Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Text criticism of Ps 24:6: arguments pro and contra MT

מְבַקְשֵׁי פָנֶיךָ יַעֲקב in Ps 24:6 has proven problematic for the majority of modern interpreters. Their proposed solutions, however, are as diverse as the readings found in the ancient versions. In this post I simply summarize arguments for and against MT, collated from Tromp's 1982 article, "Jacob in Psalm 24: Apposition, Aphaeresis or Apostrophe?" (in Von Kanaan bis Keraala, 271-282). I have issues with some points, but I'll bring them up in the comments if necessary.

Arguments against the MT are as follows:
  1. The ancient versions (which are diverse). LXX, which is followed by the Vulgate, adds τοῦ θεοῦ to make ζητούντων τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ (“those who seek the face of the God of Jacob”). The Peshitta, on the other hand, keeps MT's suffix and translates the rest as a vocative: “your face, O God of Jacob.” The Targum has a third person pronoun and gives an interpretative expansion: “who seek the brightness of his face, Jacob.”

  2. The switch from third to second person is unnatural. This move privileges either LXX or the Targum, but not the Peshitta.

  3. MT destroys the synonymous parallelism, as found in LXX and Targum.

  4. בקש פנים belongs to liturgical idiom. Tromp writes: "the lexicon shows that bkš pānîm in the Old Testament is exclusively used for a visit to the king (twice) and to God, in order to obtain good advice or help (five times)." For this, see especially Psalms 27,8 and 105,4.” One would thus expect God to be the object of the seeking.

In response to these arguments, one can defend MT as follows:

  1. LXX is not followed by many ancient versions (Aquila, Symmachus, Quinta, Sexta, Jerome's Psalterium Gallicanum, and Vetus Latina1). In addition to this, the differences between the translations differing from MT give the impression that they are conjectures. Bäthgen suggests that they are nevertheless correct conjectures.

  2. The switch is certainly jarring, though not impossible. According to Tromp, it is not uncommon in emotional style. In this case, it may be the result of the combination of enallage and an apostrophe, occurring at some stage in the text's early history (the option preferred by Tromp).

  3. MT has the lectio difficilior, in which the translators have attempted “to simplify the text by employing [a] contextually more fitting lexical, grammatical, and stylistic form" (Barthélemy).

  4. Tromp adduces Akkadian parallels to argue that the idiom does not have to be liturgical and adds that “the position of 'Jacob' in this verse is a peculiar one indeed.” He does not, however, explain why.

Does anyone have any views on this?

The English translations are as varied as the ancient versions:

ESV and NRSV follow LXX by eliminating the suffix and adding "God of": "who seek the face of the God of Jacob"

NASB follows MT and sees Jacob as the subject of the participles: "Who seek Your face—even Jacob."

This is essentially the same as the NET's paraphrase of the whole line: "Such purity characterizes the people who seek his favor, Jacob’s descendants, who pray to him."

My favourite is the good old KJV, which, like the NASB follows MT, but translates Jacob in the vocative (cf. Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis): "that seek thy face, O Jacob."


J. K. Gayle said...

Great post! What a terrific problem and a nice presentation of the renderings (as if these are solutions).

I like your "favourite. . . the good old KJV" translating "Jacob in the vocative."

But I like Robert Alter's translation even better, in the vocative but ambiguously in the vocative (is it God or Jacob? "His"? "your"?):

"This is the generation of His seekers,
those who search out your presence, Jacob."

J. K. Gayle said...

ζητούντων τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ θεοῦ Ιακωβ

in the LXX seems to me also to be ambiguous, with the addition. Does the Greek word order really disambiguate the genitive construct there? Couldn't a reader take either noun as head in the phrase? Or couldn't the two genitive nouns be interpreted appositively?

Reminds me much of the opener to the epistle of James:

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks, for your feedback!

- Re: Alter, yes, I guess that may be the best option, i.e. maintaining the ambiguity. The question is whether this ambiguity was intentional or not. I find it odd that Alter does not comment on this verse. I'll post at some point on why Tromp opts for the KJV rather than NET or NASB.

- Good point about the LXX ... Logo's morphology tags Ιακωβ as a genetive, though I don't see why this necessarily has to be the case.

- Thanks for the link. I have to admit, the first gut translation I thought of was "James, of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, a slave," which seems (syntically) to be pretty much what you have translated ...

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Another reading:

"...those seeking Your face: Jacob."

That is, Jacob/Israel is "those seeking" the face of God, as a corporate entity. They all spring from Jacob, after all.

It is awkward, though. And while awkward is a characteristic of lectio difficilior, so it is also a characteristic of every mistake. The line is hard to draw.

Good luck on your hunt!

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Kevin,

Tromp rejects this option in his article for the same reason: it's awkward right at the end of the sentence like that. There is also disagreement among commentators on how exactly such a syntactic solution ought to be understood: does it mean "... i.e. Jacob" or " ... are Jacob." In other words, is Jacob the subject of the participles or vice versa.

In addition to this, the meaning would be awkward. The concept of "the true Jacob" doesn't fit here (according to Tromp) and there is not warrent for assuming that Jacob was understood to actually fulfil the requirements of vv. 3-5.

Finally, the 2nd pers. suffix seems to require a vocative.

Do tell me if these arguments are weak.