Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Canticle: "The Song of the Sea" Part I

Kishnevi, who sometimes comments on another of my blogs, has left a really interesting description of the way the Deuteronomy version of "The Song of the Sea" (also called "The Song of Moses") was traditionally written out on the Torah scroll. I hope he won't mind if I reproduce the whole comment in a new post (to which I'm adding a couple of line breaks):
For purpose of context and comparison, the only one of the OT canticles which became part of the Jewish daily prayers is what we call the Song of the Sea (iow, the First Song of Moses). It's the Psalms and selected verses from the prophets (most importantly, the passage from Isaiah you know as the Sanctus and we call the Kedushah (same meaning as Sanctus)

The two songs of Moses are of course read as part of the regular cycle which allows the entire Torah to be read each year as part of the Sabbath services; the Song of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur afternoon, but only because the entire Book of Jonah is read at that time; the opening chapters of 1 Samuel are read as the prophetic portion on Rosh Hashanah, and that of course includes the Song of Hannah.

The two Songs of Moses receive special treatment in the traditional scribal writing of the Torah scroll. The Deuteronomy song is written as two columns of half verses, with a space running down the middle between them. The Song of the Sea is written in a pattern that results in a series of diagonals across the parchment/page. Verse 1, up to the word 'v'amru' (and spoke) occupies a full ine. The next word, v'omer (saying) is written by itself, then a space follows, then the middle phrase of the verse, then a space, then the single word sus (horse)at the left margin, then on the next line the remainder of the verse ('and his rider he has thrown into the sea'--which in Hebrew requires only three words), then a space, then the first part of verse 2 ("the Lord is my strength and my song and He has become to me"--five words in Hebrew), then on the next line, the single word "l'yeshua" (salvation), a space, then a three word phrase, a space, then a single word at the end of the line with the last two words of the verse at the start of the next line. The spatial pattern repeats every two lines, and every verse after verse 1 is spread over three lines in an interlocking pattern (the last half line of line a, the full line b, the first half line of lince c). The number of words in the phrases, other than the one-word phrases at the start and end of the alternate lines, vary as needed between two and six. The very last line manages to have the word "hayam" (the sea) as the solo word both at its start and end
and the Lord brought back on them the waters of/
the sea--but the Children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of--the sea./

[The dashes are the spaces.] It's a neat visual trick that most printings of the Biblical text don't even come close to.

How great, eh? While trying to find an image of this on the web (no luck so far, but I'll post it if I do), I came across this, in an article called "Sofrut: Scribal arts and sacred texts":
The scribe prepares the parchment by scratching 43 horizontal lines on it and two vertical ones at each end. This allows for a standard 42 lines of writing. Each sheet of parchment contains three to eight columns of writing. Certain letters might be stretched within a column to justify the left margin.

There are some places in the Torah where certain letters are larger or smaller than standard, or where the text is written in a different type of column. Each deviation from the norm carries a special meaning. For example, the "Song of the Sea" (Exodus 15:1-19), which describes the parting of the Sea of Reeds, consists of three interlocking columns. The two outer columns symbolize the sea parted on either side, with the middle column representing the children of Israel marching on dry ground. Visually, this sets the section apart from the surrounding columns. Such changes were instituted by the Masoretes--scribes of the 7-9th centuries who standardized the biblical text--to highlight the importance of certain passages. All of the writing and layout must be done exactly to specification in order for the scroll to be kosher.

More later about "The Song of the Sea," which is a really interesting Canticle - and, it's thought by some, one of the oldest of all things in the entire Bible. Meantime, here's an mp3 of the Exodus "Song of the Sea" from the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood.

Here is the BCP version of the words to this Canticle:
8    The Song of Moses    Cantemus Domino
Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18
Especially suitable for use in Easter Season
I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; *
    the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
    the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
    the God of my people and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a mighty warrior; *
    Yahweh is his Name.
The chariots of Pharoah and his army has he hurled into the sea; *
    the finest of those who bear armor have been
                               drowned in the Red Sea.
The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; *
    they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; *
    your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.
Who can be compared with you, O Lord, among the gods? *
    who is like you, glorious in holiness,
    awesome in renown, and worker of wonders?
You stretched forth your right hand; *
    the earth swallowed them up.
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
    with your might you brought them in safety to
                          your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
    on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
    the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
    for ever and for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

EDIT: I believe the image below (from this page at Wikipedia) is an example of what kishnevi is talking about. I'm not sure whether it's the Deuteronomy or Exodus version, between which (according to what's been said so far) there are differences; this seems to be three columns, but I may be wrong about that:

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