Psalm 1: Translation and Notes

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which I am offering translations and notes of particular Psalms. I am doing this to prepare for my Psalms final. I did not divide this verse by standard versification (the way the verses are divided in the Hebrew Bible). Instead, I used an outline so that I could illustrate the structure of the Psalm more clearly.

  1. Blessed is the man [1] who
    1. Does not walk in the council of the wicked
    2. And on the path of the sinners he does not stand
    3. And in the dwelling of the scoffers he does not dwell [2]
    4. But rather [3]
    5. In the law of Yahweh he delights
    6. And on his law he meditates continually. [4]
      1. So, he is like a tree transplanted onto channels of water which
        1. its fruit it gives in season
        2. And its leaves do not wither [5]
          1. And all that he does will prosper [6]
          2. Not so the wicked [7]
          3. But rather [8]
        3. Like chaff which is blown in the wind [9]
      2. For that reason [10]
    7.  They will not be vindicated, the wicked, in judgement
    8. And {they will not stand}, the sinners, in the council of the righteous. [11]

a. For Yahweh takes care of the path of the righteous and the paths of the wicked perish. [12]

[1] This phrase is potentially problematic. The word for here is אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי. It is a Masculine Plural Noun in the construct form. This means that it is directly connected to the following word. As a rule of thumb, we can insert the word “of” between the construct noun and the following noun. So, “blessings of the man” would be a more literal translation. Throughout the Psalms, and other texts, this word אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי seems to function as a sort of claim. So, “blessed is the man” = “the blessings of the man.”

[2] 1.1-3 serve to define what the blessed man does not do. The word “who” (BH אֲשֶׁ֤ר) begins this by marking the beginning of a series of subordinate clauses. This means that 1.1-3 are not complete sentences; rather, they serve to define the parameters of the phrase “blessed is the man.” Notably, each thing used to define what a blessed man does not do is very similar. In 1.1, we see the following structure: a negative particle (namely, not) + verb + location in construct with a preposition + masculine plural noun (to represent people groups). 1.2 and 1.3 use the same elements; however, they re-order the sentence structure: location in construct with a preposition +masculine plural noun + a negative particle + verb. Because 1.1-3 are so similar in structure and all use the same preposition (a bet), they are best understood as one unit. This unit serves to define what the blessed man does not do.

[3] The short phrase כִּ֤י אִ֥ם serves to transition into the next set of parameters for the blessed man. As with most particles, prepositions, or conjunctions, it may mean a wide variety of things. I am taking it as a way of marking the transition into something else. This new thing being introduced is meant to be distinct from 1.1-3. So, I translate “but rather.”

[4] 1.5-6 describes what a blessed man does. Like 1.1-3, it uses the same preposition bet. By doing so, it links itself to 1.1-3. With the conjunction, though, we know that it is a contrast to what 1.1-3 describes. Furthermore, 1.5-6 continue the same sentence structure found in 1.1-3; however, there is now no negative particle. Thus, whereas 1.1-3 were what the blessed man does not do, 1.5-6 is what the blessed me does do.

Because 1.1-3 and 1.5-6 are so closely linked in terms of sentence structure and the preposition which they use, they should be read as a unit. Recall, though, that I argued in note [2] that 1.1-3 are a unit. In light of 1.5-6, 1.1-3 are still a unit, albeit a sub-unit. 1.5-6 is, likewise, a sub-unit. These two sub-units operates in conjunction (together) to present a full picture of what a blessed man does.

Notably, though, this consistent structure is broken by two slightly different elements. First, we see in 1.6 a different verb form. 1.1-5 use QATAL (Perfect) verb forms. 1.6 shifts to a YIQTOL (Imperfect) form. Second, vs. 6 has the additional words “day and night” (יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה). I translated these as “continually” because it seems to be what the text is trying to express. The addition of “continually” breaks the sentence (syntactical) pattern which I noted in [2]. For these reason, namely the breaking of a pattern from 1.1-1.6, the minor shifts and changes in 1.6 may serve to say to the reader, “Hey! Things are about to change. I’ve some new ideas to talk about, so I’ll prepare you with a minor shift in pattern of the text.”

