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Nature, Revelation, and Grace in Psalm 19: Towards a Theological Reading of Scripture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 July 2015

Benjamin D. Sommer*
The Jewish Theological Seminary


Does biblical criticism have anything to contribute to a theologically engaged study of Scripture? The answer implicitly provided by many scholars, both within the guild of modern biblical scholarship and outside it, is clear: The biblical critic's findings are irrelevant to constructive projects. These findings may be the product of intensive philological, comparative, and historical work, but they are no more connected to the tasks of the modern thinker than artifacts dug up by an archaeologist. Indeed (some theologically and literarily minded readers assume), biblical critics often produce work that impedes an interpreter who is oriented towards larger ideas. Those ideas, after all, emerge from textual wholes that are subtle, creative, and innovative, while biblical critics (these readers believe) have a penchant for dismembering texts or reducing them to hackneyed representatives of types of thinking or textual genres found elsewhere in the ancient Near East. As a result, not a few theologians and philosophers who attend to the Bible shun the work of biblical critics.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2015 

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1 A recent example is Hazony, Yoram, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture: An Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In spite of his goals of recovering (or constructing) biblical texts as philosophical works, Hazony devotes almost no attention to the work of modern biblical scholars who read the Bible as humanistically exciting and philosophically provocative. Much the same can be said of Schweid, Eliezer, The Philosophy of the Bible as Foundation of Jewish Culture (trans. Levin, Leonard; 2 vols.; Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2008)Google Scholar, whose references to modern biblical scholarship are quite limited. Similarly, the very useful discussions of biblical texts in Novak, David, Natural Law in Judaism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 3161CrossRefGoogle Scholar make almost no reference to work by biblical critics on the relationship of biblical texts and natural theology—e.g., Barr, James, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology: The Gifford Lectures for 1991, Delivered in the University of Edinburgh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)Google Scholar, and Collins, John J., “The Biblical Precedent for Natural Theology,” JAARSup 45 B (1977) 3567Google Scholar. Novak does refer a single time to Barton, John, “Natural Law and Poetic Justice in the Old Testament,” JTS 30 (1979) 114CrossRefGoogle Scholar; this is one of four references Novak makes to modern biblical scholarship in the 106 footnotes found in his chapter on biblical texts.

2 On the tendency of ancient Near Eastern thinkers (including biblical authors) to exemplify cases concretely and to intimate complexities through subtle variations, allusions, and puns, see Frankfort, Henri H. and Frankfort, Henriette A., “Myth and Reality,” in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977) 327Google Scholar, at 6–15; Geller, Stephen A., Sacred Enigmas: Literary Religion in the Hebrew Bible (London: Routledge, 1996)Google Scholar passim and esp. 6; idem, “Some Sound and Word Plays in the First Tablet of the Old Babylonian Atramḫasīs Epic,” in The Frank Talmage Memorial Volume (ed. Barry Walfish; 2 vols.; Haifa: Haifa University Press, 1992–1993) 1:63–70, at 65–66; and Miller, Geoffrey P., The Ways of a King: Legal and Political Ideas in the Bible (Journal of Ancient Judaism, Supplements 7; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011) 1620CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Translations throughout the article are my own unless otherwise noted; versification follows the Masoretic Text. In many translations, mt's v. 2 is part of v. 1, and each following verse number in those translations is one lower than the mt's verse number.

4 Or: “He. . . .” Similarly, both occurrences of “its” later in this line could be read as “his.”

5 Literally, “fine gold.”

6 Stephen A. Geller writes: “If one limits the range of the term ‘nature’ to something like ‘the way things work, the ordering of things by God in a manner that humans can understand by observation,’ then the semantic range of ‘nature’ is covered, in a very general way, by the Hebrew term derek, ‘way, manner of acting’ ” (“Wisdom, Nature and Piety in Some Biblical Psalms,” in Riches Hidden in Secret Places: Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Memory of Thorkild Jacobsen [ed. Tzvi Abusch; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2002] 101–21, at 101). It is this sense of “nature” that I intend throughout this essay.

7 On this term in the Hebrew Bible, see Michael Fishbane, “Torah,” in Encyclopaedia Biblica (ed. Benjamin Mazar et al.; 9 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik, 1955–1988) 8:469–83 [Hebrew]; Félix García-López, “Tôrāh,” in ThWAT, 8:597–637; Gerhard Liedke and Claus Peterson, “Torah,” in TLOT, 3:1415–22; Kugel, James, “Torah,” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs (ed. Cohen, Arthur A. and Mendes-Flohr, Paul; New York: Scribner, 1987) 9951005Google Scholar; and the pithy but very rich and still useful entry in BDB, 436.

8 For example, in 2 Kgs 22:8, and throughout the book of Deuteronomy itself.

9 For example, Ezra 3:2 and Neh 13:1–13.

10 The term is cognate to Akkadian adû (which occurs in Neo-Assyrian treaties) and old Aramaic . For a helpful discussion of the term's nuances and its relationship to , see Weinfeld, Moshe, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” JAOS 90 (1970) 184203Google Scholar, at 188–89, as well as Knohl, Israel, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (trans. Feldman, Jackie and Rodman, Peretz; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 142–43Google Scholar, and further references there.

11 The term can also mean “witness,” and this additional meaning may hint at the idea that torah provides evidence about Yhwh. The synonyms for torah in the following lines, however, do not pick up on this idea.

12 The construct state for the other five terms indicates the idea “from”: means “a teaching from Yhwh,” , “a commandment from Yhwh.” But in the construct state indicates “towards” or “for.” In grammatical terms: all the others are subjective constructs, while is an objective construct. Both are perfectly normal in Hebrew, but the presence of one outlier among six cases calls for exegetical attention.

13 Michael Carasik, who further points out, “Since this is at base a wisdom poem, part of the drill is to make the reader figure some of these things out” (personal communication concerning Psalm 19).

14 For this definition of revelation, see Keith Ward, Religion and Revelation: A Theology of Revelation in the World's Religions (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994) 16; see also 24 and 30.

15 Michael Fishbane suggests on thematic grounds that the poem has three parts: vv. 1–7 deal with creation; 8–11 with the Torah or revelation; and 12–15 with redemption (Text and Texture: Close Readings in Selected Biblical Texts [New York: Schocken, 1979] 84–90, 148). This three-part structure is satisfying to students of modern Jewish philosophy, especially of Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenzweig. But the border between the first and the second parts is sharp at both thematic and formal levels, while the movement from what Fishbane calls the second to the third is more fluid. The opening words of this third section, “Your servant, too, takes care with them,” connect directly to the lines that precede, since the antecedent of “them” in v. 12 is the teachings and laws of vv. 8–11. The third section's theme, salvation, emerges only in v. 14 or the very last word of 13. The gradual emergence of the third part is also suggested by formal considerations. When we move from part one to part two, the parallelism changes drastically. In part one different lines contain various sorts of parallels, some phonological, some syntactic, some lexical. But as we enter part two, the parallelism is quite regular: the first verset of each line consists of a noun in the construct state, then God's name, then an adjective, and the second verset repeatedly consists of a participle in the construct, and then the object of the participle. This structure begins to change a little in the fifth line in part two (v. 10aβ), where the participle is not in the construct, and the second word () is not an object but an adverb. In 10b, the structure of the second verset dissolves a little further: the first word is a finite verb rather than a participle and the second an adverb (). Verse 11a breaks out of the structure that started at v. 8 altogether. The movement from one sort of parallelism to the other occurs over several lines and does not allow us to demarcate clearly a second and third stanza. Finally, the structuring use of the three-verset lines occurs only at the end of the first stanza and at the very end of the poem. Formal and thematic considerations, then, lead to the conclusion that this is a poem with two stanzas. One can plausibly argue, following Fishbane's insight, that the second stanza contains two overlapping subsections, the second of which begins to focus more on the consequences of torah as opposed to torah itself. It is the stark difference between the first stanza and the second that concerns us here.

16 See, e.g., Gunkel, Hermann, “Psalm 19:1–6: An Interpretation,” The Biblical World 21 (1903) 281–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Morgenstern, Julius, “Psalms 8 and 19A,” HUCA 19 (1945–1946) 491523Google Scholar; and Kraus, Hans-Joachim, Psalms 1–59: A Continental Commentary (trans. Oswald, Hilton; CC; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993) 268–69Google Scholar. On the early history of the idea in 19th- and early 20th-cent. scholarship, see Dürr, Lorentz, “Zur Frage nach der Einheit von Psalm 19,” in Sellin-Festschrift. Beiträge zur Religionsgeschichte und Archäologie Palästinas, Ernst Sellin zum 60. Geburtstage dargebracht (ed. Jirku, Anton; Leipzig: Deichert, 1927) 148Google Scholar, at 37–38. A variant on the idea that 19A and 19B are separate poems is the suggestion that 19A was an independent poem (or a fragment of some earlier poem) and that 19B was composed as a supplement to 19A; see Mowinckel, Sigmund, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (trans. Ap-Thomas, D. R.; 2 vols.; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962) 2:267Google Scholar, and references to older work along these lines in Dürr, “Psalm 19,” 38.

