Friday, 28 August 2009

Review of G. Michael O’Neal. Interpreting Habakkuk as Scripture: An Application of the Canonical Approach of Brevard S. Childs

This is a review of a book that I just have to read, posted by Heath Thomas to a private blog of which I am a member (with his kind permission, of course!). I will have to read it, not only because it is about Brevard Childs - the subject matter of 50% of my doctorate - but also because it attempts to do exactly what I am attempting to do. Reading Heath's review calms me somewhat, as it seems that he has noted weakness that I think are axiomatic. For example, unless one grasps that Childs' approach is not a method one will not have understood Childs. I also think that one cannot grasp Childs without 1) having read his entire corpus (or at least most of it, the most important book being his massively underread Biblical Theology) and 2) without reading Karl Barth. So, without further ado ...

In this post I would like to review a recent monograph dedicated to Childs' canonical approach and Habakkuk.

Brevard Childs stands as a major figure in Old Testament scholarship in the past fifty years, and his influence is felt in a series of recent publications that honour him. Though perhaps not fully understood by those who disagree with or embrace his work, Childs nonetheless evokes strong response, leading some to renounce his general approach (Barr and Barton) and others to adopt it, though with qualifications (Seitz). However one views Childs’ contribution to the academy (or to the church), it is one that should not be ignored. In recognition of his importance as an interpreter of Scripture, the balanced monograph of Interpreting Habakkuk as Scripture is a welcome contribution to the field.

In this revised doctoral dissertation (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) O’Neal aims to expound upon the initial ‘sketches’ of Brevard Childs’ canonical approach and apply them particularly to a biblical book (Habakkuk). As such, Habakkuk becomes a case-study in canonical interpretation. O’Neal explains Childs’ theological approach to the Old Testament as Scripture, compares Childs’ approach to Habakkuk in Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (IOS) against the approach of his larger Exodus commentary, and then assesses Habakkuk in light of a close text-critical translation. He then tests Childs’ views on the failure of historical-critical scholarship to read Habakkuk sufficiently (theologically) by surveying this field of scholarship, and then presses further toward a canonical/theological interpretation of Habakkuk both within its own horizons and then within the horizon within the book of the twelve (Minor Prophets). O’Neal rounds out the volume by exploring the theological and hermeneutical implications of Childs’ approach, where his canonical orientation is felicitous and infelicitous, and possible avenues for future research.

For those interested in Childs or canonical theology, they will find in O’Neal a sure footed guide that clearly elucidates central tenets of the canonical approach especially laid out in IOS. It is fruitful to see some of the outlines sketched in IOS brought into more robust colour and shape. His analysis of the text of Habakkuk is careful and well documented and will serve as a useful tool in future research whilst his style is amenable and lively. Especially useful are his lucid text critical comments and interaction with the MT. Likewise, O’Neal advances theological thinking in regard to the horizons of both Habakkuk the book and its place and function within the Book of the Twelve, arguing that Habakkuk serves in its canonical context to reorient the reader to adopt God's perspective on human history - suffering may be endured because God is at work redemptively in history.

Nonetheless, some deficiencies detract from the volume. O’Neal does not engage with recent work in the field of canon and biblical interpretation. To be fair, the focus of the volume – to explore Habakkuk as a kind of case-study on Childs’ canonical approach – necessarily draws attention to the discussion on Habakkuk in IOS. Still, greater attention to Childs’ thinking across the spectrum of his publications up to the present would serve to provide depth and nuance to the understanding of his ‘canonical approach’ and how it impinges upon interpreting Habakkuk as Scripture. This may stem from a latent misappropriation of Childs’ programme as a method rather than a general orientation to the Scripture, which comprises another drawback. O’Neal uses ‘method’ interchangeably with ‘approach’ throughout the monograph. Finally, greater attention on the range of Childs’ contributions may have served to sharpen his general understanding of Childs’ own thinking. An area that would have been particularly strengthened, perhaps, lay in his discussion on the canonical shape of Habakkuk the book as well as the book within the Twelve. How do Childs’ conceptions of (the controversial) ‘canonical intentionality’ or elsewhere ‘canon consciousness’ relate to these? Barton has engaged Childs on this very point and offered other alternatives. A focus upon current research in the field would have added to his analysis, particularly those who disagree with Childs, beyond the criticisms of Barr, such as Brueggemann and Barton.

