Monday, April 2, 2012

New Series: Mondays with the New Psalms

With the conclusion of the Mondays with Verbum Domini series a few weeks back, I wanted to initiate a new series of posts each Monday morning to fill the void. So, I have decided to begin a weekly post comparing the two most recent Catholic translations of the Psalms, the Revised Grail Psalms and the NABRE Psalms. Each Monday, I will post a particular Psalm in both translations, with limited comments, in hopes of initiating a discussion on them. Having returned to using the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a daily basis, which relies heavily on Psalms 120-134, I am going to begin with the Psalms of Ascent (or Gradual Psalms).

Psalm 120

1 A song of ascents.
The LORD answered me
when I called in my distress:
2 LORD, deliver my soul from lying lips,
from a treacherous tongue.

3 What will he inflict on you,
O treacherous tongue,
and what more besides?
4 A warrior’s arrows
sharpened with coals of brush wood!

5 Alas, I am a foreigner in Meshech,
I live among the tents of Kedar!
6 Too long do I live
among those who hate peace.
7 When I speak of peace,
they are for war.


1 A Song of Ascents.
To the LORD in the hour of my distress
I call—and he answers me.
2 “O Lord, save my soul from lying lips,
from the tongue of the deceitful.”

3 What should he give you, what repay you,
O deceitful tongue?
4 The warrior’s arrows sharpened,
with red-hot coals from the broom tree!

5 Alas, that I live in Meschech,
dwell among the tents of Kedar!
6 I have had enough of dwelling
with those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war.

--Revised Grail Psalms


Dan Z. said...

I like the Grail version better for this one. It flows better while the NABRE seems to be a paraphrase.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the new series. Can you compare Psalm 27 (26) next Monday? It is one of my favourite psalms.

rolf said...

Hey Timothy, good idea!
The NABRE flows well but does sound a bit brief, like some of the content was removed to make it flow better. Of these two I thought the Grail version was better, but I like this Psalm in the RSV-2CE the best;

1 In my distress I cry to the Lord,
that he may answer me:
2 "Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue."

3 What shall be given to you?
And what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
4 A warriors's sharp arrows,
with the glowing coals of the broom tree!

5 Woe is me, that I sojourn in Meshech,that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
6 Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace; but when they speak, they are for war!

Chrysostom said...

The RGP isn't half bad. The NABRE is mediocre, not due to any necessarily poor renderings, but, yet again, the deafness to good English that has characterized the entire stream of translations from the (essentially reliable and correctly rendered) Confraternity OT.

"When [b]I[/b] speak, they are for war" is a unique rendering (I've never read it before, nor have I ever read a commentary on the Psalms beyond Haydock and Navarre - not a book that immediately catches my attention, maybe because I read it straight through, although it contains more Messianic prophecy than the rest of the Bible combined and contains many of my favorite passages).

For some reason, the, "I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war" reminds me of Livy's Ab urbe condita libri for some reason - and I love Livy.

I'm going to have to rate the RGP as one of the best in this case. Close to the KJV, and equal to the RSV-2CE and ESV, in its own way.

Timothy said...


I am going to focus on the Songs of Ascent first, but will certainly tackle Psalm 27 soon after.

Theophrastus said...

Tim: Good luck with your new series. However, I think you should also print the annotations in the NABRE, as they are an integral part of the text and -- at least for this psalm -- quite interesting.

In particular, the NABRE note at 120:1 explain the entire idea of the Songs of Ascents (although the note might be criticized for not explaining what the Mishnah is -- and not every reader of the NABRE will recognize the term "Mishnah"). Since you will be working through the Song of Ascents, I think that this note will be quite interesting to reprint.

The note at 120:3 explains the Hebrew idiom translated as "more besides." Here, I must rather sharply disagree with the voices above praising the Revised Grail; the Revised Grail's rendition is, to my ears, too far from the original Hebrew.

The note at 120:5 is also quite interesting; without the note, I rather doubt that a typical reader of the psalms immediately recognizes the references to Meshech and Kedar.


I notice that your version of the Revised Grail disagrees with GIA's official version. The GIA version does not capitalize "with" (verses 4 and 6), "dwell" (verse 5), or "they" (verse 7). (I notice that the version you quoted from is inconsistent, since "from" is not capitalized in verse 2).

Further, the GIA version uses "warrior" rather than "warriot" in verse 4, and does not include "A Song of Ascents" in verse 1.

Russ said...

After readin both translations, I wondered about when the psalm was written and who or what Meshech and Kedar refers to. I have Robert Altar's translation in front of me and he states that "there are some linguistic indications that these psalms (of ascents) were composed in the Second Temple period, and one of them, Psalm 126, explicitly invokes the return to Zion." As for Meshech and Kedar, his footnote states that "these are two far-flung locations. Meshech is to the extreme northwest in Asia Minor, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea...Kedar is to the southeast in the Arabian Peninsula. One might might wonder (as I did) about the hisory of peregrinations of the speaker, but because it seems unlikely that a single person would have sojourned in both these places, it may be plausible to understand them as metaphors for living among people who behave like strangers, even if those people were within a stone's throw of Jerusalem (as someone today might say, I felt as though I were living in Siberia or Timbuktu.)

Timothy said...


I will likely add the NABRE as we go along.

As for the Revised Grail translation I provided, most were simple typographical errors that got past me. I fixed them. However, the superscript "A Song of Ascents" is included in verse 1 of the Revised Grail, like the NABRE, in the edition I own.

Timothy said...

Also thanks for the link to the GIA site, which I didn't know included the Revised Grail Psalms. That will be of great help in future posts.

Timothy said...


Interesting thoughts, particularly in regards to the connection with sojourners.

Chrysostom said...

Meshech, son of Japheth, son of Noah. Identified in Midrash as one of the Gog of the land of Magog. Identified by Jonathan Edwards (famous for preaching "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") as the Kievan Rus/Muscovites/Russians, I'm supposing at the time of Peter the Great.

Kedar, son of Ishmael, son of Abraham, progenitor of the Arabs, the "wild man, an ass whose hand will be against all other men" or similar. Muslims believe that Muhammad was a direct patrilineal descendant of Kedar.

They are both mentioned in Genesis, although I'm not sure if they're repeated in genealogies elsewhere (I'm guessing they would be in 1 Paralipomenon).

Those are the right "Meshech" and "Kedar", right? And I didn't have to read no stinkin' notes.

Chrysostom said...

I'm not a fan of Alter's translation (maybe I'm colored in his regard by his work on Genesis, insisting that matter is co-eternal with God), but it seems to me to be far too wooden. Literal is good, to a point, but, if you're reading a hyper-literal translation (as in the OSB Psalms as well), what is the point? Even if you see something that no one else has, looking for deeper insights - learn the Hebrew or inspired Greek, because even the most literal translation is still a translation.

I've always taken Meshech and Kedar in that Psalm to be the men Meshech and Kedar, or personifications of certain attributes, not geographical locations.

"I sojourn in Meshech [that is, among the Gog out of Magog] and dwell amongst the tents of Kedar [that is, Kedar, son of Ishmael, progenitor of the Arabs], wild and uncivilized men; they wish for war - as Ishmael will be the father of a great nation, yet his hand against all men - against the Lord God."

Theophrastus said...

Chrysostom: It is difficult to understand why you would understand Meshech to be a personification here, but presumably would not apply the same criterion to the listing of nations at Ezekiel 32:17-32 (Meshech is at verse 26), or at Ezekiel 27:13, 38:2, 38:3, 39:1. Especially since, as you point out, Johnathan Edwards and the midrash each considered Meshech to be a tribe.

One could make similar remarks about Kedar at Jeremiah 2:10, 49:28-33, Ezekiel 27:21, Isaiah 21:16-17, 42:11, 60:7. (E.g., in Isaiah 21:16, the "multitudes of Kedar" seem to refer to a tribe/nation, not an individual.)

By what criterion do decide that a late reference to Meshech or Kedar is a reference to the individual, rather than the nation?

I am particularly surprised by your interpretation because I know of the high regard you hold for the Clementine Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims-Challoner, which differ with you here:

DRC: Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! I have dwelt with the inhabitants of cedar

Clementine: heu mihi quia incolatus meus prolongatus est habitavi cum habitationibus Cedar


I am sure you are familiar with the infamous 2007 Time cover story that reported that only one half of American adults could name even one of the gospels; and that fewer than one half could identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible. This suggests to me that many readers of the Bible are not as fluent in references as you are.

Since the 1983 Code of Canon Law 825.2 requires that translations contain explanatory notes (and there have been similar Catholic rule for many centuries), and since Meshech and Kedar are likely obscure references for some readers, I am not sure why you would object to the inclusion of a note here.

Russ said...