17 Briggs, Charles Augustus, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (2 vols.; ICC; New York: Scribner, 1906–1907) 1:162Google Scholar.

18 From Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel (trans. Thomas H. Trapp; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998) 275. These seals were discovered in the first half of the twentieth century. My illustration 1 (which Keel and Uehlinger number as 273) was first published in Galling, Kurt, “Beschriftete Bildsiegel des ersten Jahrtausends v. Chr. vornehmlich aus Syrien und Palästina. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der phönizischen Kunst,” ZDPV 64 (1941) 121202Google Scholar, at 121. Illustration 2 (Keel and Uehlinger's 274a) was first published in Tufnell, Olgaet al., Lachish III (Tell ed-Duweir): The Iron Age (2 vols.; London: Oxford University Press, 1953)Google Scholar plate 44A.

19 In light of the similarity between the two scenes, it is worth noting that Jerusalem in the 8th cent. b.c.e. was a very small town, that both Isaiah and Ashna lived during the reign of Ahaz, and that Isaiah enjoyed close connections to the royal court in which Ashna served (see Isaiah 7–9). Consequently, it is inconceivable that Isaiah and Ashna did not know each other.

20 Taylor, John Glen, Yahweh and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel (JSOTSup 111; Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 2837Google Scholar. For descriptions of the stand and its four registers, see especially Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, 157–60; Dever, William G., Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005) 151–54Google Scholar, 219–21. The stand was discovered in 1968 in excavations directed by Paul Lapp; see Lapp, Paul, “The 1968 Excavations at Tell Ta‘aneck,” BASOR 195 (1968) 249Google Scholar, at 42–44. The illustration here is taken from Sommer, Benjamin D., The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008) 157Google Scholar; image used with permission of the artist, Ellen Holtzblatt. The Ta’anakh cult stand also appears in Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, 159, #184.

21 Yhwh is also represented by an empty space on the second tier from the bottom; thus this cult stand provides extremely early evidence of Israelite aniconism, the tendency not to sculpt or represent Yhwh's body in any literal fashion, in consonance with Exod 20:4. Note, however, that the cult stand also provides clear evidence of Israelite polytheism, in contrast to Exod 20:3: the first and third tiers clearly portray the goddess Asherah.

22 Keel and Uehlinger, Gods, 248–81, 341–54.

23 On the usefulness of the Sanskrit concept of avatāra for understanding Israelite conceptions of Yhwh, see Sommer, Bodies of God, 15, 40–41, and 78.

24 On the association of Yhwh with the sun, see Smith, Mark S., “The Near Eastern Background of Solar Language for Yahweh,” JBL 109 (1990) 2939Google Scholar; Smith, Mark S., The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel (New York: Harper & Row, 1990) 115–24Google Scholar; Bernd Janowski, “JHWH und der Sonnengott. Aspekte der Solarisierung JHWHs in vorexilischer Zeit,” in Die rettende Gerechtigkeit (vol. 2 of Beiträge zur Theologie des Alten Testaments; Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1999) 192–219 (with an extensive review of secondary literature on 192–99); and the evaluation of artifactual and textual evidence in Taylor, Yahweh, 24–91 and 92–256 respectively. On the possibility that some Phoenicians may have worshipped Yhwh as a solar deity, see Azize, Joseph, The Phoenician Solar Theology: An Investigation into the Phoenician Opinion of the Sun Found in Julian's Hymn to King Helios (Gorgias Dissertations 15, Near East Series 6; Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2005) 244–45Google Scholar, 252–57. See also Arneth, Martin, “Sonne der Gerechtigkeit.” Studien zur Solarisierung der Jahwe-Religion im Lichte von Psalm 72 (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für altorientalische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte 1; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000) 117Google Scholar and 109–31. Arneth provides a useful review of the evidence, though I think he puts far too much emphasis on the influence of Neo-Assyrian royal texts on the emergence of the solarization of Israelite religion.

25 See Sarna, Nahum M., “Psalm XIX and the Near Eastern Sun-God Literature,” in Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies: Papers (2 vols.; Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1967–1968) 1:171–75Google Scholar. While about half of Sarna's parallels are too broad to be significant—they could have been used to adduce connections with many deities in addition to the sun-god—the remaining parallels are impressive and allow us to conclude that the psalm deliberately uses motifs drawn from ancient Near Eastern sun worship.

