Friday, July 11, 2008

Arie Uittenbogaard on 'a little lower' in Psalm 8:5


From Arie Uittenbogaard:

Psalm 8:5 celebrates mankind's autonomy and sovereignty. The word elohim should here (if not always) be translated with 'powers that be' (after Romans 13:1) and the verb hasar should not be ignored:

[My] translation:

Psalm 8:5, "And You made him so that he requires little from the powers that be."


Uittenbogaard's take was really interesting and brand new to me. I wonder if this reading would at all speak to Israel's polytheistic religious surroundings; all other religions in their world at the time (how's that for a generalization) bore the idea that you got different things (i.e. crops, offspring, victory) from different gods, and had to appease them all with different sacrifices--and so monotheism was radical because it suggested one God could be in charge of everything. (By the way, I think the majority of American Christians are functionally polytheistic, worshiping God on in his sanctuary and the gods of capitalism, consumerism, nationalism, militarism, and other -ism's in their sanctuaries.) But still, the "requires little from the powers that be" doesn't fully fit this idea, since humans needed nothing from the idol gods of their neighbors (if that's what 'elohim' means here), and needed everything from God.

Anyway, I wonder how YLT and GLT (see below) landed on their rendering (which Uittenbogaard applauds), since it seems like a very unusual choice compared with most historical versions given here. But the NET (see below) sure has done its homework on this!

More generally, looking at these wildly varying translations of this verse is a reminder of the peril of Bible translation; there are so many different ways to translate a verse--and even so many different ways to get it right! And when self-professed "literal" (<skepticism>snort</skepticism>) translations conflict with each other this much, you see why the word "literal" should never leave home without its quotation marks. I realized in compiling these that even the most staunch supporter of "literal" translation would never consistely render "elohim" as "gods" rather than occasionally (and interpretively, if correctly) go with "God." Wouldn't true consistency (or, the [<scorn>eye roll</scorn>] concordant method) in, among other places, Exodus 20:2-3, either turn references to God into "pagan gods" or references to pagan gods into "God"? That would be a slight problem.

Update: Here and here is the analysis I asked for from John Hobbins, and here's a look at the LXX from Suzanne. More here from Bob MacDonald.

ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים

וַתְּחַסְּרֵ֣הוּ מְּ֭עַט מֵאֱלֹהִ֑ים

watəḥassərēhû mmə‘aṭ mē’ĕlōhîm

ηλαττωσας αυτον βραχυ τι παρ' αγγελους

You diminished him a little in comparison with angels


Minuisti eum paulominus ab angelis

Thou hast maad hym a litil lesse than aungels

Du hast ihn wenig niedriger gemacht als Got

After thou haddest for a season made him lower the the angels

For thou hast made him a little lower then God

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels

And causest him to lack a little of Godhead

For thou hast made him but little lower than God

Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels

Yet thou hast made him little less than God

For you have made him only a little lower than the gods

Yet you made them inferior only to yourself

For You have made him lack a little from God

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings*

Yet you have made them a little lower than God*

* Or than the divine beings or angels: Heb elohim
Yet you have made him little less than a god

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings*

You have made them* a little lower than the heavenly beings**

You made us a little lower than you yourself

and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?*

* Heb “and you make him lack a little from [the] gods [or “God”].” The Piel form of חָסַר (khasar, “to decrease, to be devoid”) is used only here and in Eccl 4:8, where it means “to deprive, to cause to be lacking.” The prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) consecutive either carries on the characteristic nuance of the imperfect in v. 5b or indicates a consequence (“so that you make him…”) of the preceding statement (see GKC 328 §111.m). Some prefer to make this an independent clause and translate it as a new sentence, “You made him….” In this case the statement might refer specifically to the creation of the first human couple, Adam and Eve (cf. Gen 1:26-27). The psalmist does appear to allude to Gen 1:26-27, where mankind is created in the image of God and his angelic assembly (note “let us make man in our image” in Gen 1:26). However, the psalmist’s statement need not be limited in its focus to that historical event, for all mankind shares the image imparted to the first human couple. Consequently the psalmist can speak in general terms of the exalted nature of mankind. The referent of אֱלֹהִים (’elohim, “God” or “the heavenly beings”) is unclear. Some understand this as a reference to God alone, but the allusion to Gen 1:26-27 suggests a broader referent, including God and the other heavenly beings (known in other texts as “angels”). The term אֱלֹהִים is also used in this way in Gen 3:5, where the serpent says to the woman, “you will be like the heavenly beings who know good and evil.” (Note Gen 3:22, where God says, “the man has become like one of us.”) Also אֱלֹהִים may refer to the members of the heavenly assembly in Ps 82:1, 6. The LXX (the ancient Greek translation of the OT) reads “angels” in Ps 8:5 (this is the source of the quotation of Ps 8:5 in Heb 2:7).
Yet we've so narrowly missed being gods

and You make him little less than the gods

And You made him so that he requires little from the powers that be.