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I am puzzled by translations of the 23rd Psalm. I wish to bring those my puzzlement to your attention. Perhaps, someone could comment on it.

  1. ינחני במעגלי צדק

    The accepted translations are saying

    He leads me in paths of righteousness.

    ?

    In Hebrew, it actually says, at least what I believe to say,

    He-marshalls(guide by contraints)-me within realm/circle of righteousness.

    There is no word "path" in the sentence at all. Does anyone see the word "path" (דרך, רחוב)?

    The accepted translations are giving quite a different picture as to where to and how we are guided into righteousness than in the Hebrew.

  2. תערך לפני שלחן - You arrange before me a table

    נגד צררי - against/affronting my enemies.

    However, the accepted translations are saying,

    You prepare a table before me in the "presence" of my enemies.

    ערך would be to arrange and place per item deliberately following a plan or principle.

    That is, in Hebrew, I find that the verse is telling me that the LORD deliberately puts me in a place of honour in His concierge of a well-laid table as a provocative confrontation towards my enemies.

  3. אך טוב וחסד - But goodness and mercy

    ירדפוני - will pursue me

    It's not like goodness and mercy will "follow" me lackadaisically. But the Hebrew says that they will relentless pursue me (perhaps even hunt me down).

    Which means not only am I assured goodness and mercy, they hunt me down to compel me that I too exhibit goodness and mercy.

  4. Finally the big kahuna of the question. The previous statements are just to convince you that the standard translations for Psalm 23 cannot be trusted. This is the actual question.

    ושבתי בבית יי - And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

    לארך ימים - for lengthening/lengthenedness of days.

    It does not say "forever" or "eternity" (לעלם ועד).

    Doesn't the verse actually mean

    And I shall spend more time in the house of the LORD

    So that, if you are Christian, it says you go to church more often, if you are Buddhist, you meditate more, etc. Don't you think so? I am asking this question after realising that Stone's does not translate it as "forever" but as "long long days".

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  • I think I made a mistake in נחן. I think it means more like bestow rather than to marshal. i.e., "He grants me to be within the karma/encirclement/track of righteousness". – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 1 '12 at 15:45
  • Use of English to understand Hebrew idiomatic use of language. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jun 16 '17 at 14:02
  • The Lord's Prayer is a kind of midrash of Psalm 23. As such the purpose of the table is to sit down with your enemy as if he was family... forgiving him in agape love even if he does not reciprocate. In those days, you did not eat with an enemy. So having him at the table indicated that you considered him family. – Bob Jones Dec 27 '17 at 18:39
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"Path" and "realm" result in very different images. "Path" brings to mind the image of danger on every side except unless you stay right there. "Realm" makes the image more like a fenced-in pasture; you can go anywhere within the pasture and be safe. This is a very common metaphor in the rabbinic writings. Torah is a fence that keeps us safe from outer dangers.

However, looking at the Hebrew word in Brown, Driver, Briggs Lexicon, ma'gal, I see it means "entrenchment, track, (fig.) course of action, way of life." It appears in such places as Proverbs 4:11 where "upright paths" (using ma'gal) appears in parallel to "way of wisdom" (using derek) (ma'gal is also parallel to derek in Proverbs 4:26). The imagery in Psalm 17:5 is similar, "My steps have held fast to Thy paths. My feet have not slipped."

I conclude that "path" is acceptable for ma'gal.

You make a very good point with #2.

I definitely agree on point 3. No question the Hebrew means much more than a mere following. It is ironic in that this is the only place in the Hebrew Bible where "pursue" has "goodness and mercy" as the subject. Usually, it is a person's enemies who pursue him this way. However, God (goodness and mercy being used of Him) will pursue His beloved every bit as hard as armies pursue their enemies.

Regarding point 4, you have a very strong argument against "forever," but I disagree with reading it as "more time." Your case is especially strong when you look at the rest of the verse. The NET Bible translates it this way (very close to your translation).

23:6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness will pursue me all my days,

and I will live in the Lord’s house for the rest of my life.

(Bold added to show parallel.)

They take "for lengthening of days" as "rest of my life" because that translation shows how the two Hebrew phrases in bold stand in parallel. Other places where the phrase לארך ימים is used (see Deuteronomy 30:20; Job 12:12; Psalm 91:16; Proverbs 3:2, 16; Lamentations 5:20) refer to a human life. An exception is Psalm 21:4* where the phrase is followed by the intensifier "forever and ever."

*I linked to the KJV because it shows the "forever and ever" phrase where the NET uses "an enduring dynasty" to show how the king will achieve eternal life.

