm. Unlike what modern reading tend to draw from a Psalm such as this, ancient readings likely understood this Psalm within a temple context. Words in a Psalm like this were not mere spiritual ideals and feelings; rather, the words reflect a culture in which bloody sacrifice took place within a temple. People approached altars and offered incense. It is in this context that this Psalm was composed. By recognizing this, we can begin to appreciate the art of the Psalm at a new, deeper level.

flock_of_sheep

Image from Wikipedia; #TheSheepOfHisPasturage

The Title: A Song for Thanksgiving

The first thing in Psalm 100 is a title: A Song for Thanksgiving. The title merits some discussion. Often times, when we see words like ‘thanksgiving’, the imagery is simply that of offering a thanks through some sort of statement. In Psalm 100, this idea of ‘thanksigiving’ is true; however, the meaning of thanksgiving goes much deeper. In a West Semitic context, namely where this Psalm was likely composed, the idea of thanksgiving related to temple and cultic worship. So, giving thanks is not merely a vocal, interpersonal statement. Giving thanks involved liturgy and offerings. Offerings could include burning grain, incense, or something similar. Offerings could also include the bloody sacrifice of goat, ram, bird, or something similar.

For the original context and audience, then, the title A Song for Thanksgiving carries notions which involved all the senses. A sacrifice or offering of thanksgiving would involve physically approaching an altar, seeing the altar, smelling the offering, feeling the heat from the fire, and much more. In short, the language which this Psalm uses expresses a physical experience, not just an emotional, spiritual experience with the deity.

The Imperatives of the Psalm

With awareness of the aforementioned materiality represented through the Psalm, we can better appreciate the Psalm as a whole. So, in the following discussion, I will use some of the language within the Psalm in order to help draw out the world of the Psalm.

The Psalm consistently uses imperatives (italics=imperative). An imperative means that the form of the verb used is commanding a group of people: “You do this!” Within this Psalm, the first three commands are to raise a shout, serve Yahweh, and come before Yahweh. The first command carries a sense of exultation. Just as people raise a shout when President Obama speaks at events, the actors in Psalm 100 are to raise a shout of exultation for Yahweh.

The second imperative is to serve. Concepts of “serving” in a West Semitic context was not like modern notions. To serve, one was not an usher at a church, or a deacon. Rather, people served within a temple to the deity. And a temple was the house of the deity. Therefore, one served in the house of a deity, quite literally. With this understanding, we begin to see how grounded in reality Psalm 100 is. It isn’t commanding the audience to serve Yahweh by going to the nations and being a deacon; rather, it is commanding the audience to serve in a physical temple. The temple, of course, is the abode of Yahweh.

The third imperative is to come. In order to come, though, it must be to something physical. So, the text specifically commands one to come before Yahweh, before his face. Within a West Semitic context, this may mean coming before the altar of the deity. So, the Psalm is, again, very grounded in the reality of temple worship. Modern notions of coming before God are about gathering together and performing liturgy. Ancient notions of coming before a deity were about coming before some true, physical representation of the deity.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of time not available to me, I can’t write much more than this at the moment. Though, I hope that this brief, not-so-thorough discussion of the Psalm may help you to better appreciate the historical context of Psalm 100, and perhaps all of the Psalms.