Posted by: religionthink | January 2, 2007

Psalm 19: The heavens are telling the glory of El.

Psalm 19: The heavens are telling the glory of El.


In exploring Psalms 19 we find instantly in the first verse the use of the name El. Some scholars believe that this Psalm is divided into two parts, verses 1-6 may be a Canaanite hymn to the sun included in a hymn to Yahweh. Verses 7-14 we find the writer praising the law of Yahweh. Below we will discuss some of these topics and also try something that is not often done. In this essay we will not only compare a Canaanite text to Psalm 19, but also a Hymn in the Rig Veda. Due to trade with India, the writers of the Psalms have used some of the same techniques that they seen in religious hymns abroad. One good example would be the similarities between of Song of Solomon and the love hymns to Krishna.


When Canaanite references and writings are found in the Psalms, many may feel it as an intrusion in the biblical texts. Much effort has been made to hide and disguise these types of references by white washing them in the paint of Yahwehism. Some fail to realize that there is no such thing as pure culture; and when the two cultures of Yahweh and Baal lived in the same community, much intermingling and competition ensued. If we take the first six verses of the Psalm being discussed we may be able to view these references more clearly.


The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat. (Psalms 19:1-6 NRSV)


Now turning to the Canaanite text of Aqhat we read the following text concerning the sun, tent and a wedding theme.

As Sun, the gods’ torch, went in,

Pagat entered the fields;

as Sun, the gods’ torch, set,

Pagat arrived at the tents.

Word was brought to Yatpan:

“Our mistress has come to your pavilion,

Pagat has come to the tents.”

And Yatpan, the Lady’s man, replied:

“Receive her: she’ll give me wine to drink;

she’ll take the cup from my hand,

the mug from my right hand.”

Pagat was received; she gave him a drink;

she took the cup from his hand,

the mug from his right hand.


Turning to Eastern literature we look to the Rig Veda for an example in comparison to this Psalm. The Rig Veda is about ten times longer then the Psalms and they span through the years 1200 B.C. through 900 B.C. Below, in full, is a beautiful hymn attributed to Dawn.

1. This light is come, amid all lights the fairest; born is the brilliant, far-extending brightness.

Night, sent away for Savitar’s uprising, hath yielded up a birth-place for the Morning.

2 The Fair, the Bright is come with her white offspring; to her the Dark One hath resigned her dwelling.

Akin, immortal, following each other, changing their colours both the heavens move onward.

3 Common, unending is the Sisters’ pathway; taught by the Gods, alternately they travel.

Fair-formed, of different hues and yet one-minded, Night and Dawn clash not, neither do they travel.

4 Bright leader of glad sounds, our eyes behold her; splendid in hue she hath unclosed the portals.

She, stirring up the world, hath shown us riches: Dawn hath awakened every living creature.

5 Rich Dawn, she sets afoot the coiled-up sleeper, one for enjoyment, one for wealth or worship,

Those who saw little for extended vision. All living creatures hath the Dawn awakened.

6 One to high sway, one to exalted glory, one to pursue his gain, and one his labour:

All to regard their different vocations, all moving creatures hath the Dawn awakened.

7 We see her there, the Child of Heaven apparent, the young Maid, flushing in her shining raiment.

Thou sovran Lady of all earthly treasure, flush on us here, auspicious Dawn, this morning.

8 She first of endless morns to come hereafter, follows the path of morns that have departed.

Dawn, at her rising, urges forth the living him who is dead she wakes not from his slumber.

9 As thou, Dawn, hast caused Agni to be kindled, and with the Sun’s eye hast revealed creation.

And hast awakened men to offer worship, thou hast performed, for Gods, a noble service.

10 How long a time, and they shall be together,–Dawns that have shone and Dawns to shine hereafter?

She yearns for former Dawns with eager longing, and goes forth gladly shining with the others.

11 Gone are the men who in the days before us looked on the rising of the earlier Morning.

We, we the living, now behold her brightness and they come nigh who shall hereafter see her.

12 Foe-chaser, born of Law, the Law’s protectress, joy-giver, waker of all pleasant voices,

Auspicious, bringing food for Gods’ enjoyment, shine on us here, most bright, O Dawn, this morning.

13 From days eternal hath Dawn shone, the Goddess, and shows this light to-day, endowed with riches.

So will she shine on days to come immortal she moves on in her own strength, undecaying.

14 In the sky’s borders hath she shone in splendour: the Goddess hath thrown off the veil of darkness.

Awakening the world with purple horses, on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches.

15 Bringing all life-sustaining blessings with her, showing herself she sends forth brilliant lustre.

Last of the countless mornings that have vanished, first of bright morns to come hath Dawn arisen.

16 Arise! the breath, the life, again hath reached us: darkness hath passed away and light approacheth.

She for the Sun hath left a path to travel we have arrived where men prolong existence.

17 Singing the praises of refulgent Mornings with his hymn’s web the priest, the poet rises.

Shine then to-day, rich Maid, on him who lauds thee, shine down on us the gift of life and offspring.

18 Dawns giving sons all heroes, kine and horses, shining upon the man who brings oblations,–

These let the Soma-presser gain when ending his glad songs louder than the voice of Vayu.

19 Mother of Gods, Aditi’s form of glory, ensign of sacrifice, shine forth exalted.

Rise up, bestowing praise on our devotion all-bounteous, make us chief among the people.

20 Whatever splendid wealth the Dawns bring with them to bless the man who offers praise and worship,

Even that may Mitra, Varuna vouchsafe us, and Aditi and Sindhu, Earth and Heaven.

In reviewing the Hymn above one can see the similarities. Not only dose this text speak of the sun, and law themes, we also find word phrases similar to the Psalms. A few examples are the use of the phrases “How Long”, and “Arise”. Also, similar themes are in the texts: Psalms 57:8; Psalms 108:2; and Psalms 119:147 of the Old Testament.

We can see in the texts above, that when reading we need to remember such influences, and at times, have the courage to view and point them out. The writers of the texts did not live in a vacuum. They used the inspiration, writing styles, themes, and motifs of their neighbors while contributing their own identity to them. Also, the competition among Yahweh and neighboring gods was always fierce.

Griffith,Ralph T.H. Hymns of the Rig Veda, 1896.

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

O’flaherty, Wendy. The Rig Veda: An Anthology, 108 Hymns Translated from the Sanskrit. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, London 1981.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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Responses

  1. very nice to have found and read this, thank you!


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