Psalms is one of the most beloved and poetically sophisticated books in the Bible. And also one of the hardest to translate.
Our strategy is to combine the best of scholarly approaches with a clear understanding of the needs of translators.
Watch our 30-minute overview to see the method at work in the first verse of Psalm 1.
You can also watch videos on individual psalms on our public playlist.
How each word relates to each other
Who does what to whom
How all the participants are related to each other
How the meaning of each Hebrew word compares to another language and culture
When a picture is worth a thousand words
The context that makes sense of each psalm
What emotions belong in an artistic rendition or performance of the text?
What grammatical markers are there that provide literary structure?
Devices like alliteration help structure the psalm as a work of poetry
1. All the Details
First, we use multiple lenses to look at the psalm from all perspectives. We "take everything apart" here, seeing how each aspect of the psalm functions.
The analytic layer is the foundation for all our work. It refers to the classic divisions of language and scholarship: grammar, syntax, semantics, discourse, and poetics. We select the academic research most relevant to translators and visualise its results in a format that is accessible for non-academics.
Some interpretive insights may arise from a single analytic sub-layer, but others will arise only when multiple layers are examined together.
Why was a psalm ever composed in the first place? That's the purpose of the psalm. What the psalm actually says is its content. What's going through your head after you've interacted with the psalm is the take-away.
Before you can begin to understand a psalm, you need to know the background. This includes cultural background (assumptions) as well as any events that led up to the psalm itself. When these can be recovered, they'll be presented here.
The "first exposure" to a psalm.
The text of the psalm itself is presented with background colour to track the main movement in the psalm. Here, it's an emotional descent from dismay into nearly giving up, shown by the deepening blue. Then, a sudden return of confidence as vindication turns the tables, and David is restored but the enemies will be dismayed!
2. The Big Picture
Then, we "put it all back together again" to see the big picture.
The synthetic layer will be the first thing that users will see when they encounter Psalms: Layer by Layer. On a single page, it will introduce the psalm and summarise key information.
In addition to summarising the psalm, the synthetic layer will serve as the gateway to the analytic layer underneath. The key features highlighted in the synthesis will be tied to this foundation, allowing users to see how we reached our conclusion. Its interactive interface will allow users to manipulate the display for their particular needs.
Based on the analytical summary of each part of the text (which was prepared in the process of building the synthesis) . . .
. . . existing translations can be evaluated as to how well they capture what was intended in the Hebrew.
Finally, we will compare the new translation or artistic rendition with the original Hebrew.
The applied layer will be built over time as a repository of translations, visual art, music and more that will serve as examples of how the Psalms can be translated into culture.
Examples of what others have done will be invaluable as inspiration.
Evaluation of how each captures the inner logic of the Hebrew will be invaluable to assess the quality of each translation.