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Interpretive Spins and Literary Sparks in the Ψαλμοὶ: Ps. 68

July 21, 2013

This post is another in a series on the interpretive spins and literary sparks in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tehillim called Ψαλμοὶ (or Psalms). Translating the Septuagint (LXX) Greek into English, Albert Pietersma has noted that there are the sparks and spins, but he fails to identify them. Pietersma in the NET Septuagint has said, for example, the following about the translator of the Hebrew into the Greek:




My eye was directed to a possible literary spark in Psalm 68 this past week. Wayne Leman posted an announcement about the new “International Standard Version” of the Bible, and I was looking at how Dr. Mona Bias (for the ISV) had translated the Psalm. Although the ISV editors generally seem to suggest that their English is to be English as an international language, I was wondering.

Also, the ISV translators supposedly use the LXX Greek among various resources. So here is what I noticed, when comparing what Bias has done for the ISV with what other version translators have done (who don’t necessarily use the LXX as a source and who do often translate with English regionalisms). I’m just comparing the very first part of verse 14 (or 13, depending on the numbering system):


Now here is how Robert Alter translates the same (and as we all know Alter refers to the LXX many times):


In this case, however, it seems that Alter finds nothing useful in the Greek rendering of the Hebrew. His note points to other issues:


We can compare Alter’s translation with Bias’s. And we can add to these Ann Nyland’s rendering of the same. The reason Nyland’s might be interesting is that she, like Bias and like Alter, also consults the LXX. Nyland has this:


Her footnote gives these explanations:


Now, let’s compare the Hellene of the LXX with the Hebrew. The Masoretic Text has this:


The LXX translator has this:


Pietersma makes this Greek the following English:


And Brenton’s English version of that Greek goes like this:


So what’s going on?

Could it be that there’s an allusion to the lots so famously in Sophocles somehow? Like this:


commonly put into English like this?


Well, you can see that we have questions. On just this little bit of scripture, we have that much. We know we don’t know much. Except there is some fancy Greek before and after this little “lot.” The lot, of course, is an unusual bit to show up here in the Psalm. I think it’s an echo to the playwright for some now unknown reason. Maybe we’ll say more some later.

What do you think?


11 Comments leave one →
  1. Dana Ames permalink
    July 21, 2013 7:54 pm

    I think “allotments” makes the best sense, as in the allotments of land given to the Israelites, which is where sheepfolds would be found… Not that there’s necessarily any relation, but in Orthodox church buildings that are cruciform, the “arm” of the cross is called a kliros, so would call to mind a spatial designation. But I don’t know Greek – yet…


  2. July 21, 2013 9:01 pm

    What is the history and etymology of kliros, this term for the “arm” of the Orthodox cross floor-plan church buildings? Thanks very much for bringing that into this discussion.

    Also, I’m sure what you are making very good sense of in terms of “sheepfolds” (or as we USA folks might term them “sheep pens” ) has to be speculation. I believe Alter’s footnote is very instructive, and his ellipsis is a nice translation touch. On just the LXX, I will try to look at κλήρων, this phrase, more in different contexts. κληρουχία is much more clearly, less ambiguously, an allotment.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you on this, as you have time.


  3. July 21, 2013 10:45 pm

    Here’s what I have thought – not sheep fold but ash-heaps שׁפת (shpt), possibly אשׁפת (‘shpt) which almost sounds like ash-pit, meaning the leftovers from the evening campfire. Also – not necessarily ‘men’.

  4. July 21, 2013 10:54 pm

    Doing some quick work from the LXX side…
    I’m trying to figure what is going on w/ the use of κληρος.
    First, the Hebrew appears to be a bit strange. BDB suggest that בֵּ֪ין שְׁפַ֫תָּ֥יִם is to be understood in light of Judges 5.16 where יָשַׁ֗בְתָּ בֵּ֚ין הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתַ֔יִם makes better sense: Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds? ( שְׁפַ֫תָּ֥יִם on its own usually means “[dual] saddlebags”) The LXX of Judges A 5.16 translates with: ἵνα τί μοι κάθησαι ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν μοσφαθαιμ. As far as I can tell, μοσφαθαιμ is a hapax, and it is only translated with “sheepfolds” by Brenton and Lexham because of the Hebrew. NETS simply transliterates and footnotes the meaning of the Hebrew. Judges B 5.16 translates with: εἰς τί ἐκάθισαν ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς διγομίας which NETS renders: “To what end did they sit between the double load…” I’m assuming this Greek rendering is going back to the “saddlebags” idea. >>> In any case, it appears the LXX does not clearly know what to do with the שְׁפַ֫תָּ֥יִם of Ps 68.14 (MT).
    So, trying to work backwards, κληρος is usually used in the LXX to translate גוֹרָל or נַחֲלָה, but it is also used to translate הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתָֽיִם in Genesis 49.14, the same word that occurs in Judges 5.16. Gen 49.14 in the LXX is: Ισσαχαρ τὸ καλὸν ἐπεθύμησεν ἀναπαυόμενος ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κλήρων >> Issachar desired the good, resting between the allotments (NETS). The idea here is clearly the same as Ps 67.14 (LXX): ἐὰν κοιμηθῆτε ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κλήρων,
    In Genesis 49.14, the LXX does actually make some sense, perhaps picturing the tribal allotment of Issachar in the midst of the other tribes. The Hebrew of Gen 49.14 does not make much sense at all: “Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds;” (NRSV) Here, “sheepfolds” is used only because of Judges 5.16 and Ps 68.14. (I.e, we have reached total circularity! The NRSV’s “sheepfolds” is also used by NASB, ESV, NIV, TNIV, JPS. The KJV, Holman, NET, and NLT use the “saddlebags” idea.)

    SUMMARY: The meaning of שְׁפַ֫תָּ֥יִם or הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתָֽיִם is a challenge. The LXX is not reading some alternative Hebrew. The LXX is also consistent in its rendering of κληρος/allotment when comparing Ps 67/68.14 with Genesis 49.14. It actually makes better sense than the Hebrew in Gen 49.14. It also looks reasonable in Ps 67/68.14 when noting that the previous verse talks about the dividing of the spoils. (I also think that Judges 5.16 could be nicely understood as referring to allotments, but in this verse the LXX versions are no help.)
    So, I am not persuaded that Sophocles is in mind. Rather, I think the allotment of Gen 49.16 is.

  5. July 22, 2013 7:43 am

    What beauty from ashes you’ve brought us.Thanks for that phrase translation alternative, with some same sounds in our English too. 🙂 Nyland’s rendering is not far from yours, this sort of pedestrian and now-I-lay-me-down fire-side temporary/temporal looking-up-to-the-heavens sense. Not sure you meant me to interject all of that, and yet I do feel that your translation is very sensory, since you seem to take the Hebrew the way you do. Thank you!

  6. July 22, 2013 8:15 am

    Welcome! And may we call you Mark (your name we find via your link here to your website)?

    What a wonderful “quick work” analysis. What you’ve shown here is very compelling, all the rabbit trails and your helpful summary too!

    Let me do an aside here on the Hebrew before coming back to the Greek. You’ve found it to be referential to Judges, following BDB. And then ultimately, this solution seems to “reach total circularity!” We’re still left with the challenge of the strangeness of all of it. My quick question for you (and for anybody else for that matter) is what you might make of the more dynamic worshipful translation found here:

    Click to access EnglishTranslation68.pdf

    Starting in just a little earlier, we hear:

    “Kings of hosts flee, they flee; and she that dwells within the home apportions the booty. Were you to lie within your boundaries, wings of the dove covered with silver and her pinions with the shimmer of gold.

    Now, I’ve completely ripped this English away from the Hebrew, which is not something at all that the translators or the readers here ever ever intend! And yet, there’s some beauty and sense in this English alliteration of “booty” and “boundaries,” and “boundaries” does seem to suggest more of the (lost) ideas of the various other contexts of scripture, wouldn’t you think?

