Thursday, November 04, 2010

Reader's Diary #662- The King James Bible: Psalms

While it's not even the halfway mark of the Old Testament, for some reason, I'd felt that making it up to the Psalms was some sort of milestone on my quest to very slowly finish reading the Bible. Finally making it there, I wanted to do it right. Though I switched over from the King James Version to the Good News version very early on, just for understandability sake, I decided to go back to the KJV for the Psalms. Usually heralded as the best translation out there, amongst protestants at least, those who sing its praises do so not just for theological reasons, but also for its artful use of language. Knowing that the Psalms were essentially songs and/or poetry, I figured the KJV was probably the better choice. After comparing the first couple or so in the Good News Version to the KJV, I think I'd made the right decision. The latter seem to put as much emphasis on the rhythm as meaning, whereas the former seemed focused solely on translation.

From a strictly poetic point of view, I enjoyed the Psalms. It's not hard to see the influence that they've had on other poetry and music through the ages. The rhythm, repetition, patterns, and figurative language are all quite strong. Plus the parallel thoughts add a whole other element which is reflective and powerful at the same time. It would also clearly help make them more memorable if they were to be passed on through word of mouth rather than by print.

I did, however, get slogged down in the theology of the Psalms. For some reason, I'd believed that the psalms were all going to be beautiful. Perhaps it was because so many of the nicest lines have been lifted for modern songs and poetry:

Or perhaps it was because I love poetry and forgot that not all poetry is rainbows and lollipops. I was quite taken aback at the number of appeals to God to smite one's enemies. There were prayers and requests for God's help in personal endeavors but so many then switched gears to plea, or even demand, that God strike down anyone who sinned. Very, very few Psalms asked for forgiveness of other people or even that He help those people change their evil ways. Even that old favourite Psalm 23 has the line, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies" which isn't as bad as say "I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" or "thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies" but still shows a preoccupation with enemies that borders on paranoia and obsession. Apparently, in the 150 Psalms the word "enemy" or "enemies" is used 104 times! I went online and found a lot of theologians, not surprisingly, trying to justify it, or at the very least, contextualize it, but I still found it hard to get past.


Kate said...

This is one of the issues that C. S. Lewis tackled in "Reflections on the Psalms". I should go back and re-read that book some time as I can't remember what his conclusions were!

Megan said...

They're products of their time. The Bible is incredibly violent, but so is, say, the Illiad.

John Mutford said...

Kate: I should track that down.

Megan: That was the conclusion of more than a few theologists that I came across, but some others suggest that they're still relevant and proof that we shouldn't accept sin. Maybe, but praying for a sinner to be helped isn't acceptance.