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Medieval Psalms Codex Clarification

28th July 2006

There has been a clarification in connection to the Psalm book discovered in the Irish bog. Initial news reports said that the book was open to Psalm 83, which in most modern English translations is a prayer to wipe out the enemies of Israel. What no one noted is that they meant Psalm 83 in the Latin Vulgate, and the Latin Vulgate (like the Greek Septuagint it follows) is usually one chapter off of the Hebrew MT tradition and our modern English translations. So as it turns out — much to the dismay of all of those who interpreted this as some sort of sign from God — the book from the bog is open to Psalm 84 according to our modern translations.

Here is an excerpt from the recent Reuters story that announces the clarification:

The National Museum of Ireland announced Tuesday what it said was one of the most significant Irish discoveries in decades; an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms, written around 800 AD. It said part of Psalm 83 was legible.

In modern versions of the Bible, Psalm 83 is a lament to God over other nations’ attempts to wipe out Israel and many commentators wondered at the coincidence of such a discovery at a time of heightened tension in the Middle East.

“The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with ‘the wiping out of Israel’,” the museum said in its clarification.

The confusion arose because the manuscript uses an old Latin translation of the Bible known at the Vulgate, which numbers the psalms differently from the later King James version, the 1611 English translation from which many modern texts derive.

The difference in numbering is due to different ancient traditions of dividing individual psalms, especially for psalms without superscriptions. For example, Psalms 9 and 10 in the Hebrew MT tradition (which most modern English translations follow for psalm numbers) are combined in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate to form their Psalm 9. This combination is facilitated because MT Psalm 10 does not have a superscription. In fact, many scholars believe that the LXX tradition here is more authentic since when combined MT Psalm 9 and 10 share an acrostic pattern (the verses are in alphabetical sequence).

Here is a table showing all of the differences in psalm divisions between the two major traditions:

PsalmChapters.jpg

I wonder what speculation Psalm 84 will give rise to!

(Thanks to Jeremy for the heads up in a comment on my original post)


4 Responses to “Medieval Psalms Codex Clarification”

  1. Justin Jenkins Says:

    Well I’ll tell you how it relates to the current crisis in Israel …
    Psalm 84:5 states:

    “Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
    As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.�

    Clearly “highwaysâ€? to Zion refers to the roads currently being bombed by Israel in Lebanon and the ones in Israel being rocketed by Hezbollah. Further the “Valley of Bacaâ€? could be translated as the “Valley of Weepingâ€? — i.e. weeping over the bombing. Then again it could also mean “balsam trees.â€?

    But even more relevant is that Qur’an also mentions a similar if not the same valley in Surah 3:96:

    “For sure the first House [of Worship] to be erected for humanity was Bakkah. It is a blessed place, a source of guidance for all people, there are clear signs in it, it is the place where Abraham stood, whoever enters it is safe.�

    Clearly this was talking about an early bomb shelter where “whoever enters it is safe.� See it all relates. :)

  2. Claude Mariottini Says:

    Tyler,

    Thank you for clarifying the issue about the book of Psalm found the Irish bog. Even I failed to realize that, since the Psalm Codex was in Latin and was taken from the Vulgate, the numbering of the Psalms would be different in English. The lesson that I (and others) must learn is that, when it comes to the Bible, we have to stop depending on English translations.

    I appreciate reading your blog.

    Claude Mariottini

  3. Jeremy Says:

    Tyler, you’re welcome! I should’ve picked up (earlier) on something like that since both the LXX and the Vulgate Pslams numbering varies from English. :)

  4. biblicalia » Blog Archive » Biblical Studies Carnival VIII Says:

    [...] little bubble! The different numbering of the Psalms in the Latin/Greek and Hebrew traditions are covered by Tyler Williams at Codex, who also explains the whole kerfuffle (as Jim Davila points out in his [...]