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The famous but difficult Psalm 90:10

Aron Pinker
2015 Old Testament Essays  
Application of standard text-critical tools to the difficult Ps 90:10 results in the interpretation: The days of our vigor [are] seventy years, [or] Our years with might [are] eighty years, And their pride [is] vexation and sorrow. We fade quickly, and we rattle . . . . It is being claimed that the last colon of MT is a minor textual corruption of the original ‫ה‬ ‫עֶ‬ ‫פְ‬ ‫נִ‬ ‫וְ‬ ‫ישׁ‬ ִ ‫ח‬ ‫ֺז‬ ‫ג‬ ‫,נָ‬ and the rattle is the typical death groan. 1 Walter Jens, "Psalm 90: On Transience,"
more » ... 0: On Transience," LQ 9 (1995): 177-189 (177). 2 Moses' name occurs in a heading only here. It occurs also in chs. 90-106. Already Augustine opined that Moses could not have written the psalm because it does not contain any distinctive Mosaic expressions. Cf. John Goldingay, Psalm 90-150 (vol. 3 of Psalms; BCOT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 23, note 28. 3 Thomas Krüger, "Psalm 90 und die Verganglichkeit des Menschen," Bib 75 (1994): 191-219. 498 Pinker, "Psalm 90:10," OTE 28/2 (2015): 497-522 community's historical experience in which wisdom have been utilized to formulate a lament that leads to a plea." 4 This study is focused on the well-known v. 10 in ch. 90, which reads, The span of our lives is seventy years, ‫ה‬ ‫נָ‬ ָ ‫שׁ‬ ‫ים‬ ‫עִ‬ ‫בְ‬ ִ ‫שׁ‬ ‫ם‬ ‫הֶ‬ ‫בָ‬ ‫ינוּ‬ ֵ ‫ֺת‬ ‫נו‬ ְ ‫י-שׁ‬ ‫מֵ‬ ‫יְ‬ Or, given the strength, eighty years; ‫ה‬ ‫נָ‬ ָ ‫שׁ‬ ‫ים‬ ‫ֺנִ‬ ‫מו‬ ְ ‫שׁ‬ ‫|‬ ‫ֺת‬ ‫בוּר‬ ‫גְ‬ ‫בִּ‬ ‫ם‬ ‫אִ‬ ‫וְ‬ But the best of them are trouble and sorrow. ‫ן‬ ‫וֶ‬ ‫אָ‬ ‫וָ‬ ‫ל‬ ‫מָ‬ ‫עָ‬ ‫ם‬ ‫בָּ‬ ‫הְ‬ ָ ‫ר‬ ‫וְ‬ They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness, ‫ה׃‬ ‫פָ‬ ‫עֻ‬ ‫נָּ‬ ‫וַ‬ ‫ישׁ‬ ִ ‫ח‬ ‫ז‬ ‫י-גָ‬ ‫כִּ‬ and has posed considerable difficulties to commentators since the time of the Versions. Seybold simply observes that: "der Sinn dieses Verses ist Dunkel." 5 Whatever thematic perspective is adopted, the strange occurrence of the pronominal ‫ם‬ ‫הֶ‬ ‫בָ‬ in the first colon baffles. Duhm observed: Wenn der Dichter ‫ם‬ ‫הֶ‬ ‫,בָ‬ ihrer sind, geschrieben hätte, so hätte er sich erstens Schlecht un prosaisch ausgedruckt und zweitens etwas Unrichtiges gesagt, den "unser" Leben währt keineswegs im durchschnitt, sondern nur in den selteren Fällen siebentzig Jahre. 6 Reider, a more recent scholar, noted that To anyone familiar with biblical diction it must be evident that ‫בהם‬ in Ps. xc 10 cannot be pronominal, and yet the ancient versions render it so. . . . Emendations, of course, are not lacking: some suggest ‫,בחיים‬ others read ‫;גבהם‬ but it is obvious that none of these can be the original reading. 