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.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I don't think this subjunctive works, with the "may" in vs 3. It connotes that anyone else can't go up the mountain. The subjunctive isn't necessary from the pointing, but then that's the case with all verbs with the initial radical being a guttural, as the vowel can't really be shortened any more.

I think rather that we've got here a simple narrative: "Who goes up? One who is...." It's more a description of the regular faithful. The psalm is a description of regular worshippers, in that sense. I think that makes the best sense of it.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Kevin,

thanks for your thoughts. I do have some queries though:

this subjunctive ... connotes that anyone else can't go up the mountain

I don't see how this is the case. For me, a subjunctive mood would indicate a hypothetical question: if someone were to try to ascend, what kind of person would he have to be? The whole point of restrictions is that not just anyone may enter the sanctuary.

The subjunctive isn't necessary from the pointing

I've never heard that subjunctivity was indicated by pointing, I thought it was purely a function of the context. Could you give me a reference? Or are you talking about the jussive? If so, it is not the vowel under the infix that is shortened but the vowel in the body of the verb, at that only in certain roots/moods (e.g. lamed-he verbs and hiphils).

It's more a description of the regular faithful

That's possible, but it's only possible. There has to be a justification for it. Others also see it as descriptive, but not descriptive of the righteous in general but of an acutual pilgrimage process standing before the temple. In that case, it is not narrative but liturgical. Others see the question as hypothetical. Others again see it as eschatological (the patristic interpretation).