Review of Miriam von Nordheim, Geboren von der Morgenröte? Psalm 110 in Tradition, Redaktion und Rezeption

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Miriam von Nordheim, Geboren von der Morgenröte? Psalm 110 in Tradition, Redaktion und Rezeption (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2008). Pp.xii, 340. Hardcover. €49.90. ISBN 978-3-7887-2276-0.

After an introduction and short history of research (pp. 1-22), this Frankfurt dissertation (supervisor: M. Witte) investigates thoroughly the Masoretic vocalized text (pp. 23-45). It then addresses the individual motifs (pp. 47-115), culminating in the reconstruction of an ‘original’ Ps 110* (pp. 112-141). In her opinion this ‘original’ Ps 110* was composed by an Alexandrian Jew in the course of the 3rd century, who thus introduced the Hellenistic genre of the enkomion (victory song) into Hebrew literature.

The psalm's way into the canon of the Hebrew Bible is reconstructed under the heading ‘intra-biblical exegesis’ (pp. 143-170). In ‘redactional stage 1’, the psalm was incorporated in the psalter, in ‘redactional stage 2’ in the TNK, and ‘redactional stage 3’ is represented by the Masoretic vocalization. The least controversial and most valuable part of the book is represented by the third main section, ‘reception and Jewish exegesis of Ps 110’ (pp. 171-298). Here, the author discusses the old translations (Septuagint, Targum, Peshitta, Old Latin and Vulgate), Jewish literature from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (1 Macc, AssMos, Jub, TestLev, GenAp, 4QAmram, 11QMelch), as well as late antique and medieval Jewish literature (Talmud bavli and yerushalmi, midrashim, Saadyah Gaon, Yephet ben Eli, the early grammarians). A final ausblick on Ps 110 in the NT is mercifully short (p. 299-305), and followed by a summary of the author's interpretation (pp. 307-310). A bibliography and indices (of biblical quotations and names/subjects) fill the remaining 30 pages.

The author is to be commended for her use of the old translations, treated as early exegesis and not used for the reconstruction of her Ps 110*, which is nothing but an alternative reading of the Hebrew text; and, for attributing much more space to the history of reception and interpretation than to another ‘historical-critical’ hypothesis. Her deep love of philology is impressive, but not always requited. The Tiberian Masoretes were not ‘redactors’, but some sort of last remaining ‘native speakers’ of Biblical Hebrew, which they documented faithfully in all its transmitted inconsistencies (and errors) rather than ‘normalizing’ it. Mistakes are part and parcel of every language as long as it lives; the ‘standardization of Biblical Hebrew’ was the work of the late manuscripts and the medieval grammarians. The Masoretic accents are simply prosodic and have no syntactical meaning (as her misguided attempt to identify in Ps 110,3 four nominal sentences illustrates very well). The disregard of BHt discredits the author as much as her sole reliance, for the Hebrew text, on Kittel's bad edition and Elliger/Rudolph's worst. Every Hebrew preposition is - quite unnecessarily - footnoted, but the fundamental question of the function of the verbal forms is left open, and, in consequence, the tense in her German translations is mostly wrong (if your theory of Hebrew is incomplete, you better look for another).

An alternative reading of the consonant text is not a ‘reconstruction’ - the Masoretic vowels are just one reading tradition among others, and not part of the ‘text’. Every possible reading of the consonant text might be regarded as equally intended - the biblical scribes did not suffer from the Greek delusion of an ‘autonomous individual’ and its ‘unity of intention’.

The author's historical hypothesis has already been rejected for good in the last volume of Zenger/Hossfeld's magisterial commentary. It is inconceivable that a text saturated with allusions to other biblical texts could originate any place else than the library of the second Temple. The author pays attention to the psalm's intertextual references only if these were already observed in the secondary literature. I still maintain that Ps 110 was written as part of the composition Pss 108-110 and refers to John Hyrcanus after his Moabite campaign (v 7, cf. 2 Kgs 3). ‘Oracle of the L'rd to my lord’ (v 1) quotes David submitting himself to Solomon; cf. 1 Kgs 1:47), and a temporal reading of v 3 renders ’before womb and dusk, I gave you the dew of your youth’, which alludes both to Joseph (Gen 27:28; Deut 33:13), Jacob's second-last born who became ruler of Egypt and Israel's lifeline in a time of need, and to Hokhmah-Torah in Prov 8:22-31: with the intention of making Hyrcanus' kingship appear as preordained as Israel's reception of the Torah. Disagreements aside, the book marks considerable progress in German protestant exegesis of Psalms beyond the commentaries of Kraus and Seybold but still falls short of the kind of intimacy with the Psalms that can only be acquired by their daily recitation in prayer.

Ernst Axel Knauf, University of Bern