Sunday, January 27, 2013

The spider in the Psalter

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Whenever I am at a loss how to illustrate the PsalmChallenge Sunday psalm, I look in the beautiful medieval Stuttgart Psalter to see how they did it.
So imagine my consternation today when I found our Psalm 90 illustrated with a man watching a spider spin its web.
Huh?? I didn't see a spider mentioned in any of the translations I had perused nor in the original Hebrew.

Then it dawned on me that the copyist creating the manuscript in 820-830 in France would have only the Latin  Vulgate available to him.
It was only much later, during the Protestant reformation in the 14th and 15th centuries, that the Bible was translated into modern languages (against great resistance from the Catholic Church).

So I searched our Psalm 90 in the Vulgate for some sign of a spider and sure enough:

9 Quoniam omnes dies nostri defecerunt in ira tua defecimus anni nostri sicut aranea meditabantur
10 Dies annorum nostrorum in ipsis sep tuaginta anni si autem in potentatibus octoginta anni et amplius eorum labor et dolor quoniam supervenit mansuetudo et cor ripiemur
Online dictionaries say that aranea is Latin for 1. spider, 2. spider web, 3. (figuratively) threads similar to spider webs.

The English Psalter translates the verses as
9 For all our days are spent; and in thy wrath we have fainted away. Our years shall be considered spider:
 10 the days of our years in them are threescore and ten years. But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow. For mildness is come upon us: and we shall be corrected.

Or more polished:
"Our years pass away like those of a spider." 
Meaning our life is as frail as the thread of a spider  web.
But still, I don't understand where the translator could have gotten spider from the Hebrew
(ט) כִּי כָל יָמֵינוּ פָּנוּ בְעֶבְרָתֶךָ כִּלִּינוּ שָׁנֵינוּ כְמוֹ הֶגֶה

Photo is from Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart DFG-Viewer
where it can be enjoyed in high resolution
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OK, let's see the whole Psalm 90 in a good and modern translation by Rabbi Benjamin J. Segal, directly from the Hebrew:


1. A prayer of Moses, the Man of God:

O Lord, You have been our refuge from generation to generation.
2. Before the mountains were born, before You formed the earth and the world,
from eternity to eternity You are God.
3. You turn mankind back to dust; You decreed, “Turn back, you children of man!”
4. For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that has passed, like a watch in the night.
5. You cause them to flow by. They are sleep. At daybreak they are like grass that renews itself;
6. at daybreak it flourishes, renewed; by dusk it withers and dries up.

7. Indeed we are consumed by Your anger, terror-struck by Your fury.
8. You have set our iniquities before You, our hidden sins in the light of Your face.
9. All our days pass away under Your wrath; we consume our years like a sigh.
10. The days of our years are all of seventy years or, given the strength, eighty years; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we fly away.
11. Who can know Your furious anger, and Your wrath, which matches the fear of You.

12. Bring us to know how to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart.
13. Turn, O Lord! How long?! Show mercy to Your servants.
14. Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love that we may sing for joy all our days.
15. Give us joy for as many days as You have afflicted us, for the years we have seen calamity.
16. Let Your deeds be seen by Your servants, Your glory by their children.
17. May the favor of the Lord, our God, be with us; establish with us the work of our hands; yes, the work of our hands, establish it!

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Translation: Rabbi Segal.  See his excellent commentary.

Photos (all can be enlarged with a click and then a second click):
1. Stuttgarter Psalter
2. Statues made from Dead Sea salt crystals.  Mamilla mall Ahava store.
3. Just before the sun rises over Jerusalem.  You can see the tall mast of the Calatrava bridge on the horizon.
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10 comments:

Fran said...

I love the page from the psalter!

Birdman said...

My jobs around here includes:
#107 Removing spiders from the bathtub.
I'll have to remember these words the next time.

Mary Gerdt said...

Thank you Dina for your studies and photos. The spider is on 2 blades of grass. The spider's life, the web, the blades of grass are all finite. Have a great week, mary

Norma Ruttan said...

I am speechless on seeing the Psalter! The words in this psalm makes me tremble.

Spiderdama said...

Great information to this psalm. I like that about the spider. I could not access the psalter page.. need to be a user?
Picture from a beautiful morning in Jerusalem:-)

"Frail is he trusts, and he comforted himself to the spider web" (Job somewhere)

Happy week to you Dina!

Dina said...

Friends, thanks for all your much appreciated comments.

Spiderdama, if the site asks you for a username, just click cancel and it will let you go through to the Psalter.

Carrie Scharf said...

Very interesting!

Sara said...

Shalom Dina. That was interesting about the spider translation.

Fabrizio Zanelli said...

Thank you Dina. I would like to understand much better English just for learning much more reading your articles. And thank you very much for visiting today my blog !

richies said...

I have spent over twenty years studying Bible translations. Very interesting post. If only I could read Hebrew, Greek and Latin. I really enjoyed the post.


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