“Jerusalem is built as a city…” – Psalm 122 (121):3

Currently our JCMA text reading group is reading Karen Armstrong’s history of Jerusalem. We had quite a lively discussion on this, and will continue it next month after Easter/Passover when we meet on April 10.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine had contacted me on the weekend with a question about a verse that is used as a communion antiphon in the Mass for the 4th Sunday in Lent, a verse that is relevant to our discussion of the significance of Jerusalem for the three Abrahamic Faiths.

The verse in question is Psalm 122 (121) verse 3,which, in the New Revised Standard Version, reads:

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together. 

My friend is a devotee of the Latin mass, so he was trying to make sense of the text in Latin. That reads:His problem was with the phrase highlighted, which he found hard to translate. I showed it a member of our JCMA text group, whose teaching career was in the Classics, and she too thought it was strange. It is something like “whose sharing/participation is in itself”.

It is worth keeping in mind that Jerome made that translation from the Septuagint (LXX), which is a  Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures done in the 3rd-1st Century BC. The LXX reads:The phrase there appears to something like “whose sharing/participation of it [is] towards/upon the itself”.

Here are a few more current English attempts. The Grail Version of the Psalms (which the Catholic Church uses in its daily prayer and also currently in the Service of the Word at Mass) reads:

Jerusalem, built as a city,
strongly compact.

In the current English translation of the Roman Missal (the book used for Mass), the Communion antiphon (translated from Jerome’s Vulgate) reads:

Jerusalem is built as a city
onded as one together.

However, Jerome also did a translation from the Hebrew text – as he possessed in the 4th Century in any case – and that is different again:

Hierusalem quae aedificaris ut civitas
cuius participatio eius simul

You will notice – even if you can’t read Latin – that there is a slight difference from the earlier translation, but the word “participatio”, meaning a communion or a sharing – is still prominent. A translation might be “of whom its participation [is] the same”?

Now, I know you are all asking, what is the “original” Hebrew text? Keeping in mind that the Masoretic text is not necessarily more ancient than either the Vulgate or LXX we have:

My rudimentary Hebrew was not good enough to translate that second phrase, so I asked my friend Rabbi Fred Morgan for his input. He replied that he would translate it as:

“Jerusalem (re)built, in which there is a joining together.” The Hebrew has echoes of groups of associates or companions being brought together once again, following the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple. So it could refer to the gathering together of the tribal groups in social (or national) harmony after the exile. Would be nice today to extend to all religious groups coming together in companionship.

And to which let all the people say: “Amen”.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *