Nov 24, 2014

Codex L Psalter and Psalm Study

I. Codex Leningradensis  

Codex Leningradensis is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible.  Additionally, it is the primary source text for the Hebrew Bibles used by scholars and which provides the basis of our OT translations.  For the next few months, I'll be daily tweeting photo-texts of the Codex L Psalter.  To access these texts, you may want to check Twitter@RBrianRickett daily, or check here occasionally where I'll be cataloging these passages.  The psalms selected will correspond roughly to the day of the month (except for longer passages), e.g. Psalm 24 is posted for November 24.  I'll be editing these pictures to allow for Psalms divided by page or column breaks to be posted as a unity, except where prohibited by length, i.e. Psalm 119, etc.  Additionally, some Psalms may be tweeted/posted over multiple days.  Once I finish the selected Psalms, I'll place them at this link to allow for easier access to all Codex L materials.

Psalm 23 (Psalm 23 at 26 seconds)    Psalm 24     Psalm 25     Psalm 26   
Psalm 27 (Ps27b)     Psalm 28     Psalm 29     Psalm 30 (30:5/6)     Psalm 32     Psalm 33 (33:233:333:7; 33:9); Psalm 34 (34a; 34b; 34c; 34:14-17)

II. Study of Hebrew Poetry

One of my favorite components of Hebrew poetry is the study of sound patterns.  At the beginning of my Hebrew classes, I typically begin with a devotional study of a passage in Hebrew, usually a psalm that contains a readily observable sound pattern or other interesting device, e.g. acrostics. This helps students that don't yet know Hebrew develop an appreciation for the brilliance of Biblical Hebrew in general, and poetry in particular.  To that end, each week this semester, I'll be recording the reading and translations of the passages we study and will post them here for my students.  Students can listen in order to review; others can follow our progress by checking back here weekly (i.e. the below list & readings will continue to develop).  Eventually this should provide a good representative cross-section of passages employing a variety of devices beyond that of sound patterns.  As this expands, I'll include commentary, outlines, or other pertinent data that helps clarify the significance of the respective poetic device.

Though I will mostly employ a classical pronunciation, occasionally, I'll vary this (with explanation) to show how different approaches render different results. Those who employ a modern pronunciation may think any phonetic model unfamiliar to them is peculiar.  However, consider Watson's explanation of poetic devices involving sound in his pivotal book, Classical Hebrew Poetry.  He states,
 "When considering poetic devices involving sound—assonance, alliteration, rhyme, onomatopoeia and wordplay—the pronunciation of a language is very much to the fore.  This applies to classical Hebrew as well as to Ugaritic and Akkadian.  There is no need to repeat here what is set out in the standard grammars, although there is no complete consensus of opinion.  Two points have to be borne in mind.  Firstly, there is no such thing as the pronunciation of Hebrew (or of Ugaritic and Akkadian).  Like any other language, Hebrew developed and evolved, so that its pronunciation changes over the centuries.  Also, Hebrew had its share of dialects and idiolects both regional (particularly North and South) and social.  Secondly, in spite of a certain leveling effect brought about by the collection of Hebrew poetry into the canon, relics of these language variations remain.  And, in the absence of other guides, the Masoretic vocalization is very reliable—any alteration must be vouched for.  With these provisos, the study of sound patterns in Hebrew poetry is rewarding and interesting.” –W.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, p. 222.
One simple illustration of sound play is that of paronomasia.  Watson defines this as, "the deliberate choice of two (or more) different words which sound nearly alike” (CHP, p. 242).  An English example provided by R. Jakobson is as follows: 
“The girl used to talk about ‘the horrible Harry.’  ‘Why horrible?’ ‘Because I hate him.’ ‘But why not dreadfulterriblefrightfuldisgusting?’  I don’t know why, but horrible fits him better.  Without realizing it, she clung to the poetic device of paronomasia.”—R. Jakobson, “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics,” inStyle and Language (ed. T.A. Sebeok; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1975), p. 357.
A biblical example of this device is found in Ps. 15:3, as follows:

  Psalm 15:3 לֹֽא־רָגַ֙ל׀ עַל־לְשֹׁנ֗וֹ לֹא־עָשָׂ֣ה לְרֵעֵ֣הוּ רָעָ֑ה וְ֜חֶרְפָּ֗ה לֹא־נָשָׂ֥א עַל־קְרֹֽבוֹ׃

Can you find the paronomasia here? Hint: it's related not to a horrible Harry, but to a nasty neighbor. :) 

If you have any thoughtful questions/comments re. the particular reading you hear, feel free to drop a note in the comment section of this blog.  Thanks!

Note: (1) For a classic, dramatic reading by a native speaker, though one which inconsistently treats massoretic accents and is generally difficult to follow for stylistic reasons, check here:  You may want to listen to both (him and me) for comparison of different phonetic models. (2) You can own your own copy of the OT in Hebrew with the above digital reading for your IPhone ($10) by going to the App. store and searching for Hebrew Bible.  Find the one called
 חי--well worth it. (3) My own readings and translations of the below passages will be impromptu and will occur wherever/whenever it is convenient, i.e. these will not be sound studio quality (you may hear background noise such as a barking dog, squirrel, traffic, or even a stuffy nose.)

I. Acrostics
A. Comments. Biblical acrostics are alphabetic selections of Scripture, usually psalms, which are built on the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet.  Below are some things to note about them as well as a list of all the ones occurring in Scripture (that I know). 

(1)  The first letter of each line follows a certain sequence, "usually alphabetic so that each line begins with a successive letter of the alphabet.”  Notice in the examples below, that the first line begins with Aleph, the next with Beth, etc.

(2)  They are often considered to be "artificial" in scheme, non-oral in nature, and intended to appeal to the eye rather than the ear.  I'm not personally convinced of this.  Since the first sound of each line is the expected letter of the alphabet, this creates an expectation and builds drama as one listens to the poem read aloud.

(3)  The structure of the acrostic sets the poem or part of the poem off in an unusual way.  It adds variety to the poem and it utilizes poetic or artistic skill.  It is generally agreed that acrostics are used as an aid in memorization.  Personally, I find these very effective as a memory aid as the acrostic serves as it's own mnemonic device.

(4)  Acrostics inherently present thematic ideas expressed by the words of the acrostic and which serve as the focal point of each line/verse. 

B. List. 
Below are all known occurrences of biblical acrostics.  
·      Psalm 9  (a - k) 
·      Psalm 10 (lvs. 12-17= q - t)--Difficult 
·      Psalm 25, 34: both miss at least the waw verse and have peh repeated at the end.
·      Psalm 37, 111, 112, 119 (every 8 verses begins with the same letter; each strophe contains the eight leading words of Psalm 19).
·   Psalm 145
·   Lamentations 1-4 (before [in chap. 3 every three verses begin with the same initial letter; chap. 5 has the same number of verses as letters in the alphabet)
·   Nahum 1:2-10—Extremely Difficult

C. Examples of Selected Texts.
     1. Psalms.  Below are the texts and readings of Psalm 111 and 112.  These two Psalms occur as a pair.  I regularly employ these in worship services around the Thanksgiving holiday.  Here are some things to note.
Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 are parallel in structure and should be studied together.     
      i.  Both are built on an acrostic structure
      ii. They are equal length.
     iii. Both have two lines per verse through verse 8.
     iv. Verse 9 then transitions to three lines per verse for the last two verses (vv. 9, 10).  This structure results in exactly 10 verses for both Psalms.  The significance from a poetic standpoint may be that since the Hebrew numerical system employs a 10 base model, this structure provides a perfect unit.  Additionally, Hebrew poems regularly lengthen the last verses of the poem to bring a punctuation to the poem's conclusion. 
      v. Pre-acrostic hallelujah phrase/command/call to worship
     vi. There is a parallel in thematic structure: the themes of both are introduced in the first line (also their conclusions are parallel in structure). 
·   The theme of 111 is: A psalm of thanksgiving to Yahweh.  The theme of 112 is the benefits of fearing Yahweh; in other words, 111 is on God, 112 is on God’s man. 
·    The pair of psalms begins with God and then ends with man.
·    There is a correspondence between verses, lines and vocabulary throughout the Psalms.
·    Both psalms identify the same two individuals.  There is the Worshiper and the Worshiped.  In Psalm 111 we see the worshiper who thanks God with whole heart as the blessed man of Psalm 112.
·  The man who fears God in 112:1 is the man whose whole heart was worshiping in 111:1
·   Notice, however, that when thanking God the psalmist personalizes the psalm (אוֹדֶה יְהוָה בְּכָל־לֵבָב).  However, when describing the blessing of being the worshiper, the psalmist generalizes the principle.  
·    Cf. Delights “חָפֵץ ” from Ps 112:1 with 111:2 “לְכָל־חֶפְצֵיהֶם 
·      Line B of verse 3 of both psalms are parallel with : "וְצִדְקָתוֹ עֹמֶדֶת לָעַד"
·     Verses 4 contain parallel wording: "חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם וְצַדִּיק"
·     What other observations can you make? 


  • Jonah
  • Psalm 111 Hebrew Reading (classical pronunciation) with English Translation
  • Psalm 112 Hebrew Reading 
  • Proverbs: Prov. 31:10-31:The Excellent Wife
  • Psalm 3 Reading: To hear this Psalm sung by Messianic Jews in Hebrew, listen to track 3 of this album; Psalm 3 is the title song
  •  Though not usually regarded as a sound pattern, here the interrogative particle (covered this week in class) is employed as a rhetorical device and so definitely arrests the attention of the listener/reader 
  • Psalm 1--Psalm 1 is chosen for the reading this week for 4 key reasons: 1.) it's use of the relative pronoun "asher"; 2.) it's use of the "ki im" conjunction; 3.) interesting use of massoretic accents (covered last week), and 4.) use of the poetical feature known as simile.
  • Psalm 136 (Hebrew Reading + English Translation)
  • Genesis 4
  • Ruth 1:1-4
  • Psalm 51--A Plea for Purity--this Psalm is chosen for the week's reading.  Consider the following notes: 

  • Psalm 51: A Plea for Purity
    1.) Superscription identifies the occasion
    2.) Key Opening Ideas:
    i. First line of text (v. 3) opens with a chiasm calling attention to David’s plea forGod’s gracious cleansing away of transgression based on His covenant loyalty and compassion.  The words of this chiasm draw attention to: cleansing based on God’s character, i.e. not the sin itself.  Words of the chiasm are the juxtaposition of: חָנֵּ֣נִי  with מְחֵ֣ה and רַ֜חֲמֶ֗יךָ with כְּחַסְדֶּ֑ךָi.e. “be gracious to me” with “blot out” and “according to your loving kindness” with “your compassion.”
    ii. Notice also the following line (v. 4) where  כַּבְּסֵ֣נִי (cleanse me) is juxtaposed with טַהֲרֵֽנִי (purify me), and  מֵעֲוֹנִ֑י  (from my iniquity) is juxtaposed with  וּֽמֵחַטָּאתִ֥י (and from my sin). 
    iii. Following, in vs. 5, is a parallelism between the words for sin (פְ֭שָׁעַי and וְחַטָּאתִ֖י)and the words expressing David’s knowledge of his guilt (אֲנִ֣י אֵדָ֑ע andנֶגְדִּ֣י תָמִֽיד , i.e. “I know” with “before me continually.”
    3.) Note the synonyms employed in the Psalm for sin, identifying a thematic key of the Psalm:   פֶּ֫שַׁע (3x), עָוֹן (3x), חַטָּאת (6x)רַע (1x) = 13 occurrences of words for sin. However, note the synonyms employed for right character indicating another, more amplified thematic key, including: purity, repentance, faithfulness, salvation, etc.  Representative forms as they occur are:מְחֵ֣ה   (2x), כַּבְּסֵ֣נִי  (2x), טַהֲרֵֽנִי (1x)   אַלְבִּֽין  (3x), תְּחַטְּאֵ֣נִי (1x), וְאֶטְהָ֑ר  (3x), נָ֜כ֗וֹן (1x), הָשִׁ֣יבָה  (2x), הַצִּ֘ילֵ֤נִי  (1x), תְּשׁוּעָתִ֑י   (2x) = 18 occurrences of these words (not including words for personal brokenness, vs. 19, etc.).  This means that there is both greater variety as well as a higher number of occurrences for the words on purity, plus additional words for the desired condition of the psalmist. 

    Solomon’s Argument that all is Vanity 
    By R. Brian Rickett
    I.               Superscription (v.1)
    II.             The Argument that all is Vanity (2-11)
    A.    The Problem Stated (2, 3)
    1.     The Problem Exclaimed—all is vanity (v. 2)
    2.     The Problem Explained—man’s accomplishments are temporal (v. 3)
    B.    The Problem Illustrated by Nature (4-7)
    1.     The cycles of generations—transitory yet immutable (v. 4)
    2.     The cycles of the sun—transitory yet immutable (v.5)
    3.     The cycles the wind—transitory yet immutable (v. 6)
    4.     The cycles of the rivers—transitory yet immutable (v. 7)
    C.    The Problem Illustrated by Experience (8-11)
    1.     The frustration of human inquiry (v. 8)
    2.     The insignificance of accomplishment (v. 9)
    3.     The finitude of knowledge (v. 10)
    4.     The impermanence of legacy (v. 11)

                In verses 2-11, Solomon introduces the book of Ecclesiastes with a 10 verse poem arguing that life from an “under the sun perspective” (v. 3) is absolute futility.  The poem may be divided into three sections.  The introductory section  is comprised of vv. 2, 3, and then two equal stanzas of four verses each comprise the body of the poem for a total of 10 verses.
                In the first introductory verse (v. 2), Solomon exclaims the problem that all is vanity.  In verse 3, he then identifies the reason for his exclamation—due to the virtual immutability of creation, including the unceasing passing of generations, all of life’s accomplishments are utterly futile, from an “under the sun perspective.”  In verses 4-7 (Stanza 1), he illustrates the problem of vanity from nature and in verses 8-11 (Stanza 2) he illustrates the problem of vanity from human experience. 
                In the first stanza, Qoheleth demonstrates by analogy that the transitory yet virtually immutable nature of the solar cycles, cyclical climatic patterns, and movement of streams represents the passing of time, which erases all individual significance.[1]  In Stanza 2, Qoheleth builds on in his argument that because of passing of generations and inherent transient, finite nature of man, the physical individual along with his temporal, i.e. under the sun accomplishments are annihilated by the passing of time.  Citing common experience, Qoheleth shows that the individual has an utter lack of significance, from an under the sun perspective.  He shows the frustration of human inquiry (v. 8), the immutability of existence (v. 9), the finitude of knowledge (v. 10), and the impermanence of legacy (v. 11).  

    [The above is an excerpt from my in progress commentary.  For the answer to the above problem, see Ecclesiates 12:13]

    Note: Ecc. 1:1-11 contains an unusual amount of assonance that corresponds to the message of the poem.  Listen to the reading here and compare the sound with the message of the poem as identified in the above outline. 

                  [1] It’s helpful to recall that weather patterns producing the constant flow of rivers are also cyclical.  Streams flow into the seas, water evaporates from the oceans producing clouds which produce rain which feed rivers and streams