These caveats noted, O’Neal skilfully addresses the difficult book of Habakkuk in light of Childs’ canonical approach. His analysis no doubt will be consulted in future Habakkuk research.


1) The Spring 2008 volume of Princeton Theological Review centred upon ‘theological exegesis’ and its essays ‘give tribute in this issue to one of the 20th century’s most respected and groundbreaking theological exegetes, Brevard Childs. He is for many a model of faithful Christian scholarship and exegesis, and his recent passing in June 2007 provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and commend his important work’. Peter Kline, ‘Prolegomena,’ PTR 38(2008): 5. Note as well the influential volume that arose out of a consultation discussion the implications of Childs’ approach: C. Bartholomew, S. Hahn, R. Parry, C. Seitz, and A. Wolters (eds.) Canon and Biblical Interpretation (SHS 7; Milton Keynes: Paternoster / Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). Childs contributed an essay to the volume.

2) D.T. Olsen, ‘Seeking the “Inexpressible Texture of Thy Word”: A Practical Guide to Brevard Childs’ Canonical Approach to Theological Exegesis,’ PTR 38(2008): 53-5. And note Childs’ reticence to identify his orientation to the Scriptures as a ‘method’ in Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 382.

3) Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1979), 79, 187.

4) Childs, Introduction, 62, 65; Biblical Theology, 70.

5) J. Barton, ‘Unity and Diversity in the Biblical Canon,’ in Die Einheit der Schrift und die Vielfalt des Kanons (BZNW 118; ed. J. Barton and M. Wolter; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003), 11-26

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Syntax of Ps 20:10 according to the ta'amim

The ta'amim for Ps 20:10 seem to reflect an interesting interpretation of the verse:
יְהוָ֥ה הוֹשִׁ֑יעָה הַ֝מֶּ֗לֶךְ יַעֲנֵ֥נוּ בְיוֹם־קָרְאֵֽנוּ׃
Save, O Lord! The King will answer us when we call him.
This is contra what would seem to be the more obvious meaning, followed by many modern translations:
Save O Lord, the King; may he answer us when we call him.
BHS even suggests moving the atnach to הַ֝מֶּ֗לֶךְ.

Interestingly, the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis goes with the ta'amim (and KJV). I'm not sure why. As far as I can see, the people never call upon a king for help in the Bible (do they?).

So my question: Do people see a Messianic interpretation at work here? Or does the cantillation's syntax fit the flow of the Psalm as it stands? Or, even more interesting, is the LORD himself being called king? This would lead to a blurring of boundaries between the David and divine king.

I should add that the Targum sees God as being addressed as king (go here for online translation). Targum, LXX and many modern translations smooth out the switch in the second colon by translating "answer" as an imperative: "answer us when we call [you]!"

P.S. For an amazing audio resource for the ta'amim, go to www.ta'

Update: I've just read that Delitzsch follows the ta'amim (on euphonic grounds) and reads הַ֝מֶּ֗לֶךְ as a vocative referring to God: "O King, answer us when we call." This, however, requires that we amend the yiqtol יַעֲנֵ֥נוּ to an imperative, something Delitzsch oddly doesn't comment on.

Update 2: I've changed my mind in the comments and explained why.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The "hidden message" of Ps 24?

In his doctroal thesis on Ps 24 (Psalm 24 als Text zwischen den Texten, Peter Lang, 2004; written under N. Lohfink), Jerzy Seremak has a rather esoteric theory about the hidden message (verborgene Botschaft) of Ps 24. It goes like this:
  1. The majority of poetic lines in the Psalm involve ellipsis, in which a key word from one colon is elided in the second. For example, in verse 2 we have: "for he has founded it upon the seas // and established it upon the rivers." For he is elided in the second colon.
  2. This "pattern of ellipsis" can be found in vv. 1, 2, 4b, 5, and 6.
  3. The words which are elided are the following, in order:
  • 24:1 לַיהוה
  • 24:2: כִּי־הוּא
  • 24:4b: אשׁר (note the deletion of vowels)
  • 24:5: יִשָּׂא
  • זֶה דּוֹר 24:6
His next step is to read these isolated words backwards, so that a new sentence is formed:

זה דור ישׂא אשׁר כי הוא ליהוה

Seremak then translates this phrase as follows:

This generation will receive happiness, because it belongs to Yhwh.

