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?


David Reimer said...

Only to note that I recall an SBL paper some years ago in which the presenter (distinguished Persian scholar) argued that esoteric messages were more frequent in the texts he worked with than hitherto appreciated.

Not sure what was in it, but it wouldn't suprise me. I've long been convinced by the Shakespeare-in-Ps-46-of-KJV theory. :) As to the relative merits of this theory in Ps 24 ... it does seem a bit of an anticlimax, doesn't it?

mokumalef said...

Wasn't the KJV actually written by the Bard? Therefore there'd be a Hamlet in every other Psalm. In fact, David really is King Lear and MacBeth wrapped into one package.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

It looks more plausible than Bible codes, but that's not actually saying much.

Bob MacDonald said...

It is important to read between the lines (joke), but I would not expect the hidden to be expressed in words.