[5] 1.6.1 is the shift which I mentioned in [4]. Rather than continuing with more parameters about how a man is to blessed, 1.6.1 uses a metaphor. It compares 1 and 1.1-6 to being planted by channels of water. 1.6.1.1-2, then, serve to specify the parameters of a tree planted by water. It (1) gives fruit in season and (2) does not whither. This is imagery is important because it is what allow life to thrive. One can have water. Without food, though, one is unable to survive. This imagery, then, metaphorically describes the blessed man as one who enables others do survive. A tree transplanted by water will be (1) thrive as an individual tree and (2) sustain the life of other animals and people.

The extent to which one blessed man may impact the environment positively is not too surprising. In an early post, I spoke about how miscarriage of justice could make the foundations of the earth totter. There was a correlation between ethical behavior and creation. Thus, we see in Psalm 1 a similar idea at play. The blessed man is not merely an ethical man who avoids the wicked and studies the law of God as an entity autonomous from everything else. Rather, his being blessed is correlated to creation. He doesn’t necessarily cause creation to prosper; however, the Psalmist does correlate the provisions of nature and wildlife to the ethical behavior of man.

1200px-danriver1

The Dan River in Israel

[6] 1.6.1.2.1 is not entirely clear. The verb for “to do” is not clearly referring to a particular thing. Likewise, the verb for “to be caused to prosper” has no clear subject. Up till this point, though, the only present character is the blessed man and the wicked ones. Because the two verbs in 1.6.1.2.1 are a 3MS forms, it is best to understand the subject as being the blessed man from 1.

Another interesting feature of this metaphor is the use of verbs. Recall in note [4] that 1.6 was the first occurrence of a YIQTOL verb form. In the metaphor, the only verbal form used is a YIQTOL form (except for one WǝQATAL which functions like a YIQTOL). The implication is that this metaphor is durative. Consequently, the blessed man is thought to be this way unceasingly. At no point in the imagination of this Psalm does the blessed man cease being like a tree.

Furthermore, the use of YIQTOL forms in this metaphor emphasizes it as a particular unit. The end of the first unit, 1.1-6, offers a transition into this new unit of the tree metaphor.

[7] 1.6.1.2.2 shifts directions, yet again. Whereas previously the Psalm focused on the metaphor of the righteous man, it draws a contrast with the wicked ones.

[8] Until this point, “but rather” has only occurred once as a way of describing what the blessed do. By re-using “but rather” in context of the wicked ones, the reader now expects to see a contrast between what the blessed to and what the righteous do, or are like.

[9] The contrast derived from the phrase כִּ֥י אִם strongly contrasts the imagery of a healthy, fruit-giving tree. The notion of being “chaff” blown in the wind implies absolute lack of value. When gathering grain, the chaff is, quite literally, blowing away in the wind. They do this because it serve no value. It does not contribute to the sustaining people. Additionally, the tree is said to “give.” In 1.6.1.1, the verb establishes the tree as the agent of giving. In 1.6.1.3, the chaff has no agency in the action. Thus, the role of chaff is less significant in the sentence. Whereas the tree is an acting agent, the chaff is only acted upon.

[10] “For that reason” serves as another transition to describing the nature of the wicked. Notably, there are two conjunctions which introduce the wicked: לֹא־כֵ֥ן (lo’ ken) and עַל־כֵּ֤ן (‘al ken). These two conjunctions are strikingly similar in terms of how they sound (lo vs. al). Because of this similarities, the Psalmist may be attempting to tie these two phrases together into a larger unit.

