Ancient Versions of Psalms in Dialogue: Psalms 49 and 104

16 March, 2023

We are deeply honoured to welcome Dr John Screnock, Tutor in Old Testament at Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford, and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, to lead a session of the Psalms in Interfaith Contexts Reading Group.

Here are the details of this fascinating session.

Topic: Ancient Versions of Psalms in Dialogue: Psalms 49 and 104

Abstract: The “text” of Psalms—the specific Hebrew words written in manuscripts—is fairly uniform in our earliest evidence (from the late Second Temple period). However, even minute differences can have a major impact on the interpretation of a psalm, the understanding of its poetics, and the construction of its conceptual world. Psalms 49 and 104 present two examples. In Psalm 49, one version of the text presents us with a powerful refrain on the lack of wisdom amongst the wealthy and powerful. The other version presents us with a textual error and a somewhat garbled text—or is it a clever turn of phrase that makes a surprising point? In Psalm 104, one version of the text catalogues God’s mighty acts of creation in the past, then turns to God’s benevolence toward his creation in the present. The other version leaves the timing of some acts of creation tantalizingly open: the reader is prompted to consider whether God created only in the past, or also in the present. Moreover, the causational relationship between God and creation is highlighted through tightly knit poetic lines. In addition to these two versions of Psalm 104, the move from one to the other in an act of revision reveals two views of creation—one that insists that God created only in the past, and another that believes creation still occurs in the present.

Speaker: Dr John Screnock, Tutor in Old Testament at Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford, and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, UK.

Speaker’s biography: Dr John Screnock (PhD, Toronto) is Tutor in Old Testament at Wycliffe Hall (since 2021), and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (since 2016). From 2018–2021 he was Research Fellow in Hebrew Bible at Oxford, and from 2015–2018 he was Kennicott Fellow in Hebrew at Oxford. His research interests include the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, Dead Sea scrolls, Hebrew linguistics, and textual criticism. He is the author of Traductor Scriptor: The Old Greek Translation of Exodus 1–14 as Scribal Activity (Brill 2017), A Grammar of Ugaritic (SBL, 2022), and articles in Journal of Biblical LiteratureVetus TestamentumBiblicaJournal of Semitic StudiesHebrew StudiesTextusRevue de Qumran, and Dead Sea Discoveries. John’s current project, Reading Psalms in the School of the Scribes (OUP), examines scribal activity in the textual witnesses to Psalms for insights into the language, poetics, and interpretation of the Psalms.

Date: 16 March, 2023

Time: 18:00-19:00 GMT | 19:00-20:00 CEST | 11:00-12:00 PDT | 14:00-15:00 EDT

Venue: online

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If you would like to join the Psalms in Interfaith Contexts Reading Group, please sign up here.

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