I experienced an embarrassing moment many years ago while taking a broadcasting media course at seminary. I had used a passage from the Psalms as the basis for an assigned devotional, and when the professors (from several different seminary faculties) critiqued it, a distinguished professor dismissively pointed out that I had mispronounced the word “psalm” itself!
I had foolishly pronounced the “l” sound in the word (the way I’d always heard it pronounced). I don’t know whether any of the other students were as ignorant as I, but no one denied that the condescending correction was correct.
The first thing I did upon returning home was grab my dictionary to see if the doctor of theology was right. It turned out, of course, that he was right with how to pronounce the word [i.e. sahm] . . . but he was definitely wrong about how to properly correct a student.
On a more positive note, the Psalms are the foundation and epitome of worship music for Jews and Christians alike. One could read a Psalm each day and since there are one hundred and fifty, when you returned to the first psalm five months after beginning, it would be utterly fresh.
C.S. Lewis enjoyed the Psalms. The following passage comes from a letter written in 1940.
My enjoyment of the Psalms has been greatly increased lately. The point has been made before, but let me make it again: what an admirable thing it is in the divine economy that the sacred literature of the world should have been entrusted to a people whose poetry, depending largely on parallelism, should remain poetry in any language you translate it into.
And glorious poetry it is. The beauty of the songs extends far beyond the family “Lord is my shepherd . . .” And yet, it would be impossible to comprehend the number of grieving souls that have been comforted with the words “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Most Christian traditions greatly value the Psalms, and many include them as a portion of the regular service or liturgy. And individuals who include them in the personal devotions are never disappointed.
C.S. Lewis included them in his prayer and devotion. In fact, he enjoyed the Psalms so much that in 1958 he wrote a book entitled Reflections on the Psalms. There he proclaims, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.”
The Church has added an immense repertoire to the Psalms during the past two millennia, but they will never be replaced. In fact, many inspired songs owe a major debt to the Psalms themselves. This includes the Odes of Solomon, the first (post-Psalms) Christian hymnal (composed circa 100 A.D.).
Speaking of the Odes, I wrote a thesis on them many years ago, and have been considering writing a book about these treasures. Perhaps I’ll share more about them in the future.
The lovely window pictured above is from a church in Fringford, England. David was likely a bit younger when most of the psalms he composed were written.
15 thoughts on “The Bible’s Songbook”
Wow, I’ve been pronouncing the “l” for almost forty years! Great article.
Trust me, you’re in very good company!
Funny, many years later I can still remember a professor ripping me to shreds in front of other students for knocking on her office door (bad timing on my part and not her finest moment either). But I agree about the psalms, they are beautiful!
Strange how those memories sear themselves into our psyche. The redeeming aspect is that they teach us to treat others with respect and dignity. Not that I’ve been perfect in that regard, but I strive to be an encourager rather than a “corrector.”
I learned to love singing Psalms when we were in France–once I heard them done right! Our little church used to drag them out, but I’ve heard them done by cathedral choirs that move right along. They are beautiful! I wish there were more of them in the Trinity Hymnal.
Your prof may have had good pronunciation, but he had lousy pedagogy!
The Psalms have been musically rendered in many wonderful ways. Sort of timeless, in the sense that various ages can apply contemporary melodies to eternal truths.
Write the book! Write the book! Might be a very good fit for this era…some have never seen them. Now that’s sad.
If I do, you’ll see an announcement here!
Good post. You should write the book.
Thing is, Rob: You were speaking in English – in which we have long pronounced the “L” in psalm. Correcting you was a stuffy, petty thing to do. The sort of thing one does when trying to look clever at another’s expense. Chances are the professor was intimidated by your work, or by the other professors. Being a bully was easier than being wise.
Spoken by a teacher who is both kind and effective.
Would love to hear the Odes to Odes.
And I think there is a slight pronunciation of the “l”. Very slight.
Here, in Prince Edward Island, they pronounce it like “Sam” to rhyme with “Cam shaft.”
That’s a great illustration of how dialects can greatly affect pronunciations. Don’t think I could ever get used to that particular one, though. :)
You should here Islanders sing “Silent Night.” It’s a hoot. (night would be.. um… noiyt…)
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