Bible blog 2253

Continuing my translation with comment of the third book of Psalms (73-89)


For the Korahites. A psalm. A song


Founded by him on the holy hills

Yahweh prefers the gates of Zion

To all the dwelling-places of Jacob.

Glorious things are spoken of you,

City of God!


“I note Egypt and Babylon

as among those who know Me.

Indeed, of Philistia and Tyre

With Ethiopia too, I say:

‘This one was born there.’


And of Zion it shall be said,

‘This one and that one was born in her.'”

The Most High himself has founded her.

Yahweh records when he registers the peoples,

‘This one was born there.’


They sing as they dance,

‘All my springs are in you.”

The Temple mount, Jerusalem


I think this is an extraordinary psalm. Some credible scholars have interpreted the phrase, “this one was born there”, as referring to the various gentile countries mentioned in the text. They see the “there” as contrasting with the “in her” and interpret the favour of God as including only gentile converts to the faith of Israel.

That seems unlikely in my view. Surely the whole purpose of the enigmatic phrase is the discovery that it points not to the country mentioned (here) but to the afore-mentioned Zion (there).

I have interpreted the direct speech, whose speaker is not designated, as God’s, who is pleased to note that Egypt and Babylon, the imperial enemies of Israel, know him. This is extended to the declaration that Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia were “born there” – surely not in their own territories – but rather in Zion. This leads to the truth that (literally) “the man and the man” were born “in her” , namely in Zion. If we translate, as I have done, “this one and that one” we get a statement about the universality of Zion, which is not simply evangelical – one day the gentiles will flow to Israel’s God – but creational – all peoples are created by the God who dwells in Zion, and therefore were “born” there. Zion is not a sectarian temple but the mother of all peoples.

That’s why the dancing peoples sing, “All our springs are in you.”

If I’m right, this is a theologically unique utterance in the Hebrew Bible, which spells out the meaning of the temple as a model of creation: it is in Israel for good reasons, but is intended in the words quoted by Jesus as a “house of prayer for all nations.”

Scholars used to refer to the notion of the “chosen people” as the scandal of particularity. This psalm affirms that scandal – God prefers Zion- but immediately faces Israel with the scandal of universality – this one AND THAT ONE were born in her.

I’m sure Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem, those still there and those expelled since 1948, should take this psalm as pointing to their citizenship of the holy city, one which, however, they share with all humanity. True Zionism, according to this psalm, promotes it as the place in the world where all its peoples can recognise their common origin and worth.

As many nations in Europe are being encouraged by right -wing propaganda to reappropriate their Christian identity, this psalm can remind them that the only true city of God is one where all races are at home..

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