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  • I'm kind of obstinately clinging on to the idea that מעגל denotes a constraint whether a path, track, trench, encampment, plan, strategy. Like the sanskrit word karma (not the religious meaning) - an available course or existence guided/constrained by stuffs around us. In fact, I am so tempted to translate it as "He marshals me in karma of righteousness". – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 1 '12 at 5:37
  • The modern meaning - morfix.co.il/en/%D7%9E%D7%A2%D7%92%D7%9C – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 1 '12 at 5:53
  • I believe that translations of the Bible should exclude interpretation as much as possible. They should translate it as "prolonged days" and leave it to the reader to interpret whatever that means. – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 1 '12 at 5:57
  • ישב does not translate directly to "live". It denotes staying, resting, sitting, reprieve, residing. - I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for prolonging of days - should be an equally legitimate translation. Why should translators spoil my days (pun intended) by interpreting it. – Cynthia Avishegnath Nov 1 '12 at 6:10
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    "All translation is commentary" reminds me of Hillel the Elder in Shabbat 31a, “Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. This is the whole of Torah; the rest is commentary. Go now and study the commentary.” – Frank Luke Nov 1 '12 at 14:53
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Masoretic Text vs. Original Hebrew?

I am not completely sure, but you seem to be rating the common translations based on how the completely unvocalized, unaccented Hebrew could be read. But - with the exceptions of translations based on the Septuagint or the Latin Vulgate - the majority of English translations are based on the medieval Masoretic Hebrew Text and not the original, unvocalized Hebrew.

I think it is correct - as you demonstrate - that the completely unvocalized words also have unique meanings, but it seems that at least in the case of the verses you cite, certain vowels were understood to have been implied.

Of course, one could argue (perhaps often successfully) that the Masoretes got some of the vocalizations wrong, but when I compared what the Masoretic Text implies to how the Septuagint and Vulgate interpreted proto Hebrew texts older than that consulted by the Masoretes, the conventional translations (e.g. both Christian and Jewish, below) of these verses seem to be in order.

Verse 3

He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (KJV)

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (RSV)

He renews my life; He guides me in right paths as befits His name (JPS Tanakh)

He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Chabad.org)

You wrote:

The accepted translations are saying

He leads me in paths of righteousness.

?

In Hebrew, it actually says, at least what I believe to say,

He-marshalls(guide by contraints)-me within realm/circle of righteousness.

There is no word "path" in the sentence at all. Does anyone see the word "path" (דרך, רחוב)?

You quoted the unvocalized Hebrew:

ינחני במעגלי צדק

but the translations are working with the vocalized and accented Masoretic Text:

יַֽנְחֵ֥נִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶ֝֗דֶק

The Masoretic מַעְגָּל (mǎʿ·gāl) - translated as "path" - is related to the word for wagon - עֲגָלָה (ʿǎḡā·lā(h)). The connection is "path" as a wagon rut. The unvocalized Hebrew that you wrote (and is presumably in the "original" written text) is עגל - 'gl' which is the root of circle (e.g. עָגֹל - "round"; עָגִיל - "earring".

That "path" really what was intended in the original Hebrew was witnessed by the Septuagint, which translates the word in the proto-Hebrew as τρίβος - which means "path" or "pathway" in Greek. Jerome, working with a later Hebrew text, but still earlier than the source of the Masoretic text, also interpreted עגל as "path" (Latin semita).

Rashi comments on the phrase: "In straight paths, so that I should not fall into the hands of my enemies."

Verse 5

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over (KJV).

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows (RSV).

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my drink is abundant (JPS Tanakh).

You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows (Chabad.org).

You wrote:

תערך לפני שלחן - You arrange before me a table

נגד צררי - against/affronting my enemies.

However, the accepted translations are saying,

You prepare a table before me in the "presence" of my enemies. ערך would be to arrange and place per item deliberately following a plan or principle.

Again, you are referring to the unvocalized Hebrew in your interpretation:

תערך לפני שלחן נגד צררי

The Masoretic Text reads:

תַּעֲרֹ֬ךְ לְפָנַ֨י ׀ שֻׁלְחָ֗ן נֶ֥גֶד צֹרְרָ֑י

The word you are referring to - ערך - is rendered as עֲרֹ֬ךְ. The unvocalized root of the Masoretic interpolation עֲרֹ֬ךְ (ʿē·rěḵ) - ערך ('rk) does mean, I think, what you say; but the Masoretic word implies "preparing" as the translations suggest. Again, this is born out in the Greek and Latin witnesses as well: ἑτοιμάζω and parō, respectively. But even 'rk is not off, if one visualizes preparing a table as setting out plates and utensils.

