“The Lord is my Shepherd”: Interpreting Psalm 23

14 07 2008

One of papers that I attended at the SBL International Conference in Auckland last week, was David Clines’ analysis of Psalm 23. Entitled, “Psalm 23 and Method”, his analysis aimed to “approach the interpretation of the psalm using the resources of seven different literary hermeneutical methodologies available today”. Those methodologies were rhetorical criticism, deconstruction, gender criticism, materialist criticism, postcolonial criticism, pyschoanalytic criticism and intertextual criticism. Each methodology brought to bear on the psalm produced interesting results; while the overall combination produced a slightly comical effect, a number of valid points were raised.

Below, I include the Hebrew text of Psalm 23, along with the translation of the NRSV. Clines made a few points regarding translation and I have appended some of those, as well as a review of his approach(es).

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My Aramean Father

19 04 2008

Tonight is Erev Pesakh, and Jews around the world are going to be conducting the Seder in accordance with its laws and traditions. For the benefit of anybody who has never attended a Seder, this involves the consumption of various symbolic foods, as well as the telling of a particular narrative: frequently midrashic, occasionally obscure, permanently didactic. Children are encouraged to ask questions and, to that end, some families go out of their way to do things in such a fashion that their younger members will ask involuntarily. Most families, however, adhere to a centuries-long ritual of behavior that has rendered all genuine questions moot in the face of annual familiarity, and have even reached a point at which the adults themselves do not necessarily possess the answers.

Much of the Haggada (that section of the Seder that involves the narration) is difficult to understand without a prior awareness of the manner in which midrash works. My family skips large sections that, in English, appear banal and trivial, despite my protestations that the Hebrew is frequently interesting. We do not all share the same interests. I would like to share one particular element of the Haggada with you in an effort to demonstrate that it is, indeed, an interesting text, and not a transparent text by any means.

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Latin for ALL Occasions

15 10 2007

Noli admirari, quare tibi femina nulla,
Rufe, uelit tenerum supposuisse femur,
non si illam rarae labefactes munere uestis,
aut perluciduli deliciis lapidis.
laedit te quaedam mala fabula, qua tibi fertur
ualle sub alarum trux habitare caper.
hunc metuunt omnes, neque mirum: nam mala ualde est
bestia, nec quicum bella puella cubet.
quare aut crudelem nasorum interfice pestem,
aut admirari desine cur fugiunt

– Catullus, no.69

No need to wonder why no woman’s willing,
Rufus, to spread her soft thighs under you,
though you sap her resistance with expensive dresses
or rare and translucent gems.
You’re done in by unkind tittle-tattle, which alleges
your armpit’s valley is home to a rank goat.
This everyone fears, and no wonder: it’s a nasty creature
with which no pretty girl would share a bed.
So either kill off this brutal plague of noses
or stop being puzzled why girls run away.

– trans. Peter Green (The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition; Berkely, 2005)

Precursor to the Parrot Sketch

26 06 2007

While we may all be familiar with John Cleese’s famous ex-parrot, many of us will not be aware of the tragedy of Lesbos’ poor, deceased sparrow. Catullus, in the wry vein for which he became famous, laments the death of his girlfriend’s pet in tones most dulcet and touching. The following is Catullus’ moving dirge in Latin, along with the highly paraphrastic (though nonetheless marvellous) translation of Byron.

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Syntactic Ambiguity

21 06 2007

There is an old joke that concerns a Buddhist who walks into a pizza parlour and requests that they make him one with everything. Q. Pheevr, in a recent post on syntactic ambiguity, discusses the confusion that is engendered in sentences like these. One of his examples, likewise related to the consumption of pizza, is “we sliced the pizza with the pepperoni”. Does the concluding noun modify the verb or does it modify the other noun? In this case, it being improbable that anything is being sliced with pepperoni (no matter how old the piece of pepperoni in question), the answer is straightforward. Q. Pheevr then provides us with another (albeit macabre) example in which both alternatives are semantically viable.

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Hour of Grace

5 06 2007

[trans. from שעת החסד, by Yehuda Amihai]

I have thought at times that all could be explained:
Like people, midnight, gathered at the station,
For the final bus that will not come;
At first they’re few though soon they grow and grow.
An invitation, this, to be more close together
To change it all and to commence, together, a new world.

But they are separated.
(The hour of grace has passed and shan’t return)
Each one goes his own way
Each one becomes again a domino:
One side of him is open,
To finding new connections
In games that never end.

פעם חשבתי שאפשר לפתר כך
כמו אנשים שמתאספים בחצות בתחנה
לאוטובוס האחרון שלא יבוא
בתחלה מעטים, אחר כך עוד ועוד
זו היתה הזדמנות להיות קרובים זה לזה
ולשנות הכל ולהתחיל יחדו עולם חדש

אך הם מתפזרים
שעת החסד עברה ולא תשוב
כל אחד ילך לדרכו
כל אחד יהיה שוב אבן דומינו
עם צד אחד פתוח
למצא לו תואם חדש
במשחקים שאין להם סוף

Catullus, Catulle, Catullum…

16 05 2007

Just a quick note to state that I have discovered a marvellous website and have added it to the links on the right-hand side of this page. It is under a new category, so far all on its own, entitled “Classics” and is, itself, a very well-put-together collection of translations of the Latin poems of Catullus into a small variety of languages. You will find all of them in English and, fascinatingly, many of them in Hebrew as well. Expect a future post on the translation from Latin into Hebrew!

The Mind’s I

14 05 2007

When in doubt: translate.

Such is the essence of my thinking now that my commitments at the moment preclude me from working on a more substantial post. One may question the value of offering a new translation of an old text when so many superior translations of the same abound, but I consider the following passage to be one of the most beautiful in the entire Hebrew Bible. The passage in question is Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 and it has been on my mind from time to time, encouraged by a post that I wrote concerning a fascinating medical treatise from the 18th century. That post was originally inspired by the interest of an online friend, a certain Conrad H. Roth, who brought the treatise to my attention and expounded upon it himself. In Conrad’s exposition he made reference to the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes in regards to another possible example of the human body being utilised in a microcosmic sense. I disagreed with Conrad and, as I would like to qualify my rejection of his sentiments, I feel that a fresh translation of the passage in question would be a suitable way to begin.

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Don’t be Afraid

30 04 2007

While my lecturer expounded upon the semantic range of Greek verbs in the middle voice, I found myself trying to come up with a Hebrew cognate. Something about the middle fascinates me – perhaps because I still don’t really understand it – and I was trying to think of passive/reflexive Hebrew verbs that possess an active meaning. Now, before you Grecians jump down my throat and tell me that this is not what the Greek middle does (on second thoughts, go ahead; I’d like to know what the Greek middle does), I am going to speak a little about the first Hebrew word to have come into my head. In fairness, this is not a grammatical post – rather, this is an exegetical post, as shall become evident.

The word is תתראו.

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I Love a Happy Ending

17 03 2007

I wrote the first paragraph of a story that I was learning in my Greek class a little while ago and, while I’ve nothing of any interest to add to my reading of that paragraph, I feel that it would be nice to actually conclude the story. I append it below in the Greek, along with my translation. I have written it paragraph by paragraph so that, to read it in English, you need to scroll down again every so often. It is beautiful and inspiring and I think that you might all benefit from reading this story with its simple, almost childlike, exuberance and its wonderfully uplifting moral at the end. Really.

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