A Tasty Snippet from Jeremiah 10

Well, just wrote a whole post on this and lost the lot just before saving. Hmph.

To be brief, then, there’s a ripper little near-palindrome and the only piece of Aramaic in the Old Testament outside of Ezra and Daniel except for two words used as a name for a pile of rocks by Laban in Genesis.

It’s seemingly given to Jewish exiles in Babylon as a comeback line for locals who want to mock them for worshipping the invisible (and lone) god of an insignificant and now conquered people.

Here’s a line they can use:

“Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'” (Jer 10:11 NIV)

Like any good comeback line, it has the virtues of carrying a truth, and also of sounding cool. This diagram shows that it is almost a palindrome, one of those lines like ‘racecar’ or ‘a man, a plan, a canal, panama’, that works the same way forwards and backwards. This one mainly works aurally rather than visually, but here it is with the transliterated Aramaic to give you the idea. (Created using Prezi.)

Jeremiah 10.11

There’s the Maker God, and there are the made gods. Big difference. Another gem from a fascinating book!

A Stable and a Shaken World: A Sermon Outline and Study of the Hebrew Word ‘mwt’

I spoke on this ‘shaking’ idea in the Psalms recently, focusing on occurrences of the Hebrew verb ‘מוט (e.g. Psa 46:3)’.  Some of the folk present have asked for access to the PowerPoint resource, so here ’tis.

Notes:

  1. The second slide acts as a master, with each of the nine boxes linked to more specific content centred around a relevant passage from the Psalms or Isaiah.  Every slide has a small icon to permit navigation back to this master slide.
  2. The screen concerning Psalm 104 and comparing it to verse 1 contains a link to a Word document which outlines the full text of Psalm 104.  I will include this separately, below.

Here is the Word file of Psalm 104:

Mini-Book Review: F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic

Okay, so it’s really old, published in 1973. This is one of those scholarly books that sits on the shelf of nearly every theological institution on the planet, but that is beginning to get a little dusty from disuse. It’s one of those books that any budding biblical scholar ought to have read, but some of us were like Linus in 1973, with our shorts nearly reaching the ground, and weren’t quite ready to read the works of scholars like Frank Moore Cross. So it has taken me a while to get to this.

But you ought to know that this is one of those books you ought to read if you want to understand the course of Old Testament scholarship in the last fifty years – one of Cross’s defining works, and thus a milestone for one of the leading scholars of the twentieth-century Albright school. It is a classic, a period piece, an effective marker of the state of anglophone thought on numerous Old Testament topics from Pentateuchal criticism and the Deuteronomistic History to the speciality of the Albright school, antique Hebrew poetry.

But remember…it is from 1973! It shouldn’t be read as contemporary research. But for the serious OT student with some introduction to critical issues, it should be read.

Distribution Chart for an Unusual Hebrew Pronominal Suffix (Technical)

“Hey Mo, don’t you worry ’bout goin’ down south,

I’ll be sayin’ every word that comes outta your mouth,

Just be doin’ your best, and pray that it’s blessed,

I’ll take care o’ the rest.”

– Keith Green, “He’ll Take Care of the Rest”

Noticing that Psalm 2 had in common with Exodus 15 (the Song of Moses) and a range of other texts an unusual form of the 3rd masc. plural (usually) pronominal suffix, ‘מוֹ’ (-mo), I became interested in just where those endings turned up, why they might exist, and whether any significant implications stem from these features.

So let me offer an Excel chart that shows their distribution and specific references:

Distribution Chart for -mo 3mp pronominal suffixes

 

-mo suffix chart image

The distribution of these endings is interesting.  It shows clusters of its use on verbs (esp. Exod 15), nouns (e.g. Ps 2:3) and prepositions (normally ‘עַל’ or ‘לְ’, once ‘אֶל’, Ps 2:5).  For instance, Exodus 15 features seven such suffixes, exclusively on verbs, whereas all the prophetic uses are on prepositions, and then only in Isaiah and once in Habakkuk.  A few more observations:

  • The suffix is normally plural but occasionally singular, as in the Genesis references.
  • The suffix can occur in parallel construction with the regular 3mp ending, as in Ps 49:11.
  • The form is almost always found in poetry, though the poetry/prose boundary is difficult to identify in prophetic discourse (affecting the Isaiah references).  Exod 23:31, however, is a prose use.

