A Miss is a Mile – Old Tehillim Found Open to Psalm 83 (or perhaps 84)

By Chaim Grossferstant

Let me begin by making an admission. I am not a card carrying member of the “alert Hanoch Teller immediately” crowd and am somewhat skeptical of “visionaries” who sense Hashgacha Pratis everywhere. It’s not that I don’t believe that Hashgacha Pratis exists everywhere; it’s just that I think that the maintenance of our free-choice is set up in such a way that we should be mostly oblivious to Hashgacha Pratis most of the time.

But there is a recent news item that really causes a thinking Jew in these perilous times to pause and ponder. Yesterday, the New York Sun reported (page 9) that on Tuesday Irish archaeologists discovered an ancient book of psalms spotted by a construction worker while driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog. (Parenthetically there are a number of blogs I’d like to drive the shovel of a backhoe into!) What we would call a “Tehillim”, it is a Psalter and has been approximately dated to the years 800–1000 A. C. E. Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland described it as “really a miracle find.”

But what makes the find of particular interest to people who are Jewish but not necessarily archeologists is that the book was found open to a page describing, in Latin script, Psalm 83, in which, according to the AP, “G-d hears complaints of other nations’ attempts to wipe out the name of Israel” and that in effect, the Psalter cannot be moved from that page. Because “It could take months of study just to identify the safest way to pry open the pages without damaging or destroying them.”

You can read the article in its entirety here.

If the NY Sun story is accurate then this Psalter was found open to kapit’l pay gimel (83) which is AKA Shir Mizmor L’osof. What makes this discovery Providential is that several years ago when a spike in suicide bombings began this is the precise kapit’l that Gedolei Yisrael instructed us to begin our “3 extra kapitalch of Tehillim a day” with. Furthermore, they have asked us to intensify davening these 3 extra kapitalch (among others) during the Gush Katif convergence/ pullout and, most recently, during the current Hamas/Hezbollah kidnapping /bombardment crisis. What the New York Sun article fails to mention is that this kapit’l doesn’t merely talk about other nations’ attempts to wipe out the name of Israel. It is a passionate prayer that these plans be thwarted and turned on their heads. Its denouement pointedly links HaShem’s glory to that of His Chosen people.

This story is making international news. Absent the war in Lebanon and I’m fairly certain it would not have been relegated to page 9 below the fold. The Psalter being open, and stuck upon, Psalm 83 davka, seems more than a mere coincidence. I am not an oracle who can offer an authoritative interpretation of this “miracle find” but It seems plausible to me that it being discovered at this time may mean that HaShem is trying to send one of/or two messages: To us: keep davening this kapit’l and doing t’shuva b/c the time is nigh when, as the kapit’l describes, the whole world will be ganging up against you to try and utterly annihilate you. To our enemies: Don’t mess with my Chosen People.

But here the plot thickens. Almost any other kapit’l and the discovery reverts to an archeological yawn interesting only to antiquity buffs. Check out the way NPR and the Irish Museum report the same story:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5584495

And

http://www.museum.ie/news/details_news.asp?sPressType=1&newsid=231

These two sources claim that it corresponds to the modern Psalm 84 NOT to Psalm 83. I don’t know my vulgates from my King James’ but I do know that while 84 is a beautiful and lyrical kapit’l it is not loaded with the same message as the actual Psalm 83. Though it’s only one Psalm “off” a miss is a mile! Yet based on NPR infamous far left-leaning track record of “objectivity” when it comes to reporting all things religious, Jewish and Israeli and Ireland’s less than stellar even-handedness Vis a Vis Israel I smell a conspiracy. NPR posted an English translation of Psalm 84 on their website. As beautiful and lyrical as kapit’l 84 is how comfortable would the brass at NPR have been about posting kapit’l 83 on their web site?

On the other hand as long as the Divine puppet Master has already allowed the story to be broadcast as Psalm 83 (what most of the Bible reading world identifies as Shir Mizmor L’osof) perhaps the facts on the bog (or by now… in the museum) are of no real consequence.

What do YOU think?

If you want to say Psalm 83 for the Matzav in Israel, here is a link.

28 comments on “A Miss is a Mile – Old Tehillim Found Open to Psalm 83 (or perhaps 84)

  1. I’m not sure whether or not you’d get a response from the Irish museum but it never hurts to ask. I personally don’t have so many archaeological connections, but when I have a bit more time online (and am not going to sleep like I am right now) I could e-mail my professor and see if he could get someone to send you a photo of the text…

    And we didn’t find any tehillim on my dig. It’s a Philistine site- the ancient city of Gath.

  2. Jacob wrote:
    “NPR’s article included a translation of the “Vale of Tears”. If that wasn’t the text found in the artifact, then their reporting was pure and simple fraud.”

    Or… the Latin may indeed read “Vale of Tears” in which case the NY Sun/AP (and by association…I) may be guilty of perpetrating/popularizing a myth. But, as I ended the original post, while this may be sloppy, unethical or credibility-challenged journalism it may still be highly ethical and valuable Chizuk!