[11] 1.7-8 reflect 1.1-6. Whereas 1.1-6 demonstrates what a blessed man did and did not do, 1.7-8 reflects what a wicked man will not do, namely stand in judgement. The notion of “standing in judgement” may have to do with what I wrote about regarding Psalm 82. If one is standing in judgement, their honor has been, to a certain extent, restored. If the wicked will not stand in judgment, their honor will not be restored. Consequently, 1.8 acknowledges that they will not stand among the righteous. For the righteous will have their honor restored.

This imagery of “the righteous, a MP N, reflects well 1.1-6. In 1.1-6, the wicked ones, a MP N, are juxtaposed to the blessed man. Now, the wicked ones are juxtaposed to the righteous ones.

Furthermore, the reason I placed “will not stand” in {} is because it not actually in the text at this point. This is what Greenstein refers to as “deep structure.” Grammatically, it should be translated “and the sinners in the council of the righteous.” As cognitively aware readers, though, our minds fill in the place where we expect a verb. Because 1.7 contains the verb, the mind fills in the blank.

Finally, the description of the wicked, including the metaphor has more brevity than the blessed man. This is important because it further demonstrates that the focus of the Psalm is the blessed man. Even though a stark contrast is being drawn between the wicked and the righteous, the focus is ultimately the righteous.

[12] a serves as the summation of Psalm 1. Before explaining a, though, note the structure of Psalm 1. Here is a small, easy version:

  1. Ways of the blessed are described.
    1. Ways of the blessed are described metaphorically.
      1. Conclude the ways of the blessed.
      2. Shift to the ways of the wicked.
    2. Ways of the wicked are described metaphorically.
  2. Ways of the wicked are described.

Each number 1 reflects the same type of description in 2. The only different is that one describes the blessed, while the other describes the wicked. This structure is what is called a chiasmus. The chiasm allows us to see a stark contrast between the wicked and blessed not just in terms of the specific words used, but in the places where they are employed. The summary is a. picks up on this by summarizing the entire Psalm in terms of the the way of the righteous as opposed to the way of the wicked. One major addition occurs here, though.

This is the only place in the Psalm where Yahweh becomes the agent of the verb. Although Yahweh appears as a figures to describe the “Law of Yahweh”, he was not the subject for a verb. As the subject a verb, Yahweh is said to “care for” (lit. “know”). I take this verb “to know” as a way of expressing how the divine watches over the blessed.

In contrast, the path of the wicked may be taken in two ways. First, the “path” could be a collective notions of “paths.” This is possible because the wicked don’t all act wicked in the same way. Thus, “path” could be understood as a plural. Furthermore, although “path” is typically understood as a masculine noun, it shows up a feminine noun. In light of these two observations, it is possibly that the subject of “to perish” is the paths themselves. So, we would translate, “and the paths of the wicked perish” (taking תֹּאבֵֽד in a stative sense). Alternatively, Yahweh could be the subject. In this case, the verb “to perish” should be taking as a 2MS, with Yahweh acting as the subject: “the paths of the wicked you, Yahweh, cause to perish.”

The alternative is less likely for two reasons. First of all, I am hesitant to give a Q form a causative meaning unless absolutely necessary. The other option, with “path” as the subject, demonstrates that using the verb as a causitive Qal is not necessary. Second, Yahweh as the subject is odd in the structure of a. Like any good syntax, the first part of a. reads as a verb followed by the subject. Thus, the subject, namely Yahweh, “knows.” The syntax clearly correlates the two. There is no reason, though, to correlate Yahweh with “perish.” Structurally and grammatically, it makes more sense for the subject of “to perish” to be “paths” (lit. path).

Also, feel free to click on this link. It may help me win a free book: https://homebrewedchristianity.com/giveaways/bibliotheca-bible-giveaway/?lucky=21539

 

Psalm 82: Translation and Comments

This short series of posts is part of my preparation for my Psalms final. Here, I offer a translation and other comments about Psalm 82.

