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Psalms 8

Psalms 8

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My first paper on biblical poetry. I argue that Psalms 8 presents a uniquely Jewish dialectical view of man, as lowly being humbled before God on one hand, and capable of being just a little bit lower than God on the other.
My first paper on biblical poetry. I argue that Psalms 8 presents a uniquely Jewish dialectical view of man, as lowly being humbled before God on one hand, and capable of being just a little bit lower than God on the other.

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Published by: Aqibha Y. Weisinger Etc on Aug 26, 2013
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07/21/2014

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According to one online index of articles on Jewish Studies, there are seventy eight articles onPsalms 8, which is eight more than has been deemed absolutely necessary1,and that does not take intoaccount the numerous books that also deal with the subject. It is clear that there is no shortage of scholarly interest in this psalm, and this interest is not accidental. Psalms 8 provides a unique balanceof thematic clarity (Man, God, nature) and linguistic opacity (verses 2-4), making its investigation easyenough to be doable, but challenging enough to be worth the time and effort to do so. In this paper, wewill advance yet another interpretation of this psalm. First, we will present a possible solution to thedifficulties presented by verses 2-3 and the unclear translation of verse 6. Having accomplished that,we will look to the unique structure of the psalm to provide the key to its interpretation.Psalms 8:
 
-,
.
2A'---,-
;
2b,-
.
3a,
--
3b-
:
3c,
.
4A-,
--
4b,
.
5A--
;
5b-,
.
6a,
;
6b
.
7A,
;
7b,-
.
8A
;
8b,
.
9A,
;
1
cf. Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15
 
9b
 
,
.10
':-,-
.
The main obstacle to understanding this psalm is verses 2-3, which have flummoxed scholars aslong as anyone can remember 2. The first difficulty is the verb
in 2b, whose meaning is unclear and debated, and will depend on how we interpret its context. The main difficulties, however, comefrom verse three, which imply some causal relationship between 3a and 3b, and then 3b and 3c. Atypical translation of the Masoretic Text here will read “from the mouths of babes and sucklings, youhave established strength on account of your enemies, to put at rest both foe and avenger.”3That leavesus with a number of questions. Who are these
 babes and sucklings
and why do their mouths helpGod with
establishing strength
? What kind of strength is being drawn here, and for what purpose is it being used? What does
from the mouths...
come to add, if no action that is usually done orally(talking, singing, etc.) seems to be done here? Is it from the body part itself, somehow? Furthermore,who are these enemies, foes and avengers that God draws strength from the mouths of babes andsucklings to defeat? If this is a metaphor, what is it representing?Many answers have been presented to these questions, few of which have been found to betotally satisfactory. The problem is that the text itself is contradictory. According to the reading presented by the Masoretic text, any explanation must satisfactorily account for the fact the source of God's strength is the
 babes and the sucklings
, a group which seems to represent the very opposite of strength. Both of the terms used here are used throughout the Bible to denote an especially helpless andweak victim that evokes more than a fair share of pity.4 Any answer, then, will be paradoxical by itsvery nature. Some scholars have no problem with that. Craigies's translation, for example, proposes
2
It seems to have become scholarly tradition, when attempting to explicate Psalm 8, to complain about how difficultverses 2-3 are.
3
Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate.
 Psalms 1-50
 Nashville, Tennessee: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004 )
 ,
105
4
John Goldingay,
 Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1-41
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 156see for example Lamentations 2:11
 
that it is the purity of the sounds made by the
that
represents the main source of God'sstrength5. The problem with such approaches is that they require the reader to insert what should bethe most important part of the verse6. The verse says nothing about the purity of such sounds, nor implies any such thing7, and Craigie brings no source for his assertion that
necessarily
 conjures up images of purity. Yet to Craigie, that is the main point of the verse. Any answer thatattempts to explain this imagery of must extract meaning from the image itself and itscontext, not assumptions applied to the imagery. Yet, saying that God draws strength from a groupwhich implies weakness necessitates imputes extra to the text.On those grounds, other scholars, emend the breakup of the text so that verse two ends after"-", and verse three begins with " and ends with ". Now, the verses read like this:
2
'---,-
;
3a,-
.
3B,
-
4a-:
;
4b,Reading with this emendation presents both structural advantages and literary advantages over reading it in its present form. Structurally, this emendation does two things. Firstly, it frees up verse 2to be alone and exactly parallel to its repetition at the end of the psalm. It also makes the psalm uniformin structure, with two poetic lines in each verse, as opposed to the Masoretic Text, which gives versethree a third poetic line8. This emendation also poses a translation advantage by linking " to the verb ". As opposed to before, when the “mouths of the babes and sucklings” were notlinked to any action that was oral in nature, they are now the subject of the verb“", which can
5
Craigie, 107
6
, in Rabbinic terms
7
The group the are parallel to, the , cannot be said to have any implications of insincerity
8
 
Judah Kraut, “The Birds and the Babes: The Structure and Meaning of Psalm 8”
 Jewish Quarterly Review
100 (Winter 2010) 13

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