Saturday, April 7, 2012

Thoughts on Psalms

Schøyen Collection MS 3029 (c. 2600 BC, Wikipedia)
My topic didn’t originate from any of my readings of Psalms. It actually came from a recent rereading of Samuel Noah Kramer’s The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. (Or perhaps I should say my first real reading of it since I just scanned the book a little for something interesting for a ninth-grade History report.) Discussing the ancient culture’s history around the 25th century B.C., Kramer (p. 51) says,

Lugalannemundu [king of Adab]…is “king of the four quarters (of the universe),” a ruler “who made all the foreign lands pay steady tribute to him, who brought peace to (literally, ‘made lie in the pastures’) the peoples of all the lands, who built the temples of all the great gods, who restored Sumer (to its former glory), who exercised kingship over the entire world.”

Immediately what came to mind was Psalm 23:1-3 (ESV):

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The second line (v. 2a) is generally understood to infer peace under the guise of a metaphor that continues through the entire stanza, if not the whole poem. However, Kramer’s statement makes me wonder if there’s more to the text. The Sumerians wrote in a cuneiform script that was both logographic (based on words) and syllabic (based on syllables). I began to wonder if Kramer meant that some sort of symbol, originally used to convey the idea of “being made to lie in pastures,” later became a sign for writing the word “peace.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a copy of the Lugal-Anne-Mundu inscription online, and the Sumerian lexicons I found didn’t reveal any relationships between words that may mean “peace” and the concept of “being made to lie in pastures.” Sumerian is not an amateur-friendly language, so I’ve hit a dead end for now when it comes to deciphering the text.

The reason why I’m curious about it is because there has been a long-standing controversy over what sort of influence – if any – did the Sumerian civilization have over the Hebrew one. Abram (Abraham) is spoken as having come from Ur Kaśdim, “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Genesis 11:27-32, 15:7; cf. Nehemiah 9:7). However, the passages are commonly assumed to be referring to the earlier city-state of Sumer. The other Sumerian-Hebrew relationships suspected are even weaker. Despite unsuccessful attempts by scholars to connect the Phoenician alphabet, which was used and adapted by many Semitic peoples like the Hebrews, with the Sumerian cuneiform, adopted by the Semitic Akkadians, some Christians argue direct descent. In addition, some promote the “Wiseman hypothesis,” identifying the use of the Hebrew word toledoth (e.g., “account,” “generations,” “histories”) in the early chapters of Genesis as evidence of a borrowing of the Sumerian and Mesopotamian (Babylonian) descriptive ending called the “colophon.” They argue this despite its apparent use as a title rather than closure in the Bible.

Because of all of this shaky evidence, at this point, I remain unconvinced that Sumerian had any profound influence on Genesis. However, I’ll admit that Kramer’s statement has me wondering about what King David was actually trying to tell us in Psalm 23. I guess that over-studied chapter does have something new to offer.


  1. It sounds as though you're onto a cool project!

    Thanks for your insightful comment on my post about homeschooling stats. I responded on my blog, but decided to copy my reply in your comments.

    If you need/have time for another project, you suggested a great one. :)

    Jenny, you pointed out a very interesting new angle that I discuss at the end of this reply. It's an excellent point and would be an great research project.

    I think you also missed something...but there is so much in the table it is perhaps easy to miss. I'll discusss that first.

    In the section entitled "Homeschoolers are Less Affected by External Standards" the first graph shows that for homeschoolers family income makes essentially no difference in test scores.

    The data this woman was relying on is that, for public schoolers, family income is a significant factor in test scores. The data presented here shows that she could have achieved her goals (excellent test scores, graduation rates, and other quality of life measurements) by homeschooling her children rather than by getting a job to increase her income.

    As you pointed out, the homeschoolers in these statistics are compared to public schoolers in general. Since the homeschoolers' test scores are over 30% higher than public school test scores, homeschooling obviously erases a huge gap for the lower income homeschoolers, whose scores would have been much lower if they had been public school students.

    What you implied is that very high income public school students may have performed even better than homeschool students. It would be interesting to see how homeschool scores compare to the highest income level of public schoolers. If you ever do a comparison of that I'd love to see it. I don't think something like that has ever been published.

    Annie Kate

  2. Annie Kate: Thanks for comment. My point is that this woman you refer to might have good reasons to assume that improving her family income is easier to do than homeschooling her children. According to you, either would produce the same effect.


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