  1. Yahweh[1] was positioned within the assembly of El [2]; in the midst of the gods, he will judge.[3]

2. “How long will ya’ll judge injustice [4]
And raise the faces of criminals?!?”[5] [6]

3. “Judge the poor and the orphan; the poor and hungry cause to be righteous
4. “Save the poor and the needy; from the hand of the wicked, pull [the poor and                      the needy].”[7]

5. “They have not known and they did not discern;
in darkness they walk continuously;
they will be made to totter, the whole foundations of the earth.”[8] [9]

6. “Indeed, I have spoken [10], “You are gods and sons of the most high you all       are!”;
7. however, like humanity, you will be mortal; like one of the kings, you will                          fall!”[11]

8. “Rise, Yahweh, and judge the land, for you will take as possession all the
nations.”[12]

[1] In the Hebrew text, we read the word elohim, which can reference either to God (=Yahweh), gods, other deities, ghosts, etc. The reason we translate “Yahweh” rather than “God” is because this Psalm is part of the Elohistic Psalter (Psalms 42-83. The Elohistic Psalter is a series of Psalms which used the name “Yahweh” very sparingly, at least in comparison to other Psalms. For example, Psalm 53 is part of the Elohistic Psalter. This Psalm is strikingly similar to Psalm 14. They differ, though, in that Psalm 53 uses the term elohim instead of Yahweh. While it seems pretty clear that many of these Psalms replace the name “Yahweh” with the title “God”, there is no conclusive reasoning to explain why the editors did this.

[2] In West Semitic myth, the highest deity was El. Naturally, as a divine king, he had an assembly of deities. The name/title El, though, may be problematic. It could refer to multiple things. First, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the divine council. Second, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of El, the highest deity in the pantheon.” Third, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of Yahweh, who is referenced as El.” I choose the first option because El, as the highest deity, would be normal in the ancient context of this Psalm. There is no reason to oppose the notion of El being the highest deity because it is a common idea in West Semitic religion and culture. In Ugaritic literature, Ba’al is arguably the primary deity; however, El, his father, is still above him in terms of authority and power. Thus, the idea that El was thought to be above Yahweh at some point in history in continuous with other West Semitic conceptions of the divine pantheon.

[3] Another important issue in this Psalm is that of the speaker and addressee. Verse 1, I think, is pretty straight forward. Because the speaker is (1) not defined and (2) there are no allusions to who may be the speaker, it is best to assume that the speaker is the narrator. As the Psalm goes forward, though, later verses may change how we think about who the speaker is. Like, the addressee is not clear either. It is not obvious who vs. 1 is directed towards. I suspect that verse 1 serves to illustrate the context of the rest of the Psalm.

I suspect this for a few reasons. First of all, nobody takes any actions within the verse. The first verb is a passive verb, meaning that Yahweh was stationed/standing. The agent of this action is not Yahweh; rather, somebody else made him to be standing or stationed among the council. Likewise, the second verb, meaning to judge, is in the YIQTOL form. In other words, it is an incomplete action. In terms of the tense, it means that the action that will occurs in the future. It has not occurred yet, though. Therefore, it sets a scene for a moment in time.

[4] The phrase “how long” (עד מתי) occurs 26 times. The majority of these occurrences occur in questions with a negative answer. Because of this, the use of the phrase may be intended to suggest to the reader that the outcome of the question is not good.

[5] The statement “raise the faces of criminals” means “to show favor to.” In Number 6:25, for example, the same words are used: “lift your face.” As a popular paradigmatic blessing, the Aaronic benediction is asking that the deity, Yahweh, show favor to the people. Likewise, in Ugaritic literature, “Ba’al tells deities to “Lift up, O gods, your heads from upon your knees…” as a way of implying boldness and independence… and reestablishment of honor” (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament). Therefore, in this Psalm, the “council of El” seems to be accused of showing favor to the wicked. 