Verse 6

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (KJV).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (RSV).

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for many long years (JPS Tanakh).

May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for length of days (Chabad.org).

You quoted the Hebrew as:

לארך ימים

In the Masoretic Text this is׃

לְאֹ֣רֶךְ יָמִֽים

which is literally "length of days" (l - ʾō·rěḵ - yôm). I think perhaps one could argue that it simply means "more time" on the basis of another reading of the unvocalized Hebrew, since ארך ('rk) is used in the sense you suggest, but it seems that this was not what the Masoretes understood the original Hebrew to say. Again, this seems borne out in the Greek and Latin witnesses as well, where the phrase לארך ימים was translated as εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν by the Alexandrian Jewish Septuagint translators and as in longitudinem dierum by Jerome, both more or less saying "in length of days".

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  • Don't EVER trust the septuagint. It is a pagan document translated by a bunch of hellenistic Jews too ashamed of the primitiveness of their own Hebrew scriptures. Hah, someone downvoted you. I wonder why. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jun 15 '17 at 8:30
  • {עגל} is related to "wagon"??? Where did you get that? From the paganistic greek/christian commentaries? – Cynthia Avishegnath Jun 15 '17 at 8:34
  • Cynthia, I am puzzled by your strong reaction. I think I explained things pretty thoroughly in my answer and I didn't cite the Septuagint as a primary source. I was hoping a little you might address why you based your question on unvocalized Hebrew rather than the Masoretic Text. Would you not agree that without the Masoretic vocalizations, the meaning of the unvocalized Hebrew is somewhat vague? – user33515 Jun 15 '17 at 13:36
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    @user33515 - Don't take it personal, Cynthia hates Christianity and has dedicated her life to proving the Christian scriptures are in extreme disagreement to the original Hebrew of the Bible and that Jesus is a pagan god. – user6503 Jun 15 '17 at 16:33
  • @user33515 - That's actually why she has asked many of the questions she has, to prove that any and all English translations are wrong and will go to great lengths in her attempts to discredit them, again rejecting the LXX even in cases of short phrases that contain no theological or "Christian" undertones. – user6503 Jun 15 '17 at 16:50
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Blessed Geek, your question overlooks the fact that the phrase "all the days of my life" precedes the phrase "and I will dwell in the House of the Lord..." It's after the rest of his life is over that he will dwell in the House of the Lord. Does it really matter whether the ancient Hebrew translates as "for lengthening days," "for long long days," "for days and days," "forever," or even "for the rest of my days"? After all, we're talking about a poem from the same book that begins by telling us that God created the earth and everything in it in a mere 6 days!

The word "forever" is so powerful here. It's no wonder the vast majority of scholarly translators for hundreds of years have selected it as the perfect choice for an English translation. It serves as the quintessential exclamation point. It provides the ultimate comfort for the listener and the reader. "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

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  • Perhaps, "I will lengthen the days I spend in church"? "... in the temple?" – Cynthia Avishegnath Apr 20 '14 at 7:33
  • @BlessedGeek, I know nothing of Hebrew, much less ancient Hebrew, but you yourself have accepted the translation of ושבתי בבית יי to be "and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD." Does "dwell" really equate with "spending time somewhere"? A quick Google of the definition of "dwell" returns: – Louis Shaffner Apr 20 '14 at 13:12
  • @Blessed Geek, after editing the above comment which was truncated after I tried to indicate a space by hitting "return", I was informed that comments can only be edited for 5 minutes and the system wouldn't accept my final draft, so please disregard the above comment and read the next one instead. – Louis Shaffner Apr 20 '14 at 14:14
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    @BlessedGeek, you yourself accept the translation of "ושבתי בבית יי" to be "and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD." Doesn't "to dwell" usually mean "to reside," "to lodge," "to be domiciled," etc.? Shouldn't we first attempt to apply this primary definition of "to dwell" before applying the (likely more modern) idiomatic meaning "to spend a lot of time somewhere"? Even the rabbis of David's time didn't dwell; i.e., reside, sleep, etc., in the Temple. Respectful of your opinion of course, I believe David is talking about where he will dwell after "all the days of his life" are over. – Louis Shaffner Apr 20 '14 at 14:15
  • Louis, you didn't know that biblical Hebrew has no future tense? Biblical Hebrew verbs have two temporal states: Stative and Non-finite. Non-finite state is used to signify commands, request, intent, subjunctives, exhortation. Also the conversive-vav theory is complete nonsense and not even consistently applied. It is best not to try to encode biblical Hebrew in an English/Romance linguistic framework. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jul 10 '17 at 4:38

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