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.
2 thoughts on “A Short Paper on Psalm 100”
I am studying this language. I know pathetically little, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? So most of your paper is above my head, but I have noticed that לא is often used rhetorically. A rhetorical reading changes the meaning so much! I wish I knew a trick or tip to be able to tell when it’s supposed to be rhetorical and when it’s not. Would האם serve that purpose? But then, if it wasn’t used every single time, then I guess I still wouldn’t know.