YHVH's Posture in Ps 9: Obscured Enthronment Language Among the Translations

This week I began to translate and write a small commentary on Ps. 9 for an upcoming class that I will be teaching.  Psalm 9 is an interesting psalm that focuses on the rule of YHVH as it relates to justice.  The psalmist rejoices and celebrates the execution of YHVH’s wondrous deeds that he enumerates throughout the text.

The rule of YHVH is symbolized by the throne of YHVH (cf. 1 Kgs 16:11).  This may be similar to how Americans refer to the office of the president or the desk of the president.  The desk or office symbolizes the actions carried out by the occupant of that space.  However, I feel that some English translations obscure the literary quality of the language found throughout Psalm 9 by how they render the verb ישׁב, especially at it relates to the throne of YHVH.

The word ישׁב (yashav) can be translated as inhabit, settle, marry, crouch, meet, restore, reigns, or sit.[1] In my view, this Hebrew word should be translated as sit throughout this psalm.  Using sit throughout the Psalm reinforces a concept that is first introduced in verse 4, which is the notion of YHVH working justice from his throne.  When this rendering is carried throughout the passage it will continue to recall the posture of YHVH in relation to his place of rule.

ישׁב
is used three times within this psalm (verses 4, 7, and 11), but is handled inconsistently in many versions.  Below I have included the Hebrew text, some not so stellar readings, and finally my rendering, which I feel is more preferable to the other English versions listed.

Ps. 9:4 (Qal perfect 2ms)

BHS: כִּֽי־עָ֭שִׂיתָ מִשְׁפָּטִ֣י וְדִינִ֑י יָשַׁ֥בְתָּ לְ֝כִסֵּ֗א שׁוֹפֵ֥ט צֶֽדֶק׃

NLT: For you have judged in my favor; from the throne you have judged with fairness.

NET: For you defended my just cause; from your throne you pronounce a just decision.

My Translation: For you worked justice (for) me and my legal claim. You sat on a throne [as] one who judges [with] righteousness.

Ps. 9:7 (Qal imperfect 3ms)

BHS: וַֽ֭יהוָה לְעוֹלָ֣ם יֵשֵׁ֑ב כּוֹנֵ֖ן לַמִּשְׁפָּ֣ט כִּסְאֹֽו׃

NASB95 – But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne forever.

NIV84 – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.

TNIV – The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.

NKJV – But the LORD shall endure forever; He has prepared His throne for judgment.

My Translation: But YHVH forever sits. He established justice from his throne.

Ps. 9:11 (Qal participle 2ms)

BHS: זַמְּר֗וּ לַ֭יהוָה יֹשֵׁ֣ב צִיּ֑וֹן הַגִּ֥ידוּ בָ֝עַמִּ֗ים עֲלִֽילוֹתָֽיו׃

NASB95 – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among His people his deeds.

NLT – Sing praises to the LORD who reigns in Jerusalem.  Tell the world about his unforgettable deeds.

NKJV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion! Declare his deeds among the peoples.

NRSV – Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples.

My Translation – Sing to YHVH, [who is] sitting [in] Zion. Declare among the nations his deeds.

Reigns is the most appropriate reading offered by the well-known versions listed above.  Reigns certainly gets the idea of YHVH’s rule across, which appears to be intended by the author. Yet, I find it unsatisfactory.

The majority of folks who read the Bible in translation do so because they don’t have a choice.  Those without access to the original languages would have no clue that the repetition of this verb ישׁב exists in the text by reading most English versions.  By using words like dwell, abide, endure, or even reigns, the translator betrays the audience and symbolism of the text that is centered on the concept of YHVH ruling in the posture of a king on his throne.  I don’t think that our western culture is too far removed from the symbolic currency of a royal throne that we need to obscure the seated or enthronement language with our translations.


[1] Most of the semantic ranges were taken from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages – Hebrew.

5 comments to YHVH’s Posture in Ps 9: Obscured Enthronment Language Among the Translations

  • “the translator betrays the audience and symbolism of the text”
    agreed but I don’t think they meant to. Translators as writers were taught when I was young not to repeat words too closely together. Also the habit of hearing parallelismus membrorum encouraged creative synonym usage. Unfortunately, the Hebrew poet used both recurrence and parallelism – and one is relatively objective, the other more subjective.

    I have a 530 page book in progress on this subject including a close translation of all the psalms. (530 pages is very long :| ) but fortunately all the translations and tables of recurring roots are controlled in the database where I have seeded (and seated) the governing pattern recognition algorithms that I wrote :) .

  • Adam Couturier

    Hello, Bob.
    That is a good point, and I probably should have turned down my rhetoric a bit. I think that the translating committees have the best intentions, but often the philosophy of a translation weakens the final product. However, the overall message of the translations remains the same.

    What are your plans with the book? Do you have a publisher yet? I have been following your work on the Psalms, and I look forward to how it all unfolds. As for the page limit, it sounds great (although, I am a glutton for punishment)! :)

    Best,
    Adam

  • Hi Adam – the book is in final draft. I have a publisher but not formally announced yet. Contract is signed, target publication date is 1Q2013. It is hard for me to know if the time is right for my patient readers who bear with the changes I make and publish every few days. But that is the nature of proofreading. The typos are notoriously difficult to find in a book this long. I have got spell checking working now – but I had to add all the transcriptions to the dictionary! The indexes and tables make it possible to read and use the book as a workbook, something that helps me see and learn and I hope will for others.

    Drop me a note at stenagmois my gmail address – chosen by Google! and I will point you to the work in progress. My wife (copy editor) is through psalm 48 and we hope to finish and deliver Aug 31. I got a very positive comment from Bill Morrow (Queen’s U) yesterday at coffee – he said it was important for the Biblical Studies community to see the patterns I have uncovered. And he wants me to write up the process as does Jennifer Gerwing, another reviewer, whose expertise is in rhetorical analysis.

  • Adam Couturier

    Cheers, Bob! That is wonderful news, and I am really excited to see the work in print. As for Bill Morrow, that is some high praise from a great scholar.

  • Bill was here for a Sabbatical and I was fortunate to have him as a reader and a coach in the early days of my own community Sabbatical at Uvic. After reading the first 60 pages of draft then, he gave me 2 hours one on one as a coach asking questions and helped me focus my work on what was important. I hope I have followed his advice well. I had many conflicting objectives – and then I had one: present what you have seen. 8 months later, I have a book.
    I am very grateful to such readers. Even those I have not heard from directly make me think about what I am writing with greater clarity.

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