23 Jan 2010

Update: 'gods' and 'angels'

I have just completed a versification of Psalm 97 along with an arrangement of the Genevan melody.

As is the case with a number of psalms (e.g., 8, 82, 95, 138), Psalm 97 includes two references to "gods," which appear to presuppose a polytheistic context. Some of our study bibles tell us that this accords with an ancient view of God presiding over a council of gods, as seen, e.g., at the beginning of Job. However, in Psalm 82 the translators of the New International Version place inverted commas around the word "gods," implying that these are not genuine gods but definitely subordinate to the one true God. The context appears to point to earthly political rulers who fancy themselves gods, as was not uncommon in the ancient near east. The RSV translates Psalm 97:7 thus:

All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.

However, the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) renders the same verse slightly differently:

Let all who do obeisance to carved images be put to shame,
those who make their boast in their idols.
Do obeisance to him, all his angels (άγγελοι)!

Note the change from the Hebrew to the Greek — from gods (elohim) to angels. I have rendered the same verse thus:

Those who deny his name
are quickly put to shame
for worshipping untruly
and reverencing unduly.
You gods, pay homage now;
before him you must bow.

However, following the Septuagint rendering, the fifth line could be rendered as follows: "Pay homage, angels, now." But for the present I have kept it as is. Such references to gods in scripture could thus mean either (1) false gods, as understood by the pagans; (2) angelic beings, as the LXX has it; or (3) political rulers who claim divinity. Interpreting which is correct obviously depends on context.

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