Wednesday, September 04, 2002
A TWO THOUSAND YEAR OLD PRAISE TO ZION
While working today (yes, this frog does occasionally work) I had occasion to read the original of this Hebrew song of praise to Zion. The song, which is known only from the great Psalms scroll from Qumran Cave 11, dates back to the Second Temple Period, and was first published in 1965 by a charming professor by name of James Sanders. (Sanders was subsequently ignored by the other members of the publication team who failed to publish their assigned texts, and in an impassioned speech before the expanded official publication team in 1997 he thanked those present for finally having acknowledged his contribution to the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)
In these difficult times I found the sentiments most inspiring, and decided to post a translation here.
I recall you, O Zion, for a blessing,
With all my might have I loved you,
Your name is eternally blessed.
Great is your hope, O Zion,
Peace and your awaited salvation shall come!
Generation after generation will dwell in you,
Generations of the steadfast shall be your splendour:
Who yearn for the day of your salvation,
And will rejoice in your great glory.
They shall suckle from your glorious breast,
And walk your splendid squares.
The steadfastness of your prophets shall you recall
And be glorified in the deeds of your loyal ones.
Violence is purged from your midst!
Falsehood and evil cut off from you!
Your sons rejoice within you,
Your beloved ones are joined with you.
How have they hoped for your salvation,
And your pure ones mourned for you!
Your hope won’t be lost, O Zion
Nor your expectations be forgotten!
Who has perished when righteous,
Or escaped in iniquity?
Man is tested by his way,
And each repaid according to his deeds.
All about your enemies are cut off, O Zion,
Your foes have all been scattered.
Your praise is pleasing, O Zion,
Ascending through all the world.
Many a time shall I recall you for a blessing,
And bless you with all my heart.
You shall attain eternal justice,
And receive the blessings of the great.
Consider the vision spoken of you,
And the dreams of the prophets shall come to you.
Be exalted and increased, O Zion,
Praise the Most High, you redeemer,
Let my soul rejoice in your glory.
www.eisenbrauns.com, perhaps the best American distributor of academic books on Bible and the Ancient Near East, is holding a special sale of books from the Hebrew University’s Magnes Press. Amongst the many books on offer, I should like to make special mention of two: Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (1987) and Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (1993), both by Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked.
The books contain primarily Jewish magic texts dating from around the fourth or fifth centuries through Middle Ages. The earliest texts were discovered in archaeological excavations in Israel and are written on metal or clay, while the mediaeval material comes from the Cairo Geniza and are primarily written on paper. A third group of texts comes from Babylonia in the pre-Talmudic and Talmudic periods, and these are written in Babylonian Aramaic on bowls. Yes, bowls.
The texts vary in their contents: protection from demons, love charms, blessings for success when speaking to a ruler, and, one of my favourites, a spell to subdue the writer’s neighbours. The texts are predominantly written in the Palestinian and Babylonian Jewish dialects of Aramaic, and give an unusual perspective on the popular religious expression of the time.
So if you have some particularly troublesome demons to deal with, or bothersome neighbours, then these could well be the books for you. The spells themselves often attest that they are effective.
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