Monday, 29 June 2009

I'm off to SBL Rome

Blogging will cease for the next two weeks as I try and make the most of the Society of Biblical Literature's international meeting in Rome. I wrestled with the question of whether it would be worth going or not. On the one hand, listening to lectures is not something I particularly enjoy (I'm told it's ADHD ... Give me a book any day!), on the other hand, I may well meet some important dialogue partners and make connections for the future (I plan to get this doctorate finished by July 2010). The thing that sold me on the idea is a paper by Phil J. Botha of the University of Pretoria. Check out the abstract and you will see that a Psalm 24 junky couldn't wish for more:
Answers Disguised as Questions: Rhetoric and Reasoning in Psalm 24

Psalm 24 seems to be a post-exilic composition comprising of mostly pre-exilic material: a hymnic introduction (vv.1-2), a so-called entrance Torah (vv.3-5), and a liturgical piece once used at the temple gates (vv.7-10) to which a post-exilic identification of the true Israel was added (v.6). One aspect of its exegesis which has possibly been neglected thus far concerns the rhetorical techniques it employs and the argumentative objectives its composer(s) and editors pursued. The questions used in two of its four distinct sections possibly had a different function in their contexts of origin, but the exegete of the Psalter is confronted with the effect and impact of these questions (as well as other tropes employed) in the present composition and literary setting of the psalm. In this paper, the stichometric and poetic structure of Ps 24 is analysed and the possible argumentative objective of the choice of poetic stratagems is discussed.

How interesting is that!

The second paper that I will have to visit is this one:

Ida Zatelli, University of Florence

The ritual and popular practice of the pilgrimage is widespread in various cultures and religions. In the present work the Biblical links of the rite are examined especially from a linguistic approach. The use of the verb gur, "to wander", "to roam” and that of the noun ger, "wanderer", "foreigner” or even “refugee”, prevalent in the epic narratives of ancient Israel (cfr. for ex. Gen 47,9) convey to the Jewish population the awareness of being “errant”, “itinerant”. Another key word is hag, “feast”, which in many cases involves rites of circumambulation. It is applied to the three principal Jewish celebrations: Sukkot, Pesah, Shavuot; particularly interesting is the analysis of the festival of Sukkot. A specific attention is dedicated to the frequent use of the verb 'ala, "to ascend" (the noun 'aliyya comes to mean "ascent" in post-biblical Hebrew). One ascends to the sacred mountains, to the sanctuaries, and finally 'ala becomes the technical verb that indicates the ascent to the Temple in Jerusalem or to Zion. This verb and yasa, "to exit" appear in Exodus where they describe the journey from Egypt to Canaan and in some post-exilic texts 'ala also refers to the return of the people of Israel. In conclusion, a detailed analysis is devoted to the expression lir'ot (et) pne yhwh , "to see the face of the Lord". (cfr. for ex. Is 1,12), which shows clearly the ultimate aim of the ascension to the Temple, very frequently not appropriately rendered in translation. The analysis of the above mentioned terminology allows us to define the origin of the rite of 'aliyya leregel, "pilgrimage" in post-biblical texts and to throw light on a very popular and widespread ritual in those religions that are based on the Bible.

Unfortunately, the timing of the various papers is not ideal. From my perspective, all of the most interesting subjects are on the first day at take place at the same time, which means I will have to miss a bunch. The two papers above back on to each other, meaning I will have to rush from one room to the other in order to make it on time, missing another interesting paper on the reception history of Psalm 1 (though luckily Gillingham is coming to Bonn soon, where I believe she will be repeating the paper). Oh well, one of my favourite activities is reading in cafés with a cigar and decent cappuccino, and where can one do that better than in Rome (really, the cappuccino there is in a class of its own)?

Ingrid (my wife) will be flying out on the Saturday, so we'll be spending another week in the city doing the regular tourist stuff (though I intend to thoroughly explore the Jewish quarter, probably the most interesting thing Rome has to offer).

Anyway, I wish who ever is reading this a enjoyable and erholsamer (restorative) summer break. :)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Questions to ask a Biblical poem

As anyone who follows this blog will have noticed by now, I am working on an interpretation of Psalm 24, trying to take into account its textual, poetic, historical, literary, and theological dimensions (have I missed a dimension? For posts to date go here). One "means of entry" to the Psalm that I have been using is a list of questions that the Dutch Hebrew scholar Jan Fokkelman believes we ought to pose any example of Biblical poetry (I've got to question 11 so far; the most fruitful for Ps 24 was question 1). I thought I'd share them here and ask if anyone thinks an important question has been left out, or whether a question posed ought to be fine tuned:

1.Who is speaking, an “I” or a “we”? Can we picture this lyrical subject? Does it change in the course of the poem?

2.Whom is the lyrical subject addressing? Is the addressee visible in the text, or can we put a face to him/her? Does the addressee change? Do we encounter apostrophe?

3.How long are the sentences? Check every time whether the syntactic unit coincides with the colon, the verse, or even a strophe. In other words: does enjambment occur?

4.Which verb tenses are used? Are the various tenses (present, past, future) distributed over the strophes?

5.a.Which modes are used besides the indicative?1 Wishes, commands, exclamations?
b. Are there actions, or descriptions of qualities?

6.How do space and time function in the lyrical world?

7.Can a diagram be drawn of the relations between the lyrical characters—for instance, a triangle such as me-God-enemy?

8.How long are cola and verses, generally?

9.a. How much parallelism (both semantic and morphological) is there between half-verses? Ask yourself regularly if the “A, what's more, B” rule applies.
b. How much parallelism exists between the verses? And between the strophes?

10.Try to find the demarcation of strophes and stanzas. What devices does the poet use to create these units? Are there any boundary markers?

11.Is the cohesion of the strophe internal or external? Try to indicate the nature of the internal cohesion.

12.a. Does the poet use simile?
b. Metaphors?
c. Metonymy? Synechdoche? Symbols?

13.How are the verses related in regard to meaning?

14.And the strophes? Are they steps in a line of argument?

15.How does the theme develop? Is a specific line of thought followed?

16.What are the keywords?

17.Be sensitive to contrasts, oppositions, and transitions.

18.Try to make the most of various forms of repetition by listening for it and testing the function of variation-in-repetition.

Friday, 26 June 2009

What is the syntax of Ps 24:3-5?

For the Hebrew of this ... sentence ... go here.

All translations of Ps 24:5 that I know of (including commentaries) treat v. 5 as starting a new clause: "He will receive ... ." Andersen-Forbes, however, analyse this differently. They see vv. 4-5a as being one sentence, with the whole of v. 4 being the subject of the verb יִשָּׂא in v. 5. This would render the translation: "One clean of hands ... who has not lifted ... will receive."

My question is: What makes this a better reading then the typical one?

Here are the pros and cons of A-F's suggestion that I can think of:


- The question in v. 3 is only indirectly answered, which is odd. Having said that, the answer is clarified once more in v. 6, so perhaps this is intentional ... . The indirectness of the answer may relate to the function of the section within the context of the whole Psalm.

- Though subject and verb are part of one clause, poetically they cross a strophe boundary (vv. 3-4//5-6), which may be unusual.


These become particularly clear when we compare the Psalm to Psalm 15, its close relative:

- Ps 15 also has noun-phrases followed by qatal verbs in the section describing qualifications for temple entrance (vv. 2-5). The difference is, the qatals in Ps 24 are preceded by אֲשֶׁר, which A-F consider to be a "nominalizer." That means that the following two qatal clauses, in contrast to Ps 15, "function [syntactically] as a noun." (I have to say, however, that this is an odd concept for me ... I don't see, for example, how Deut 13.7 is "nominalized." Hay anyone heard of this concept?).

- Ps 15:5c, like Ps 24:5, is a promise of the benefits such a righteous person would receive. The difference is that in Ps 15 an extra subject is added beforehand: עֹשֵׂה־אֵלֶּה. In Psalm 24, there is no extra subject before the verb. Admittedly, this happens elsewhere in the Bible (cf. Isa 3:7), but not only is the entire preceding verse nominalized (unlike in Isa 3:6), the subject of the verb is repeated afterwards in v. 6, as if one wanted to clarify the answer to the question in v. 3.

- V. 4 as subject is syntactically possible (i.e. noun-phrase+relative clause). It occurs 4 times in poetic books: Pss 24:4-5; 35:8; 41:10; 86:9 and c. 67 times in the rest of the Bible. A good example of a very similar construction with a long subject is Deut 28:56. The first noun-phrase consists of two elements and the relative clause consists of two further subclauses (and this isn't even poetry, so there's no parallelism!). Cf. also Num 9:13; Josh 1:18; and Ezra 6:5 (in Aramaic), which have especially similar structures.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Dear Logos

Dear Logos,

I've just spent the past four days tinkering around with your Andersen-Forbes syntactically tagged Hebrew Bible and I have to say: I love it. Honestly, I'm such a geek I have to force myself to take a day off on Sundays. This programme is seriously enriching the way I understand Biblical Hebrew and the way I deal with difficulties in exegesis. I couldn't imagine owning a Bible software programme without it ...

There are two things I'd love to see come out at some point in the future:
  1. The database could do with having its semantic tags refined. I think if I had a sophisticatedly tagged semantic database I'd run the risk of never getting off my computer. And I used to hate computers at school! Oh, and given the subjectivity involved in all things semantic and syntactical, perhaps you could get different scholars to make their own contributions. You could then further refine your search engine by adding a button for toggling between different search modes, depending on what scholar we like best.
  2. And while we're at it, why not create a poetically tagged database? Again, you could just ask someone like Fokkelman and a few of his competitors to tag the Bible according to colon, strophe, and stanza length, metrical counts, assonance, cases of metonymy and various types of parallelism. Then we could do things like search for cases where subjects and objects cross strophe boundaries, or where particular types of parallelism tend to accumulate. Ooh, I tremble at the thought of it ...
I'm sure that none if this would be particularly difficult to do. After all, Andersen and Forbes have only been working on their project since the '70s. In fact, if you ever do get these projects off the ground, I generously offer to receive a review copy of each programme.

Yours sincerely,


More words of wisdom for Biblical exegetes

... though of a different sort. Provided via Tim Furry. This is explicated somewhat here. I must remember that name ... John David Dawson ...

Words of wisdom for budding Biblical scholars

Important words of wisdom from גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁ֥ב today.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Is Ps 24:3-6 subjunctive?

I posted yesterday that I thought it wasn't. I've now had second thoughts.

Here's the text:
מִי־יַעֲלֶה בְהַר־יהוה
וּמִי־יָקוּם בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשׁו׃
4 נְקִי כַפַּיִם וּבַר־לֵבָב
אֲשֶׁר לֹא־נָשָׂא לַשָּׁוְא נַפְשִׁי
וְלֹא נִשְׁבַּע לְמִרְמָה׃
5 יִשָּׂא בְרָכָה מֵאֵת יהוה
וּצְדָקָה מֵאֱלֹהֵי יִשְׁעֹו׃
6 זֶה דּוֹר דֹּרְשָׁו
מְבַקְשֵׁי פָּנֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה׃

Here's my interpretation:

If modality “refers to (the orientation of a speaker concerning) the actuality of a process" (van der Merwe), do the questions in v. 3 refer to a fact (i.e. indicative: “who
is allowed to ascend”) or to a “wish, expectation, possibility or uncertainty about the actuality of a matter” (i.e. subjunctive: “who may ascend”). The answer seems to depend upon exegesis: is the question a dispassionate one about a matter of fact or does it imply desire on the part of the speaker? Again, the characteristics listed in v. 4 sounds like a string of indicatives, statements of fact ("one who has not done such and such"). But the context is one of non-factual possibilities, not an actual description of a person. This is strengthened by the fact that the subject of the verb comes in v. 5: יִשָּׂא. Given the parallel with the yiqtol verbs in the question in v.3, the verb indicates will receive a blessing if he ascends (this is the "first conditional" form). The demonstrative זֶה of v. 6, then, refers to this hypothetical entity (whether it actually exists or not is beside the point). Thus, given the context, v. 6 would also be a subjunctive.
Who may ascend Yhwh's hill?
and who may stand in his sanctuary?
One of innocent hands and a pure heart -
who hasn't lifted up my soul to nothing
nor sworn falsley -
will receive a blessing from Yhwh
and vindication from his saving God.
This one would be a genration that seeks him,
that searche out your face, O Jacob.
Does this work?

The "may" expresses the personal benefits of ascending (rather than "shall" or "will"). The answer to the question is indirect. It is like a conditional sentence (the "1st conditional"): "if he is this, he will do this."

I have other reasons for wanting to emphasise the subjunctivity of the section.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Verb modes in Ps 24

What is the mood (or mode) of the the verbs in Ps 24:3 and 7/8? Here are the relevant bits of verses 3 and 7:

מִי־יַעֲלֶה בְהַר־יהוה (v. 3)

שְׂאוּ שְׁעָרִים רָאשֵׁיכֶם וְהִנָּשְׂאוּ פִּתְחֵי עוֹלָם וְיָבוֹא מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד׃ (v. 7).