26 Sarna, “Psalm XIX,” 1:172: rēdû arḫāt šamê u erṣeti, “the one who travels the courses of heaven and earth.”

27 See Taylor, Yahweh, 224.

28 Sarna, “Psalm XIX,” 1:173–75.

29 See Song 6:10 () and a Ugaritic manumission letter in PRU 2:1005.2–3 = UT 1005.2–3 (km špš dbrt). The connection of in v. 9 to the solar motif in v. 5 is noted in ibn Ezra's commentary to v. 9; so also Mitchell Dahood, Psalms: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (3 vols.; AB; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966–1970) ad loc.

30 The importance of this phrase in linking the first and second parts of the poem is noted by Rashi in his comment to v. 8.

31 The sense of “brightness” is rare, occurring again only in three late texts: Ezek 8:2, Dan 12:3, and Sir 43:9 in the B ms from the Cairo Genizah. The praise of the Torah found in our second stanza is typical of postexilic literature, and this lends credence to the suggestion that the psalm is late; see, e.g., Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 269 (and, on this theme more generally, Alexander Rofé, “The Move towards the Study of Torah at the End of the Biblical Period: Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Isaiah 59:21,” in The Bible in Light of Its Interpreters: Memorial Volume for Sarah Kamin [ed. Sara Japhet; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1994] 622–28 [Hebrew]). For the sense of light associated with the root and also with (which appears in v. 10 of our psalm), see J. H. Eaton, “Some Questions of Philology and Exegesis in the Psalms,” JTS 19 (1968) 603–9.

32 Sarna, “Psalm XIX,” 1:175. See further Sarna, Nahum, “Šemeš,” in Encyclopaedia Biblica (ed. Benjamin Mazar et al.; 9 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik, 1955–1988) 8:182–89Google Scholar, at 189 [Hebrew].

33 Smith, Mark S., “‘Seeing God’ in the Psalms: The Background to the Beatific Vision in the Hebrew Bible,” CBQ 50 (1988) 171–83Google Scholar, at 178 n. 28. Similarly, Taylor argues that the psalm, far from being an anti-solar polemic, stresses continuity between Yhwh and the sun (Yahweh, 222). His reading fits the poem at least as well as Sarna’s.

34 On the nature of open polemic against Babylonian religion in Second Isaiah, see especially Smith, Mark S., The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) 179–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 On the polemical nature of Genesis 1, which echoes and thereby defangs terminology associated with polytheistic creation accounts in Mesopotamia and Canaan, see, e.g., Childs, Brevard S., Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (2nd ed.; SBT 27; London: SCM Press, 1962) 3143Google Scholar; Fishbane, Text and Texture, 13–15; Levenson, Jon, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988) 55121Google Scholar; and Smith, Origins, 38–39, 167–71. On Genesis 6:1–4, see Childs, Myth and Reality, 50–59, as well as Umberto (Moshe David) Cassuto, “The Episode of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Man (Genesis vi 1–4),” in idem, Biblical and Oriental Studies (trans. Israel Abraham; 2 vols.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1973–1975) 1:17–28. For an intra-Israelite polemic that adopts its opponent's language in order to deflate it, see Weinfeld, Moshe, “God the Creator in Gen. 1 and the Prophecy of Second Isaiah,” Tarbiz 37 (1968) 105–32Google Scholar [Hebrew].

36 On this theme of reflected light, see ibn Ezra's commentary to v. 9.

37 The literature is extensive. Of particular importance are Morgenstern, Julius, “Biblical Theophanies,” ZA 25 (1911) 139–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Moshe Weinfeld, “Kāḇôḏ, ,” in TDOT, 7:22–38; and Mettinger, Tryggve N. D., The Dethronement of Sabaoth: Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies (ConBOT 18; Lund: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1982) 81123Google Scholar. For a brief overview, see J. E. Fossum, “Glory,” in DDD, 348–52.

38 On the identity of Yhwh and the kabod in some biblical texts, see Mettinger, Dethronement, 107; Kasher, Rimon, “Anthropomorphism, Holiness, and Cult: A New Look at Ezekiel 40–48,” Beth Miqra 40 (1995) 359–75Google Scholar, at 359–61 [Hebrew]; and Sommer, Bodies of God, 68–76 and 227 n. 83.

39 For comparison of the kabod with fire, see, e.g., Exod 24:17 and Num 9:15. Jacob Milgrom points out that with the use of the word “like” in these verses, P makes clear that the kabod is not made of fire; rather, fire is the closest word P can think of to describe the unique, otherworldly substance of which the kabod consists (Leviticus 116: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [AB; New York: Doubleday, 1991] 575).

