Saturday, 8 October 2016

Kyrios (aka the LORD) in the Psalms: results

Back in August, I focussed closely on the Greek translation of Yahweh (and Yahh), the Israelites' personal name for their God. This was fueled by a steadily growing interest that followers of this blog will have noticed in the notion of Lordship and increased clarity in the usage of those words today among Bible-believing Christians. But why the Psalms? Well, it has also become my favourite book that has been a source of much inner reconnection and spiritual life, to such a point that I am also in parallel preparing a Psalms study of the self that I hope may even make this part of the Bible appealing and useful to non-believers. But the Psalms as a large Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) provides a wealth of information about the practices of a subsequent translation period (the Greek Septuagint grew to encompass the whole Hebrew Bible over many decades).

So as a very quick reminder of the grammatical context: the Septuagint translation for Greek-speaking Jewish communities (probably initially in Egypt) had to come up with a solution for God's personal name, YHWH. A complex debate rages about the status of this name by the time of the Greek translation and the extant pre-Christian translations, but by the early centuries of the common era, the standard was to use the Greek word for Lord: Kyrios. This translation has been preserved through the millennia in many modern translations, but with important differences: every since the King James (although maybe earlier, but not Latin, which does not use articles), the article was added, and Lord was capitalised: the LORD (BTW I have an opinion developing within me about this scholarly debate, but let's hold that for another post and a bit more research). Now some scholars had reported that the article-free Kyrios (the technical word for this is "anarthrous") is a more consistent technique in the Pentateuch, and with respect to articles, on a direct par with other personal names, like Moses. In the Pentateuch, occasionally (about 7% of the time in Exodus) you get "the Lord", but absolutely no more frequently than "the Moses". So this "the" is contingent on necessary grammar and by no means requires framing the word as an impersonal title.

Here, then, is what happens in the Psalms:

Some words of explanation are in order!

Since I quickly realised that Greek case was influential (has the Greek translator used a nominative, genitive, accusative, dative or vocative?) to the presence or absence of the article, the main table is a summary of article behaviour for the whole Psalter with increasing "weeding out" of certain cases. Firstly, since the vocative (VMS) κύριε is always anarthrous in LXX Psalms it could hardly be included in research about what I am calling the grammatical "signature" of YHWH translations into Greek: it is totally necessary to exclude them (209 occurrences) altogether. Of the remaining 479 occurrences where a form of Kyrios is used to translate YHWH (a few occurrences of YHWH are not translated that way), 301 are anarthrous. However, since the dative seems to almost always require the article (96% of the time), it seemed necessary to weed that one out too. And once the rather erratic accusative κύριον is also removed, we are left with the only stats that really matter: 18% of the Psalter's κύριος carrying the article and 17% of its κυρίου.

With that task complete, you can see how I was also interested to see if there were notable variations across the Psalter's traditional five volume format, by breaking down these arthrous counts accordingly. This may or may not have been useful. What it shows is when a particular volume strays significantly from the averages above. Since there is variation in both volume length and "YHWH density" (number of YHWH occurrences per verse to translate), it may have been more helpful to simply divide into say 4 or 5 (or more) even sized chunks.

I hope this clarifies the data presented.

I have actually had a little exchange now with Professor Larry Hurtado on this research, which appears to have gained his interest. I am appealing to him for guidance on how I might most usefully develop this research.

One possibility might be to follow Perkins, whose paper I think I previously discussed on the blog. I wonder about doing a similar comparison to that which he performed, to a name like Moses but also a title like theos before proceeding onto some other OT texts.

I am keen to learn from experts also what are the other types of instances that I should be excluding from the data, beyond Greek case? I also have a very rough-and-ready tagging system for some interesting common constructs (like κύριος ὁ θεός: always anarthrous, including a couple of non-nominative cases) that I think could be developed under the guise of "lexical units".

(Updated 25/05/2018)

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