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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Psalm 68 Part 2

Tonight I want to write about Psalm 68 verse 4, the second line. Some of you might have noticed that it is translated in at least four significantly different ways.
    סֹלּוּ, לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת

    Extol him that rideth upon the heavens KJV

    Make a way for him who ascendeth upon the west: D-R

    Lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; ESV

    Extol him who rides on the clouds NIV
The root ערבה can legitimately have several different meanings, as desert or wasteland, as the evening, or the clouds in the sky. The translation has depended strongly on context, that is, first, the verb which precedes this noun; and secondly, other expressions occurring in this psalm. In the KJV the line has been translated to accord with verse 33,

לָרֹכֵב, בִּשְׁמֵי שְׁמֵי-קֶדֶם
To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old;

The word for "ride" means to ride on an animal or in chariot, while ערבה has been variously translated in these ways in the different translations.

heavens - Pagnini, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishop's, KJV, JPS (skies)
clouds - RSV, (T)NIV, NET, HCSB, NRSV, CEV
evening, setting, going down - LXX, Vulgate, Wycliffe (going down)D-R (west)
desert - Jerome's Hebrew Psalter, Luther, NASB, ESV

These are the three translations which have influenced the different choices.

Vulgate (from LXX)
iter facite ei qui ascendit super occasum.
[make way for him who ascends on the setting]

Jerome's Hebrew Psalter
Praeparate viam ascenditi per deserta
[Prepare a way for him who ascends through the desert]


Exaltate eum qui equitat super coelos
[Exalt him who rides (a horse) on the heavens]

What is really fascinating is to see that the Bishops' Bible demonstrates its dependence on the Pagnini translation by explicitly mentioning "riding on a horse".
    Magnifie hym that rideth vpon the heauens as it were vpon an horse Bishops'
Only the Latin of Pagnini refers to a horse. The others simply reflect "riding" on something. There seems to be no way to know absolutely which translation is correct. When it comes to Hebrew, I tend to simply accept the authority which I read or heard speak most recently. However, at least with the KJV you can know that the translation has its origin elsewhere in scripture, it is there, if somewhere else.

I can't come close to suggesting which translation is the most accurate, but I find it a good exercise to go through something like this and learn more about the process of translation over the centuries.

PS I am aware that I have some technical difficulties in posting in Hebrew. Advice is welcome.



At Sun Sep 02, 08:05:00 AM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

no problems reading the Hebrew in this post for me

At Sun Sep 02, 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

לָרֹכֵב I know why the second letter comes detached, but I don't know how to fix it.

And I have not yet tackled posting Hebrew from the right hand margin. I simply haven't developed many skills for working in Hebrew, not that they would be difficult.

At Sun Sep 02, 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Lingamish writes,


That Psalm is a doozy. The Bible Society handbook says:

Both as to text and meaning, this psalm is the most difficult of all psalms to understand and interpret. There is no discernible unity in the composition. Some have suggested that the psalm is no more than a list, a catalogue, of some thirty poems, whose first lines, or strophes, are cited one after the other; or else that separate songs have been brought together for use in worship. The one theme which predominates is that of Yahweh as God of Israel waging war against Israel's enemies and defeating them.

Good stuff on desert vs. clouds. IVP Background Commentary mentioned Ugaritic references to storm God Baal riding on the clouds. But I see a lot of desert/water imagery in this poem and am about convinced that is the right interpretation. (I grew up on NASV)



I know it it a doozy and I don't intend to demystify any of it. However, this psalm does have in it five names of God, including "Sovereign LORD" in the NIV, as requested by Bryan, and many of God's attributes.

This psalm also has a very curious example of the "OT in the New." And, I promise I did not notice this at first, but it also has some "women preachers". How could I resist!

At Mon Sep 03, 05:04:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Love it. When you take your pastorate I hope to be on the front row cheering. Promise me you'll wear castanets.

At Mon Sep 03, 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

If you don't specify a font for Hebrew, the system (Windows, at least) defaults to a system standard font, probably Times New Roman. And it is a well-known bug in TNR that holam haser (defective) never combines properly with the preceding consonant (not vav). To get this to display properly, define another font. Or, I would recommend transliteration, so that BBB is more accessible to those who don't read Hebrew, or have intractable software problems with displaying it.

You quote Lingamish's point about the Ugaritic parallel, but don't comment on it. But the NIV Study Bible seems to confirm that this was part of the reason for the NIV reading "who rides on the clouds":

An epithet of Baal found in Canaanite literature is used to make the point that the Lord (Yahweh, not Baal) is the exalted One who truly makes the storm cloud his chariot (see v. 33; 18:9; 104:3; Isa 19:1; Mt 26:64).

At Mon Sep 03, 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I was able to address all this in my next post, but now you have explained to me what I did and why. I just know it worked.

I have chosen a very simple form of transliteration for posting, it seems very reader friendly but not scholarly. I would need to be persuaded to use the other system, which looks erudite but doesn't really improve on one's ability to read the stuff.

I'm going to let others blog about the Hebrew semantics behind all this, so I didn't comment on the Ugaritic. I have no words of wisdom - gentle of otherwise - to add here. Maybe you would like to blog about this psalm also.


What I really want is to have a woman pastor.

At Mon Sep 03, 04:56:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

oops - gentle OR otherswise

At Mon Sep 03, 09:18:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

Well, I'd still like pastors to use castanets more.


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