7 The preceding NJPS translation deletes ‫ם‬ ‫הֶ‬ ‫,בָ‬ notes that the meaning of the hapax legomenon ‫ם‬ ‫בָּ‬ ‫הְ‬ ָ ‫ר‬ ‫וְ‬ is uncertain ("best of them"?), assumes that the hapax legomenon ‫חיש‬ means "speedily," and renders the difficult ‫ה‬ ‫פָ‬ ‫עֻ‬ ‫נָּ‬ ‫וַ‬ by "and we are in darkness." The careful reader would also notice that ‫ינוּ‬ ֵ ‫ֺת‬ ‫נו‬ ְ ‫י-שׁ‬ ‫ְמֵ‬ ‫י‬ is problematic. The NJPS elegantly renders ‫ינוּ‬ ֵ ‫ֺת‬ ‫נו‬ ְ ‫י-שׁ‬ ‫ְמֵ‬ ‫י‬ by "the span of our lives." However, the Hebrew equivalent of "the span of our lives" is ‫כל‬ ‫ימי‬ ‫חיינו‬ (Isa 38:20). The last word in the verse ‫ה(‬ ‫פָ‬ ‫עֻ‬ ‫נָּ‬ ‫)וַ‬ is also problematic. It is doubtful that the NJPS translation "and we are in darkness (equivalent to Hebrew ‫ונהיה‬ ‫")בעיפה‬ reflects ‫.ונעפה‬ 4 Goldingay, Psalms 3, 22. Cf. Richard J. Clifford, "Psalm 90: Wisdom Meditation or Communal Lament," in The Book of Psalms, Composition and Reception (ed. Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller; VTSup 99; Leiden: Brill, 2005), 190-205. 5 Klaus Seybold, "Zu den Zeitvorstellungen in Psalm 90," TZ 53 (1997): 103. 6 D. Bernhardt Duhm, Die Psalmen erklärt (Freiburg: Mohr, 1899), 226. 7 Joseph Reider, "Etymological Studies in Biblical Hebrew," VT 2/2 (1952): 123. Pinker, "Psalm 90:10," OTE 28/2 (2015): 497-522 499 The purpose of this study is to suggest resolution of the noted difficulties using standard text-critical tools. In this context, it is being argued that 10aα-10aβ is a conflation of two common sayings: ‫שנה‬ ‫שבעים‬ ‫נוּ‬ ֵ ‫ֺח‬ ‫כ‬ ‫ימי‬ (the days of our vigor [are] seventy years), and ‫שנה‬ ‫שמונים‬ ‫בגבורת‬ ‫שנותינו‬ (Our years with might [are] eighty years). The conflated statement ‫נוּ‬ ֵ ‫ֺח‬ ‫כ‬ ‫שנותינו‬ ‫ימי‬ ‫בגבורת‬ ‫שנה‬ ‫שמונים‬ ‫ואם‬ ‫שבעים‬ ‫שנה‬ was meant by the author to be perhaps understood: "The days, years [with/in] vigor, [are] seventy years. And, if with might, [are] eighty years." It is, however, an awkward Hebrew sentence; as conflated verses are usually. In final evolution of the verse, a copyist might have incorrectly copied ‫בהם‬ instead of ‫.כחנו‬ Such an error would have been in particular likely if the copying was from a densely written scroll, and it was probably enhanced by the awkwardness of the conflated text. Finally, the last colon of MT is understood as being a minor textual corruption of the original ‫ה‬ ‫עֶ‬ ‫פְ‬ ‫נִ‬ ‫וְ‬ ‫ישׁ‬ ‫חִ‬ ‫ֺז‬ ‫ג‬ ‫נָ‬ (We fade quickly, and we rattle . . . ).
doi:10.17159/2312-3621/2015/v28n2a15 fatcat:pfpfbacw4fekfbagnddlq3q5da