David’s songs of ascents. Psalms 122 and 124 (week 4)

Upon further reading I have discovered that four of the songs of ascents in the Psalms are accredited to being written by David, the very same Jewish King sculpted by Michaelangelo.  This blog is going to critique that notion. Psalm 122 speaks of the glories that God has bestowed on Israel and Jerusalem as the “house of the Lord.” This is a common theme throughout the psalms and the hebrew bible, Israel as the promised holy land occupied by “the tribes of Yah.” This Psalm doesn’t really differ to many other Psalms through its routine praise of the lord in Israel. My qualm is that there is a school of thought believing that this Psalm was written by David. It begins as “a song of ascents for David” where it was previously touched upon that for David equates to by David, however if it is by David why would he refer to himself in the third person-“An ordinance it is for Israel to acclaim the name of the LORD. For there the thrones of judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.” Secondly, the house of David could be interpreted that Jerusalem and Israel are ruled by the descendants of David.

Psalm 124 is in constant reference to the Babylonian captivity which would have occurred hundreds of years after his death. Evidence is pointed to “Were it not the Lord who was for us when people rose against us” which Alter believes is in reference to the Babylonian conquest of Judea.

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Oh, Mighty God?: an agnostic analysis of the ambiguous Psalm 22. (week 3)

Psalm 22 begins with the speaker asking why God has forsaken him. The other aspects of the psalm point toward the power of God but focuses more on the speakers strifes then God helping him. The beginning psalm seems to be more about belief but God does not directly intervene in his life. However toward the end it sheds light, as God does intervene slightly although it is ambiguous as to how the Lord helps.

It is intriguing that opposed to referring to believers as followers of the lord, they are referenced as “Fearers of the Lord” as if God is only to be praised out of fear of his might. “And be afraid of Him, all Israel’s seed!” and “My vows I fulfill before those who fear Him” lines 24 and 26 show a further fear of God. But why fear God, is God not omni-benevolent? There is a sense of hierarchical preference in the psalm as the speaker claims that he is “a worm and no man” in reference to his destitute state. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” may in fact point to his socio-economic status, although he has been true to his beliefs in God throughout his life-“Upon You I was cast from birth, from my mother’s belly You were my God”-yet God has allowed him to be treated terribly- “and to death’s dust did You thrust me.”

However the speaker also states that God hath saved him from the dogs and the lions of his life “And from the  horns of the ram You answered me.” This line is directly followed by the speaker telling people to fear the Lord- it seems oxymoronic; why fear the one who rescues you, and how was he rescued? We never find out, all we discover is that he was rescued and thanks the Lord.

Throughout the Psalm it seems that God is a symbol of everything, from the pains in peoples lives, to the king of all nations, to the salvation of the suffering.  The power of God was bestowed on the speaker because he never forsakes the Lord despite his own feeling forsaken. Yet God’s actual power is never really mentioned, how has he saved the speaker. We are fully aware of the human crimes committed against him, and the abundance of metaphorical strifes but none point to God. Thus the psalm seems to lack what I would view as a key part to justifying how God helped him. The answer seems to be faith and during a time where absolutely everything ever done was linked to God’s will it seems logical.

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Pre 19th century view of the Indian Mounds (week 2)

Pre-19th Century America saw much animosity thrown at Native Americans, they were seen as savages with little use for society, they were presumed so weak that the Spanish wouldn’t use them as slaves. However, the phenomena of Indian mounds was treated a little differently, obviously the general consensus of Native’s being uncivilized was still alive, but the settlers did link the Native Americans to European culture.

American Settlers desired to convert the tribes to christianity in order to ‘save’ them, give them use in society instead of visualizing them as squatters as opposed to rightful owners of the land. These squatters built beautiful ceremonial burial mounds in ancient times, the nature of which is perplexing to the settlers. As stated in my previous entry these mounds are most likely religious in nature as they carry about a certain system of symbols. The settlers equated these mounds to what they knew, and the puritanical settlers believed that they were connected to Christianity as “Knowledge about the world and its history was not as much molded by accumulated data as it was molded by Christian religious views.” It is said that Native Americans were not even considered human until around 1537 through a Papal edict. This was followed by determining their origins as it was widely believed that all humans were descendants of Adam, Eve and Noah.

