Identifying Patterns of Participant Shifts in the Psalms

C.M. Erwich

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


A great challenge of reading the Hebrew poetry of the Psalms is the identification of participants. The major cause of this problem is a continual shift in person, gender and number (so-called PGN-shifts, or participant shifts) in the text. To account for these PGN-shifts, scholars have always used a more intuitive literary analysis. Instead of studying the problem of PGN-shifts first however, this exegetical tradition offered diffuse explanations of: 1. Who the speakers are in the Psalms: a psalmist, priest, king, prophet or God?; and 2. What the setting and genre is of these texts: e.g., liturgy, oracle or doxology? The current scholarly approaches therefore lack a systematic registration and identification of patterns of PGN-shifts in the Psalms, as well as a methodologically adequate analysis to substantiate claims about speaker or genre.

To make a start with a more systematic analysis of PGN-shifts, the Text-Fabric framework is used for a computer-assisted interpretation. Text-Fabric, a Python 3.x software package, operates on the Eep Talstra Center for Bible and Computer (ETCBC) database of the Hebrew Bible plus its (linguistic) annotations. Since the database makes large-scale computation possible a linguistic five-step analysis of PGN-shifts of the whole Hebrew Bible is made in order to methodologically identify patterns of PGN-shifts in the Psalms. Firstly: the data on person, number, and gender of all verbs, pronomina and suffixes are collected from the ETCBC-database. Secondly, from the PGN collection chunks of strings of PGN-shifts are generated. Thirdly, after chunking, the similarities between pairs of chunks are computed. Fourthly, on the basis of a similarity matrix, all similar chunks are organized in groups. As a final step, groups of similar PGN-shift patterns are evaluated in light of the question if they can be meaningful for the formulation of new ideas on speaker and genre in the Psalms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
EventPlotting Poetry: On Mechanically Enhanced Reading - Basel, Switzerland
Duration: 5 Oct 20177 Oct 2017


ConferencePlotting Poetry: On Mechanically Enhanced Reading


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