Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Poetics of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Song 12)

The following is the opening to the twelfth Sabbath Song in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. It is rarely noted, although occasionally is, how poetic these Songs can be at times. In fact, in my dissertation where I discuss this, I do not have time to discuss its poetics either. Perhaps these can be some preliminary observations for a later project. The passage is most notable for the difficulty in finding the beginnings and ends to phrases, but I think following the parallelism provides some clues. For now, I am going to forego discussing the obvious connections with Ezekiel 1.

For the Sa[ge. The song of the sacrifice (עולת)] of the twelfth sabbath on the twenty-first of the third month.

Praise the God of wond[rous years (?)]
and exalt him according to the glory in the tabernacle
[of the God/s of] knowledge ([הכבוד במשכ[ן אלוהי] דעת]).

The [cheru]bim fall before him and they b[le]ss.
When they raise themselves,
a quiet voice of God (קול דממת אלוהים) [is heard]
and tumult of chanting;
at the rising of their wings,
a voice of q[uiet] of God (קול[ דממ]ת אלוהים).

They are blessing a structure of a throne-chariot (תבנית כסא מרכבה מברכים)
above the firmament of the cherubim (ממעל לרקיע הכרובים).
[And] they chant the [the splend]or of the firmament of light
from beneath his glorious seat, (מושב כבודו).

And when the ophannim go,
the angels of holiness return.
They go out from between his wheels of glory.

Like the appearance of fire are most holy spirits.
Surrounding is an appearance of streams of fire
in a likeness of hashmal, and workmanship of brightness (ומעשי [נ]וגה)
with multicolored glory, wondrously dyed, purely salted.
(ברוקמת כבוד צבעי פלא ממולח טוה)

Spirits of living gods constantly go about
with the glory of the wondrous chariots.
And a quiet voice of blessing is with the tumult of their going,
and they praise with holiness in the returning of their ways.
When they raise themselves they exalt wondrously.
And when they settle they stand.
A voice of joyous chanting grows silent
and the quiet of a blessing of God is in all the camps of the gods
And a voice of praises …. from beneath the[ir] divisions on [their] sides…
and all their mustered troops chant, each in his station.
(4Q405 20 ii-21-22:6-14 + 11QShirShabb 3-4)

As the layout suggests, this Song is full of extensive parallelism and balanced phrasing. After the framing image of the "the glory in the tabernacle" (cf. Exod. 24:16-17; 40:34-5; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 2 Chron. 7:1; Ezek. 43:4-5; 44:4; cf. Ps. 26:8), the Song has parallels between the rising of the cherubim and the raising of their wings, each followed by the quiet voice of God in paradoxical juxtaposition to tumult.

The next section is even more complicated, in which blessing the "structure of the throne-chariot" parallels chanting the firmament of light, placed seemingly oppositionally above and below. Above cherubim and below the the glorious seat (which is the throne-chariot, bringing the first and fourth phrases together) is the same space. These lines are even more complex. The throne-chariot in the first line mirrors the glorious seat in the fourth line, and the firmament in the second and third lines bring these lines together, creating an overall chiastic pattern layed over the parallelism. This section even has wordplay, where מברכים is delayed in the line to mirror הכרובים, using, for the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, a fairly rare participle and an equally rare definite article to create the same rhythm.

The next section returns to the "movement" language found earlier, with going, returning, and going out (again). The parallelism here is not only between verbs of going, but between ophannim and wheels, both designations of the "wheels" of the throne-chariot.

The subsequent section shifts from the wheels to fiery holy spirits, where there is a more obvious parallelism between "appearance of fire" and "appearance of streams of fire." This is all clearly Ezekiel imagery, made clearer by the "hashmal" of the subsequent line. The final line, however, brings in imagery from the Tabernacle: "multicolored" like the tabernacle's cloths and "purely salted" (see. Exod. 30:35).

The final lines are not as tightly composed, but contain a great deal of resonance with Shavuot liturgies that combine Psalm 68 and Ezekiel 1. It repeats a great deal of the imagery already seen of going and returning, raising and settling, silence/quiet voices and tumultuous praising.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am becoming more and more suspicious that the early followers of Christ and Christ himself were early practitioners of what would later be identified as Merkabah mysticism. I.g., Christ's words to Nicodemus suggest that he has a heavenly double, the Son of Man and his teachings that his followers, the little ones, have heavenly doubles who see the face of the Father. The identification in tradition between James the Just, the brother of the Lord, as a high priest. James as high priest? In what temple, certainly not the earthly one in Jerusalem.