This is the hidden message of Ps 24.

I have a number of problems with this:
  1. I've never come across the concept of hidden messages in the Psalms.
  2. I've never heard that one can isolate elided nouns and make new sentences out of them.
  3. Why does Seremak think it OK to change the vocalisation of one word, changing the relative pronoun to the noun אֶשֶׁר (happiness)?
  4. It ignores vv. 7-10, which surely must contribute to the secret message of the whole.
  5. It assumes that the word "generation" in the psalm is in the absolute state, thus separable from "his seekers."
  6. אֶ֫שֶׁר is always in the plural in the context of an exclamation (e.g. Ps 1:1) and does not collocate with "receive" (though it can appear with the relative pronoun, cf. Ps 65:5).
  7. The so-called hidden message seems to be rather lame given 1) the richness of the Psalm and 2) the effort one has to make in order to extract it.
Can anyone else see any reasons to accept or reject this proposal?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Ransoming Israel with Egypt?

In our Church Bible Study group we are working through one of the Lifebuilder Bible Studies, namely Hazel Offner's Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Tonight we're doing "peace" and the text we've been allocated in Isa 43:1-7.

One of the ethically challenging elements of this passage is the idea that God gives certain nations (in this case, both concrete names are given, Egypt, Cush, and Seba are named, as well as general categories, "mankind" [אָדָם] peoples) in exchange for one: Israel.

How can that be fair? Watts and Westermann don't really deal with the issue. Childs seems to avoid the ethical implications by focusing on the theological thought being expressed: "The theological thought expressed turns on the high cost required for Israel's deliverance and the value of Israel in God's sight." In my opinion, the most interesting response is that of Blenkinsopp:
The idea of redemption and of Yahveh as Israel's redeemer (go'el) derives from the obligation in ancient customary law to buy back the freedom of a kinsman in indentured service, usually as a result of unpaid debts. The practice provided a ready analogy for the belief that Yahveh had, so to speak, bailed Israel out of Egypt, though the party to whom the payment was made remains unclear. (The problem persisted in the Christian appropriation of this language in the doctrine of redemption by satisfaction: paying a price, but to whom?).
Jesus = "the heathen nations"?

Blenkinsopp goes on to say:
Here we find the curious idea that Israel will be redeemed once again not by monetary payment (cf. 52:3) but by handing over, presumably to Cyrus, Egypt, Ethiopia (Sudan), and Seba (probably in the Horn of Africa) ... .
This piqued my curiosity, but I didn't follow it further until I started working through the questions our Bible study guide set us. And lo and behold, here is question 6:
How do verses 3-4 foreshadow what God eventually does for his people?
This is brought to a sharper point in question 7:
Look at verses 5-7. What would it be like to have God act on your behalf in this way?
Finally, question 8:
If you knew nothing about God except what you learned from this passage, what would you find him to be like?
Wow. How would you answer these questions? I have no idea what the folks are going to say tonight.

(For a related post, see my post on נשׂא עון - bearing sin).

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Creatio and conservatio in Ps 24:2? Hossfeld's grammatical and Biblical arguments.

The future/imperfect/yiqtol verb (take your pick) יְכוֹנְנֶהָ in Ps 24: 2 can be variously translated as "established," "establishing," "establishes," or even "will establish." In other words, just about ever time-point in the English tense spectrum. Whereas some translations don't seem to make too much difference to the meaning ("established," "establishing" and "establishes," understood as the "historical present," would all refer to the past), others have cosmological implications. I have already discussed the first two options here and then here (with some great contributions in the comments from Hobbins and Bekins). I discovered yesterday, however, a new proposition by a contemporary scholar (Hossfeld, who has just retired this semester from Bonn, much to my distress) has opted to follow Bäthgen's suggestion that
Das Perf. יסדה geht auf die Schöpfung, das Imperf. יכוננה auf die Erhaltung. (The perfect יסדה refers creation, the imperfect יכוננה refers to its preservation)
In other words, he translates יְכוֹנְנֶהָ with a present simple ("establishes"), though understood as an actual ongoing activity (="continuing to establish").

