Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
VOS, Cas J A. A literary and hymnological glance at Psalm 23. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.4, pp.535-546. ISSN 2224-7912.
In this article, the focus is on the literary and hymnological aspects of Psalm 23. This psalm is analyzed in terms of all its linguistic nuances. A network of metaphors is woven around the motif of the shepherd in Psalm 23. This psalm can be divided into four stanzas which are arranged chiastically - verses 1b-3: confession/testimony (He-I), verse 4: a prayer of trust (I-You), verse 5: a prayer of trust (You-I) and verse 6: confession/testimony (I-He). The syntactic and semantic aspects of the Psalm are investigated, while poetic patterns are also considered. Some figures of speech, for instance, metaphors, are scrutinised. Especially the shepherd metaphor captures the attention. The title "shepherd" which is attributed to the ruling king, is often encountered in the court terminology of the Ancient Near East. In the prologue of the Codex of Hammurabi the king is described as a shepherd who is called by Enlil. This Codex mentions that the gods installed the king's office as shepherd and that they visited him. The motif of shepherd frequently appears in the Old Testament. However, the title "shepherd" is not conferred on the ruling king as was the case in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This title is sometimes ascribed to David (2 Samuel 5:2; 7:7; 24:17), however, it is often used when leaders are accused of neglecting their duties (Ezekiel 34:4 foll.). The metaphor of the host is also illuminated. Yahweh is emphasized as a host. Yahweh is the subject of the verbs in these verses. The result is that Yahweh's deeds are emphasized. The expression "Yahweh prepares a table before me" refers to the fact that Yahweh presents his hospitality to the psalmist. The meal is the proof of Yahweh's protecting and caring nature. Also the literary genre of the psalm is investigated. The psalm is not only a psalm of trust or only one of thanksgiving, because features of both these Gattungen are displayed. The text of Psalm 23 gives us comfort. The psalmist's experiences of comfort, protection and support are expressed. One of the functions of the psalm is to encourage the reader/hearer in difficult times. Thus the psalm is also a psalm of trust. Attention is furthermore paid to the reception history of the psalm. In this regard, the interpretation of Psalm 23 is traced in the New Testament and in the history of the church. This investigation is necessary, since one relies on one's understanding of the original text when versifying poetry. The Messianic interpretation of Psalm 23 has an important bearing on the liturgy of baptism and the service of Eucharist. During the fourth and fifth centuries and especially in the catechesis of baptism, every verse of Psalm 23 was connected to Christ and to those who met Christ through baptism. The "green pastures" were the supportive words of the Holy Scriptures as embodied by the catechesis of baptism. The "quiet waters" indicated the water with which someone was bapitised. The "paths of righteousness" evoked associations with catechesis of baptism; more specifically the ethical principles of behaviour which were connected to these catechesis. T T Cloete has versified all 150 Psalms for the "Liedboek van die Kerk" (Hymn book of the Church). Cloete's versification of the psalms is based on the interpretation and understanding of the Hebrew text. All the fabrics of the text are followed and versified in Afrikaans. The versification of a text poses its own challenges. These pertain to matters like rhyme patterns, metaphors, the contemporary nature of the versification and the musical requirements (such as, for example, the word/tone relationship) which hang like a sword above the text. Anyone who dares to versify poetry has to be himself a poet of high quality. Cloete is more than qualified for this task. In this article, his versified poem is analyzed on the level of structure and language. The poetical quality of his work is also considered. Furthermore, the musicological demand of Psalm 23 as a song is taken into consideration. The hand of the poet is restricted by musicological demands. These influence the rhyming words, the syntax, the word order, and even the appropriation of metaphors. The conclusion reached in this article is that Cloete's versification of Psalm 23 is outstanding indeed. He succeeds splendidly in giving the psalm a theological voice which resounds, as a song, in both mouth and heart.
Keywords : Poetry; hymnology; Psalm 23; New Testament; church history; T T Cloete (1924-); Liedboek van die Kerk.