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John Howard Reid

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Psalms as Poetry
By John Howard Reid   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, April 04, 2010
Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

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The Psalms were written as Hebrew poetry, but many English translations miss the poetic mark.


As most people know, the Psalms in their original Hebrew are poems. But Hebrew poetry bears no relationship to Greek poetry (let alone English poetry). When the Psalms were translated into Greek in the third century B.C., they were rendered simply as prose.

This convention of printing Psalms in exactly the same form as prose books like Genesis and Joshua, was followed by the King James and other English translations. As far as I have been able to discover, Dr Moffatt in his 1918 translation was the first to give Psalms a poetic impact by printing them in a free verse format.

Since then, other translations such as the Revised Standard Version and the Jerusalem Bible have followed in Dr Moffatt's footsteps by printing the Psalms so that they have the look of poems. To some extent, they also read like free verse but, to my mind at least, Dr Moffatt and his followers miss the poetic mark as often as they strike it.

For example, here are verses 5 and 6 from the well-beloved Psalm 22 [23].

Firstly, Dr Moffatt:

Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me,

while my foes have to look on!

Thou hast poured oil upon my head,

my cup is brimming over;

yes, and all through my life

Goodness and Kindness wait on me,

the Eternal's guest

within his household evermore.


And now the Jerusalem Bible:

You prepare a table before me

under the eyes of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil,

my cup brims over.

Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me

every day of my life;

my home, the house of Yahweh,

as long as I live!


And finally, my translation from "Bible Wisdom: PSALMS of Praise and Power newly translated from the Greek Old Testament":

You honor me at a bountiful banquet table,

where my enemies can stare at me in envy,

while you treat me like a prince, lavishly

anointing my head with sweet-scented

oil, cheering my heart by filling my cup

to the generous brim with choicest wines.


Your perpetual goodness, unfailing love and comfort

shall enfold and enrich me all the days of my life.

And then I shall dwell in your house - -


the house of my Lord God - - forever. 

Web Site: God Is Love

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