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.


John Hobbins said...

The two options are:

O LORD, bestow victory on the king!
May he [the LORD] answer us when we call!

(with MT, except for the accents)

O LORD, bestow victory!
May the King [=the LORD] answer us when we call!

(with MT all the way)

Over against an imperative ("answer us" cf. LXX, Tg), the jussive in MT is the lectio dificilior, to be preferred.

I prefer the first option. On that understanding, the conclusion of the psalm picks up on "your victory" (v 6), i.e., that of the king.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi John

another argument in favour of your position is the fact that 10a (Lord, save the king!) parallels 7b (that the Lord has saved/saves his anointed one), thus framing (kind of) stanza II (cf. B. Weber).

When trying to read the Psalm through the lens of the ta'amim, my initial response was that the King was the human king implied in the rest of the Psalm and not God. In Stanza I (vv.2-6), the implied speaker is Israel who wishes her king well because of the benefits for her of his success. Israel wishes "David" well, because what's good for him is good for them. Hence the switch that takes place in the inclusio: 2a="may he answer you"; 10b="may he answer us."

Perhaps another advantage of the traditional reading is that it conserves the certitude of Stanza II, contra stanza I (ya´anênû is no longer jussive).

I still feel that your cantillic-emendation fits better, but do you think my interpretation would work?

Phil Sumpter said...

The more I think about it the more it seems that the King of 10b (if we read according to the cantillation marks) would be divine and not human. Seeing him as human would require an odd switch in the subject of the verb in the inclusio (2a/10a). On my first reading I was influenced by the fact that the whole Psalm is about the human king, so that when the term finally popped up, it seemed natural to attribute it to this human king. The awkardness of this switch then led me to think that there was a merging of the two: the human king does what the divine is supposed to do, and thus takes on divine characteristics. But in hindsight it seems that the real intenion is that the Lord is being set up as the real King, the Davidic king just being his tool. The sudden use of the term has the implication: "Yhwh, the real king, is the one who pulls the strings." The word king doesn't even occur in the rest of the Psalm (only Anointed).

Phil Sumpter said...


As I read on in Weber's commentary, precisely this blending of king and God occurs. Here's his commentary on Ps 21:

"Bei den kriegerischen Verwünschungen von 9-13 wird aufgrund der eingeschobenen JHWH-Bitte in Er-Form (10b) und der Schlussbitte an JHWH in Du-Form (14a) die angeredete Person des Königs zunehmend überblendet durch die Person JHWHs selber (Oszillierung zwischen Königs-Wünschen und JHWH-Bitten)."

Phil Sumpter said...

Another reason why "the King" can be seen as the object of the verb is that the "answer" to the plea in this verse is given at the beginning of the next psalm (cf. Barbiero):

יְהוָה בְּעָזְּךָ יִשְׂמַח־מֶלֶךְ

וּבִישׁוּעָתְךָ* מַה־יָּגֶיל מְאֹֽד׃

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry, I could keep on posting to myself.

Barbiero's book also makes plenty of the idea that king and God get blurred in these Psalms.