Tuesday, April 20, 2010

various poet translators turning around Tehillim 90

- Pamela Greenberg, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, April 2010 (Iyyar 5770):

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses, man of God.

God, you have been a dwelling place for us
from one generation to the next.

Before mountains were born,
before earth and its people came to exist.

From eternity until eternity you are holy.

Mortals can turn to you until they are crushed.
You say, “Return, children of Adam.”

- Ann Nyland, New South Wales, Australia, March 2010:


A prayer of Moses, a person of Elohim.
1 Adonai, you have been our place of safety through all generations.
2 Before the mountains came into existence,
or you brought the earth and world into being,
you are El, everlasting to everlasting.
3 You make humankind return to the dust,
and say, "People, return to dust!"

- Julia Evelina Smith, Connecticut, USA, 1855:

PRAYER to Moses the man of God.
        O Jehovah, thou wert a refuge to
us in generation and generation.
     2 Before the mountains were born,
and the earth shall be begun, and the
habitable globe, and from forever even
to forever, thou art God.
     3 Thou wilt turn man even to crush-
ing, and thou wilt say, Turn back, ye
sons of man.

- Mary Sidney Hebert, Wilton House, Wiltshire, England,1599:


Thou our refuge, thou our dwelling,
    O Lord, has byn from time to time:
Long er Mountains, proudly swelling,
    Above the lowly dales did clime:
Long er the Earth, embowl'd by thee,
    Bare the forme it now doth beare:
Yea, thou art God for ever, free
    From all touch of age and yeare.

O, but man by thee created,
    As he at first of earth arose,
When thy word his end hath dated,
    In equall state to earth he goes.
Thou saist, and saying makst it soe:
    Be noe more, O Adams heyre;
From whence ye came, dispatch to goe,
    Dust againe, as dust you were.

- Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (or maybe his sister Miriam), Yam Kinneret, Israel, 902AD (4662):


א תְּפִלָּה, לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ-הָאֱלֹהִים
אֲדֹנָי--מָעוֹן אַתָּה, הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ; בְּדֹר וָדֹר

ב בְּטֶרֶם, הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ-- וַתְּחוֹלֵל אֶרֶץ וְתֵבֵל
וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד-עוֹלָם, אַתָּה אֵל

ג תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ, עַד-דַּכָּא; וַתֹּאמֶר, שׁוּבוּ בְנֵי-אָדָם

- Some unnamed Elder scholar(s), Alexandria, Egypt, around Nisan 20, 3561 (or 200BC or so):

Ψαλμοὶ πθ

προσευχὴ τοῦ Μωυσῆ ἀνθρώπου τοῦ θεοῦ

κύριε καταφυγὴ ἐγενήθης ἡμῖν
ἐν γενεᾷ καὶ γενεᾷ
πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι
καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν
καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ
μὴ ἀποστρέψῃς ἄνθρωπον εἰς ταπείνωσιν
καὶ εἶπας ἐπιστρέψατε υἱοὶ ἀνθρώπων


John Radcliffe said...


I really like those lines:

Yea, thou art God for ever, free
From all touch of age and yeare.

but I have difficulty rhyming "year" with "bear".

Even better is:

Thou saist, and saying makst it soe:

(I'm guessing "Adams heyre" is his "heir"?)

Thanks for all these. Still reading.


J. K. Gayle said...

Hi John,

Thanks for working through the old spellings and rhymes. (You are correct that "heyre" is now "heir." Theophrastus points us to a version of the Sidney Psalms with "modern spelling" and more.)

It seems that "bear" rhymes with "fear," "rear," "tear," and "year." Even "were" (the past tense of "be") rhymes with these and with "heyre" (i.e., "heir").

But "bare" (in contrast to "bear") rhymes with "share" and "care" and "fare" and even in one place "compare."

A few lines of one of my favorite Sidney Psalms illustrates (from Psalm 35, by Philip Sidney):

'Who did me wrong, against me witness bear, /
..Laying such things, as never in me were: /
So my good deeds they pay, with evil share, /
..With cruel minds, my very soul to tear. /
And whose? Ev'n his, who when they sickness bare, /
..With inward woe, an outward sackcloth ware.' //

I did pull down myself, fasting for such, /
..I prayed, with prayers, which my breast did touch: /
In sum I showed, that I to them was bent /
..As brothers, or as friends belovèd much. /
Still, still, for them I humbly mourning went, /
..Like one that should his mother's death lament. //

Tim Bulkeley said...

I wonder why they do not render וַתְּחֹולֵל "you gave birth to" that seems the natural rendering to me!

