Robert Adler introduces his commentary on this psalm by observing that this ‘new song to the Lord’ is in face ‘a weaving together of phraises and whole lines that appear elsewhere’, and references Yair Hoffman who charectirzes the psalm as a mosaic of lines drawn from other and familiar psalms.
This is no bad thing, indeed the allusions and quotations may well contribute to the popularity of the psalm, increasing its immediate accessibility to at least the community that it was orginally composed for.
Some of Israel’s psalms draw elements not only from her other scriptures and worship practice, sometimes from sources which pre-date the firmly monotheisitic faith that came to distinguish later Judaism from its earlier Hebrew antecedants and the polytheisitc traditions of her neighbours.
Adler notes that v 4, , rendered in the translation below as “For the Lord is great and highly to be praised,/ to be feared above all gods”, seems to be a line inherited from earlier Hebrew tradition.
He continues: “In this case, the psalmist immediately attaches a kind of monotheistic rejoinder to it by asserting that all the other gods have no real existence: ‘ungods’.” (In the translation below, “For the gods of the nations are naught.”)
The negation of these “other gods” is expressed in one Hebrew word, ‘elilim. Adler writes that “ ‘elilim is a polemic coinage that appears frequently elsewhere, punnngly formed on ‘al (“no”, “not”) and ‘el (“god), to which a diminutive suffix is appended. The standard meaning in all subsequent Hebrew is “idols”.”
A sort of early variant on the “devil has all the best tunes”, but we do not need to sing his songs! We take his best and make it true, and new…
Responsorial Psalm for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(NB the text set for Sunday is given below in bold and in ‘quote sections’ below; the rest is the immediate biblical text from which the Lectionary text is extracted)
Psalm 96 (95)
1 O sing a new song to the Lord;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 O sing to the Lord; bless his name.
Proclaim his salvation day by day.
3 Tell among the nations his glory,
and his wonders among all the peoples.
4 For the Lord is great and highly to be praised,
to be feared above all gods.
5 For the gods of the nations are naught.
It was the Lord who made the heavens.
6 In his presence are majesty and splendour,
strength and honour in his holy place.
7 Give the Lord, you families of peoples,
give the Lord glory and power;
8 give the Lord the glory of his name.
Bring an offering and enter his courts;
9 worship the Lord in holy splendour.
O tremble before him, all the earth.
10 Say to the nations, “The Lord is king.”
The world he made firm in its place;
he will judge the peoples in fairness.
11 Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad;
let the sea and all within it thunder praise.
12 Let the land and all it bears rejoice.
Then will all the trees of the wood shout for joy
13 at the presence of the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice;
he will govern the peoples with his truth.
~ Translation of Psalm: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010
~ Commentary: © 2020, Allen Morris
~ Photograph: © 2018, Allen Morris. Figure affixed to bridge over the Garonne, Toulouse.