Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Physicality of Psalm 23

Robert Alter's excellent translation of Psalm 23 strips the psalm of its typical eschatological, and dualistic bent. Rather than translating verse 3, "he restores my soul" he translates it "he brings my life back." The image being of one who is close to death, and is prevented from entering that realm. It is not one of spiritual refreshment through solitude. In verse 5 rather than translating the Hebrew, "you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows" he translates "you moisten my head with oil, my cup overflows." Alter points out that the word typically translated anoint is absent, therefore the image is more "sensual than sacramental". This verse is an ode to the physical elements of the good life, where wine is ever-present, and luxury is granted even in the scoffing presence of one's enemies. Finally, Alter translates verse 6, "And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long days." Again the image is not eschatological, but profoundly present. David hopes that his daily life will be structured around presence in God's house, with God's people.

Robert Alter is no iconoclast (cf. his latest book in praise of the KJV). He is more sentimental about time-honored translations than most evangelicals. His translations break away from Tyndale's only when linguistic evidence stacks up beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I wonder how a Christian could be grateful for Alter's move away from subjectivism, all the while accepting the cross-bearing discipleship that Jesus calls him to? Can Bonhoeffer and Alter embrace?

1 comment:

P.D. said...

I know its like comparing Greek to Hebrew but I'd be interested to see what he would do with the NT.