Tim: Great idea to do the Psalms of Ascent. It being so long since I’ve taken the time to study any of the Psalms today I was lucky enough to find a copy of “The Psalms: New Catholic Version”, a translation published by the Catholic Book Publishing Corporation. I would encourage all those who don’t have this version to get one. It has many helpful notes in a very compact form with a comfortable font. I wanted to share how it introduces the Psalms of Ascent on page 332:

Human beings are born to be pilgrims in search of the Absolute, on a journey to God. We advance by way of stages, from the difficulties of life to the certitudes of hope, from the dispersion of cares to the joyous encounter with God, from diversion to inner recollection. The “Songs of Ascents” are prayers for the path we travel as human beings.

This group of psalms, which forms a major part of the Great Hallel (Ps. 120-136), served as a kind of handbook for pilgrims as they went up to the holy city for the great annual feasts (see Ex. 23:17; Deut. 16:16; 1 Ki. 12:28; Mt. 20:17; Lk. 2:4f). Two other explanations are offered but are regarded as less likely: namely, that they were sung by the returning exiles when they “went up” to Jerusalem from Babylon (see Ezr 7:90), or that they were sung by the Levites on the fifteen steps by which they ascended from the Court of the Women to the Court of the Israelites in the temple. The latter would account for the name “Gradual Psalms” or “Psalms of the Steps” by which they also are known. The name “gradual” may also be assigned to them because of their rhythm, in which every other verse continues the thought of the preceding verse.

Chrysostom said...

I don't object to the inclusion of a note here of all places - it would be hard to make it unacceptable or even objectionable (unless the annotators feel the need to scream "David didn't write this" in every single note...) - it's not a contested part of the Bible.

I suppose, in line with the "four stages of competence" book, that I overestimate the Biblical literacy of others, being Biblically literate myself (although I read no Hebrew nor Aramaic).

I actually wasn't familiar with the Time story, but am familiar with a similar, more detailed survey recently carried out by Richard Dawkins (& Co.?) with much the same results.

By which criterion? None objective. Maybe due to the influence of Greek thought and modern philosophy and scholastic theology, maybe due to the influence of the Spirit - but it is a reading which goes beyond the next, without a doubt.

I have no idea why I read it as a personification - probably because humans tend to anthropomorphize everything? I've read it more as, "I have dwelt in the midst of the negative attributes of Meshech, I have lived enclosed by the negative attributes of Kedar", the attributes being those which are ascribed to them in the Bible (neither character is highly thought of by the Biblical authors). I suppose that is fundamentally equivalent to the "tribal" reading, merely more spiritualized or abstracted (notably, the Hebrew authors weren't famous for their abstraction and spiritualization - they didn't even spiritualize the soul. Thank you, Plato and Origen! Thank you!).

I'm actually not aware of a Bible that, in the text, does agree with me, nor would I object to a purely literal reading of the text. "For all senses of Scripture are based on the literal" (some Church Document).

The DRC is pretty damned literal (at least to the Latin, I'm too lazy to pick up my new UBS Reader's Edition - how much better reading the NT is, when one doesn't need the BDAG to do it!) on that verse, too.

Chrysostom said...

Reading more of your comments: I tend to have multiple readings (not always aligning with the Four Senses, often multiple readings in a single Sense) for most passages of import that I've meditated on, and, I should note now (although I never have before) a strong tendency towards personification (even in Ezekiel and parts of the Table of Nations) in those readings. That is, reading the names as implying the attributes of those characters.

I believe the abstraction/personification occurs as early as when one reads, "...Tubal, who was the father of all those who forged instruments of bronze and iron", implying a personification akin to Prometheus and fire, or a strong notion of incorporated identity (likely the latter, being iron-age Hebrews and all).

I wonder if that is influenced by my Biblical literacy, so to speak, that, knowing the attributes of these characters, that I am more likely to view the text as implying them (because I am able to), compared to someone who has no idea who "Tubal" is.

Theophrastus said...

Crysostom: Thanks for clarifying. Of course I was here speaking of the "literal sense" of Scripture. I agree that in the three spiritual senses, more connections can be made; but the literal sense matters too. I think that when one understands the literal sense to the best of one's ability, one is better prepared to consider the spiritual senses.

Chrysostom said...

Excuse me, Tubalcain (or Tubal-cain in modern translations). (I decided to read Genesis yet again: it's been a while since I've read Genesis-as-Bible instead of Genesis-as-700-page-commentary.) Not plain Tubal. Maybe I could use some notes after all?