The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception

By Peter W. Flint; Patrick D. Miller Jr. | Go to book overview

DOUBLE ENTENDRE IN PSALM 59

JOHN S. KSELMAN, S. S.

In a recent article, Paul Raabe examined a number of cases of double entendre, or what he calls “deliberate ambiguity,” in the Book of Psalms.1 Two of his instances come from Psalm 59.2 What is proposed here is that there is at least one more example of such doublemeaning speech, intended by the poet, in the refrain in Pss 59:7 and 59:15.3

Psalm 59 contains two refrains, the first of which is found in vv. 7 and 15, and the second in vv. 10-11 and 18.4 It is the first of these refrains (vv. 7 and 15) that is under consideration here. The text and standard translation of v. 7 are as follows:

1 P. R. Raabe, “Deliberate Ambiguity in the Psalter,” JBL 110 (1991) 213-27.

2 Raabe, “Ambiguity,” 217-18 (on Ps 59:16); 224 (on Ps 59:14). On Ps 59:16,
see now J. Trapper, “'Sie knurrten wie Hunde.' Psalm 59,16, Kilamuwa:10 und
die Semantik der Wurzel lun” ZAW 106 (1994) 87-95; on pp. 87-91, Trapper
advances strong arguments against deriving

from , “complain, murmur.”

3 There are other poetic devices in Psalm 59 besides deliberate ambiguity. An
inclusio is formed by

in v. 2 and in vv. 17-18. There are
also three instances of talionic reversal: in vv. 2 and 12, the psalmist prays that
“those who rise against me” ( ) God will “bring down” ( ); the
hostile “mighty” ( ) of v. 4 are confronted by God's “might” in vv. 10 ( )
and 17-18 ( ); the roaming around for food by predatory enemies (K
Q , v. 16) leads the psalmist to pray “Make them totter” ( ). Fi-
nally, there is a probable instance of hysteron-proteron in v. 5: “they charge
( ), they form themselves in battle array” ( on this assimilated hitpolel
with this meaning, see D. J. A. Clines, Dictionary of Classical Hebrew 4 “Shef-
field: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998” 376).

4 The presence of more than one refrain in a psalm is not unparalleled; Psalm
42^3 has three refrains (42:4d and lid; 42:6, 12 and 43:5; 42:10 and 43:2), none
of which is exactly repeated.

5 The simile

is taken as a collective: “As often with animal names, He-
brew uses the singular collective preceded by the definite article” (W. H. C.
Propp, Exodus 1-18 “AB 2; New York: Doubleday, 1999” 591).

-184-

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