[6] Who is speaker of verse 2? Because Yahweh is positioned, standing, in the midst of the council of El, it seems reasonable that Yahweh is portrayed as the speaker. As for the addressee, vs. 2 uses two YIQTOL in the second-person masculine plural form. This means that the actions which he references have not been completed. They are ongoing. Also, the words are directed towards of group of characters, namely those in the divine council. Therefore, it is reasonable to view vs. 2 as Yahweh questioning the miscarriage of justice.

The verbs seem to be used in a sense of ongoing action in the moment. So, the deities are giving justice a bad-name currently, in an ongoing sense.

[7] Vss. 3-4 suddenly switch in presentation. Whereas vs. 2 was about what the deities currently do, vss. 3-4 use imperative forms. This means that in vss. 3-4, the deities are commanded to act in these particular ways. As imperative forms (commands), though, one must do something in the future in order to follow the command. So, is Yahweh now saying what they must do in the future? This is one possibility. First, he questions what they are doing now. Then, he commands what they must do in the future.

Another possibility is that he is quoting El’s words. In this situation, Yahweh first says, “What in the world are you deities doing!?!” Then, he following it by citing the original command to the council of Yahweh: “Serve justice to the weak and poor.” In the end, it is difficult to find conclusive evidence. For, there is nothing like, “Remember when El said.” Thus, the speaker is ambiguous, while the addressees, the deities, seem fairly obvious. For my translation, the best option seems to be Yahweh citing an older command of El.

[8] Before commenting on what vs. 5 means and the speaker/addressee, I will begin by commenting on verb structure of vs. 5. First, the first two verbs refer to a completed action. The actions of “not knowing” and “not discerning” seem to be situated in the past. Second, the next verb refers to an ongoing actions which describes their current state: they are in a state of continually walking in darkness, a metaphor for ignorance or lack of understanding. Third, the final verb, “to totter” may be understood as something which will be in the future: in the future, the foundations of the earth will totter.

The verbs in vs. 5, then, seem to cover a wide range of time by noting (1) actions in the past, (2) actions in this moment, and (3) actions which will take place.

As for the speaker, it seems reasonable to see Yahweh as the speaker. Recall, for example, that Yahweh asked “how long” in vs. 2. Now, in vs. 5, Yahweh may be describing that actions of what the deities actions do. The addressee, though, is harder to nail down. Unlike vss. 2-4, which were directed toward the deities through the use of second-person forms, vs. 5 references the deities in the 3rd person. Because the only other other character references (possibly) until vs. 5 is El, I suspect that the addressee of vs. 5 of El. In other words, Yahweh is now offering El a narrative of what how he saw his fellow deities behave.

[9] What does it mean for the “foundations of the earth” to totter? This has to do with the cosmogony of ancient Judeans. By “cosmogony”, I mean how they conceived of the mechanics and origins of the world and universe. In the ancient world, good behavior and justice was correlated to the state of created “stuff” (behavior did not cause good nature; it was simply correlated). So, by noting the tottering foundations of earth, the Psalmist (author) and speaker (Yahweh) express the miscarriage of justice on a cosmic scale.

[10] Vs. 6 returns to the issue of speaker: who says, “I have said”? If we assume from the beginning of the Psalm that El is not present (we only have Yahweh and the divine council), then Yahweh is the speaker. If we continue with the notion that El is the supreme deity in this Psalm, then the speaker must be El. For it only makes sense that they most prestigious deity would have the authority to deem deities “gods and sons of the most high”, namely El. As I mentioned previously, El was considered the father of Ba’al in Ugaritic myth. Thus, El seems to be the speaker here.

[11] Vs. 7 stand in contrast to vs. 6: “even though ya’ll are divine beings, I’m going to change that status.” How does this demotion take place, though? First, the root from “be mortal” is, in its simplest form, “to die.” So, El may be saying “like humanity, you will die.” While there is nothing wrong with this, I prefer “like humanity, you will be mortal.” I prefer this translation because humanity does more than just die. Humanity lives. In the future they die. Because the Psalmist says that they will be like humanity, it is reasonable to assume that they are going to be demoted in the sense that they are now mortal. Before, they didn’t have to worry about death because they were immortal. Now, being made like humanity, they must worry about death. Even though they have to worry about death, the underlying implication is that they are made to be mortal.

