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Psalms and the Coptic Thomas (2)

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  • Michael Grondin
    Section 2 of Laura Joffe s JSOT paper covers the work of Hengstenberg on the Maalot Psalms (120-134). The numerical design he discovered over 150 years ago for
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 8, 2006
      Section 2 of Laura Joffe's JSOT paper covers the work of Hengstenberg on the
      Maalot Psalms (120-134). The numerical design he discovered over 150 years
      ago for that portion of Psalms involves not only the number 42 (which is
      Joffe's focus) but also the numbers 12 and 24. As Joffe notes in section 6
      ("The Psalms and 72") of her paper, the coincidence of these multiples of 6
      is probably no accident, since "the ancient world had previously functioned
      in base 6." That's not as odd as might seem, since base 6 is particularly
      suited to finger-counting. (Use the fingers of one hand to count ones, the
      fingers of the other hand to keep track of 6's. One can count up to 35 this
      way. Babylonian? Bears further discussion, I think.)

      In the opening remarks of the section quoted below, substitute 'Gospel of
      Thomas' for 'book of Psalms', and what Joffe says is pretty much what I hope
      will one day be said about GTh. I'll have a few comments at the end.


      2. Numbers as an Organizing Principle in the Psalter

      Recent studies on the book of Psalms have rejected the idea that it is a
      random collection of prayers and liturgies. Instead, they have focused on
      the idea of _deliberate_ structure and order in the final redaction. The
      suggestions put forward, [11] however, consistently fail to agree on the
      _single_ plot or message that Psalms, _as a book_, portrays. [12] This is
      due, I feel, to over-emphasis on the 'content' of Psalms, and on the 'plot'
      of the Psalter as a whole. By their very nature, the Psalms cover such a
      wide range of themes that it is possible to construct any number of 'plots'
      by selecting the contents of some Psalms and ignoring the rest. It is
      possible, however, that large portions of the Psalter were organized not by
      plot or content, but by numerical or technical considerations.

      One example of this kind of ordering concerns the Psalm headings, and is
      described by Wilson. He argues that the 'seams' and 'bindings' formed by
      these heading display intention in the ordering of Psalms. [13]

      Another example was provided last century by Hengstenberg. His observations
      regarding the structure and placing of the name _Yahweh_ in the Maalot
      Psalms (Pss. 120-134) [14] are summarized here.

      [14. Ernest Hengstenberg, _Commentary on the Psalms_ (3 vols.; trans. P.
      Fairbairn and J. Thomson; Edinburgh; T. & T. Clark, 1845-48), III, p. 410.]

      The central Psalm 127 is surrounded by two heptads, each of which, as a
      group, contains the name of _Yahweh_ 24 times, and a _Yah_ once in the third
      Psallm. These Psalms reveal more when looked at more closely:

      [following is an attempt to reproduce Joffe's diagram - MG]

      120: 2 Yahweh's
      121: 5 Yahweh's
      122: 3 Yahweh's, 1 Yah, dedicated to David
      123: 2 Yahweh's
      (total 12)
      124: 4 Yahweh's, dedicated to David
      125: 4 Yahweh's
      126: 4 Yahweh's
      (total 12)

      127: 3 Yahweh's, dedicated to Solomon

      128: 3 Yahweh's
      129: 3 Yahweh's
      130: 4 Yahweh's
      131: 2 Yahweh's, 1 Yah, dedicated to David
      (total 12)
      132: 6 Yahweh's
      133: 1 Yahweh, dedicated to David
      134: 5 Yahweh's
      (total 12)

      Each heptad consists of a sub-group of four Psalms with 12 occurrences of
      _Yahweh_, followed by a sub-group of three Psalms, again with 12 occurrences
      of _Yahweh_. The central Psalm is to Solomon, and each of the sub-groups
      contains one Psalm to David. This reveals not only deliberate and sensitive
      placing of Psalms, but _concern to take note of the divine name_.



      Whether Hengstenberg also brought verses into his analysis isn't mentioned,
      but supposing that the designer(s) of the Maalot Psalms might have
      sub-divided the Psalms in some way similar to the divisions that have since
      been adopted, some suggestive results follow:

      120: 7 verses
      121: 8 verses
      122: 9 verses (to David)
      (total 24)
      123: 4 verses
      124: 8 verses (to David)
      125: 5 verses
      126: 6 verses
      (total 23)

      127: 5 verses, to Solomon

      128: 6 verses
      129: 8 verses
      130: 8 verses
      131: 3 verses (to David)
      (total 25)
      132: 18 verses
      133: 3 verses (to David)
      134: 3 verses
      (total 24)

      In this structure, the two heptads are chiastic. Instead of both being 4+3
      Psalms, the upper appears to be 3+4, and the lower 4+3. The feature of one
      dedication to David being in each of the sub-heptads is preserved, but of
      course the nice symmetry of each sub-heptad containing 12 Yahweh's is lost.
      Nevertheless, I mention this (which would have to be analyzed in Hebrew)
      because (1) later in her paper, Joffe discusses an _overlapping structure_
      ("one of 72 Psalms and the other of 42 Psalms"), and this might be a case
      of that as well, and (2) in addition to the almost-perfect division into
      groups of 24 verses, it's a curious coincidence that the total number of
      Yahweh's is 51, while the total number of verses is 101.

      Mike Grondin

      The Coptic Gospel of Thomas, saying-by-saying
      The Coptic Gospel of Thomas in Context
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