40 A similar teaching is attributed to Rabbi Avin from Gen. Rab. 17.5 and its parallels in rabbinic and kabbalistic literature (for which see Midrash Bereshit Rabba [ed. Jehudah Theodor and Chanoch Albeck; 3 vols.; Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1965] 1:157 n. 1 [Hebrew]): “The lesser version of the supernal light is the sun. The lesser version of the supernal wisdom is Torah.”

41 For the possibility that incorrect intention can convert Jewish prayer into idolatry, see Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit, Idolatry (trans. Naomi Goldblum; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) 186–201. It is against this internal, monotheistic idolatry (or at least idolatry rooted in genuine monotheism) that Psalm 19 provides a warning. The contrast between this approach and the attitude of the “sovereign self” among modern Jews is striking. I borrow the term “sovereign self” from Steven Martin Cohen and Arnold Eisen, The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) 2 and passim.

42 Sarna, “Psalm XIX,” 1:171.

43 An additional verbal connection between the two stanzas is the word in vv. 7 and 13; our sins may be hidden from others, and even from ourselves, but never from God. This parallel is noted by Schroeder, Otto, “Zu Psalm 19,” ZAW 34 (1914) 6970Google Scholar, at 70, as well as by Fishbane, Text and Texture, 88; Levenson, Jon, “The Theologies of Commandment in Biblical Israel,” HTR 73 (1980) 1733CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 29; and Taylor, Yahweh, 225.

44 Schroeder, “Psalm 19”; Dürr, “Psalm 19.”

45 Dürr, “Psalm 19,” 41–42. See further Schroeder, “Psalm 19,” 70.

46 These themes continue to appear together in Hebrew poetry of the rabbinic era—for example, in the piyyut recited in rabbinic liturgy for Saturday morning ().

47 Dürr, “Psalm 19,” 44–45.

48 This final parallel from Proverbs is adduced by Rashi on our psalm.

49 Dürr, “Psalm 19,” 45–47.

50 For the Akkadian text with translation and notes, see Lambert, Wilfred G., Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960) 121–38Google Scholar, 318–23, and 346. A translation with extensive discussion appears in Reiner, Erica, Your Thwarts in Pieces, Your Mooring Rope Cut: Poetry from Babylonia and Assyria (Michigan Studies in the Humanities 5; Ann Arbor: Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan, 1985) 6884Google Scholar. A readable translation with brief but helpful discussion appears in Foster, Benjamin R., Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (2 vols.; Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 1993) 2:536–44Google Scholar.

51 Translation by Ferris Stephens in ANET, 187–88.

52 Carasik, personal communication.

53 As a result, as Jonathan Grossman of Bar-Ilan University points out to me, the psalm presents the roots of revelation as already present in creation. This notion of revelation as distinct from but rooted in creation would play a major role in the work of Franz Rosenzweig. On the embedded nature of each concept in the other, see Rosenzweig, Franz, The Star of Redemption (trans. Hallo, William W.; Boston: Beacon, 1972) 131–40Google Scholar, as well as Mosès, Stéphane, System and Revelation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig (trans. Tihanyi, Catherine; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992) 8689Google Scholar, and Amir, Yehoyada, Reason out of Faith: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2004) 144–45Google Scholar and 145 n. 2 [Hebrew].

54 See further Cooper, Alan, “Creation, Philosophy and Spirituality: Aspects of Jewish Interpretation of Psalm 19,” in Pursuing the Text: Studies in Honor of Ben Zion Wacholder on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (ed. Reeves, John and Kampen, John; JSOTSup 184; Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994) 1533Google Scholar, at 22.

55 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (trans. G. T. Thomson et al.; 14 vols.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1936–1977) 2.1:99 [henceforth CD].

56 Ibid., 2.1:107.

57 Ibid., 2.1:108.

58 Ibid., 2.1:112.

59 Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 271 and 275–76.

60 The word allows two understandings: 1) can serve as an adverb that negates a finite verb (see HALOT, s.v. def. 2), and it can substitute for the negative particles and in poetry (see BDB, 115, and HALOT, s.v. def. 6). In our verse, modifies the participle ; since it is a poetic verse, we can understand to substitute for , which normally negates participles. This reading of as simply negating leads to translation (a) above. In that case simply echoes , and the versets are semantically parallel. 2) can also serve as a preposition meaning “without,” followed by a noun or a participle. If means “without” before the participle here, and if the second verset is subordinate to the first, then the poetic line entails not a static semantic parallelism but instead a parallelism of specification, and we arrive at translation (b) above. Both types of parallelism, and both translations, are entirely possible.

One can also arrive at translation (a) if one argues, with Franz Delitzsch, that can have the same meaning as , which yields “their voice is unheard” (A Commentary on the Book of Psalms [trans. David Eaton and James E. Duguid; 3 vols.; New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1883] 1:349).

