Psalm 65: For you silence is praise
The opening line of Psalm 65 is routinely mistranslated (65:2 in the Hebrew, 65:1 in Christian English numbering)
לְךָ דֻֽמִיָּה תְהִלָּה
Literally, this reads, “For you silence is praise,” and as such, is a statement of sublime profundity.
Many readings of this psalm take a different approach. The Hermeneia commentary (whose authors/editors/translators include Frank-Lothar Hossfeld, Erich Zenger, Klaus Baltzer, and Linda Maloney) explains the controversy in a footnote:
The vocalization of דמיה is debatable: with the MT as the noun, “silence,” or with the LXX as a feminine participle, דמה Qal, “be equal/be appropriate.” The LXX offers the lectio facilior and makes this text like that of its translation of 33:1*. However, the reading of the MT, which is preferable here, takes into account, in its closeness to 62:2–3*, 6–7*, the proximate context (cf. Seybold, 252; Spieckermann, “Alttestamentliche ‘Hymnen,’” 98 n. 3). The “silence” can either mean that, after the laments in Psalms 51–64, the cessation of lament is itself praise of God (cf. Millard, Komposition, 121 n. 267), or that silence is an attitude of confident expectation in the sense of the refrain of Psalm 62. Perhaps there may even be a reference here to the “quiet in the land” (35:20*).
Many standard study Bibles do not even note the issue, and simply substituting another term for דמיה . The NRSV translates this as “Praise is due to you” and does not note the change in its footnotes, and two major NRSV study Bibles, the New Oxford Annotated Bible (4th ed.) and the HarperCollins Study Bible (2nd ed.) do not even make note of it. (Similarly with RSV-based New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1st ed.)
Similarly, the NJPS translates this as “Praise befits You” (no footnote) and the Oxford Jewish Study Bible does not note the change in wording.
Among sectarian Bibles: the ESV uses the same translation as the NRSV, and the ESV Study Bible has no note explaining the change.
NABRE, the new edition of the New American Bible, translates this passage as “To you we owe our hymn of praise.”
However, I was surprised that some study Bibles and translations that I think of as “down market” or less scholarly are actually much better on the issue.
The NIV11 translates the passage as “Praise awaits you,” but has a footnote next to “awaits” that says “Or befits; the meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain. Even better the 2011 NIV Study Bible has an annotation explaining
awaits. Or “is silent before” … Perhaps the imagery is that of praise personified as a permanent resident of the temple, lying quietly at rest, whom the people will awaken when the come to make good their vows.
The Message translates this as “Silence is praise to you.”
The “God’s Word” translation translates this as “You are praised with silence.”
The “easy-reading” Common English Bible (CEB) translates this passage as “to you even silence is praise.” (Which is not quite right, but is considerably closer in meaning.)
The HCSB has a footnote with the alternative translation “Praise is silence to You.”
The Darby Bible takes both options, and translates this passage as “Praise waiteth for thee in silence.”
And the NET Bible (which is not easy to characterize as either up-market or down-market) explains itself with a long footnote, as
tn Heb “for you, silence, praise.” Many prefer to emend the noun דֻּמִיָּה (dumiyyah, “silence”) to a participle דּוֹמִיָּה (domiyyah), from the root דָּמָה (damah, “be silent”), understood here in the sense of “wait.”
It is interesting to me that in this passage, the standard scholarly Bibles and study Bibles are not as good as other works in presenting the literal meaning of the Hebrew, and they do not even pause to note the change.