Hence they used biblical writings to validate the existence of Native Americans and that they were descended from the 10 lost tribes of Israel which is a concept similar to that of the Book of Mormon. Later in history this grew arguably more farfetched and some believed that the mounds were built by the ancient Greeks or the Phoenicians but these were quelled. At the time linking the Native Americans to the 10 lost tribes of Israel allows  the white settlers to feel as if they are responsible for the phenomena of the beautiful and mysterious effigy mounds as tributes to the Christian Gods. This view was further supported by the fact that many Native Americans were perplexed by the mounds, which in the book of mormon would explain that the Native Americans lost their faith as the end of mound construction is estimated to be around 1200 AD.

These views on the mounds may be farfetched but different peoples have different rituals. Some which other peoples will have difficulty deciphering but it shows how people seem to make sense of the world around them from what knowledge they have about the world and before the 19th century most Science (or making sense of things) was directly linked to the church hence it was an astute observation albeit misconstrued.

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Bob Marley and Religion

 Reggae music plays a large role in the Rastafarian religion. The most influential individual within the reggae movement was Bob Marley who gained international acclaim for his music and globalized the Rastafarian cause. To Rastafarians reggae is a religious experience explaining the history of their subjugation. It spreads the word of salvation in Africa as well as discussing the social problems that arise. Bob Marley’s album cover for Exodus contains the traditional colors of Rastafarianismcover  namely the colors of the Ethiopian flag with the title written in red ancient Ethiopian script. The flip side consists of a portrait of Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah and the phrase “movement of Jah people” which are all essential aspects of the Rastafarian faith.

The song “Exodus” discusses the movement of Jah people to Africa to escape downpression. Jah people are the people of God in rastafari, a play off of Yahweh from the old testament.

“Redemption Song” was written when Marley was dying of cancer and desired redemption and uses many Rastafarianisms such as the value of self in the lyrics, using ‘I’ as opposed to me.

His sets would often contain components of Rastafari ritual. Such as the dress: hats with the colors of the Ethiopian flag (as seen in the above portrait) and the consistent portraits of Haile Selassie and the video of his coronation.

Marley’s tracks are truly spiritual and transcend music, they are like the psalms in explaining the hardships of the times yet they have faith in prevailing over hardships.

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Children of Africa: Systems of Symbols in Boboshanti Rastafarianism

Geertz defines religion as a system of symbols that motivates the way people live their lives. The Boboshanti use aspects of other religions to define their way of life. Most strikingly perhaps are their adherence to the Sabbath, their use of turbans, and their timed ritual that seems not to dissimilar from that of Islam. This seems quite strange as they try to dissociate themselves to the western world, yet they take aspects of their religions. However, they use them creatively.

Since Rastafarianism has strong ties to Judaism and Christianity, the Boboshanti observe the sabbath each sunday. A day of rest and relaxation, instead of working they socialize and observe the community. This is an example of routinization which is an essential part of their religion as they are not institutionalized. This picture shows a Rastafarian man enjoying Marijuana. Smoking Ganja, although it is uncouth in western society, is seen as a spiritual event and a sacrament that opens the mind. It is often accompanied by biblical readings and religious observance, this observance is a key to the sabbath which is a day of rest.

Another example of routinization is their daily timed rituals. They start at 3am, reconvene at 9am,  and 3pm. At these times they believe that the movement to Africa is upon them. “While half the world is still sleeping, we are up arising already getting other things done.” As they believe that Africa is their promised land, this ritual which betters themselves is a path to salvation preparing themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. This ritual is also a path to redemption and purification so they can be accepted to return to the promised land.

Their use of red turbans to tie back their dreadlocks symbolizes a crown. It takes them back to ancient Ethiopian routes. Many believe themselves to be former kings of Africa before their downpression through the slave trade brought them to Babylon i.e. Jamaica. Customarily they dress in the colors of the Ethiopian flag and as red is a regal and dominant color it could be interpreted as a crown. But it mostly brings them back to their Ethiopian routes. Although similar to the Sikh tradition of wearing a turbans, the Sikh turban represents courage, honor, and spirituality.

These symbols, although they adhere to some western practices, are really one in their own. Some may see it as a bastardization of other beliefs, but it is borne of faith, creativity, unity and routinization; putting a sense of community above all else, for one hope, one dream, a return to the promised land.

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Aten and Yahweh: a comparison of psalm 104 and The Hymn of the Aten

Although The Hymn to the Aten and Psalm 104 are very similar they contain many differences. Both of the pieces contain intricate descriptions of the power and blessings of the lord. The introductions contain similarities as the Egyptian Hymn describes The Aten as ‘perfection on the horizon of the sky,’ and Psalm 104 describes the Lord God as donning ‘Grandeur and glory.’ But the main similarity is the order of the rhetoric. The mentions of elements, like the sun and water are a running theme throughout both pieces.

The Egyptian Hymn begins by speaking of the glories of the Aten and follows this up with the mention of the Sun (the Aten was a sun disk). During Amen-hotep IV’s reign, the one true god was the Aten, this sun disk that reflected the sun’s rays. The king changed his name to Akhenaten, the effective form of the Aten. The hymn constantly mentions the power of the sun and it’s affiliation with life and death. The modern world would not view this as farfetched as science has proven that the sun is one of the key ingredients in sustaining life on this planet through photosynthesis, heat, and light. These are all mentioned in the hymn. This is followed by the power of ‘the Nile,’ (in concerns to elements) which was the main source of water for ancient Egypt.

Psalm 104 also uses analogous language for the sun to describe the power of God. The Hymn to the Aten would use darkness to justify the evils of the world “every lion comes out of his cave and every serpent bites”, yet Psalm 104 uses these the same creatures and scares as God’s omnibenevolence “The lions roar for prey, / seeking from God their food.” The area of ‘darkness’ within Psalm 104 is not really as dark as The Hymn of the Aten, and it comes later on with a preference of mentioning the great creations of the Lord first. These pieces are not composed through a fear of God but more as a celebration of the creations and wonders bestowed by their Lord.

All creatures in both of the pieces love God, as stated before in Psalm 104 the lions seek God to feed them, The Hymn of Aten states that “all the flocks are content with their fodder.”

The content is extremely similar and the use the same analogies except they are worded and reinterpreted as their own God’s. The main difference seems to be in the ordering and who is being worshipped.

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Same Psalms, Different Dimensions

A comparison of Psalms 2 and 8 in Robert Alter’s translated Book of Psalms with the same Psalms from the Bay Psalm Book shows many differences in the rhetoric.

In Alter’s interpretation of Psalm 2 is a far more modernized psalm, the meanings actually differ from the Bay Psalm Book. Alter’s version begins with ‘Why are the nations aroused,’ which was derived from ‘a specific historical situation… what one can make out  is an alliance of nations intending to attack Judea, or perhaps rebel against their condition of subjugation to it’. The Bay Book of Psalms starts off similarly: ‘WHy rage the  Heathen furioussly,’. It is difficult to decipher why Alter’s interpretation is in fact so different. ‘Heathen’ and ‘nation’ suggest similar themes however ‘Heathen’ is a far more powerful word. The main difference is most likely to be that modern audiences would be able to relate to ‘nations’ whereas ‘Heathen’ is a seldom used term in the modern era.

The Bay Book seems to use far more passionate language: ‘I will give-the Heathen for thy lot:-and of the earth shalt thou possesse- the utmost coasts abroad’ as opposed to Alter’s ‘and I shall give nations as your estate,- and your holdings, the ends of the earth.’ The difference here is that Alter once again seems to go for the modern technical side ‘the earth as your estate’ as opposed to possessing the entire earth.

Psalm 8 resonated with me as I found that it seemed to be less violent than the others. It delves into how wonderful the world is and how perfectly it was created, opposed to ‘God’s wrath upon the Heathen!’ per say. One of my favorite intricacies of the Bay Book in this psalm is the fact it ends in a question (line 9), which in turn seems to evoke more feeling and power than Alter’s (line 10). ‘How wonderously magnificent-is thy name through the world?’ seems to really nail how profound the statement is, it implies that there is more wonderful things to come from God. Alter’s finale reads: ‘Lord, our Master,-how majestic Your name in all the earth!’ does evoke similar feelings with the use of the exclamation mark, however it does not hold the passion. Is it that the Bay Psalm Book was used by the Puritanical pilgrims who originally settled in Massachusetts were far more passionate about religion and the psalms to make them sound more ‘epic.’ Or does Alter feel as if that passion is arbitrary if modern people cannot understand them?

In conclusion it seems that both play toward the audience. With Alter the message is there albeit with slightly different meanings to the Bay Psalm Book, but over time these changes are necessary to connect with different audiences.

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