One can also arrive at translation (b) by reading the second verset as subordinate to the first, as if it had an at the beginning—i.e., “There is no utterance whose voice is not heard.” Thus Arnold B. Ehrlich translates: “Es gibt keine Sache und kein Ding, darüber ihre Stimme sich nicht hören liesse.” Ehrlich explains: “Im zweiten Versglied ist, wie öfter in der Poesie, die Rückbeziehung auf das logische Subjekt unterlassen. Auch LXX scheint die Worte so verstanden zu haben” (Psalmen. Neu uebersetzt und erklaert [Berlin: Poppelauer, 1905] 38).

61 Barth does not pause to defend the reading. Gunkel also presents it, albeit briefly, in Gunkel, “Psalm 19.” A slightly longer discussion appears in Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 171.

62 Another contextual consideration, however, works against translation (b): the other two-part lines in the first stanza all involve a relatively static semantic parallelism, while translation (b) requires us to read this line as having a dynamic, non-semantic parallelism of specification.

63 For a defense of this translation, see Barr, Biblical Faith, 87 n. 9, where he argues that in our psalm, as in Sir 44:5 in the Masada scroll, means “ ‘a string’ and hence the music produced thereby.” In addition, elsewhere Barr reviews six proposals, including one emendation to and five attempts at reading the text as it stands; in all of the proposals, the meaning is some sort of sound (James Barr, “Do We Perceive the Speech of the Heavens? A Question in Psalm 19,” in The Psalms and Other Studies on the Old Testament: Presented to Joseph I. Hunt, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, Nashotah House Seminary, on His Seventieth Birthday [ed. Jack C. Knight and Lawrence A. Sinclair; Nashotah, Wis.: Nashotah House Seminary, 1990] 11–17, at 12–13).

64 Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 268 and 271–72.

65 Dahood, Psalms, ad loc.

66 Cooper, “Creation,” 21 n. 18.

67 One might attempt to defend Barth's reading by suggesting that v. 5 specifies the information from v. 4 without entirely contradicting it: the heavens’ (voice) is not heard, but their is; their (words) are not heard, but their (another term meaning “words”) are. In this case, the point may be that we human beings cannot fully hear or understand their message, but we can perceive some part of it. Even in this case, however, something gets through from the heavenly bodies to us, and this is precisely what Barth wants to deny.

Alternatively, we might call ibn Ezra and Radaq to Barth's defense. Those commentators argue that we hear nothing from the heavens—we do see a kind of writing in the heavens that we can study in the form of astronomy. Thus the heavens provide humanity with some information, albeit taken in through the eye, aided by our faculty of reason, rather than through the ear. In the end this reading supports Barth's preferred translation (viz., translation [a]) but goes against Barth's insistence that the heavenly bodies communicate nothing whatsoever.

For a different argument on behalf of translation (b), see the detailed treatment in Barr, “Do We Perceive,” 13–15.

68 On this theme among medieval Jewish philosophers and exegetes, see Cooper, “Creation.” Cooper discusses the quotation from Nahmanides on p. 20. For earlier rabbinic readings that try to erase nature from the psalm, regarding the luminaries of the first stanza as merely ciphers for the Torah, see the passages from Pesiq. Rab. and S. Eli. Rab. discussed by Cooper on 27–28.

69 Barth, CD, 3.1:164.

70 It seems fair to state that Barth's refusal to countenance any role for natural law drives his reading of Psalm 19. It is not enough for him to deny the possibility that natural theology and revelational theology complement each other; he insists that revelational theology cannot even represent an advance over natural theology, since that would allow some place for natural theology. For a respectful critique on this point from a Jewish viewpoint that advocates a “minimalist natural law theory,” see David Novak, “Karl Barth on Divine Command: A Jewish Response,” in idem, Talking with Christians: Musings of a Jewish Theologian (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005) 127–45, esp. 143–45. For another perspective that resembles Barth's but is rather more textually sensitive, see Krüger, Thomas, “Gesetz und Weisheit im Pentateuch,” in Auf den Spuren der schriftgelehrten Weisen. Festschrift für Johannes Marböck anlässlich seiner Emeritierung (ed. Fischer, Imtraud, Rapp, Ursula, and Schiller, Johannes; BZAW 331; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2003) 112Google Scholar; Krüger argues that for some biblical authors, including especially those responsible for Deuteronomy, wisdom, even in its most universal form, can only come from God as a gift and can be fully appreciated only through the observance of the law. Krüger successfully demonstrates that for some biblical authors, there is a more universal wisdom akin to natural theology, but that wisdom depends on grace and operates best along with rather than instead of revealed law (9). Yet for Krüger it is not simply the case that revealed law is more important than universal wisdom, for Israel can accept and fulfill the law only with the aid of reason and wisdom (6). Thus these two gifts from God depend on each other.

