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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ps 68: Pt. 4: A house full of children

Down the hatch with the chicken scratch. I am in a four way race and even though I got off the starting block first, I have lost the lead and John has pulled ahead. Dave is already pondering the "lovely lady", Bob has provided the whole psalm en bloque, and I am slowly going to plod through one little word at a time.

A few notes in response to various emails, comments, etc.
  • I usually choose boring titles because I detest the unwieldy URL
  • I do not support affirmative action. I would now appreciate a female pastor for once because I have had an almost clear streak of male pastors for 50 years.
  • I wish to thank David Reimer who sent me an electronic book, Grammatical Analysis of the Hebrew Psalter by Joana Julia Greswell, 1873. I am always very appreciative of anyone who sends me books, paper or electronic, and I am especially delighted when it is a scholarly book by a woman author.
  • Thanks to J. K. for his comment on this post. It is worth coming back to in the future.
John has already provided his translation of Ps. 68:6-7, and is likely working on the next few verses as I write. However, I am going to take time to offer a slightly different interpretation of these verses. I hope that John will then respond. Very likely, both interpretations are possible, but John may just be able to prove that I am off base.

אֲבִי יְתוֹמִים

וְדַיַּן אַלְמָנוֹת

אֱלֹהִים בִּמְעוֹן קָדְשׁוֹ.

אֱלֹהִים מוֹשִׁיב

יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה

מוֹצִיא אֲסִירִים בַּכּוֹשָׁרוֹתאַךְ

סוֹרְרִים שָׁכְנוּ צְחִיחָה.

    avi yetomim

    vedaiyan almanot

    elohim bim'on kadesho.

    elohim moshiv

    yechidim baytah

    motzi asirim bakkosharot'ach

    sorerim shachenu tzechichah.

    Father of orphans,

    And defender of widows,

    God in his holy habitation

    God who settles

    The singles in households

    God, who gives

    To the childless children

    Who leads captives out to fertile places

    But the rebellious inhabit scorched land.

    Who leads captives out to rich land

    While rebels inhabit scorched earth.

Listen to it here. I have interpreted verse 7a somewhat differently from John. Where John writes, "God, who resettles the homeless to homes;" I have, "God, who gives to the childless children." First, I have taken a very literal approach to the word יְחִידִים It could mean "abandoned" or " deserted", but also "beloved" since its basic meaning is "only" or "single".

Next, I have once again chosen the literal "household" because I think it is understood that a "household" is the family inside the house. But, most important, rather than seeing the "singles" as a reprieve of the "orphans" and "widows", referring to the same group of people, I consider that it refers to a different group altogether, the never-married, or the childless. Since children are the chief blessing, the most important prosperity, in a tribal culture, I understand that this says that God gives to single people a family. That is, God gives the single man a wife and children, i.e. a household.

I still have to consider carefully whether the "singles" are only men, or single men and women. In an inflected language, all nouns are either feminine or masculine. Nouns referring to people break down into three groups pragmatically. Those with a feminine marking are all feminine. Those with a masculine marking can be either all masculine, or both masculine and feminine. If we are talking about taxation and civic affairs, it may be that the men represent the women, they represent their household. However, it may simply be a mixed crowd of men and women, and there is no representative function of the males whatsoever. I won't worry about that.

The question is whether we should see three groups of people, 1. orphans, 2. widows and 3. single/widowed men; or whether there are three groups of people, 1. orphans, 2. widows, and 3. single men and women.

The reference to the "house" seemed at first to bring to mind the many mentions of "the house of" in the genealogies. This is usually in conjunction with the name of the father - Abraham, Israel, David, etc. I was looking for a reference that would be true to this culture, not necessarily gender neutral. Does only a man have "a house", that is a wife and children and the women belong to "the house" of a man? My concern is not hierarchy but social configuration.

In looking back on the Genesis narratives, I thought of the importance of children to Abraham, and the story of his servant going to chose Rebekah for Isaac. It is one of the loveliest stories in that book. We know Rebekah will feel loved.

While this chapter is about fulfilling God's promise to Abraham that he will beget many children, it contains two mentions of the family of women. First, Rebekah in Gen. 24:28, runs off to tell the news "to her mother's house". So, I infer that a woman may also have "a house." Next, we read in verse 60
    And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her: 'Our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands, and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them.'
While the Hebrew scriptures are predominantly patrilineal and patriarchal, they are not uniquely so. Therefore, I have translated Psalm 68:7 as "singles" not "single men" - "to singles a household". However, if I were to provide a more dynamic translation, I would say "to the childless children". The logical result of marriage is children, and in this culture no marriage would be complete without them.

And now, having struggled throughout this post knowing I have a slight disagreement with John over verse 7a, I finally sneak a peak at Luther, bless him, he sides with me. Luther translates, der den Einsamen das Haus voll Kinder gibt - "who gives to the single a house full of children." I think somehow Luther loved children.

Further Notes: From the New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible,
    God setteth the solitary in families

    Which the Jewish writers generally understand of an increase of families, with children in lawful marriage; see (Psalms 113:9) ; an instance of which we have in Abraham and Sarah; from which single or solitary ones, when joined in marriage, sprung a numerous offspring, (Isaiah 51:2) (Hebrews 11:12) . And to this sense the Targum paraphrases the words;

    ``God is he that joins, couples single ones into a couple, as one:''

    some copies add,

    ``to build an house out of them;''
    that is, a family




At Wed Sep 05, 12:21:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

I'm enjoying the overlap and the unique perspectives and strategies each brings to the challenge. This is collaboration not a contest!

I can't scan Hebrew at all so I am appreciating the transliterations.

At Wed Sep 05, 07:43:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This is collaboration not a contest!

Absolutely, and since John and I are drawing from different resources, we complement each other.


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