In this post, I begin to compare Kugel and Alter’s translations of Psalm 51:6-15. For Round One of this cage match, go here. Bibliographical references are supplied there.
Since I will not refrain from being critical of both Kugel and Alter’s translation efforts, I wish also to reiterate my intense respect for the work of both scholars. For a fine plug in favor of Kugel’s excellent contributions to the field, check out Iyov’s remarks here.
The scansion I offer of Ps 51:6-11 is identical to that found in BHS and in most modern translations. 51:12, however, I treat as a pair of lines, in accordance with the general rule. The short 2:2 lines of 51:12 are asymmetrical to their context in which 3:3 lines dominate. The changeup in rhythm focuses attention on the compact lines, the rhetorical peak as it were of the larger prayer. Another psalm that shortens up the rhythm to mark its rhetorical peak is 130.
I trisect 51:13 and 14. The division is a refinement, not a rejection of, the traditional bisection of the verses. The line-types instantiated, 3:(2:2) and (2:2):3, are very well-attested.
וְהָרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי
לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ
וּבְחֵטְא יֶחֱמַתְנִי אִמִּי
8הֵן־אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת
וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי
9תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר
תְּכַבְּסֵנִי וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין
10תַּשְׁמִיעֵנִי שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה
תָּגֵלְנָה עֲצָמוֹת דִּכִּיתָ
11הַסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מֵחֲטָאָי
וְרוּחַ נְדִיבָה תִסְמְכֵנִי
15אֲלַמְּדָה פֹשְׁעִים דְּרָכֶיךָ
וְחַטָּאִים אֵלֶיךָ יָשׁוּבוּ
6 You are the one I offended;
I did what was is evil in Your sight.
You always are fair in Your sentence,
impartial in what You decree.
7 But consider, I was born to transgression,
conceived by my mother in sin.
8 Secretly You love faithfulness;
so in secret help me grow wise.
9 Clean me with hyssop till I am pure,
wash me till I’m whiter than snow.
10 Let me have gladness and joy once again,
let the bones that You struck rejoice.
11 Turn away from my sin,
and blot out all my offenses.
12 God, make me a pure heart,
put a new, right spirit inside me.
13 Please, don’t send me away;
don’t take Your holy spirit from me.
14 Give me back the joy of your help,
hold me up with a kindly spirit.
15 Let me teach sinners Your ways.
so offenders turn back to You.
6 You alone have I offended
and what is evil in Your eyes I have done.
So You are just when you sentence,
you are right when You judge.
7 Look, in transgression was I conceived,
and in offense my mother spawned me.
8 Look, You desired truth in what is hidden;
in what is concealed make wisdom known to me.
9 Purify me with a hyssop, that I be clean.
Wash me, that I be whiter than snow.
10 Let me hear gladness and joy,
let the bones that You crushed exult.
11 Avert your face from my offenses,
and all my misdeeds wipe away.
12 A pure heart create for me, God,
and a firm spirit renew within me.
13 Do not fling me from Your presence,
and Your holy spirit take not from me.
14 Give me back the gladness of Your rescue
and with a noble spirit sustain me.
15 Let me teach transgressors Your ways,
and offenders will come back to You.
תזכה poses a challenge for translators. Literally, ‘you are clean’ when you judge. But that is not idiomatic English. One possibility is to translate 51:6 as follows:
what is evil in your eyes I have done,
so you are just when you speak,
you are pure when you judge.