In v. 3 I would have thought indicative rather than subjunctive, as the psalmist is not interested in theoretical possibilities but in actual facts. He is interested in "who is allowed to" and not "who might be allowed to." Or is there an implicit wish here, transforming the indicative to a subjunctive?

In v. 7 we have two imperatives and then a jussive. Is the jussive indicative or subjunctive? I associate jussives with the expression of wishes, and thus a subjunctive mood. It would seem, however, that the jussive here (following an imperative verb sequence) has the function of expressing either the purpose or the consequence of the previous imperatives. In that case it would seem to be indicative.

In short, there seems to be ambiguity in the Psalm concerning its modality, which is ironic given its dramatic tenor. Is there a note of personal yearning present, or are these just didactic/liturgical statements meant to communicate a theological point? Is the poverty of the conjugation system a hindrance to communication, or is the ambiguity intentional?

Those Hasidim ...

"He is a remarkable man," my father murmured. "They are remarkable people. There is so much about them that is distasteful to me. But they are remarkable people."

"I wish they weren't so afraid of new ideas."

"You want a great deal, Reuven. The Messiah has not yet come. Will new ideas enable them to go on singing and dancing?"

"We can't ignore the truth, abba."

"No," he said. "We cannot ignore the truth. At the same time, we cannot quite sing and dance as they do." He was silent a moment. "That is the dilemma of our time, Reuven. I do not know what the answer is."
Chaim Potok, The Promise (Anchor Books, 1969; 1997), 312.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Is the Bible religious or theological?

Douglas Mangum, partly in response to my post Exegesis: Does religion get in the way?, has posted two more quotes arguing for the separation of the faith claims of particular faith communities from the business of objective Biblical research. He sets up the dichotomy in terms of the difference between religious scholarship and theological scholarship, drawing on a quote by Stephen Prothero. Biblical study would belong to the former realm, in this analysis. Here's Prothero's quote:
I am by training a professor of religious studies. That means, among other things, that just about every time I step onto a plane or attend a party I have to explain to someone that, no, I am not a minister, no, I do not teach theology, and, no, I do not work in a divinity school. Theology and religious studies, I often say, are two very different things--as different as art and art history. While theologiansdo religion, religious studies scholars study religion. Rather than ruminating on God, practitioners of religious studies explore how other human beings (theologians included) ruminate on sacred things. Scholars of religion can be religious, of course, but being religious is not our job. Our job is to try to understand what religious people say, believe, know, feel, and experience. And we try to do this work as fairly and objectively as possible.
(Prothero 2007, 10; emphasis original)

Epistemological objections aside, my question is whether an approach such as Prothero's can really do justice to the subject matter of the Bible (its Sache, as a whole bunch of German Biblical scholars have put it).

Perhaps I can present the issue like this:

1) What is the goal of a scientific approach to the Bible?

Answer: to understand it according to what it is (i.e. to read it on its own terms, sachgemäß).

2) Which side of the religiou/theological dichotomy described above best equips us to read the Bible "on its own terms"?

Answer: it depends on the nature of the text, i.e. is the Bible itself religious or theological?

Let's compare Prothero's quote with one by a famous Old Testament scholar: Gerhard von Rad (who operated in the heyday of the academy's confidence about its capacities to be objective).

Prothero saif the following:
religious studies scholars study religion. Rather than ruminating on God, practitioners of religious studies explore how other human beings (theologians included) ruminate on sacred things.
In terms of Biblical scholarship, the goal of reading the Bible is to understand how other people ruminated on God.

Von Rad's analysis of the Bible is very different. He says the following:
Because Israel, in its historical witnesses, did not refer to its own faith but rather to Jahwe himself, in other words, because faith was not the "object," rather the "bearer, mouth" of its witness, the revelation of Jahwe in history in words and deeds becomes the object of a theology of the Old Testament.
In other words, the Bible is a kerygmatic text. It witnesses to a reality outside of itself, and this witnessing activity is part of its historical intentionality, the reason for its existence in the first place. As far as von Rad was concerned, this view is not a pious move made by theologically minded scholars hoping to retain the Bible's relevance beyond the confines of past history, it is a scientific statement about the actual nature of the text. The fact that a living God is part of the equation doesn't make it less scientific.

