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The NET rendition Psalm 72 differs from most modern translations in translating most verbs in Psalm 72 as future indicative – "he will" – rather than jussive – "may he". For instance, verse 2:

Then he will judge your people fairly,... (NET)
May he judge your people with righteousness... (ESV)

Compare the whole Psalm in parallel (or with Hebrew). KJV does something similar.

In a note that falls somewhat short of their usual degree of general intelligibility, the NET tells us, of "he will judge" (v.2) and again 72:4 ("he will deliver"):

The prefixed verbal form appears to be an imperfect, not a jussive.

After pondering it, I think this "appears to be" true.1 On the other hand, verses 8 ("may he rule") and 11 ("may he live") I think must be jussive in form.2 The rest, from what I can tell, are ambiguous — verbs that are identical in form whether jussive or indicative. The general rule I learned in this case is that verbs that are first in their clause should be considered jussive. Nearly all of these are first.

From verses 12 to 14, translations agree about the indicative (see note 1), but the NET is unusual in rendering these imperfects as future rather than present.3

  • Should Psalm 72:1-11 be translated as future indicative, jussive, or some combination?
  • Is it possible to speculate about how the text would have been understood prior to written vowels or vowel letters (when I think all of these points of confusion would have been non-issues)?

1. Imperfect because these two verbs (qal from דין (v.2) and hiphil from ישע (v. 4)) have a stem vowel hireq-yod that could be have been shortened(?) to a tsere to make an explicitly jussive form. The same applies to verse 12, hiphil נצל, but the indicative nature of this seems to be uncontested.

2. Both III-hey (לייה) that have dropped the final hey.

3. To make things more confusing, יָחֹס in verse 13 is apocopated (should have a medial shureq), but all translations seem to agree that it's indicative. NET notes there call the holem defective, but there is a qibbuts for that...

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    Following you link, verse 5 in the NET says "People will fear you as long as the sun and moon remain in the sky, for generation after generation.", and the NRSV has "May he live (fn: may they fear you) while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.", and the ESV is the reverse of the NRSV, but with a footnote that says the LXX is different to the Hebrew. I suspect the different inclinations of the translators is being brought to bear on this Psalm. – enegue Nov 16 '15 at 3:56
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    If you haven't already done so, the preface to the NET Bible will tell you why its sponsors found a new translation necessary, and will give you some insight into the processes of translation and refinement. – enegue Nov 16 '15 at 4:42
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    KJV, Verse 1: "Give the king ... O God ..." NET, Verse 1: "O God, grant the king ..." These opening verses establish the vibe of the Psalm from the point of view of the translators. The KJV portrays the author as confident, i.e. Do such and such for me, and I WILL do such and such for you. The NET portrays the author as a supplicant, i.e. Please do such and such for me, that I MAY do such and such for you. Thus, two different views of the author have produced two different renderings, which means the jots and tittles of the Hebrew are not sufficient to decide one way or the other. – enegue Apr 7 '16 at 1:52
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It would be interesting to allow the Jewish scholars who wrote the Septuagint to have a voice regarding their interpretation of the Hebrew text that they had available. It seems like there's a shift in mood in the following verses. According to the Apostolic Bible Polyglot, the passage in Psalm 72:1,2 was translated like this (Greek word order preserved):

Oh God, your judgment to the king give, and your righteousness to the son of the king to judge your people in righteousness, and your poor in equity.

The word translated "give" is δός, aorist active imperative. Then in verse 3, the Greek reads

Let lift up the mountains peace to the people, and the hills righteousness.

The word order suggested is "Let the mountains lift up peace to the people, and the hills righteousness." And in verse 4, the Greek reads

He shall judge the poor of the people, and shall deliver the sons of the needy, and shall humble (the) extortioner.

If the writers of the Septuagint used the same Hebrew text in Psalm 72 as the MT, what does that indicate about their interpretation of the Hebrew?

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Hmmm... Psalm 72 is standard Hebrew blessing format, assertive, like "Long live the king!" in English, not "May the king live a long time!" or "Let the king live a long time". Compare with Numbers 6:22-27:

וידבר יהוה אל משה לאמר

דבר אל אהרן ואל בניו לאמר כה תברכו את בני ישראל אמור להם

יברכך יהוה וישמרך

יאר יהוה פניו אליך ויחנך

ישא יהוה פניו אליך וישם לך שלום

ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם

Here the text explicitly says that this is the language of blessing. The same language of simple future assertive is used uniformly and without exception in verses 2-17 of Psalm 72.

The apocryphal note at the end of the Psalm,

כָּלּ֥וּ תְפִלּ֑וֹת דָּ֝וִ֗ד בֶּן־יִשָֽׁי

is another clue that this Psalm is a parting blessing.

The rule about verbs in clause initial position is usually reliable, but the converse is not, that a verb not in clause initial should generally not be translated as jussive.

The MT of this Psalm is completely complemented with אמות קריאה (matres lectionis), so the diacritics are completely determined by the consonantal text except for וירד מים in verse 8, which could be read וֵיֵרֵד מַיִם. So there isn't much to speculate about if you remove the diacritics.

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