Query about Psalm 4

I was looking at verse 6 (or 7 depending on edition) of Psalm 4, in which a part of the text is in quotation marks. I noticed that translations seem to take different approaches as to which part of the text is inside the quotations and which part is outside.

For example, the RSV:

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O Lord!”

Christian Prayer book:

“What can bring us happiness?” many say. Let the Light of your face shine on us, O Lord.

New Vulgate:

Multi dicunt: <<Quis ostendit nobis bona?>> Leva in signum super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine!

Would anyone happen to know where I can find more background on this?


Classical Hebrew didn’t have punctuation per se in order to clarify speech. The Masoretic text - the Hebrew text that is the basis for most current Catholic and Protestant OT translations - uses a system of cantillation marks (for ritual chanting) that were implemented by the Masorites, a Jewish community, between the 7th to 10th centuries AD.

The cantillation marks function a bit like punctuation in that it frames pauses, phrasing, etc. But there’s still quite a bit of latitude for translator/cantor interpretation. Because of this, there are variations in how some translations have approached verses such as the one you mentioned.

Thanks to all who responded. Bithynian, your post is very helpful in explaining the existence of what we might call variations in approach (perhaps merely variations in emphasis). I wonder if the various translators have put together publicly accessible documents explaining their decisions–would be interesting to look into at some point. Thanks again all.

1 Like

From a Hebrew-English interlinear website at https://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/psa4.pdf
The non-ordered verse 6 says:
Many-ones ones-saying who he-shall-show-us goodness lift-up-you over-us light-of faces-of-you Yahweh.

Not that I know of. Sometimes commentaries will annotate any particular translation difficulties (which are often subject to scholarly or theological dispute), but not every verse.

In practice, most translation issues are something that that is gleaned from systematically learning the language itself and studying its literature. I majored in Classics (Classical Greek and Latin languages) along with Classical Hebrew during my undergraduate, and we routinely observed difficulties in texts that can offer varying translation choices. Usually difficulties arise because they don’t fit within the neatly prescribed grammatical rules (every rule has a thousand exceptions!) and so ambiguities exist.

Verse (such as the psalms, and other non-prose texts) can present a whole lot of other interpretational difficulties as grammar is often relaxed or highly stylised.

This topic was automatically closed 14 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.