Thus, on von Rad's analysis, Prothero's approach is fundamentally flawed because
it doesn't do justice to the nature of the text itself.

Is von Rad a theologian or a religious studies scholar? And what should one be in order to understand the Bible?

(A related post is my Why exegesis needs dogmatics).

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Exegesis: Does religion get in the way?

Douglas Mangum, author of a blog I need to find time to read more regularly, has posted the following quote by Ziony Zevit (with his own emphasis added):
[We] are too comfortable with viewing biblical religion through prisms of living religious traditions that have interpreted these texts for us; traditions that we accept or reject, or to which we feign indifference, or to which we are indifferent. Having been informed by these traditions, however, we are influenced by them and somehow look back through them, as through a glass darkly, to seek ancient Israel. (Sometimes, without realizing, we confuse our reflection with what lies beyond the glass.) This is a handicap to be overcome.

Emphasis added.]
My response is twofold:

1) Can the "handicap" of our own religious context be overcome? I doubt it. Biblical Scholars struggle to understand their living colleagues (I take the reception of Childs by certain renowned colleagues to be a case in point), how much more can they really grasp the substance of a religion dead and gone?
2) Is being influenced by a faith community such a handicap? Is it so desirable to jettison the traditions that
grew out of the Bible, in whatever fashion and including whatever dialectics? On my understanding, the Bible's true subject matter is not the religion of the authors who wrote it (important background information that may be), but the living God who broke into their reality, shaped it, and guided/guides them in a particular journey. On that take, religio-historical analysis may well be done and come up with various interesting hypotheses about the development of Israelite religion. They will no doubt help us read the Bible less ethnocentrically. But ultimately it is God himself, mediated through the community of faith he called into being through the text and history, who can guarantee that we actually are wrestling with what the Bible is really all about. And for that, we need to be active members of a community of faith.

(For my second post in this series, see Is the Bible religious or theological?)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Jewish and Christian homily on Psalm 24

The Jewish one is by Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. He asks the following questions:
What exactly are these gates and 'entrances of the world' that refuse to open? Why is the request repeated? And why does the psalm describe God first as a mighty warrior in battle, and later as the 'God of Hosts'?
The Christian sermon is by Protestant systematic theologian Eberhard Jüngel (1968), currently head of the Tübingen theological faculty (I believe).

I find it interesting to compare the two sermons. It is clear that the assumptions involved in how one actualizes a text for the community of faith have massive interpretative implications. Jüngel seems to be reading the literal sense of the text while trying to extend that meaning metaphorically in terms of the Psalm's own literary presentation, as it stands on the page (ableit within an existentialistic framework). Rav Kook, on the other hand, is reading the Psalm section (vv. 7-10; there's no reference to the rest of the Psalm as a hermeneutical framework) within the context of Talmudic midrash. The two entities - Scripture and Interpretation - are moulded into one and become the object of another interpretation.

It seems to me that what is at stake here are differing understandings of the substance of Scripture, the reality to which it points and within which it participates. Getting to grips with that may help the two faith groups to understand better where the other is coming from.

(I should add there in addition to Jüngel's interpretation, there are a host of very different Patristic interpretations of the Psalm, which I've summarized here. I intend to soon post on interpretations of Psalm 24 in Jewish tradition. Kook's version above seems to take a different tack to what I've read about the Talmudic interpretation ... ).

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Is this an absolute or construct noun?

Here's Psalm 24:6:
זֶה דּוֹר דֹּרְשָׁוק̇ מְבַקְשֵׁי פָּנֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה׃
Two questions:
(1) In the first colon, is דּוֹר a construct or absolute noun? Logos' Westminster morphology goes with the former (construct), Andersen-Forbes with the latter (absolute). I'm not sure how to tell.
Here are my translations of the whole verse, following the qeri reading (i.e. דּוֹר is followed by a plural and not singular participle; this is A-F's move too):

Following qeri:
Construct: "this is the generation of those who seek him, of those who search out your face, Jacob."
Absolute: "this is a generation that seek him, that search out your face, Jacob."
(2) Is the ketiv (i.e. sing. part.) possible? Is it unusual, given the plural participle in the second colon? דּוֹר can be followed by both a singluar or a plural noun (e.g. Deut 2:14). The switch in the verse from singluar to plural in the second colon may be an example of grammatical parallelism ...