Hossfeld interprets the cosmological significance of this verb form as follows:
"Wie ein Architekt hat er die Erde gegründet (creatio) und festigt sie ständig gegen das Chaos der Wasserfluten (conservatio)." (Like an architect he founded the earth (creatio) and stabilizes it continually in the face of the chaos of the floods (conservatio).
And here is the grammatical argument that clinches it for him:
Der tempuswechsel beim MT (abgeschlossenes, vergangenes und duratives Geschehen) ist beabsichtigt und wird durch die nahestehende Parallele Spr 3, 19 (Perfekt-Partizip) bestätigt. Er ziehlt auf die beiden Aspekte der Schöpfung, creatio und conservatio. (The switch in tense in MT [a completed, past and a contiuing event] is intentional and is confirmed by the related parallel in Prov 3:19 [perfect-participle]. It aims at both dimensions of creation: creatio and conservatio).
So you can check for yourself, here's the Prov 3:19 text:
יהוה בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד־אָרֶץ כּוֹנֵן שָׁמַיִם בִּתְבוּנָה׃

So, what do people think? Does the participle here confirm Hossfeld's interpretation? (I should add that Roland Murphy (in WBC) translates the participle as a gerund, and not as a continous present: "The Lord founded the world with wisdom, establishing the heavens with intelligence").

So much for the grammatical argument. Hossfeld goes onto to provide Biblical-theological evidence in the form of citations from other Psalms:
YHWH hat Meere und Ströme anfänglich besiegt und übt seitdem eine dauernde Kontrolle über sie aus. Er garantiert die kosmische Stabilität (vgl. Ps 29, 3.10 93, 1-3 136, 6) auf unbegrenzte Dauer wie in Ps 104, 5 (vgl. Ps 48, 9) [Yhwh originally conquered sea and currents and has since then exercised continual control over them. He guarantees cosmic stability (Ps 29:3, 10; Ps 93:1-3; and Ps 136:6) in perpetuity, as in Ps 104:5 (cf. Ps 48:9)]
My question: are these verses enough to witness to creatio continua (or however you say it in Latin)?

Concerning Ps 93: 1-3, Craigie (who translates the yiqtols as past tense) has the following to say:
the cosmogonic victory of Yahweh should not be treated as a purely past event. The context of acclamation indicates a continuing threat: Why the acclamation of Yahweh as the Victor King if the “floods” have long ceased to be a problem? The pounding, surging, and roaring of the “floods” are never far away. The seas of chaos are tamed, but their mighty roar hangs in the air like an echo ...In a sense the “floods” belong to the distant past, but their primordial roaring is also contemporary.
Update: Chris Tilling has been doing some thinking in a related area. In this post he struggles with the "Biblicality" of the concept of creatio ex nihilo, and in this post he shares some thoughts on creation, chaos, and nothingness by Bauckham.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

נשׂא עון - bearing sin

Some Christians understand Jesus' crucifixion to be an act whereby Jesus bore our sins upon himself. In other words, we did something wrong, and he chose to, somehow, take the consequences upon himself.

This is viewed as unethical by others. They say, "How can someone bear the consequences for something that I have done?"

But doesn't the very logic of forgiving someone mean that you automatically bear their sin upon yourself, in the sense that you live with the consequences and don't pay them back for it? If I can't choose to bear, in some sense, the consequences of someone else's actions, then how can I forgive them?

In short, what Jesus was doing on the cross is an intensified version of what we do for each other when we forgive each other anyway.

