Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 15: Who May Abide In Your Tent?

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psalms 15:1-5 NRSV)

In the ancient Near East there were qualifications one had to complete before entering a temple of a god. We are familiar with the Old Testament texts and the long passages of legal information on the clean and unclean in order to be unblemished before Yahweh and to gain his favor. The text above also brings to mind the anger Jesus felt when he threw the money changers from the temple:

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12-13 NRSV)

Although we may be going out on a limb, it is somewhat humors to think they may have broken the rule of this simple Psalm and Jesus thought it proper to eject them, because they didn’t meet the simple qualifications of one of the simplest psalms of the Jewish texts.

The text is an entrance liturgy verse 1 is the question of the worshipers and 2-5a is the answer followed by the assurance of Yahweh in verse 5b. The text above also has the theme of the tongue running through it. As a piece of wisdom literature it may have been used to teach the young. In Psalms 39:1 and 73:9, we find two examples of advice on how a young person might keep on the path of righteousness; control your tongue and don’t boast. Below we read:

I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” (Psalms 39:1 NRSV)

They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. (Psalms 73:9 NRSV)

Some of the qualifications above were not only required for temple rights but were also required to enter the very gates of heaven. We come to the Egyptian account of the judgment, where the words of the deceased are weighed against the feather of truth. It is here that the two justices, Anubis and Thoth, find truthfulness or lies in the following words. If truthful, sin will not add weight to the heart and will be lighter then the feather resulting in the god Horus introducing the deceased to the presence of Osiris and everlasting paradise. However, if the heart is found unjustified then it will be eaten by “the Devourer of the Unjustified” , a hippo- crocodile-cheetah creature, who waits with hunger next to the scale. It is most interesting to note that the believer needs to say “I have not” in this judgment hall rather then the traditional modern day concept of “I have done”, below we read the text known as The Forty Confessions of Matt:

I have not committed sins against men.
I have not opposed my family and kinsfolk.
I have not acted fraudulently in the Seat of Truth.
I have not known men who were of no account.
I have not wrought evil.
I have not made it to be the first [consideration daily that unnecessary] work should be done for me.
I have not brought forward my name for dignities.
I have not [attempted] to direct servants
[I have not belittled God].
I have not defrauded the humble man of his property.
I have not done what the gods abominate.
I have not vilified a slave to his master.
I have not inflicted pain.
I have not caused anyone to go hungry.
I have not made any man to weep.
I have not committed murder.
I have not given the order for murder to be committed.
I have not caused calamities to befall men and women.
I have not plundered the offerings in the temples.
I have not defrauded the gods of their cake-offerings.
I have not carried off the fenkhu cakes [offered to] the Spirits.
I have not committed fornication.
I have not masturbated [in the sanctuaries of the god of my city].
I have not diminished from the bushel.
I have not filched [land from my neighbor’s estate and] added it to my own acre.
I have not encroached upon the fields [of others].
I have not added to the weights of the scales.
I have not depressed the pointer of the balance.
I have not carried away the milk from the mouths of children.
I have not driven the cattle away from their pastures.
I have not snared the geese in the goose-pens of the gods.
I have not caught fish with bait made of the bodies of the same kind of fish.
I have not stopped water when it should flow.
I have not made a cutting in a canal of running water.
I have not extinguished a fire when it should burn.
I have not violated the times [of offering] the chosen meat offerings.
I have not driven away the cattle on the estates of the gods.
I have not turned back the god at his appearances.
I am pure. I am pure. I am pure.

As seen above, in this case, the believer would want to be sure that what he was saying was the truth or risk loosing his eternal reward. In these forty confessions, all the themes in Psalm 15 are covered. Being truthful, not slandering, not being reproachful to your neighbor, using money and interest honestly, and not taking bribes against the innocent are all present. Summing up both texts given, if one is truthful, deals honestly, and hold his tongue, then the rewards are bestowed both in this life and in the world beyond.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York 1967.

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

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

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