Here are my translations:
Construct: "this is the generation of one who seeks him, of those who search out your face, Jacob."
Absolute: "this a generation that seeks him, that search out your face, Jacob" (Note the lack of an "s" on the second verb. This would work in English, e.g. one can say "Microsoft want" or "Microsoft wants."

Monday, 15 June 2009

The final form of Scripture and the issue of readership

... the concept of final form is closely connected with the issue of readership. An important corollary to the designation of a written corpus as Scripture is that these writings function as Scripture for someone. They have been ordered toward a present and future audience who receives its identity in some way from Israel's past story which is lost if a new story is reconstructed apart from the received narrative form. Thus to suggest that the major force involved in shaping Israel's prophetic history derives from readings retrojected as literary constructs runs in the face of the final form of Scripture which is eschatologically oriented toward the goal of instructing every future generation of Israel in the reality of God who continues to act on its behalf.
Childs, “Retrospective Reading of the Old Testament Prophets,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 108:3 (1996), 362-377; here, 377.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Historical criticism and the Reformation

[A]s much as some have sought to describe the historical-critcal method as ingredient in the Reformation, and its indispensable genius, gift and fruit, this conclusion is far from clear. For the disentangling of general Renaissance and Enlightenment cultural developments from appeals to things like sola Scriptura is exceedingly fraught and requires multi-volume treatments in the history of ideas with deep learning and enormous sensitivity to the challenge to hand. As time passes, and one comes to terms with the exegesis of men like Luther and Calvin, it seems clearer that they inhabit a universe quite distinct, if not unbridgeable, from the one that historical-critical methods bequeathed us in their heyday. Indeed, what would 'the Reformers' really make of projects like dating the Yahwist, or the Q phenomenon, or even anodyne accounts of the history of Israel or the Greco-Roman milieu - areas in which we know more than the prophets or apostles themselves, for what that may be worth.
C. Seitz, "The Canonical Approach and Theological Interpretation," in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, 102.

For those who don't know, by the way, this is the greatest defense and clarification of Childs' approach that I know of. Get hold of it and read it again and again until you understand it!

Friday, 12 June 2009

A "canonical" translation of Isaiah 1:2?

How do you translate the qatal verbs in Isaiah 1:2?
שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמַיִם וְהַאֲזִינִי אֶרֶץ כִּי יהוה דִּבֵּר בָּנִים גִּדַּלְתִּי וְרוֹמַמְתִּי וְהֵם פָּשְׁעוּ בִ
I would follow all the standard translations and go for the past tense (has spoken). An offline interlocuter, however, has suggested that we translate them in the present (Yhwh speaks, I raise up, they sin against me). Here's his reasoning:
If you read just the opening verses of Isaiah your preference for a past tense makes sense. But I am working with a reading of the entire scroll of Isaiah that sees the pattern of divine good - rebellion - punishment, and each stage in it, as occurring at many times and not just at this one time. Two points are relevant. One, a translation of a given passage in any biblical book depends on one's understanding of that whole book and the place of that passage in it; it is not solely a matter of the forms and syntax of the passage itself. Two, the Hebrew text - verbs, nouns, etc. - can often support a range of meaning but a translator into English has to choose only one part of that range. Both "YHWH has spoken" and "speaks" and "I reared" and "I rear" are possible depending on one's focus on just these verses or on the larger scroll.
From what I can see, this would be an attempt at "canonical translation," a translation that attempts the communicate the substance of the entire scroll by means of its parts.

I do agree that there is an effort at typologizing in Isaiah's scroll. I recently read Brevard Childs' commentary on Isaiah, which made the same point. He also made another point, however, which would lead me to want to retain the past tense translation, even though I agree with the pattern my dialogue partner discerns. Here's my logic:

The pattern in Isaiah is of a certain kind, i.e. it is typological, which means that that one object (e.g. Assyria) is placed within a larger scheme and associated with another object (e.g. Babylon), so that the two distinct entities become types of a larger, single reality (e.g. human hubris). The literary technique of juxtaposition and intertextual linkaging operates on the principle that entities diverse in space and time (Assyria and Babylon) are really just pictures, types, of a single reality. They are juxtaposed on the basis of their ontological unity, they point beyond themselves to something more general. In this case, my friend's desire to translate Isaiah one in the present simple tense is correct, as this tense points to a general, repeated action. Perhaps we could say that his translation gets to the substance of the message of Isaiah as a whole.

