Posted by: religionthink | July 13, 2007

Psalm 30: O Yahweh, You Lifted me From Sheol

Psalm 30: O Yahweh, You Lifted me From Sheol

By A. D. Wayman

מזמור שׁיר־חנכת הבית לדוד׃

ארוממך יהוה כי דליתני ולא־שׂמחת איבי לי׃

יהוה אלהי שׁועתי אליך ותרפאני׃

יהוה העלית מן־שׁאול נפשׁי חייתני מיורדי־בור׃

זמרו ליהוה חסידיו והודו לזכר קדשׁו׃

כי רגע באפו חיים ברצונו בערב ילין בכי ולבקר רנה׃

ואני אמרתי בשׁלוי בל־אמוט לעולם׃

יהוה ברצונך העמדתה להררי עז הסתרת פניך הייתי נבהל׃

אליך יהוה אקרא ואל־אדני אתחנן׃

מה־בצע בדמי ברדתי אל־שׁחת היודך עפר היגיד אמתך׃

שׁמע־יהוה וחנני יהוה היה־עזר לי׃

הפכת מספדי למחול לי פתחת שׂקי ותאזרני שׂמחה׃

למען יזמרך כבוד ולא ידם יהוה אלהי לעולם אודך׃

The Hebrew text it’s self is given here do to translation issues. It is interesting that some translations leave out the heading of the Psalms while others include it. Still some use the wording of Yhovah 1 while others YHWH. Such terms are loaded with symbolism, along with preconceived notions about the theology of the wording with interpretations all derived from a belief system or underlying denominational motive. For the sake of avoiding confusion the translation in English is given from The Scriptures. 1998 version compiled by the Institute for Scripture Research (ISR).2

I exalt You, O יהוה, for You have drawn me up, And have not let my enemies rejoice over me. (2) יהוה my Elohim, I have cried to You, And You have healed me. (3) יהוה, You brought me up from the grave; You have kept me alive, from going down into the pit. (4) Sing praise to יהוה, You kind ones of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His Set-apartness. (5) For His displeasure is for a moment, His delight is for life; Weeping might last for the night, But joy comes in the morning. (6) As for me, I have said in my ease, “Never would I be shaken!” (7) יהוה, in Your good pleasure You have made my mountain to stand strong; You hid Your face, and I was troubled. (8) I cried out to You, O יהוה ; And to יהוה I prayed: (9) “What gain is there in my blood, When I go down to the pit? Would dust praise You? Would it declare Your truth? (10) “Hear, O יהוה, and show me favour; יהוה, be my helper!” (11) You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have torn off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, (12) So that esteem might praise You and not be silent. O יהוה my Elohim, I thank You forever. Psa 30:1-12.

As we can see above even this translation leaves off the title of the Psalm, which we may find elsewhere:

A Mizmor / a song of David for the dedication of the temple /. 3

Moving along without other distractions we can view from the texts that the write has been spared from death and death in this Psalm is viewed as punishment. While it may be appropriate to bring the mind the text of Job, and his dealings with Yahweh on the issue it may server better to view across the cultural landscape of mythology to broaden our views of such literature. We will now look to other texts that view death in such a way from the East and Ancient Near East to see what role this motif has played. We will first look to the Rig Veda, then to a Sumerian text for comparisons. As we see the similarities, one will note how the same metaphors played the same roles for both the Hebrews and their neighbors.

Turning to the Rig Veda, already in volume one we come to a text suited almost perfect to Psalm 30. In Hymn 25 to Verna we read the following:

1 WHATEVER law of thine, O God, O Varuna, as we are men,
Day after day we violate.
2 give us not as a prey to death, to be destroyed by thee in wrath,
To thy fierce anger when displeased.
3 To gain thy mercy, Varuna, with hymns we bind thy heart, as binds
The charioteer his tethered horse.
4 They flee from me dispirited, bent only on obtaining wealths
As to their nests the birds of air.
5 When shall we bring, to be appeased, the Hero, Lord of warrior might,
Him, the far-seeing Varuna?
6 This, this with joy they both accept in common: never do they fail
The ever-faithful worshipper.
7 He knows the path of birds that fly through heaven, and, Sovran of the sea,
He knows the ships that are thereon.
8 True to his holy law, he knows the twelve moons with their progeny:
He knows the moon of later birth.
9 He knows the pathway of the wind, the spreading, high, and mighty wind:
He knows the Gods who dwell above.
10 Varuna, true to holy law, sits down among his people; he,
Most wise, sits there to govern all.
11 From thence percerving he beholds all wondrous things, both what hath been,
And what hereafter will be done.
12 May that Aditya, very wise, make fair paths for us all our days:
May he prolong our lives for us.
13 Varuna, wearing golden mail, hath clad him in a shining robe.
His spies are seated found about.
14 The God whom enemies threaten not, nor those who tyrannize o’er men,
Nor those whose minds are bent on wrong.
15 He who gives glory to mankind, not glory that is incomplete,
To our own bodies giving it.
16 Yearning for the wide-seeing One, my thoughts move onward unto him,
As kine unto their pastures move.
17 Once more together let us speak, because my meath is brought: priest-like
Thou eatest what is dear to thee.
18 Now saw I him whom all may see, I saw his car above the earth:
He hath accepted these my songs.
19 Varuna, hear this call of mine: be gracious unto us this day
Longing for help I cried to thee.
20 Thou, O wise God, art Lord of all, thou art the King of earth and heaven
Hear, as thou goest on thy way.
21 Release us from the upper bond, untie the bond between, and loose
The bonds below, that I may live..
4

Taking note of verse two of this Hymn we can readily see the motif of death playing the functions discussed earlier. Death here is seen as a punishment dealt out by Verna, god of the Sky. 5 Turning now to the Ancient Near East we come to the text of Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave. Here Lugalbanda is stricken with a fever and being unconscious for some time was feared dead and was taken to a cave. Below we read a portion of the text and the response of the deities. And so lugalbanda is saved from the brink of death by the gods.

