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Psalm 45 (alternative translation)

The motive for this came about while thinking about how easy it it to “theologically” translate passages. The Psalm is of course a wedding song, and it can be easy to fall prey to a cultural tendency and portray it as a modern wedding involving a modern monogamous couple. So for example in verse 9 (verse 10 in the Hebrew) NIV has “the royal bride”, with the implication that this is the same woman in view as the daughter we are about to meet in the following verse.

However, the wedding is of an ancient near-eastern monarch with quite different expectations of marriage. The actual word used here is a fairly crude one - the underlying verb was later considered too obscene to be used in scripture. Hence ‘concubine’ comes a little closer to it in English, and the likelihood is she was already a consort of the king in question, with the marriage being celebrated here in the Psalm a second or subsequent one for the king.

So ... what if we take an even more extreme view, and the author was not really praising a wedding, but using an ironic vehicle to criticise royal habits, somewhat as Samuel does about royal social habits in 1 Sam 8:11ff. There is in fact quite a lot in the language of this Psalm that permits such an interpretation.

Hence this alternate version - the main one offered assumes that the poet was serious in his praise and celebration of a near-eastern royal wedding. The second explores the alternative route of a kind of protest-song. Whilst it remains reasonably faithful to the original, it pushes the wording into a rather more ironic region. As a translation, it is perhaps unlikely to ever catch on in devoted Christian circles, but on the other hand Bible-as-protest-literature does have an honourable history!


To the music director.
On “Lilies”, in Qorach's style.
A cautionary tale for lovers.

A strong word seethes in my soul,
        singing songs about the chief,
                my reedy tongue ready to write.

Most striking of men
        honey favour on your lips -
                thus are you divinely blessed always.

Sheathe the sword at your thighs, you Hero -
                virile and potent -
O potentate, prosper and ride -
                with loyal words and right conduct towards others -
but doing dreadful deeds with your right hand.
Sharpened flights aquiver -
        your followers fall
                on your challengers' hearts, great chief.

Your authority godlike always and ever:
                the rod upright is the rod of your rule.
You befriend right choice and despise deceit:
        thus chosen by the God who is your God -
                exulting oily above your henchmen.

Bittersweet perfumes envelope your clothes,
                from whetted chambers my music invigorates you.
Chieftains' daughters are already yours,
                your playmate is at your right hand, all golden.

Listen, girl, look, take heed:
                forget who you were and your family.
He craves you, this chief, for your flowering:
                he will be your master, you'll bow over him.
(Though other great women with gifts
                will solicit your favour alongside lesser leaders.)

All solemn chief's daughter inside
        golden chains dressed
                in strappy clothes she goes in to the chief.
Other girls follow her as partners -
                brought to you -
they go in to her in giggling delight:
                they'll come to the chamber of the chief.

In place of your family, children -
                you'll fix up each as a prince in the land.
I will ensure your renown is remembered - generation after generation -
                and people will no doubt praise you always and ever.