The second portion demotes the deities to be like kings who fall. One possibility for the metaphor is that it could be utilizing the notion of kingship throughout the ancient world. As any historian or reader would know based on a quick read of a history of the ancient Near East, there were always kings rising to power and falling to power. So, by noting that the deities will “fall”, the implication may be that they will no longer be in power. Unlike before, when they ruled over territories as divine beings, it is now made clear that they will lose their authority and right to rule.

This is accomplished through falling from heaven, demotion, and loss of social status (Is. 14).

[12] In vs. 8, Yahweh is clearly not the speaker because Yahweh is referenced. Because the other deities have been condemned, El seems to be the speaker. He addresses Yahweh. The idea of “possessing” the nations is important. In West Semitic religion and culture, individual deities ruled over particular regions. With the demotion of deities in Psalm 82, though, Yahweh is the sole remainder of the “council of El.” So, Yahweh is now the only one left to rule over the nations. Consequently, Yahweh will “possess” the earth in the sense of inherit. He will inherit the responsibility of kingship among all the nations.

 

Context, Silence, and Academics

From about 8:30 AM to at least 6:00 PM, I spend my days in Swift Hall at the University of Chicago. More often than not, there is noise. Regardless of where I go, there is noise. It is never ending, constant noise. My mind filters out the noise and keeps working. When people leave the halls and classrooms, though, there is silence. The context which held the noise is now void of sound. The only sound is me walking through the halls.

Today, as I walked through silent halls, I heard the walls speak (metaphorically, of course). What I mean is that I focused on the small things. I noticed the cracks in the walls. I noticed the little holes in door frame. I observed each and every dent and scratch on the floor. In essence, I paid attention to my context. The only reason I could do so what because of the silence which covered Swift Hall.

Now, besides giving me spiritual clarity on the reality of life and importance of our world, this experience gave me clarity on why I study Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern literature. The Hebrew Bible, like anything else in this world which can be seen, cries to be seen, heard, and understood. It, just like the Mahabharata, a Trader Joe’s sign, and and a tree on the sidewalk, wants to be seen. As people, it is up to us to stop and listen. It is up to us to see what makes the content and shapes the world. How does each individual crack, hole in the wall, smear of dirt, and door handle shape how we see the world?

Everything cries out in a harmonious voice. And, like any good choir, you can’t easily tell how the voices and sounds are working together. In regard the Hebrew Bible and other ancient literature, this is what I want to find. I want to pay attention to how the letters work together to communicate something to people. What are they trying to say and why are they trying to say?

Anyway, this has been a non-conventional post. I hope you, as I do, pay attention to the world around you. At bottom, I think that academics should pursue this. We don’t do “academic study” of texts. We should yearn to listen to every way in which the text or object speaks to us. We should yearn to hear how it works in harmony with other texts or objects to shape the reality that we see.

Psalm 100: Comments and Translation (Part II)

I’ve already posted about Psalm 100 two times (here and here). Here, then, I will just reflect on a feature of Psalm 100. Though I won’t show the cards in my hand, I will say that it is relevant to some work I am doing with another Psalm. These observations will be more technical than usual.

In Psalm 100, we see a large cluster of imperative forms. Of these imperative forms, a prepositional lamed marks the indirect object in vss. 1, 2 and 4. Notably, these imperatives which only have indirect objects do not have direct objects. This is because the verbs are intransitive.

I need to look at every occurrence of the following structure: Impv. + Lamed with indirect object + Subject

Psalm 133: Translation and Comments

(1) A Song of Pilgrimage for David:

Behold! What good and what pleasant dwelling of brothers, even altogether!

(2) As scented oil upon the head, which is descending upon the beard, the bearded chin of Aaron, which is descending until the mouth of his [priestly] garments.