“Utu, I greet you! Let me be ill no longer! Hero, Ningal’s son, I greet you! Let me be ill no longer! Utu, you have let me come up into the mountains in the company of my brothers. In the mountain cave, the most dreadful spot on earth, let me be ill no longer! Here where there is no mother, there is no father, there is no acquaintance, no one whom I value, my mother is not here to say “Alas, my child!” My brother is not here to say “Alas, my brother!” My mother’s neighbor who enters our house is not here to weep over me. If the male and female protective deities were standing by, the deity of neighbourliness would say, “A man should not perish”. A lost dog is bad; a lost man is terrible. On the unknown way at the edge of the mountains, Utu, is a lost man, a man in an even more terrible situation. Don’t make me flow away like water in a violent death! Don’t make me eat saltpetre as if it were barley! Don’t make me fall like a throwstick somewhere in the desert unknown to me! Afflicted with a name which excites my brothers’ scorn, let me be ill no longer! Afflicted with the derision of my comrades, let me be ill no longer! Let me not come to an end in the mountains like a weakling!”

Utu accepted his tears. He sent down his divine encouragement to him in the mountain cave.

She who makes …… for the poor, whose game (i.e. battle) is sweet, the prostitute who goes out to the inn, who makes the bedchamber delightful, who is food to the poor man — Inana (i.e. the evening star), the daughter of Suen, arose before him like a bull in the Land. Her brilliance, like that of holy Cara, her stellar brightness illuminated for him the mountain cave. When he lifted his eyes upwards to Inana, he wept as if before his own father. In the mountain cave he raised to her his fair hands:

“Inana, if only this were my home, if only this were my city! If only this were Kulaba, the city in which my mother bore me ……! Even if it were to me as the waste land to a snake! If it were to me as a crack in the ground to a scorpion! My mighty people ……! My great ladies ……! …… to E-ana!”
2 lines unclear
“The little stones of it, the shining stones in their glory, sajkal stones above, …… below, from its crying out in the mountain land Zabu, from its voice …… open — may my limbs not perish in the mountains of the cypresses!”

Inana accepted his tears. With power of life she let him go to sleep just like the sleeping Utu. Inana enveloped him with heart’s joy as if with a woollen garment. Then, just as if ……, she went to brick-built Kulaba.

The bull that eats up the black soup, the astral holy bull-calf (i.e. the moon), came to watch over him. He shines (?) in the heavens like the morning star, he spreads bright light in the night. Suen, who is greeted as the new moon, father Nanna, gives the direction for the rising Utu. The glorious lord whom the crown befits, Suen, the beloved son of Enlil, the god (1 ms. has instead: the lord) reached the zenith splendidly. His brilliance like holy Cara (1 ms. has instead: Utu) (1 ms. has instead: like lapis lazuli), his starry radiance illuminated for him the mountain cave. When Lugalbanda raised his eyes to heaven to Suen, he wept to him as if to his own father. In the mountain cave he raised to him his fair hands:

“King whom one cannot reach in the distant sky! Suen, whom one cannot reach in the distant sky! King who loves justice, who hates evil! Suen, who loves justice, who hates evil! Justice brings joy justly to your heart. A poplar, a great staff, forms a sceptre for you, you who loosen the bonds of justice, who do not loosen the bonds of evil. If you encounter evil before you, it is dragged away behind ……. When your heart becomes angry, you spit your venom at evil like a snake which drools poison.”

Suen accepted his tears and gave him life. He conferred on his feet the power to stand.

A second time (i.e. at the following sunrise), as the bright bull rising up from the horizon, the bull resting among the cypresses, a shield standing on the ground, watched by the assembly, a shield coming out from the treasury, watched by the young men — the youth Utu extended his holy, shining rays down from heaven (1 ms. from Ur adds: …… holy, his brilliance illuminated for him the mountain cave), he bestowed them on holy Lugalbanda in the mountain cave. His good protective god hovered ahead of him, his good protective goddess walked behind him. The god which had smitten him.6

It the comparisons above are able to get a glimpse of how much of the Hebrew metaphors were used elsewhere. This may also server a a way to view such issues across the culture and even the globe. At times our view of sacred texts are limited and one tends to forget that such written forms of human expression were a part everyday life. An as seen above more then one god showed mercy and compassion on the believer that called out in some form of lamentation and was spared from death.

1. For an explanation on how Jehovah was used see article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah

2. The author tends at times not to agree with the translations of TS98 but the text was used here to show the word usage of YHWEH in the Psalm discussed.

3. ‘The Psalms Project Master Table” http://www.bibal.net/04/proj/proj-pss1.html. Text used is from file: http://www.bibal.net/04/proso/psalms-ii/pdf/dlc_ps030-001-f.pdf

4. English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith http://www.hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/

5. For information on the god Varuna see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varuna

6. Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Robson, E., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, Oxford 1998

*This essay was written by the author of religionthink.com

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