Friday, February 16, 2018

A Note on Psalm 145:13b

In the KJV, Psalm 145:13 reads: Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. In the ESV, the verse reads: Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.

Notice that the second sentence in the ESV is absent in the KJV. The NASB follows the KJV, while the NIV and the New Living Translation agree with the ESV. The question is twofold. Where does this line come from? And, is it a legitimate part of the biblical text?

The answer to the first question is as follows: The additional line is found in the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is also found in the Hebrew text of Psalms from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), one medieval Hebrew manuscript, and in the Syriac version. It is not found in the vast majority of medieval Hebrew manuscripts.

The answer to the second question is more difficult, and the following comments constitute my summary of the arguments.

Arguments in favor of the originality of the line:

1.      Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalm. That is, each line (verse, in this case) begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. Verse 1 (after the title) begins with aleph. Verse 2 begins with bet, and so on. However, there is no nun (n) line in the standard Hebrew text, making it an incomplete acrostic. The line in the LXX, the DSS, the one Medieval Hebrew manuscript, and the Syriac supplies this “n” line, making the acrostic complete.

2.      All other verses in the Psalm are one line long, whereas this verse, with the second line, is two lines long. A copyist could have inadvertently skipped this second line in his copying, and copies made from that copy would not have included the line.

3.      The fact that the line is found in one medieval manuscript, the DSS, and two ancient versions makes a case for the originality of the line.

4.      The line fits well with what follows in the Psalm, making a transition in the thought from what precedes to what follows.

5.      Though the second part of the line (“and kind in all his works”) is also found in verse 17, such a repetition is occasionally found in the Psalms.

Arguments in favor of omitting the line:

1.      Almost all Hebrew manuscripts, after the DSS, do not include the line.

2.      The Psalm could have intentionally been an incomplete acrostic. There are other examples in the psalms of such incomplete acrostics.

3.      The LXX is not always an accurate translation in the Psalms.

4.      The Syriac translation in general shows a fair amount of influence from the LXX. Hence, it is not always considered a separate textual witness.

5.      An early copyist, noting the missing “n” line could have supplied it, explaining its presence in the DSS copies and in the one medieval manuscript.

6.      The second part of the line, “and kind in all his works” is also found in verse 17, perhaps indicating part of the source for some copyist seeking to complete the acrostic.

I don’t think the arguments in either direction are compelling, leaving it a matter of judgment on the part of translators. It should be noted, however, that prior to the 1950s, no translation team had access to the DSS manuscripts. The NASB, the NKJV, the NET Bible, and the Lexham English Bible are, to the best of my knowledge, the only post-1950s translations that do not include the line.

The NET Bible adds the following note: Psa 145 is an acrostic psalm, with each successive verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. However, in the traditional Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Psa 145 there is no verse beginning with the letter nun. One would expect such a verse to appear as the fourteenth verse, between the mem (‌ם) and samek (‌ס) verses. Several ancient witnesses, including one medieval Hebrew manuscript, the Qumran scroll from cave 11, the LXX, and the Syriac, supply the missing nun (‌ן) verse, which reads as follows: "The Lord is reliable in all his words, and faithful in all his deeds." One might paraphrase this as follows: "The Lord's words are always reliable; his actions are always faithful." Scholars are divided as to the originality of this verse. L. C. Allen argues for its inclusion on the basis of structural considerations (Psa 101-150 [WBC], 294-95), but there is no apparent explanation for why, if original, it would have been accidentally omitted. The psalm may be a partial acrostic, as in Psa 25 and Psa 34 (see M. Dahood, Psalms [AB], 3:335). The glaring omission of the nun line would have invited a later redactor to add such a line.

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