    So, on the LXX. That’s the real concern of this post. And so thank you for stating very clearly “The LXX is not reading some alternative Hebrew.” I do appreciate your looks at where else in the LXX – and how else – κληρος is uses, probably more often as “κληρος/allotment” and perhaps, then, with another gesture back to “Judges 5.16 [which] could be nicely understood as referring to allotments.” I can easily see how I’ve not (yet) made much of a case for the paradigm of Sophocles (which is, I’ll just say now with no evidence, in the Homeric paradigm); maybe I’ll have time later to develop that. But I don’t think it’s easy to tie all of the references in LXX together nicely, and a great temptation can be to see how later readers (i.e., the NT writers) might understand κληρος. At any rate, I’m out of time for now, and would you say more when you have time?

  7. July 22, 2013 12:04 pm

    Kurk, I intended the romantic meaning of staring at the sky before sleeping – see BDB 1046a. BDB suggests this translation directly. Note that it seems to require allowing a masculine plural as well as the fem. in Lam 4:5. I don’t see this as much of a problem with guesswork. I suspect that both plurals and spellings varied over a 400 year period.

  8. July 22, 2013 12:34 pm

    Greetings again, and, yes, “Mark” is fine!

    The dailytehillim translation is poetic, but I don’t see how it helps make any better sense.
    I’m not confident about my Hebrew, but I did look at the psalm a bit more closely. Perhaps in the Hebrew there is some idea of “sheepfold,” since in the preceding v 13 we have וּנְוַת־בַּ֝֗יִת which the NRSV translates with “the women at home” and the dailytehillim with ” and she that dwells within the home.” It’s kind of an odd phrase, but וּנְוַת does include the idea of pasturage (HALOT) or “abode of shepherd/flocks” (BDB). I.e., the last half of v13 alludes to something about sheep which is echoed in the first half of v14 if we take שְׁפַ֫תָּ֥יִם as referring to sheepfolds.
    I think, however, that it is all highly poetic and allusive. Maybe the picture is that of piles of the spoils from the fleeing kings. The stuff is stacked up and stored like sheep in the fold, and the women go ‘grazing’ through it all. You can even lie down and sleep in the midst of all the beautiful goods.

    That’s the best I can do!

  9. July 22, 2013 6:09 pm

    Thank you very much. I know how long and how closely and how many different ways you’ve considered the Hebrew here. I love your guesswork, without a problem!

    Thank you for doing so well with your Hebrew for us! Your best is really good. I wonder how your Latin is. Something in your comment got me looking at both the Vulgate (si dormieritis inter medios termionos) and also the Pagnini (si dormieritis inter trípodes), but I confess I don’t know what these mean. I do like your English “picture”!

    Very very interesting. Thank you! Your links sent me over to the OED, which has the following for cleric. There really is a tie in here:

    Etymology: < late Latin clēricus clergyman, priest, properly an adjective ‘of or belonging to the clērus ’; < Greek κληρικός ‘of or pertaining to an inheritance’, in later (Christian) use ‘of or belonging to the ecclesiastical or sacerdotal order’, < κλῆρος ‘lot, allotment, piece of land, estate, heritage’, used in 2nd cent. as a name of the ministerial or sacerdotal order in the church, the clergy. The Greek words were adopted in Latin in this transferred sense only (clērus in Tertullian a220, clēricus in Jerome 4th cent.), with which they passed into Romanic and English. Compare clerk n.

    On the history of the application of κλῆρος to the Christian ministry, see Bp. Lightfoot Philippians (1868) 245–6, where its probable origin is seen in the use of the word in Acts i. 17, τόν κλῆρον τῆς διακονίας ταύτης ‘the lot of this ministry’; compare i. 25. In the time of Jerome, explanations were sought in the use of κλῆρος in Deut. xviii. 2, compared with ix. 29, and parallel passages; and 1 Peter v. 3 was interpreted in this sense. Jerome's explanation is thus repeated in the Apology for the Lollards (c1400) 43:

    ‘The clerk..schuld interpret þe calling of his nam, and enforce to be þat he is seid; for a clerk in our speche is seid sort, and þer for are men seid clerkis, for þei are of þe Lordis sort, or for þe Lord is þer part; and for he is þe Lordis part, or haþ þe Lord his part, he au[h]t to haue him s[u]ilk þat he haue þe Lord, and be had of þe Lord.’


  1. Psalm 68: Conversation “Pieces through Time” | BLT

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