A point of interest for me is whether this is an archaic form or instead an ‘archaizing’ form, a stylistic touch implying traditional authority or fidelity, e.g. continued use of archaic English forms by churchgoers reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The Psalm 49 instance might suggest a stylistic use.  I suspect that some clusters are genuinely archaic, including Exodus 15.  Isaianic  usage probably reflects use of this suffix largely restricted to prepositions in the middle of the Old Testament period.  Some of the Psalms uses, especially later ones, occur in proximity to references to Israel’s distant past, e.g. 78:24, 66; 83:11; 99:7.

It is challenging to find where secondary sources discuss this phenomenon, but see Gesenius/Kautsch/Cowley #32m (pp. 107-8 in my edition), #58g (156-7) re verb suffixes, #91b, h, l (255-258) re noun suffixes, and #103f, o (301-2, 305) re suffixes on prepositions.  #91l debates the implications of such forms for dating, in the authors’ case, denying that they can be relied upon to be genuine signs of archaism, while those of the Albright school (e.g. Cross, Freedman) might take them as betraying the archaic nature of a poem like Exodus 15.  (See Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, 86, for a sample reference to Exodus 15 and the beginning and ending of Deuteronomy 33 in these terms.  You’ll notice that all feature this suffix abundantly.)

I would assume that ancient Hebrew language like any other has a history and a course of development, and that it must be possible to arrive at some conclusions on the basis of phenomena such as the one mentioned here.  I believe that the authors behind Miller-Naudé, Cynthia L., and Ziony Zevit (eds.). Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012) would advocate this position, though I haven’t yet read the volume.  With the same proviso, I understand that the opposing position is put in Young, I., R. Rezetko, and M. Ehrensvärd. Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (London: Equinox, 2008).  Let’s all check them out!

Psalm 148 – Special Features of the Hebrew

This PowerPoint is designed to show off some of the intricacies of this current favourite psalm of mine.

Sorry about the dead link.  Just discovered that the plug-in that exists to embed FreeMind mindmaps, along with other plug-ins, can’t be installed in the free version of a WordPress blog!

Here’s a screen shot of that mind map – it is barely legible at the finer level…

Psalm 148 mind map screen shot

Psalm 148 in All Its Glory

Having just completed an article on this psalm for our in-house journal here at Melbourne School of Theology (called Paradosis, and due out…sometime), I thought I’d sing its praises.  It is particularly carefully crafted in the Hebrew, with not a word out of place, and sound-plays (consonance and rhyme, etc.) interweaving with number symbolism, parallelism and careful ordering to produce one of the greatest psalms in the book of Psalms.  In my article I called it the ‘pinnacle’ of the Psalms, and if that stirs debate, well and good. It is as rich as a black forest cake.  Here is a synopsis of the psalm itself:

One of my favourite musical renditions of a biblical psalm is the version of Psalm 148 performed by our local Melbourne group, the Sons of Korah.  Its virtue is a good match of musical movement to the content of the psalm.  The song begins with calm dignity, “Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above…”  It is stately, serene, taking its time.  This is appropriate: the early part of the psalm repeats the term we know in English as ‘hallelujah’ at the beginning of every poetic line, twice per verse.  Perhaps not surprisingly, besides the initial “praise the LORD,” there are seven more hallelujahs in the first block of the psalm, verses 1–4 concerning the heavenly realms.  Then in verses 5–6 they are offered a motivation for praise—their own creation and the sheer authority and permanence of the decree of God that they should be.

Verses 7–12 begin the same way, with a call to the earth, but then the pace quickens.  The ‘hallelujahs’ are left aside.  Earthly entities are called to praise in a sudden flood of names, twenty-three in all, beginning furthest from where humans live, in ocean depths and high in the atmosphere.  The following movement is towards the centres of human life, via landscape, plants and animals wild and domestic, humans in high authority, and then the common people of all kinds that we find nearby.  The Sons of Korah song captures these verses well with a sense of ascending tension achieved through an incremental ascent in pitch.  It’s striking, then, that this deliberate build-up, this list of the thirty praising entities of creation, ends in the child.

The psalm finishes in verses 13–14 by once again offering motivation for praise, but this time it is not for the reality of creation.  It is first for the sheer splendour of the name of the LORD, his innate majesty, and then for his redemptive work for Israel, “the people close to his heart.”

The Psalms never, to my knowledge, bid us (or nature!) to praise the LORD without offering us reasons why we should.  If our praise or prayer life is running out of steam, perhaps we can allow Psalms to remind us of why God is so worth it.  A good reason to begin would be his grace in allowing we “who once were far away” (Eph 2:13) to become, like Israel here, “the people close to his heart” through his mercy extended to us through Christ.