Monday, April 19, 2021

Etti Ankri (אתי אנקרי) sings the Psalms

Etti Ankri.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0Link

My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri. She received a lot of airtime at the tail-end of this semester's Introductory Hebrew II course both while I prepared for classes, and in class as ambient noise during group work and in the moments before class began each day. (Even if my students don't catch the words it counts as exposure to Hebrew.) 

Wikipedia will tell you that Etti Ankri is an Israeli actress and pop singer who underwent a sort of religious conversion to observant Judaism beginning in the early 2000's, and her music followed suit. Unlike the other Israeli musicians I highlighted in an earlier post, you won't find much more about Ankri in English online, though this 2009 interview in Haaretz is well worth your time (if you can get past the pay-wall) for its reflections on Jewish spirituality, song-writing, and just plain wisdom.

It goes without saying that Ankri is a fine musician. But although I enjoy her music a lot, I am especially attracted to the high incidence of biblical language and ideas in her lyrics. Frequently, in fact, her songs come straight out of the Psalms. 

Here are the examples I've noticed so far, beginning with her 2004 album, מיליונים ("Millions"):

Psalm 59  

The song ואני אשיר ("And I will sing") puts the Hebrew text of Psalm 59:17 to music:


Psalm 67

The final song on the album offers a rendition of Psalm 67 (including the superscription):

The album version is here.

Psalm 23

Ankri's 2009 album, בשירי רבי יהודה הלוי, puts to music some of the religious poems of the great medieval poet, Judah Halevi, but the album ends with a version of Psalm 23 that opens with a prayer influenced by Psalm 22:2 ('My God, My God, do not forsake me in darkness'):
The album version is here.

I noticed lines from the Psalms in three of the songs in Ankri's 2012 album, הניגוּן שלך ('Your Melody'):

Psalm 119

In פלגי מים, the chorus is drawn from Psalm 119:136, with a few minor changes--the most significant of which is a shift from third to first person. Instead of "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because they keep not thy law" (to quote the KJV) (פַּלְגֵי־מַיִם יָרְדוּ עֵינָי עַל לֹא־שָׁמְרוּ תוֹרָתֶךָ), Ankri sings "Rivers of water run down my eyes, because kept not thy law" (פלגי מים רבים ירדו עיני על שלא שמרתי תורתך):


Psalm 131

The chorus of מחוץ לזמן echoes a line from Psalm 131:1, "my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high (לֹא־גָבַהּ לִבִּי וְלֹא־רָמוּ עֵינַי). In her rendition, Ankri sings "So that my heart will not be lifted up, my eyes not raised too high, you protect me from myself": 

 שלא יגבה ליבי
 ולא ירמו עיני
 אתה שומר אותי מפני 

 The tune is nice too:


Psalm 118:1

As usual, the final song on the album is from the Psalms, this time from Psalm 118:1:

Saturday, March 6, 2021

A Few of My Favourite Things: Hebrew Music

I have been listening to Israeli music for two decades now, starting with the first four-disc Avodah Ivrit collection--picked up in 2001 from a vendor in Tel Aviv's old bus terminal--and moving on to Ahinoam Nini, Shlomo Artzi, David Broza, Ofra Haza, and the fabulous Idan Raichel Project

Although I seldom sit down to try to make out the meaning of an entire song, bits and pieces of familiar words and phrases have helped me retain more Modern Hebrew than I otherwise would have.

I often play Israeli music in class, normally as unintelligible ambient noise during small group discussions--though in Hebrew language classes it contributes more directly to an immersive environment and I actually hope my students will be distracted by what they hear. But my aims are not simply utilitarian: I enjoy listening to Israeli music, and I hope my students do too.  

Here are a few favourite artists and songs, arranged more-or-less in chronological order:

Ofra Haza, the "Israeli Madonna," recorded מישהו הולך תמיד איתי ("Someone always walks with me") in 1985: 

(hebrewsongs.com has a transliteration and English translation.)

David Broza also made it big in the 1980's, but my favourite David Broza recording is his 1998 cover of אצלך כמו תמיד on Avodah Ivrit:

Shlomo Artzi has been performing since the 1970's too. Like David Broza, he is still at it. This duet is from Artzi's 2000 album, אהבתיהם:

Ahinoam Nini performs internationally as Noa, often in collaboration with Gil Dor. Here is a live recording of בואי כלה, a Leah Goldberg poem that Noa and Dor put to music and recorded in 1993 on their first studio album: 

Last but not least, Idan Raichel and the Idan Raichel Project have received the most airtime since I first discovered Idan Raichel's music ten or twelve years ago. Check out last year's socially-distanced Independence Day concert to see why: 


My latest favourite Israeli singer is Etti Ankri, but her biblically-inflected music deserves a post of its own.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

On Jesus' address to God as Father and Ancient Judaism


It is a commonplace in New Testament scholarship that Jesus' characteristic address to God as Father was distinctive if not unique in the first century.

According to Scot McKnight, "'Father' occurs only occasionally in the evidence that survives from Second Temple Judaism." Jesus, by contrast, "taught his disciples to pray, as a matter of routine address, 'Our Father'" (McKnight 1999: 54-55; emphasis added).

Richard Bauckham maintains that Jesus' "almost exclusive use of 'Father' to address God was certainly very unusual" and proposes that Jesus' innovation was to adopt "the word 'Father' as his own chosen substitute for the Divine Name." (Bauckham 2020: 53)

Wesley Hill's brief popular exposition of the Sermon on the Mount contrasts Jesus' frequent use of "Father" for God with Old Testament and, by implication, with "[o]ther Jewish texts that ... use 'father' for God":

"T]here remains throughout the Old Testament a certain reserve about the father metaphor for God. ... It is almost as if these rare instances of the God of Israel being called (or calling Himself) 'father' are placeholders, awaiting some unforeseen future revelation that will cause them to take on a new resonance." (Hill 2019: 11 and 106 note 11).

Dale Allison's 1999 attempt at an accessible commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is now rather dated by the get-the-latest-new-book standards of New Testament scholarship, but seems to me to adopt a better approach:

"No prayer in the Hebrew Bible opens with this address, although the idea that God is the father of faithful Israel, his children, is certainly well attested. ... The Mishnah, however, does use the phrase, 'