22 May 2021

Owen Jones' Victoria Psalter

What better way to spend Victoria Day weekend than to page through a copy of Owen Jones' The Psalms of David, "with permission dedicated to Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria," also known as the Victoria Psalter. Jones (1809-1874) was an architect and ornamental designer who served as a superintendent of works at the Great Exhibition of 1851. His 1856 Grammar of Ornament had an influence on subsequent architects and designers in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1862 he published the Victoria Psalter, a chromolithographed illuminated psalter with colours limited to red, blue and gold. The text of the Psalms is that of Miles Coverdale's translation, as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The 150 Psalms are divided into 30 groups so as to be said or sung over a 30-day period. Each day is further divided into two for morning and evening prayer. The Psalm at the beginning of each group is preceded by a simple chant tone.

16 May 2021

Critical Psalm Theory

Carl R. Trueman mentions the Psalms in something he wrote a few days ago concerning Critical Race Theory (CRT): Critical Psalm Theory. I will not address the controversy over CRT here, but I find the article of interest in part because of its relevance to the liturgical use of the imprecatory Psalms, namely, those calling down God's wrath on his enemies. With reference to the terrifying final verse of Psalm 137, Trueman weighs in here:

The Psalmist knows that the Babylonians have razed Jerusalem to the ground, massacred Jewish children, and carried the Israelites off into exile (2 Kings 8:12; Nah. 3:10). These are facts of which, as an exile, he is well aware. And, brutal as the closing verse is, the Psalmist is speaking in a manner consistent with the biblical metanarrative concerning the ultimate fate of all those who defy God (Isa. 13:16; Hosea 13:16). For sure, the psalm is a cry of shocking, horrifying agony, but it is connected to the known facts of the case interpreted through the covenantal metanarrative. The lament does not assume anything that the Psalmist does not certainly know to be true.

Our pain, however real it is, however unjust its cause, however evil its effect, does not give us license to express ourselves in any way we choose. I have written numerous times on the church's pressing need to learn to lament; but Christian lamentation must never be divorced from the facts interpreted through the metanarrative of God’s dealings with his people. As the Psalmist himself declares, “Be angry, and do not sin”—a verse picked up in the Pauline epistles (Eph. 4:26). And slander and the spreading of false or inaccurate stories, even in a “hot affective reflection,” are still sins (Exod. 20:16; Exod. 23:1; Prov. 14:25; Matt. 19:18).

Read the entire article here.

14 May 2021

De Nieuwe Psalmberijming

Last month a new Dutch versification of the Psalms was published: De Nieuwe Psalmberijming. As far as I know, there have been four major Dutch metrical psalters over the centuries: (1) that of Pieter Datheen of 1566; (2) the Statenberijming of 1773; (3) the Niewe Berijming of the Interkerkelijke Stichting voor de Psalmberijming [Interchurch Foundation for Psalm Versification] of 1968; and now (4) De Nieuwe Psalmberijming of 2021, produced by the Stichting Dicht bij de Bijbel [Close to the Bible Foundation].

Naturally languages change over time, and idioms once understood by earlier generations fall out of use and are replaced by others. Hence the translation of the Bible and other liturgical texts is a constant need for each generation. At times languages change quickly, as English did from the time of Chaucer in the 14th century to the 16th century when the first "modern" translations of the Bible were produced. At other times languages change incrementally, and liturgical texts may play a role in stabilizing them for many centuries, as did the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

13 May 2021

Versification headaches

Setting the Psalms to verse isn't so easy either.

12 May 2021

"Kleszczmy rękoma" (Psalm 47) Mikołaj Gomółka

Here is a performance of Psalm 47 from the 16th-century Polish David's Psalter, by Jan Kochanowski and Mikołaj Gomółka. Sung by the "Tibi Domine" Choir at St. John's Church in Gdańsk in 2017.

After 5 June I will be posting an English version of this which I recorded a few days ago. As far as I know, this is the first time that anyone has come up with an English-language rendition of this beautiful metrical psalm. Stay tuned.

7 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation: links

Here are the links to my posts as I have explored the reluctance of the Septuagint and related texts to use the rock metaphor for God in translating from the Hebrew:

My Rock and my salvation, 1: the Septuagint's skittishness

My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate

My Rock and my Salvation, 3: The New Coverdale Psalter

My Rock and my salvation, 4: the Targums

My Rock and my salvation, 5: a Hellenistic taboo?

I am grateful to my dear friend and colleague, Al Wolters, for the guidance he has given me in my journey of exploration in a field which is admittedly not my own. I am sure there is considerably more to say on the subject, but for the moment I will leave it aside, unless something else of significance comes to my attention.

6 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 5: a Hellenistic taboo?

Wolters alerted me to this quotation from Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), pp. 95-96:

It is interesting that while the Greek translators did not avoid these [anthropomorphic] metaphors in a systematic fashion, they were consistently reluctant to refer to God as a rock. Mostly in the Psalms, but also in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Habakkuk, the Hebrew text sometimes speaks of God as a rock or stone, a figure that likens God to a fortress, a secure place of refuge. For instance, consider Psalm 18:13, 46:

4 May 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 4: the Targums

I am still puzzling over the Septuagint (LXX) translators' reluctance to translate the rock metaphors from Hebrew into Greek, substituting for them such words rendered in English as strength and helper. This metaphor is also absent from the Latin Vulgate and, with one exception, from Miles Coverdale's Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer. It occurred to me that perhaps the LXX translators had access to a lost Hebrew manuscript that had already made these substitutions. But there's another possibility.

After the Babylonian exile, Jews ceased to pronounce the divine name, יהוה, often rendered YHWH in the roman alphabet. When they came to this name in the biblical text while reading, they would orally substitute אֲדֹנָי‎, (Adonai) or LORD. Accordingly, the LXX translated the divine name with the Greek word Κύριος (Kyrios).

3 May 2021

Medium as message: Boersma

First Things has published an article by Hans Boersma that we would do well to read and ponder: The Liturgical Medium is the Message. Arguing that changing the medium of worship effectively alters the message, Boersma comments on the tradition of metrical psalmody: "When traditional Calvinist churches switch from the Genevan Psalter to worship songs, it’s not just the form that changes. Calvinism itself is doomed at that point. . . . The Genevan Psalter has the five points of Calvinism baked into its tunes; even the organ is indispensable in conveying that God is sovereign and puny creatures are not."

Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nasthotah House, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He appears once to have been affiliated with the Gereformeerde Kerken (Vrijgemaakt) in the Netherlands and the Canadian Reformed Churches but may now be an Anglican. Read about him here.

Psalm 141: Let My Prayer Arise

Here is a haunting performance of Psalm 141 (LXX 140) sung in Russian from two years ago. Judging from the comments below the video, it has the capacity to move even the unbeliever.

1 May 2021

Praying the Psalms

Christian Courier has posted my April column at their website: Praying the Psalms: Embracing the liturgical heritage of the global church. Here is an excerpt:

As a young man living and studying in Minnesota, I accidentally stumbled upon a form of prayer extending back to the early church and into biblical times. I was browsing in the bookstore of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul and found a red paper-bound volume titled The Daily Office, with a lengthy subtitle: “Matins and Vespers, Based on Traditional Liturgical Patterns, with Scripture Readings, Hymns, Canticles, Litanies, Collects and the Psalter, Designed for Private Devotion or Group Worship.” A compact book, it nevertheless had nearly 700 pages, packed with scripture, psalms, hymns and prayers organized around the church year. I purchased the book and began to pray according to the patterns laid out in its pages. It ended up changing my life and my relationship with God.

Read the entire article here.

My Rock and my Salvation, 3: The New Coverdale Psalter

Generations of Anglicans are familiar with the cadences of Miles Coverdale's Psalms, about which I wrote last month: My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate. If you take a look at the online Book of Common Prayer (2019) for the Anglican Church in North America and go to the Psalter section, beginning on page 270, you will find something interesting relevant to the rock metaphors for God. In most cases where they occur, the rock metaphors have been returned to the Psalms, except for Psalms 62, 95, and 144:

Psalm 62: 2: "He is my strength and my salvation . . ."

Psalm 62:6: "He truly is my strength and my salvation . . ."

Psalm 95:1: ". . . let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation."

Psalm 144:1: "Blessed be the LORD my strength . . ."

Psalm 144:2: "My hope and my fortress . . ."

Why the revisers left these texts alone I cannot say, but I suspect that, in the case of Psalm 95 (Venite), the text is so familiar to worshippers that they decided to let it stand in the form they had come to love. The New Coverdale Psalter is available as a separate volume here.