Psalm 48, 8 July ’18

This song of the Korahites is another royal moment, with Zion and the holy hill “the very centre of the world”. (2) In modern times, this is generally regarded as a non-geographic metaphor. (See also comments made in Psalm 47 regarding ‘sponsorship’.)

As has been noted in relation to other songs wherein the psalmists long for the holy hill or City of God as a particular place in time and history, this predated the advent of the Christian and Islamic religions. So while Zion is often mentioned, this is poetry. There is no caliphate here. The longing for mercy and safety is universal. The poem may be applied to the locus of life, love and justice in creation, or in your own experience and faith.

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Everett in The Emergent Psalter chooses the penultimate verse for his refrain:

Tell the next generation that this is our God (13)

Valid as this wish may be, our adaptation substitutes a theme of meditation on the ever-reliable foundation of divine love:

In the midst of the temple we ponder your love (9)

Verses have been paraphrased and harmonised into SATB to fit Everett’s tune. Some of the text seems to demand a little more dramatic treatment. Reminiscent of ancient singers of tales, myths and legends, perhaps by a late fireside, such verses might be treated as a free improvised narrative to set them aside a little from the mainstream repeated tune. The cantor is then free to improvise and vary the sung recitation according to the spirit of the moment or interpretative needs of the text.

In this song the section starting in verse 4, where a sense of panic spreads through fearful leaders of the earth, may be improvised against a loose ostinato or vamp on a contrasting chord such as AbΔ. In this case, the cantor might centre the song line of just a few notes around the leading note G:

4 Then the kings assembled, they came on together.
5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic, they took to flight;
6 trembling took hold of them, pains as of a woman in labour,
7 as when an east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.

A couple of other modern refrains in New Century Hymnal and Psalms For All Seasons (nothing in TiS) also offer simplicity and good music. These refrains also spotlight the key verse 9 already quoted above.

Psalm 48:9 in a 13C psater, British Library MS50000
Psalm 48:9 in a 13C psalter, British Library MS50000

The illustration, from the Oscott Psalter of around 1270 CE, shows the Latin script of that same verse: Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam in medio templi tui.

Note the abbreviation, common in medieval manuscripts, marked by superscript tilde ~. Thus the third word misericordiam (mercy or loving-kindness) appears as mīam, and in as ī. The script in blue in the second column is described by the British Library as a ‘metrical paraphrase’, which is exactly what we have done in our own version this week. This beautiful psalter includes no antiphon.

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