(See: http://motherfather.digress.it/biblical-talk-of-the-motherly-god-part-2/#40

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome Tim! What a wonderful point you've made. And thank you very much for the link to your online book, Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition. I suspect you have much more to say here and am sure many more of us need to read what you've already written there.

Of course, we might ask Greenberg and Nyland about their decisions. Someday, perhaps, Evelina Smith and Sidney Hebert might tell us. (I do wonder why the former addresses "O Jehovah").

The Septuagint translator(s) may be thinking about the Hebrew the way you are. The verb πλάσσω (or, in the Psalm, πλασθῆναι) is used for creative or procreative forming or birthing in Genesis 2 verses 7-8, 15, and 19 - to refer to God giving birth to the mortal(s) and the animals. (And Paul writing in the NT picks up on this in I Tim 2:13 and Romans 9:20).

The Hebrew, of course, gives more clues to meaning(s) elsewhere. Moses himself, in another Psalm sung in Deuteronomy 32, uses the verb in question. Robert Alter renders verse 18 as "The Rock your bearer you neglected / you forgot the God who gave you birth." (צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי וַתִּשְׁכַּח אֵל מְחֹלְלֶֽךָ׃) (Why must so many translators read "Father" and not "Mother" here?!)

(But that hardly explains the earlier uses of chul חול .
What's going on with the verb in Deuteronomy 2:25 and Genesis 8:10?

And where LXX has πλάσσω, the word in Gen 2 is יצר - or in verse 18 עשה. Are these semantic variants for a mother's giving birth?)

What do you think? Which English translators and translations have done best with this language?

Anonymous said...

Well... given my take, I think surprisingly NASB and NIV (see http://bigbible.org/sansblogue/bible/the-censored-bible-translating-psalm-90/)

J. K. Gayle said...

Tim, Thanks for your thoughts on NASB and NIV at your post. I left you a comment there.

John Radcliffe said...


My copies of “The Sidney Psalter” and “The Poets' Book of Psalms” arrived on Monday. (Never buy one book when you could buy two, I always think.) So far I’ve haven’t been blown away, but then I’ve always been a bit of a Philistine where poetry is concerned. I think I was hoping that one of these might convert me, but perhaps I just haven’t come across the right Psalms yet. (My favourite so far is still Mary Sidney’s Psalm 90.)

Of course if you want to see just how much of a Philistine, I could always post my own version of Psalm 42-43 (I didn’t think a post on Psalm 90 was an appropriate place). That Psalm has long been my favourite, so the rendering goes back over 30 years, although it has been tweaked a few times since. (It’s actually just a paraphrase from a literal interlinear compared to other renderings.)

If you want a read, let me know where you’d like it. Who knows, you might even like it!

J. K. Gayle said...

John, A friend came over for dinner last evening and was quoting some most memorable lines from the best of the plays of Shakespeare. I thought of you, and of Mary Sidney Herbert. You came to mind because I'd not long before read how you commented, "hoping that one of these might convert me." Her because some serious scholars have stated, "wonder if she wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare."

I'm fascinated by how we can know and genuinely appreciate the good works of literature. I'm stunned at how we can hear a voice in good writing. Who can know at this point whether - as you put it - "these might convert" you, that is whether the Sidney Psalms (other than Mary's 90) might be some that you would love? Who can resolve who Shakespeare was and whether his literary voice and imagination was really that of a woman writer? Somehow, I like these questions together.

But, of course, and absolutely, I would love to read your "own version of Psalm 42-43"; that it's long been your "favourite" makes me want to see your rendering even more! Are you saying 42-43 because you're looking at both 42 of the Greek LXX and 43 of the Hebrew MT? If you'd rather post it in a larger forum than the comments section of this blog, then would you like rather to post it in the main section of this blog or my other blog? If you'd rather have some privacy in discuss, then please feel free to email me (and to email your translation). Cheers!

John Radcliffe said...


When I say Psalm 42-43 I’m referring to what is called Psalms 42 and 43 in English Bibles, but which I (and many others) think was originally a single Psalm (unless 43 was appended by another hand), as they share a refrain (42:5, 11; 43:5) and Ps 43 lacks a superscription (unusually for “Book 2”).

Regarding to where to post it, my point was simply that, as the subject of this post is Psalm 90, I didn’t want to rudely barge into your blog and start rearranging your furniture. Anyway here it is. Feel free to move or delete as you consider appropriate. (The leading dots are because I don’t know how to indent.)

Psalm 42
1 As a deer longs for water brooks,
… so longs my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God — the living God:
… when will I come and appear before him?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
… while all day long [people] say to me,
… “Where is your God?”
4 When I remember these things,
… I pour out my soul within me;
for I used to go with the throng,
… in procession to the house of God,
with joy-and-thanksgiving’s voice
… — a multitude keeping festival.