However, what is equally as important as the substance of Isaiah's message is the means by which the book communicates it. It doesn't do this by flattening out the concrete entities, by swallowing them up into a schematized drama. Rather, Assyria and Babylon are retained in the historical, geographical particularity. It is only through the literary technique of juxtaposition that the reader is invited to discover the unity that undergirds them. In other words, the unity of the message must be sought through the particularity of the parts and not despite them. On this view, the historical particularity of Isaiah 1:2 ought to be maintained by means of past tense translation, even if the translator wishes his reader to grasp the singular message of the whole. There is a path the attentive, theologically minded reader has to tread, and it is through finite particularity to the universal. This would seem to be the way the book of Isaiah itself wishes to communicate its message.

I invite all and sundry to critique me!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Israel's contribution to the Euro-Vision song contest

I never got round to posting this on time. I'm not a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest - the music is just cheesy. But a friend sent me the link so I thought I'd share it here. I'm not sure where they finally came - 13th I think. The melody isn't up to much, but choice of language (Hebrew and Arabic, mainly) and the content of the main refrain ("there must be another way") are reasons enough for it to have won a vote from me.

A question just occurs to me: since when was Israel part of Europe?

Here's the website.

For another music video, on the same topic in the same languages, listen to In my heart.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Powerful readings of R. Alter's Psalms translation on BCC Radio 4.

Ros of Conversational Theology has just posted a link to a most beautiful edition of BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please. The evening is entirely dedicated to the Psalms, read out of both the King James Version Bible and the recent translation by renowned Hebrew scholar Robert Alter. The readings are by experts and, for me at least, open up the Psalms in a new way. Henry Goodman's reading of Psalm 22 was just breathtaking. I highly recommend investing about 30 minutes of your time just to enjoy these recordings and discover the Psalms anew. You better hurry though, you only have another six days to listen to them.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A brief response to Niccacci on verbs in Hebrew poetry, with an illustration from Isaiah.

I briefly introduced Niccacci's theory on the translation of Hebrew verbs in Hebrew poetry in my post Translating a qatal/yiqtol sequence in Psalm 24:2 (drawing on Niccacci). I was recently contacted by someone offline who kindly shared the following brief response to Niccacci's article[*], along with his own illustration from Isaiah. With his permission, I share it here in the hopes that others will add their views.

I finally read Niccacci's article. I think his basic motive for the study is solid: we need to take the different verbal forms in Hebrew seriously and not just translate as we want, usually putting them in the same English tense. This was a clear reminder to me to pay such attention and not gloss over issues in translation.

I think he gets himself in some trouble when he says that initial yiqtol is always volitive and then has to invoke ellipses and double-duty modifiers to explain the instances where it clearly isn't volitive. This usage need further investigation. His comments on the use of qatal are solid as far as they go. I think he limits himself by maintaining that qatal is past in the sense that it should always be translated with an English past tense. As he notes (p. 266) qatal is for the narrative-punctual. This can be rendered with an English past tense (preterite or perfect) but also with an English present tense understanding that the focus is on the aspect and not the time of the action.

Isaiah is my field of focus for Hebrew poetry and I offer one example for the latter point. (I haven't and I don't know of anyone who's investigated the possibility of significant differences in Hebrew poetry between Psalms and prophets.)

Isaiah opens with the call for heavens and earth to hear ky YHWH dibber. The closing verb can be translated "has said" or "says;" I think that the Hebrew supports both and the issue is with a translation since we have to choose one in English; against Niccacci I don't think that it always has to be an English past. My squabble with him is more about possible translations than with his comments on the Hebrew itself. I often translate Isa 1:2 with "says," not in the sense that YHWH is now saying this but that this is what YHWH says as a matter or course, as a type of characteristic: YHWH says or speaks past, present and future. What he says in the 2nd half of v 2 uses 3 qatal forms and can be translated with past or present forms: "reared, brought up and rebelled" or "rear, bring up and rebel." The latter again not in the sense that YHWH is now doing this but this is what he does - past, present and future - with the inevitable result that the sons rebel. V 3 also uses 3 qatal forms and most, if not every, translation employs English present: "knows, doesn't know, doesn't understand."
[*] A. Niccacci. "The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System in Poetry" in Biblical Hebrew in Its Northwest Semitic Setting: Typological and Historical Perspectives (Eisenbrauns, 2006).