This seems to accord with the semantics of one way of expressing forgiveness in Biblical Hebrew. One way to say that you forgive someone in Hebrew is to say that you "bear their sins" (נשׂא עון). The main character in the Bible to do this is God Himself. In fact, it belongs to his essential character to do such things, as he states about Himself in Num 14:18:

יהוה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפָשַׁע

If you aren't forgiven, then you "bear your own iniquity" (וְנָשָׂא עֲוֹנֹו; Lev 5:17). This has consequences. For example, the Israelites sinned by not trusting in God's ability to give them the Promised Land. As a result, they had to "bear their iniquity" by wandering for forty years in the wilderness (Num 13:34: תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־עֲוֹנֹתֵיכֶם אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה). In fact, in order for the Israelites not to suffer the consequences of all their sins, the priests had the job of bearing their sins for them (Lev 10:17: לָשֵׂאת אֶת־עֲוֹן הָעֵדָה).

In other words, "forgiving someone" and "bearing the consequences of iniquity" are practically synonymous in Hebrew. At least some times.

So, why can't Jesus bear my sins for me?

Monday, 10 August 2009

A new breed of Anglican vicar?

The author of The Biblioblog Top 150 links to this. Here is his/her transcription of by far the best line in the skit:
Aren’t you all entitled to your half-arsed musings on the Divine? You’ve thought about eternity for 25 minutes, and think you’ve come to some interesting conclusions? Well let me tell you. I stand with 2000 years of darkness and bafflement and hunger behind me. My kind have harvested the souls of a million peasants. And I couldn’t give a ha’penny jizz for your internet-assembled philosophy.
- Jim West (the Britcom character, not the eminent blogger himself)

Isn't that just diamond?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Semantic fields and SDBH

Biblical exegetes are interested in the meaning of words, and one tool that has been developed in order to help them access that meaning is the concept of "semantic fields." Fronzaroli ("Componential Analysis," 79) defines a semantic field as "a group of words that stand in paradigmatic opposition to one another and share at least one semantic component." The value of identifying which words belong to each other in a such a field is that it can help the exegete understand why a Biblical author chose one word and not another possible word from the same lexical stock (as J. Barr slightly overstates,"it is the choice, rather than the word itself, which signifies" ("The Image of God in the Book of Genesis, 12). By comparing and contrasting a term with the other terms an author may have drawn on, the exegete may begin to understand just what it is about this term that makes it so fitting for its purpose (e.g., according to Barr, צֶלֶם in Gen 1:26 is more neutral than other possible words for "image").

The problem is that delineating which terms belong in a semantic field is a highly intuitive and therefore a subjective business. It is further limited by the fact that 1) we have no living informants to ask and 2) our primary corpus of information, the Bible, only presents us with a partial selection of vocabulary and literature from the period of each text's composition.

Nevertheless, there is much to be gained by studying semantic fields, and so projects such as the exciting Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament Based on Semantic Domains are to be welcomed. This particular dictionary is still under construction, but amazingly you can access their work to date on line here. Not only can you search a large number of terms according to their lexical and contextual domains, you get a great overview of all the lexical semantic domains they have developed so far. From this table you can see that they have drawn on cognitive theory, which, according to Brenner [Colour Terms], views the semantic field as a hierarchy of primary, secondary and tertiary terms.