5 Why sunk down, my soul?
… Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God — for I will still praise him
… who is my Saving-Help — 6 and my God!

My soul is sunk down within me,
… and so I remember you:
from the land of the Jordan,
… and the Hermon-peaks
… — from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
… midst the roar of your waterfalls,
all your breakers and waves
… have rolled over me.
8 The LORD will command
… his loving-kindness in the daytime,
and his song will be mine in the night
… — a prayer to my life-supplying God.
9 I will say to God my Rock,
… “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go in mourning
… because of my enemies’ oppression?”
10 I feel as if my bones have been shattered
… by the insults of those who revile me,
while all day long they say to me,
… “Where is your God?”

11 Why sunk down, my soul?
… Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God — for I will still praise him
… who is my Saving-Help — and my God!

Psalm 43
1 Find in my favour, O God,
… plead my case against an ungodly nation.
Deliver me from the person
… who is deceitful and unjust.
2 Why have you rejected me,
… my strength-supplying God?
Why must I go in mourning
… because of my enemies’ oppression?
3 Send out your light and truth;
… let them lead me.
Let them bring me to your holy hill,
… to where you dwell.
4 Thus will I go to God’s altar,
… to God who puts the gladness in my joy;
and so will praise you on the lyre,
… O God — my God.

5 Why sunk down, my soul?
… Why so disturbed within me?
Hope in God — for I will still praise him
… who is my Saving-Help — and my God!

J. K. Gayle said...

John - It's just beautiful. Your words sink down deep, and I'm not just playing with your words. I keep hearing the voice of David, of course. What angst and hope mixed! Then through the mixture, it's Jesus (Matthew's Jesus in his final evening in the Garden, confessing: Περίλυπός ἐστιν ἡ ψυχή μου ἕως θανάτου). The LXX has connected the two χριστοι, the two ointment-crowned Mashiyach משיח, of God (Ps 41[42]:6,12;42[43]5 / Mt 26:38) - the one singing to the sons of Korah, the other complaining candidly to his disciples in that dark Garden. And the LXX draws a connection to another Garden, to another man of death and despair, to Cain, with whom God also deals mercifully: "Why sunk down"? τί περίλυπος ἐγένου Gn 4:6 LXX.

But now my items of furniture are cluttering your bright room. John, I've read your Psalm, your rendering, several times. How does one comment on beauty? Without connection to the Hebrew, or to the Greek, or to the literary allusions I hear in your voice again and again, even without these, your translation is just beautiful!

J.K. Gayle

John Radcliffe said...

Hi JK,

I’m glad you liked it – and managed to get things out of it that I didn’t put in!

As I said, Psalm 42&43 has long been a particular favourite. That’s probably because, as someone who tends to periods of depression and mood swings, I can relate to the “hope amidst despair”.

I usually only go to the trouble of translating / paraphrasing passages that are especially important to me, that speak to me in some way, that “do something for me”, but where I find all existing versions jar at some point, or obscure some light that I think should be visible (or even introduce something I think shouldn’t be there). In this case I needed something with a rhythm that let the thoughts flow as I felt they should. Of course, I’m sure it won’t “work” for everyone, but then that was never the objective.

I’ve lived with this rendering now for around 30 years, and have just polished the odd rough edge every now and then. During its last cleaning I moved a line break and took out a few dashes, as I do tend to overuse them as a punctuation mark, which can distract from their impact. I must admit, though, that I remove them reluctantly; I feel their pain, rather like a parent telling a child that they can’t go to the party. It may be the “right” decision, but I still feel bad about having to make it.

Talking about punctuation marks (as one does) … I was surprised to come across a dash followed by a comma in a recently-published book. That’s one I had thought was long dead. Another I see far too often where I work is that bastard cross-breed, the colon followed by a hyphen (:-) used to introduce lists. That one should have been still-born, even in the days of typewriters when — wasn’t available: so ugly I doubt even its parents could love it. But I digress, and if I don’t watch myself I’ll be droning on about why people insist on using underlining or more than one space between sentences, two more things that should have died with the typewriter.

So instead I’ll just thank you for your kind words, and for sharing the echoes you hear, and get ready to head off to one of the sessions in our local Manx Music Festival. I’m taking my mother along to listen to the duets this evening. I doubt any will be singing a psalm setting, although if they are it will probably be the 23rd.

I do have a couple of CDs with Psalms set by Handel, and I particularly like his 51st. And by one of those strange coincidences, only last week at home I found a tape of Psalms from the Good News Bible set to music. I’d love to have that CD, but as the recordings came out about 30 years ago I doubt they ever made it to CD.

Thanks again for the continuing conversation.