    If one of us were to request an email of a photographic image of the Latin text, do you think that the Irish Museum would respond? Or would we have to be an archeologist? Maybe Rachel Adler could get a respo

  3. Why don’t the Jewish media ask the museum for a photo of the find? If it’s stuck open to one page, we’ll see what page it is and what it says.

  4. Perhaps I’m missing a subtlety from the articles because this question seems too obvious.

    If the TEXT of the discovered artifact is a direct Latin translation of the TEXT that corresponds to “Mizmor L’Asaph” how is playing with the numbers going to change the actual find? What’s the difference of vulgate enumeration discrepancies if the TEXT is the TEXT?

    NPR’s article included a translation of the “Vale of Tears”. If that wasn’t the text found in the artifact, then their reporting was pure and simple fraud.

    Could someone please elaborate?

  5. The kind of bias I suspect would like nothing better than to cast Jews/Israel as bloodthirsty. Furthermore the old canard of a furious old testament G-d of vengeance might unsettle some insecure liberal Jews (NPR?) but not the Irish Museum. The conspiracy that I theorize conspires to deny that “Israel…(is) under God’s special protection! ” or for that matter, that Israel has any special relationship with G-d whatsoever.

  6. Chaim – As far as I can figure out from my sources here at home, Psalms 9 and 10 were combined in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Tanakh, which was done by Jews well before the Christian era); that may explain why Jerome followed that numbering. (I’ve looked in the Septuagint we have at home here and Ps. 9 and 10 are indeed combined.) So Jerome was probably following that tradition.

    Even if the “rat” isn’t in the numbering, though, the reports from NPR and Irish Museum DO smell strongly of rodent – it’s almost as if they are ashamed of the content of the real Ps. 83: “Oh, no, don’t read that one, it’s bloodthirsty! It makes Israel out to be under God’s special protection! We can’t have that!!!” Tough – it’s in the same Bible, folks – it’s every bit as true as any other part!

  7. S. – regarding your comment #14- appreciate your thoughtful “please read this comments thread carefully” Hallmark/Carlton encouragement – card worthy sentiment. No need for the comment threading reading comprehension concern though , I was just focusing on the global Oh My G-d an Irish worker with a backhoe found a really ancient book of psalms open in a bog in Ireland concept. Among other points of personal interest directly related to the initial posting.

  8. While we’re on the topic, just why did Jerome combine kapitlach 9 and 10 when di-vulging the Vulgate?

  9. Elin,

    Thanks for clarfying the Vulgate’s creative accounting practices. What can I say, I still smell a rat.

  10. It is true that the Latin Vulgate text considers Psalms 9 and 10 as one Psalm, thus every Psalm after that is numbered one less than in the Hebrew Tehillim. All Protestant Christian Bibles (and, as far as I know, modern Catholic ones too) are based on the Hebrew numbering, but an Irish psalter from the period between 800 and 1000 would probably be based on the Vulgate and be numbered accordingly. Thus what that psalter calls Psalm 83 would be what Jews and modern-day Christians would know as Psalm 84. So the numbering mix-up actually goes back to Jerome, who translated the Vulgate back in the 4th century.

    However, as BBS said, maybe the report will get some people interested in reading Psalm 83. While 84 has always been one of my favorite tehillim, 83 is certainly very apropos in the current situation. I will say it with my prayers for Israel starting today.

    Thanks Chaim for the interesting report!

    “Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (Ps. 83:18)

  11. “I’ve always had this thing for Ireland ”

    Me too. My two favorite music genres are Klezmer and Celtic (the Chieftains et al). As is often the case today you’ve got to differantiate between a people/culture and their politicains/governments.

  12. Chaim G, Oh my G-d this stuff is way spooky and challenging the essence of the jadedness (sometimes referred to as “moral ignorance and stupidity (I think R’ Shimon equates that in Pirkei Avos 1:17) …..”- (Rabbi Schwartz – nope haven’t forgotten that definition yet) .

    I’ve always had this thing for Ireland now I’ve got the perfect spiritual reasoning for a sidetracking detour trip. Chaim ,If your organizing the Ireland psalm literal viewing and reading tour don’t forget your fellow jaded tree, same forest ;-) . There’s nothing like lateral global spiritual reasoning and praying .

    Interesting perspective on “free-choice maintenance”.Any upgrades available for older versions of the free-choice program that are incompatible w/ creative colorful mac computers? (Lateral readings and ponderings r way more fun than the linear comprehension of postings). Ure right though on the excessive hashagacha pratis thing , cuz if you’ve got too much chicken soup for the hashgacha pratis finder soul it will eventually get lukewarm & tepid after a while and mess with the whys and ifs of the initial soup choices even if you don’t like soup at all .
    But this book of psalms finding in a bog with a backhoe concept is definitely classified under
    Oh My G-d, I better get my act together yesterday.

  13. Jacob,
    Self serving interpretations are not limited to the fields of Biblical criticism/scholarship. It is rampant in history and geopolitics as well. I read the other day that Nasrallla saw the modern State of Israel’s mini “ingathering of the exiles” not as a fulfillment of a Jewish Messianic and/or political Zionist aspiration, but as a convenient fortuitous prelude to annihilation of world Jewry. He viewed Israel as a kind of gigantic concentration camp where, having drawn all the Jews together into one geographical location, it would be “easier” to “get them” all at once. But as you mentioned my p’shat is not forced into, nor does it torture, the text. All that’s required is to read the kapit’l in its entirety.