I mentioned that there problems of subjectivity in delineating semantic domains, i.e. they are always open to the charge of "ethnocentrism" (as the definition of lexical domain recognises: Categories are not universal but depend on the system of experiences, beliefs, and practices of a particular social or ethnic group). I'm not an expert in such matters, but I've had a look at their proposed divisions, and thought I'd share the following thoughts:
  • Deities and creatures occupy the same level of the hierarchy in the system, both subordinate to Objects. But are all deities apart from Yhwh creatures according to the Biblical world view, and shouldn't, therefore, deities be a subcategory of creatures, alongside animals and people? No doubt one will answer that Israelite religion went through a development, in which foreign deities were assigned a different ontological status at various periods of time, and that this development is discernible in the layers of the Bible itself. This point is historically contentious, but it nevertheless confronts us with the difficulty inherent in attempting to map unified lexical domains across such a diachronically, socio-religiously diverse corpus as the Hebrew of the Bible. Can one map lexical domains for the final form of the Bible, domains which categorize the meaning terms came to/were made to acquire by virtue of their canonical shaping?
  • The subcategory of animals is divided into wild animals, domestic animals, small animals, aquatic animals, birds, swarming creatures. How much does this reflect Israelite thinking, or at least the thinking of a strand of thinking within Israelite history and culture? Interestingly, animals are not divided according to whether they are "clean" or "unclean." Admittedly, these categories do appear in the system, but they come later under the category of attributes, which ultimately stands under the primary term events (= states, processes, actions, and causative actions). But this is to make an interpretation (which may well be right, I have no idea). It seems to say that "uncleanness" is a quality which is attributed to animals, rather than being a feature which fundamentally defines them (like "creeping things" is apparently fundamental). That might make sense, as according to Gen 1, God doesn't create the animals clean or unclean (they first get mentioned in Gen 7:2).
  • Hebrew terms are often given at the lower end of the hierarchy, but not at the upper. The most abstract term I could find is דֶשֶׁא , "plants and vegetation." I'd love to know how the other upper-level categories would be translated. For example, what could one put for the category creature?נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה or בָּשָׂר (Lev 7:21)?
There is another project underway, the ESF Network, "The Semantics of Classical Hebrew," which has produced the online Semantics of Ancient Hebrew Database. This is still very much a work-in-progress, but they do have a few very detailed analyses of a number of lexemes.

I should add that all my information on lexical semantics has been taken from Sue Groom's Linguistic Analysis of Biblcial Hebrew (available on Logos).

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The function of the root נשא in Ps 24?

According to proponents of literary interpretations of the Psalms, one should be sensitive to the repetition of keywords, keeping an eye out for the way in which their repetition may contribute to the overall meaning of the Psalm.

One such proponent is Beat Weber. I should point out before I continue that his commentary (it's more of a practical work book), Werkbuch Psalmen I, is one of my favourite Psalms commentaries of all time. It is possibly the only commentary I have which sends me away feeling like I have stuck my nose in every nook and cranny the Psalm has to offer. I really get to know the psalm in an intimate way. This is the advantage of literary approaches: they literally trawl a text for every linguistic artifact that can be dug up, interpreted, and fed into our understanding of the poem (Fokkelmann is another example, see his defence of the approach here). This is also a weakness of the approach, however. At least in the sense that we can't always take everything that is suggested too seriously. Sometimes significance is seen where in fact we only have chance. The text can be overinterpreted.

One possible example is the significance of the root נשא, which occurs in relatively high concentration in Psalm 24 (vv. 4b, 5a, 7a, b, 9a, b). Does this root constitute a keyword, a consciously placed literary device designed to broker new meaning in places we wouldn't have first expected it?

Beat Weber thinks so. In fact, he ranks it alongside he question-answer schema found in the Psalm (vv. 3, 8, 10) as primary evidence for the fact that the psalmist has “carefully conjoined” what many scholars think are two separate blocks within the Psalm: Ps 24:3-6 and 7-10 ("sections 2 and 3" in my scheme).

What follows is my critique of his theory. I should reiterate that I love Weber's commentary! Please don't think this represents an rejection of his book or his method at all. And please do point out where I am missing the point. I love being corrected.

Here goes. In short, he sees the נשא of v. 4 as signifying the ethical behaviour of the pilgrim and the נשא of v. 5 as signifying the the blessing that accrues upon such behaviour. Weber understands these two verbs as together signifying the entrance of the pilgrim into the temple. The נשא of the second stanza refer to the entrance of God himself into the sanctuary. The effect of the repetition of the root is to conjoin these two different entrances, in some manner. What this means for Weber, however, is determined by his broader interpretation of the relation between the parts of the Psalm, and not the semantics of נשא per se. In other words, the repetition of the root simply further "hooks" together what he thinks is paralleled anyway. In short, he believes that both entrances, divine and human, mirror each other in that the entrance of God and the entrance of the pilgrim fulfil the holy requirements of the sanctuary. The function of נשא, then, is to “interlock” (verzahnen) these two entrances further. To quote:
The 'ascension' and 'standing' of the pilgrim (before YHWH) (v. 3) must be in inner accordance with the (antecedent) 'coming/entrance' of YHWH (v. 7c; 9c). [*]
In my opinion, this interpretation of the significance of נשא seems forced and Weber's interpretation of the broader relation between the stanzas themselves appears untenable.

