May 24, 2007

YHWH Is My Mountain Stronghold


For years, Psalm 27 has been one of my favorite Psalms. Many years ago, I experienced some dark nights of the most horrific terror; I remember once calling my mother in the middle of the night looking for some answers, and she directed me to this Psalm. As I think Luther and Gerhardt would advise, I took to saying, singing, sometimes shouting the Psalm until the terror receded. The words still bring great comfort to me:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

That is how the New King James translates it. Psalm 27 also happens to be the appointed Psalm for this week, and singing it in Matins the other day, I grumbled upon discovering that the English Standard Version (the translation used by the Lutheran Service Book) botched (so I thought) the translation. It reads:

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

So, I went to the Hebrew to see for myself. Maoz is defined by both BDB and Harris (TWOT) as "place or means of safety"; but my new and favorite Hebrew lexicon, HALOT (Koehler-Baumgartner) give as the primary meaning, "mountain stronghold, place of refuge." Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, it is used for a fortress or a fortified city.

Strength implies force, energy, power, and seems to me to be an offensive image; it seems to be what Luther was running with in translating it, "Der HERR ist meines Lebens Kraft." but the real comfort, in terror, temptation, and the attacks of Satan, is knowing that you are protected from those assaults by one stronger than yourself. "Stronghold" is a defensive image, which can bring great comfort to the afflicted soul. Thus the Vulgate renders it, "Dominus protector vitae meae a quo trepidabo." (Now, if only someone would teach me Latin so I would know what that means...) How odd that I favor the Vulgate and the ESV over the NKJ and Luther here! But of course, Luther understands this too, right well: Ein' Feste Burg indeed!

12 comments:

Susan said...

I guess the "He shall set me high upon a rock" always made me see a fortress in my mind. And I gotta stick up for my dear NKJ ;-)

The word strength goes so well with "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" and "when I am weak, then am I strong."

E. Rapp said...

One of my favorite verses from this is, "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." Have you ever heard John Rutter's music to this? To my mind, it is very good.

Rev. Christopher S. Esget said...

I've been meaning to look up the Hebrew on that, too, as (if memory serves) the NKJ has something like, "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will preserve me."

I'm not familiar with that Rutter piece - do you know which CD it is on? I have several, but have not listened to them in some time.

E. Rapp said...

We have it on a CD called "Te Deum and other Church Music." It's the 11th track, "The Lord is My Light and My Salvation."

Rev. Christopher S. Esget said...

Mr. Rapp-
Thanks, I don't have that one - I've added it to my list for when I get a few more denarii with which to play...

Rev. Christopher S. Esget said...

Mr Rapp-
I looked up Ps. 27.10, and my memory was playing tricks on me. NKJ (and most other translations) have something like "When my father and mother have forsaken me..." The Hebrew is Ki, which can mean "although" but generally means "because" or "indeed, yes." The LXX renders it as hoti ("that," "because," "since"). So, forget my previous remark! (Curiously, the New Jerusalem Bible does render it as "though.")

Past Elder said...

A translation I often use is the 1917 Jewish Publication Society's. It's the KJV OT, re-arranged into the Law/Prophets/Writings format of the Hebrew Bible, with the KJV retained except where the rabbis considered the Hebrew either weakly or wrongly translated.

In it, the word in 27:1 is already changed, well in advance of other revisions in the KJV lineage, to "stronghold".

In 1985 JPS came out with a new translation, and it too uses "stronghold".

You mention the New Jerusalem Bible, a feminist recasting of the Jerusalem Bible. In the original 1966 JB, the word is rendered "fortress". Don't know about the NJB because I won't buy it.

Interesting that the 1917 JPS retains the word "salvation" in the verse, but the 1985 JPS renders it "help".

As to 27:10 -- 1917 JPS "For though my father ..."; 1985 JPS "Though my father ...", 1966 JB "If my father ...".

In case the inadmission of anonymous posts also addresses the "real name" issue, no problem.

What you would call me if we knew each other is Terry Maher, my academic name is Terence J. Maher, PhD (though by the grace of God I am no longer an academic!), I am an LCMS layman and past elder in WELS.

Past Elder said...

Oh, and being originally a pre Vatican II RC, I can help you with the Latin.

Protector, while obviously cognate with the English, is not exactly the English word protector. Our protector would be defensor (as in the title given to Henry VII and retained by the English monarchs as DF, defensor fidei) or propugnator.

The Latin Protector comes from the verb protego, meaning to cover over, which can include the sense of to defend or protect.

"Light" isn't anywhere in the quotation you supplied, which could be rendered The Lord is the Defender (or Protector) of my life, of whom should I be afraid.

Or of you want a thought for thought into the local patois -- The Lord's got me covered, why should I be scared of anybody.

Past Elder said...

Henry VIII, sorry. Preview doesn't catch stuff like that!

Rev. Christopher S. Esget said...

Thanks for your comments, Dr. Maher. I should note that the remark about the Latin was a bit of an inside joke. A member of my congregation is graciously teaching this ignorant pastor a bit of Latin. Have a nice Memorial Day!

Past Elder said...

Thank you, Pastor. This next has nothing to do with the subject, but I find it too interesting to pass.

Apparently you and I are from Minnesota. I was born in Chicago, however, and my family moved there when I was three. I remember well real men playing real football under Bud Grant. I haven't been there since 2001, when my dad died. May not ever be there again, though I do think of moving back -- when not thinking of moving to Kansas City, Boston, Miami, or San Juan.

I see you're a Berklee grad. The PhD is from the School of Music at University of Iowa, dissertation on a contemporary Boethian theory of musica (as distinct from music). One of the turning points in my life was the first time I went to Boston, to present a paper at some sort of covention. Among other things, I used to pass the LCMS parish in the Back Bay, thinking those would be my guys if I had guys (I had no affiliation for over twenty years).

Wheelock's Latin was the text used in a refresher course I took in grad school. Everyone else had the "Ciceronian" accent, and I used to joke with them, having an eclesiastical one, that they will have an accent when they get to heaven.

Finally, the company I work for is headquartered in Alexandria.

Finding LCMS pastors like you in the Lutheran blogosphere played no small part in my joining LCMS last year, having first professed the Lutheran faith in WELS in 1996.

Eric Phillips said...

Apparently I need to check here more regularly, so I can respond to such inside jokes in a timely manner.