  14. “Many an upturned nose has been pointed in the right direction by the only one who is capable of such sleight of hand.”

    HUH? If I read it write shouldn’t it be “by the only One” (upper case O?

  15. I hope Chaim G’s “p’shat” is the real deal.

    That said…..

    As discussed in Jeff Neckonoff’s “Shopping For Jews”, various Churches have often misinterpreted the “p’shat” (basic meaning) of our Tanach (Bible – 5 books of the Torah plus 19 others that make up Prophets and Writings) either out of willful and self-serving neglect, translation difficulties or lack of education and of course lack of access to the clarifying Torah Sheh’B’al’Peh (Oral Teachings).

    In this case, as intriguing as this conspiracy theory is, the museum’s public relations statement could also imply that the museum wanted to stifle any potential reaction where some extreme type would cite this finding as “proof” that the Hizbollah are doing the correct thing in their attempt to wipe out Israel.

    We often hear about “Fundamentalists” who “support” Israel but there are unfortunately also other types of sinister “literalists” who see things the opposite way and manipulate the meaning behind “prophecies” to forecast Israel’s demise, G-d Forbid. Hal Lindsay’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” was one example of destructive forecasting and it was an rack-emptying best seller 30 years ago.

    That might explain the comment from the museum

    “The above mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with the wiping out of Israel”

    They may have feared the “concern” would be a hysterical reaction from some organization that someone from the museum or archaeology team was promoting a sinister prophecy.

    Despite the fact that in the end of that K’pitl the Sonei Yisroel (Haters of Israel) get their comeuppance, the museum and the self-appointed elite from NPR (not to mention the not-yet-learned masses) might not possess the background in learning, patience, discipline or interest to read that far and will jump to conclusions from the opening verses. Yes, we’re talking about archaeologists but don’t forget the tendency to misinterpret. They may not have “khoped” the last part of the K’ptil.

    I wouldn’t put it past NPR or the museum to play fast and loose with the facts and turn it into some confusing pseudo-algebraic formula (82=83 so therefore….) as a cover up for reasons we might cite, but it behooves us to consider all possibilities before attempting a conclusion.

    Of course I hope that Chaim G’s interpretation turns out to be the authentic one. And yes, even for those who try to keep a cool head regarding “revelations” it’s too difficult to file this one under “OK, whatever” and least, if nothing else, let it serve as a reminder to continue our Tehilim.

  16. The nes here was the initial reporting of the psalm as 83. What the actual opened page showed is irrelevant as no one could read the bog-stained latin anyway. And, frankly, if it was opened to 84, could 83 be more than a page away? Getting “stuck” on a page takes on new meaning.

    Mizmor shir le’Asoph did not need to be discovered as an ancient document, per se. It just needed to be re-discovered – by those who have had it, in it’s full text, in their own language(s), in their own canons all along.

    Many of us in the BT world were initially led to Torah by various “attractions.” It could have been someone’s version of “Kabbalah” or “Torah Codes” or other mysticism much of which turns out to be irrelevant, if not shtus… But we went to a class, a Shabbaton, a retreat and there we discovered, often to our complete surprise, what we ultimately needed to find.

    What is the difference if the book were open to that psalm or another… Even people who came to the story after the “correction” was published are getting to raise their eyebrows at Mizmor shir Le’Asoph.

    Many an upturned nose has been pointed in the right direction by the only one who is capable of such sleight of hand.

    BBS

  17. This story was reported on a few internet news sites 2 days ago. We then read 83 and were amazed by the relevance to the current situation, including the naming of locations (Tyre, Assyria for example. It is at once alarming and soothing to know Hashem is speaking to us.

    It also reminded us of a similar story in Mishpacha magazine a few weeks ago (issue 106, 5th of Iyar) involving a page from a sefer Torah which had been found by a Nazi on the ground and cut to be used as a wrapper for his ID. After his death the cut parchment made its way through several hands, and finally to Rav Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, rav of Migdal HaEmek, who understood the message. The page that the Nazi cut out was from Parshas Ki Savo, the pasukim of admonishment of the horrors that will visit the Jewish people if they fail to keep and observe the Torah.

  18. S.

    You are a scholar, bibliographer and a philologist. I OTUH am a conspiracy theorist. I suppose that time will tell (when the Psalter is examined by independent scholars, hopefully before anyone has had the time or the technology to turn a page) whether or not initial reports were erroneous. In any event, how many people interested in the story are currently under the impression that it was open to shir mizmor le-’asaph?

  19. Apparently it is Psalm 83–according to the Latin Vulgate–which corresponds to Psalm 84 in Tanakh and English Bibles. So the story initially reported that it was Psalm 83 and people looked it up. But it actually was not opened to shir mizmor le-‘asaph.

    So far from a distortion, this is just the correction of an initial misunderstanding that was reported.

  20. In fact, all Tehillim are always relevant to our national and individual situations, as will be clear if we ponder them as we say them.

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