First, the significance of נשא:

1. It is hard to imagine that נשא in v. 4b can adequately represent the ethical requirements of the pilgrim. It is only one for four stated requirements, inconspicuously hidden in the middle of a tricolon.

2. Seen from a different angle, the יִשָּׂא of v. 5a could (on the traditional reading of the syntax of these verses, cf. Waltke-O'Connor, §31.6.2) certainly refer to the future consequence of the actions and states represented in v. 4. It relates however, to the whole verse, and not just to 4b.

3. Can שְׂאוּ/וְֽהִנָּשְׂאוּ represent Yhwh's entrance to the sanctuary? It could do, perhaps, but even if it did, it does not parallel the use of נשא in vv. 4-5, as there they predicate the one entering the sanctuary, whereas here they predicate the sanctuary itself. This is particularly troublesome if the supposed function of the repetition of this root is to highlight the parallel conditions that both entrants must fulfil.

4. The verb seems to have such different meanings in each occurrence. In the first occurrence (v. 4) it is part of an idiom about either using God's name in vain (cf. Exod 20:7) or worshipping false idols; in the second (v. 5a) it refers to the reception of blessing, in the final usages (vv. 7 and 9) it refers to the lifting of the heads of gates.

In short, it would seem that any direct connections between the uses of this root in Ps 24 are non-existent. Even at the auditory level there is no connection: the different moods (subjunctive/indicative, imperative), stems (qal, Nifal), conjugations (3rd person singular; 2nd person plural), and voice (active, passive) all sound very different.

Secondly: the broader relations between the stanzas (i.e. the perceived parallel in qualities required of both pilgrim and the Lord, the former following on the heels of the latter). Apart from the (IMHO) untenable view that God enters the temple before the pilgrim, there seems to be little that connects the requirements for their entrance. On the contrary, the two are strongly contrasted with each other. Whereas the pilgrim must fulfil ritual and ethical requirements as found in the Torah, God mustn't do anything, he's the King. When pushed, he lists his military attributes, which are hardly ethical requirements found in Torah. In addition to this, these attributes are not required by anyone, they're just stated as self-evident signs of authority and power. In the end, it would seem that it is not the attributes that gets him in but his special title: the Lord of Hosts (v. 10b). Again, even the nature of the dialogue is very different: the former consists of serene (or is it yearning?) question and answer, the latter consists of self-confident demand and resistant response.

So, we are still left with the question: can we attribute significance to the repetition of נשא, one that accords with a basic semantic sense purposely placed in each instance?

[*] Mit dem (vorgängigen) “Kommen/Einziehen JHWHs (7c.9c.) muss das “Hinaufziehen” und “(vor ihm) Stehen” der Pilger (3) in innerer Übereinstimmung stehen.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

יִשָּׂא in Ps 24:5 as indicative of consequence: Waltke and O'Connor's take

I've been posting on whether יִשָּׂא in Ps 24:5 is an indicative or a jussive. I've just discovered that Waltke and O'Connor discuss this very verb. I here copy and paste the relevant section from my Logos copy (purchased yesterday!):

31.6.2 Future Time

a The prefix conjugation is used to represent a real situation which arises as a consequence of some other situation. Whereas the suffix conjugation may dramatically represent a future situation as an accidental event, the prefix conjugation represents it as a logical consequence of some expressed or unexpressed situation. Though Michel overextends the concept of dependency to all uses of the prefix conjugation, he has plausibly suggested that substantiality in contrast to accidence is one of the differences between the conjugations.

The imperfectum…must designate an action which is not important in itself, but which stands in relationship to something else, and in this relationship has its meaning. In brief: it is dependent.

This use overlaps with some of the modal nuances, which also involve dependency, especially those of capability, of obligation, and of deliberation.

1. כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ מוֹת תָּמוּת׃
…because when you eat of it you shall surely die.
Gen 2:17

2.עֹשֵׂה־אֵלֶּה לֹא יִמּוֹט לְעוֹלָם׃
He who does these things will (or, can) never be shaken.
Ps 15:5

3. וְלֹא נִשְׁבַּע לְמִרְמָה׃ יִשָּׂא בְרָכָה מֵאֵת יהוה
Who does not swear by what is false,34 he will (must) receive blessing from Yhwh.
Ps 24:4–5

4.גַּם כָּל־קֹוֶיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ יֵבֹשׁוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם׃
All who hope in you will (can) not be put to shame; they will (must) be put to shame who are vainly treacherous.
Ps 25:3

5. יהוה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
Yhwh is my light and my salvation; whom shall (should) I fear?
Ps 27:1

Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Includes indexes.;Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 511.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Spurgeon on the Psalms

"None but the Holy Spirit can give man the key to the Treasury of David; and even he gives it rather to experience than to study. Happy he who for himself knows the secret of the Psalms. In these busy days, it would be greatly to the spiritual profit of Christians if they were more familiar with the Book of Psalms, in which they would find a complete armory for life's battles, and a perfect supply for life's needs."

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Is יִשָּׂא in Ps 24:5 jussive?

I have wrestled a number of times with the syntax of the verb יִשָּׂ֣א in Psalm 24:5. Here's the full context:

מִי־יַעֲלֶה בְהַר־יהוה וּמִי־יָקוּם בִּמְקוֹם קָדְשֹׁו׃
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׃
All translations that I am aware of, ancient and modern, take יִשָּׂ֣א to be a straightforward future, starting a new clause, i.e. "He will receive a blessing" (cf. Ps 15:5). Andersen and Forbes, however, have come up with a different solution. For them, יִשָּׂ֣א is the predicate of the entire of v. 4: i.e. "One clean of hands ... will receive ... ." For a discussion of the pros and cons of this view, see my post What is the syntax of Psalm 24:3-5?

While at SBL in Rome recently, John Hobbins made another suggestion that I find pretty exciting (given its possible interpretative implications). He feels that יִשָּׂ֣א is most likely to be a jussive. This accords with Niccacci's synchronic-discourse approach to the verb in poetry, which holds that clause initial yiqtol verbs, unless doing "double-duty," are always jussive. I guess if Niccacci's approach holds any water, the jussive interpretation is to be preferred, as long as one can prove that יִשָּׂ֣א really is clause initial (see my caveats in aforementioned post). Or are there other grounds for thinking that it is a jussive, beyond its placement in the verse?

Classifying this verb as a jussive, however, still leaves open a bunch of questions for me:
  1. What is the "force" of this jussive? Is it expressing a command, request, invitation, or a wish (cf. van der Merwe, §19.4)? The answer is difficult for two reasons: (i) it depends on context, and in Ps 24 the context is a string of discrete entities in juxtaposition, and (ii) according to Walkte-O'Connor, the "sense of a jussive in simple discourse usually follows from the status relations of the speaker and addressee" (§34.3). Yet the identity of the speakers is not given. If we strictly follow BHS an accept the first person suffix in v. 4 (נַפְשִׁי ), we could argue that Yhwh is speaking. In that case, it could express his wish, but it could also be a kind of command: "Let such a person receive a blessing" or even an invitation (cf. Waltke-O'Connor, §34.3). On the other hand, one could also argue that the speakers have switched, so that the person who posed the question in v. 3 is now responding to Yhwh. In that case, the only possibility would be that a wish is being expressed ("O that such a person would receive a blessing").
  2. To repeat: Who is expressing this desire/command? The same person who is giving the answer in v. 3 or the person who posed the question in v. 2?
  3. What is the function of this wish/command/invitation within the whole? It seems strange that there is a sudden jump to a volitional expression within this context. On the other hand, it contrasts nicely with the immediacy of the imperatives in vv. 7 and 9. Is a wish somehow being realized there?
  4. Does the presence of the jussive add to the overall "subjunctivity" of the passage, as I indicated in my post Is Psalm 24:3-6 subjunctive??
In short, my main problem with reading יִשָּׂ֣א as a jussive is semantic: I just don't know what it wants to communicate to us.