71 This resembles what Cooper calls the analogical reading of the psalm found in the work of the fifteenth-century philosopher Isaac Arama; see Cooper, “Creation,” 28.

72 Barr, Biblical Faith, 87–88. A fine summary of what we may call the complementary reading appears also in Levenson, “Theologies of Commandment,” 29: “What nature expresses about God in a continual wordless monologue (vv 2–7) is of the same order as the verbal revelation of Torah. The commandments are . . . to human society what the regularities of the heavenly bodies are to what they govern. . . . The analogue to the Torah the psalmist observes is not drawn from human society, but from the regularities of nature, not from history, but from the norms of astronomy.”

73 Barr, Biblical Faith, 88.

74 Fishbane, Text and Texture, 87.

75 One might object to my characterization of the term ’el as a noun rather than a name by pointing out that the head of the Canaanite pantheon in the second millennium b.c.e. was simply called El. Of course it is always possible that a job description or a standard epithet can come to function like a name; thus many people refer to the sage from Asbury Park not only as “Bruce” but as “the Boss”—which in this context is not a job title that theoretically could be applied to others but a term unique to him (Him?). As a result of this phenomenon, the job title ’el came to function in Middle and Late Bronze Age Canaan as a sort of name, and it is possible that echoes of this verbal transformation endured into the Iron Age in Israel. Even in that case, however, the noun-cum-name El did not connote the particularity or intimacy of the personal name Yhwh because it was used so widely by so many nations, in contrast to Yhwh, which was a name and only a name.

76 Scholars have suggested occasional occurrences of this name outside Israel. Frank Moore Cross argues that a similar term was used as an epithet in the second millennium among Amorites and that the term as a divine name in Israel may have evolved from that epithet (especially if the Israelites’ ancestors included Amorites who migrated into Canaan; Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973] 60–75). A different approach appears in Smith, Origins, 145–46; Smith provides an up-to-date and sympathetic review of scholarship suggesting that Yhwh was originally a tribal god of groups located south of the earliest Israelites. Stephanie Dalley suggests that the name appears in northern Syria in the eighth century b.c.e. (“Yahweh in Hamath in the 8th Century BC: Cuneiform Material and Historical Deductions,” VT 40 [1990] 21–32). This last case may involve worship transported from an Israelite setting, however, and in any event the evidence from Hamath does not indicate any widespread worship of this deity there. See Zevit, Ziony, “Yahweh Worship and Worshippers in 8th-Century Syria,” VT 41 (1991) 363–66Google Scholar, and the balanced but critical evaluation in Miller, Patrick D., The Religion of Ancient Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000) 214 n.17Google Scholar. These cases are at best rare and hardly overturn the claim I make above. For a review of this divine name outside Israel and its possible southern provenance, see Karel van der Toorn, “Yahweh,” in DDD, 1712–30, at 1712–17. If Azize is correct, then a few Phoenicians may have worshipped Yhwh as a solar deity, but Azize points out that they seem to have picked up this worship from their Israelite neighbors (Phoenician Solar Theology, 244–45 and 252–57).

77 Delitzsch notes the psalm's move from calling God El “in accordance with His relationship to the world as a Being possessed of power” to the “covenantal name” Yhwh (Psalms, 1:346).

78 As ibn Ezra puts it in his comment to v. 2, “One who knows the [stars’] circuits has knowledge of the Most High.”

79 On gold and sweetness as standard epithets of sun deities, see Sarna, “Psalm XIX,” 1:175.

80 The notion that nature provides a revelation that prepares the way for a supplementary revelation in the Torah or in Christ reappears later in the work of Jewish and Christian theologians. See Rosenzweig, Star, 161, and Novak, Natural Law, 145 and 185. On this theme in the work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, see Held, Shai, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013) 100105Google Scholar.

