[b-hebrew] Psalms 68

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Dec 14 16:14:39 EST 2005

Hello all.  The first thing to realize is that these verses are very similar to
verses in the Song of Deborah:

Judges 5:4
Y' when You left Seir,
  when You marched from the field of Edom
Land trembled, the skies poured,
  So did clouds pour water,
      (5:5) Mountains melted,
Before Y', This is Sinai
  Before Y', God of Israel

Compare this to:

Psalm 68:8
God, when You left before Your nation,
  when You marched in the Yeshimon (Selah)
Land trembled,
  Skies poured as well,
Before Y', This is Sinai
     Before Y', God of Israel

In comparing the two we notice some differences:

The Song of Deborah contains a very recognizable parallel - Edom vs.
Seir, whereas in Psalm 68:8 this is absent and we have "before Your
nation/in the Yeshimon", whose parallelism is not as clear.  (It is
parallelism only in concept, that both apparently relate to the Exodus).
But Judges 5 represents a more direct parallelism, a simple Edom vs.
Seir, left vs. march.  It also seems hard to accept that if the author of
the Song of Deborah had used a poem relating to the Exodus, that
they would reword it to talk about God leaving Edom.  However, the
opposite direction is much more attractive.  It seems here, therefore,
that the version in Judges 5 actually represents a more original form.

In Judges 5, we have an additional fragment "So did clouds pour water,
Mountains melted" which actually complicates the text, and is
somewhat redundant and reuses the same verb as for skies ("poured")
for clouds.  All this suggests to me that this is an "addition" to some
original song which quite clearly underlies both passages.

Lastly, Psalm 68 has "Selah" in the middle whereas the whole
group of verses seems to be a unit that has been placed both into
Judges 5 and into Psalm 68 from some common source (perhaps
a common folk song that was reused in both instances).  But
perhaps the "Selah" comes to divide two portions of the same poem.

Does this talk about Egypt and the Exodus?  I doubt this.  It talks
about a Mt. Sinai but very likely in Edomite territory.  Absent in these
and further verses are splitting of the Sea (as in Ps. 114), and
servitude (as in Ps. 81) -- as well as a clear reference to Egypt in
that connection (Ps. 81 and 114).  Psalm 68 does mention the "Hall
upon Jerusalem" (v. 30) and "Your Temples" (v. 36) -- a possible
reference to the Temple in Jerusalem and other places, and mentions
Kush and Egypt bringing tribute before God.   Those do not fit the
Exodus but rather (if anything) the Monarchic times.  For the possible
reference in the first verse, it is a very distant reference.  What we have
left is that God marched from an Edomite mountain of Sinai, which
is a common motif as it is, and is not to be confused with the Exodus,
a different motif.  (See in this connection Deut 33:2, Hab 3:3).

"Rider in the Deserts" may work, but in this song, we also have
in v. 34, "That rides upon the heavens of heavens which are of old."
So it would seem that in this context too, it is better to read
"That rides the clouds" than simply "Rides in the deserts.  It is
probably because of this that Rabbi David Qimhi (Radak) wrote
"And this is why the Heavens are called Arabot LRKB B(RBWT."
(Book of Roots, "(RB").

RKB (RPT is an epithet of Baal in Ugaritic literature.  This is not
the only allusion to Ugaritic divine terminology in this group of
verses.  The reference to KW$RWT recalls the Ugaritic KT_RT
(Kathirat) [with the well-known Canaanite *aa > o shift].

The b/p interchange is very common.  Thus, there is the example
I mentioned some time ago whereby Gen 31:40 xrb is written in
the Samaritan Pentateuch xrp (xrp may make more sense in
this context), but also compare 2 Sam 10:16 w$wbk with 1
Chron 19:16 w$wpk.  Also in this context, for example, Arad
24.18 bnb$km (apparently deriving from the root np$).  And if
we mentioned Ugaritic, Ugaritic also features various roots
whereby b/p interchange.  Apparently, it is also known form other
Semitic languages.

In this context, we may note that (RP as a root for cloud/rain is
attested in the Bible.  Hence, Deut 32:3, 33:28, Is 5:30, and
perhaps also the root (RPL.

Araboth may denote wildernesses but where it denotes a
specific place, it refers to the Arabah, to the north and south
of the Dead Sea.  We have Araboth Moab and Araboth Jericho,
which relate to that same Arabah.  Interestingly, the Southern
Arabah borders on Edomite territory.

However, here it is used as an epithet of God, and while a term
"Rider in the Deserts" may make some distant relationship to
God in the Deserts, (where in the Exodus does God "ride"?)
it seems more reasonable to take this as related to the Ugaritic
Baal epithet "Rider of the Clouds" esp. in light of v. 34.

The reading "Rider of Heavens" is therefore not an example of
overzealous interpretation in light of an "apparent Ugaritic
parallel" in defiance of the meaning of the passage in context.
Radak was certainly not influenced by Ugaritic literature, and
probably was directed here by context (ie, v. 34).  Rather,
linking this to the Exodus would ignore the clear allusions
to Ugaritic theology, the later mention of "Rider of Heavens" in
v. 34 and the consistent use throughout the bible linking God as
one who went forth from Edomite territory as a separate concept
from the Exodus.

Finally, it would help to know, when citing translations and
comparing them, which translation gives which.  And your
transcription of the Hebrew, while consistent, (and we all
have Bibles that we can look it up), is still confusing, for
example, in using s = Shin and $ = Samekh.  The grave
is also commonly used for an Ayin rather than an Aleph
as you have it.  The standard transcription scheme for the
list is at: http://www.ibiblio.org/bhebrew/

I personally don't mind deviations but the ones I noted
above are confusing.

Yitzhak Sapir

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