Epistle of the Elder of Omaha
This past week I have posted a discussion of Psalm 2 under the label, The Hebrew Psalms and Praying the Narrative. Psalm 2 is a particularly interesting psalm because it is easy to imagine its performance in its original setting. It took place in the royal court of Jerusalem where a kind of state dinner was being held. The dignitaries are the kings and ambassadors of the nearby city states and the performance which began as entertaining suddenly takes on the form of a warning aim at the guest lest they should have any thoughts of conspiring among themselves against Jerusalem’s authority. God would laugh them to scorn should they have the nerve to try.
The Psalm is also interesting because it is the location of one of most heavily interpreted texts in the Hebrew Testament: “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” Clearly, in the original performance this refers to the present king of Israel, but in subsequent interpretations it becomes a reference to a future messiah. The study, under the label Hebrew Psalms and Praying the Narrative, has an extended discussion of these issues. Suffice it here to say to the general reader that what is at stake in this discussion is how we experience a text. If we look at text to discover truths, then it will be an either/or, and it will lead, as it has done in the past, to rather forced arguments with unpleasant consequences. If the text means only the king at that time, then, the text is reduce to mere curiosity. Or if it means only this particular individual is the messiah, then the ancient performer is merely a tool. If, as I think we should, read text for the purpose of finding relationships with others, then the multiplicity of levels each has something to offer us and it is no longer and either/or.
My reaction to my study of Psalm 1 and 2 this past couple of weeks, set me to working on a poem in which I might express my own theory of how one should read the psalms. This is, in part, an explanation of why I am running behind in my work. I will share with you its beginning stanza which I think can help you understand the point I am making. I should point out that the word hasidim which occurs in the poem is the Hebrew word for “pious ones,” “saints” who make up the congregation of the righteous. It is to the hasidim that the author of Psalm 1 speaks.
When I pray the Book of Psalms,
I keep company with the hasidim.
Together we eat the bread of heaven,
with the Wisdom Editor who framed the psalms
and taught us the law from the Aleph to the Tau
and bid us in hearts to recite it day and night.
with the performer who sang above the lyre
asking why, the nations did conspire,
against God and God’s messiah.
More to follow.
During the week, I have finished my read of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, a narrative that begins in Gohyang Korea in 1910 and traces the journey of Korean family through their migration to Osaka, Japan in 1933 through the family’s stay in Toyko up to 1989. I am glad to have done so for through its narrative I feel a bit more connect to what underlays the peace negotiation on the Korean peninsula. It also help to penetrate the issue of racial discrimination, in a form which seems so unlike our own, but whose destructive results are so much the same.
My reading this coming week returns to the letters and essays of the early German romantic poet, Friedrich Hölderlin. They are such a delight. In a letter to his sister in mid November of 1790, he tells of walking with his fellow seminary student, G. W.F. Hegel, to a Chapel built on a rise just outside of the village of Würmlingen, famous for its view of the Swabian countryside. One can only imagine the animated conversation between the future poet who would come to be known as one of Germany’s finest and the future philosopher who would come to be known as one of Germany’s greatest. How exciting it would to have been able to hear what they were saying! I another letter, after their graduation has separated them, Hölderlin writes to Hegel. It is warm and personal, expressing how much he misses Hegel’s company. Then he says in a rather fierce testimony that they cannot really be separated because “we parted with the watch word ‘the Kingdom of God’ By that watch word we would, I believe, recognize each other after every possible metamorphosis.” This is a stunning text and should cause Hölderlin scholars and Hegel scholars to reassess what they think they know about their about their principles!
This coming week my assignment is to add a post to the label, Romanticism and the Recovery of the Narrative. It will take a deeper look at the relationship between the poet and the philosopher as way to assess the argument of a paper by Michael Rectenwald entitled From Romantic Catastrophism to Victorian Gradualism: A Reading of Epistomologies” which has come my way. It is a challenging paper by a prominent scholar of the State University of New York, recently embroiled in a controversy over political correctness, an issue on which one can be correct only if it is ignored, which is what I intend to do.
Faithfully, Michael The Elder of Omaha