One might argue that Maimonides has a similar view, according to which nature's law is available universally while the Torah is available only through Mosaic revelation, though one wonders whether his view puts a more radical emphasis on the Torah as no more than an imitation of the law of nature—albeit a perfect imitation that could only be produced by the perfect knowledge of nature that God vouchsafed to Moses. For this possibility, see Kaplan, Lawrence, “‘I Sleep, but My Heart Waketh’: Maimonides’ Conception of Human Perfection,” in The Thought of Moses Maimonides: Philosophical and Legal Studies (ed. Robinson, Ira, Kaplan, Lawrence, and Bauer, Julien; Studies in the History of Philosophy 17; Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1990) 130–66Google Scholar, esp. 139–40, 144–45, and 161 n. 50, and Goodman, Micah, The Secrets of “The Guide to the Perplexed” (Or Yehudah: Devir, 2010) 166–87Google Scholar [Hebrew]. See also Reines, Alvin J., “Maimonides’ Concept of Mosaic Prophecy,” HUCA 40–41 (1969–1970) 325–61Google Scholar, at 356–57 and 359, and Bland, Kalman, “Moses and the Law According to Maimonides,” in Mystics, Philosophers and Politicians: Essays in Jewish Intellectual History in Honor of Alexander Altmann (ed. Reinharz, Jehuda, Swetschinski, Daniel, and Bland, Kalman; Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1982) 4966Google Scholar, at 59–62.

81 For official discussions expressing what we might call the supplemental point of view, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, part 1, section 1, chapter 1:ii (¶¶31–38, available at and following, accessed April 14, 2015), as well as John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides et ratio, esp. §§7–23 and 80 (available at, accessed April 14, 2015). For a brief introduction to these themes in Thomas Aquinas, see Eardley, Peter S. and Still, Carl N., Aquinas: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2010) 6566Google Scholar, as well as Summa theologica I, question 2, article 2; II-I, question 62, article 1, and question 91, article 4; and Summa contra gentiles, book 1, chapter 30. For a recent discussion of ways in which, for Thomas, revelation and grace deepen what reason knows, see Turner, Denys, Faith, Reason, and the Existence of God (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 2647CrossRefGoogle Scholar (my phrasing echoes p. 43).

82 For a similar approach, see Seitz, Christopher R., Word without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998) 1819Google Scholar.

83 I thank Jonathan Grossman for stimulating my thinking in this regard.

84 Hillel Ben-Sasson, personal communication concerning Psalm 19.

85 Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry Into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational (trans. Harvey, John W.; London: Oxford University Press, 1923) 810Google Scholar (for the term, see 10 in particular).

86 See Kugel, James, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981) 158Google Scholar (the phrase I quote comes from the title of ch. 1), and Alter, Robert, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985) 326Google Scholar (the term quoted is from p. 11). On the idea that the second half of the psalm corresponds to the idea of “what's more, B,” see Nahmanides's comment on the psalm: “After saying ‘the heavens proclaim the glory of God’, the psalm continues in praise of Torah, which proclaims the praise of God even more than the aforementioned heavens, sun, moon, and stars” (cited in Cooper, “Creation,” 23).

87 See Cooper, “Creation,” 23–25 and 29–32.

88 On this theme in ibn Ezra's exegetical and poetic work, see Levin, Israel, Avraham ibn Ezra: Shirim (Tel Aviv: Haim Rubin Press of Tel Aviv University, 2011) 208–9Google Scholar [Hebrew]. This topic is central for the medieval Sephardic poets generally; one thinks, above all, of ibn Gabirol's masterwork, Keter Malkhut, which is thematically quite close to Psalm 19.

89 Qoh 1:9.

90 For a programmatic attempt to describe such a dialogue between biblical scholarship and theology or even philosophy of religion, see Sommer, Benjamin D., “Dialogical Biblical Theology: A Jewish Approach to Reading Scripture Theologically,” in Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation (ed. Perdue, Leo G., Morgan, Robert, and Sommer, Benjamin D.; Library of Biblical Theology; Nashville: Abingdon, 2009) 153 and 265–85Google Scholar. For a critique of the form of historicism that pervades the field and prevents scholars from recognizing attempts by biblical texts to address issues of enduring value, see Sommer, Benjamin D., “Dating Pentateuchal Texts and the Perils of Pseudo-Historicism,” in The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research (ed. Dozeman, Thomas B., Schmid, Konrad, and Schwartz, Baruch J.; FAT 78; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011) 85108Google Scholar.

91 In creating this dialogue among biblical and post-biblical thinkers, I reenact Hermann Cohen's attempt “to demonstrate how a non-philosophical literary text could contain modes of understanding which had been formulated in a systematic, conceptual fashion only by later philosophy.” I take this description of Cohen's project from Schweid, Eliezer, “Hermann Cohen's Biblical Exegesis,” in “Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums.” Tradition und Ursprungsdenken in Hermann Cohens Spätwerk (ed. Holzhey, Helmut, Motzkin, Gabriel, and Wiedebach, Hartwig; Philosophische Texte und Studien 55; Hildesheim: Olms, 2000) 359–79Google Scholar, at 359.