(3) [And] as the dew of Mt. Hermon, which is descending upon the mountains of Zion.

Indeed, there Yahweh ordained the blessing; [there Yahweh ordained] life until forever.

Psalm 133 can easily be overlooked, as can most Psalms. There are, however, a few interesting features about Psalm 133 which may help to bring it to life.

First of all, Psalm 133 is a very physical Psalm. Through the Psalm, the word “descending” is repeated. Oil is “descending” upon the beard of Aaron and upon his garments. Likewise, the dew of Mt. Hermon is “descending” upon the mountains of Zion. The notion of “descending” oil and “descending” dew are important because they are important religious terms.

In rituals throughout the ancient world, oil is an important substance. Exodus 29:7, for example, commands that oil be poured upon the head of the high priest. This is part of the consecration of Aaron as the high priest. This oil has a life-giving effect. Consequently, he is enabled to serve as the figure who stands between the people and the deity. Thus, the imagery in Ps. 133 uses temple imagery in order to draw the reader into the world of the Psalm.

As readers in the 21st century, it is easy to miss something like this. After all, we don’t often sacrifice animals and pour oil on other people’s heads.

After conjuring up images of temple worship in vs. 2, vs. 3 continues it. Like vs. 2, it uses the word for “descending.” This is important because it signals to the reader that vss. 2 and 3 are connected to each other. Thus, vs. 3 may continue the temple imagery. And, in fact, it does just that.

In ancient Syria-Palestine, mountains where the abodes of deities. It is similar to Greece, where deities like Zeus resided on the mountains. In ancient Israel, Hermon and Zion were both mountains where some people perceived Yahweh to reside. In other words, the deity lived in a house on the mountains. The house is what most people refer to as the “temple.”

From the house of the deity, or temple, “dew” descended, or “light rain.” Again, this is extremely important to understanding what the Psalm is trying to say. Unlike places like Washington, where mist and rain are regular occurrences, rain was not common in Syria-Palestine. So, when a mountain provided light rain, it was also providing life-sustaining water for people.  And in wider Syria-Palestinian ancient literature, the “Dew of Hermon” is a mythological metaphor for “Dew of the Gods.” Consequently, people understood the light rain from the mountains to have been given by the deity.

For this reason, vs. 3b says that “Yahweh ordained the blessing from there,” namely the mountain. What is the blessing? Life. In other words, dew which descends from the mountain provides life for the people. In a very real way, Yahweh is thought to give rain which allowed the people to find food, drink water, and live life.

Other Observations: 

There are a few interesting features of this Psalm. First of all, there is only one proper verb, namely “ordained.” While “descending” looks like a verb, it is really a participle, meaning it has no tense or mood. In other words, “descending” is not placed on the time spectrum; rather, it describes the status of a thing. In this way, than, “descending” is more of an adjective than a verb. “Ordained,” though, describes an action. Thus, it is the only proper verb.

What is interesting about this is that, in Ps. 133, the only character to do some sort of action is Yahweh: Yahweh ordained the blessing and life itself. By only using a verb with Yahweh as the person doing the action (subject), it suggests that this Psalm is ultimately focused on the life-giving sustenance of Yahweh. In the world constructed by the Psalmist, Yahweh is the only figure who truly matters. The fact that brother dwell within a temple in vs. 1 is important; yet, even here we only see participles describing the state of the brothers. Ultimately, the focus is upon the centrality of Yahweh and how he provides life for his people. He does so through his temple and priesthood.

 

Bibliography:

International Critical Commentary (2 vols; Charles A. Briggs, 1906 [2000])

Hermeneia (2/3 vols; Frank-Lothar Hossfeld – Erich Zenger, 2005, 2011)

Continental Commentary (2 vols; Hans-Joachim Kraus, 1993–2000)

NOTE: I am writing these as part of my preparation for my Psalm III final. They are not meant to be definitive in any way, shape, or form. 

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.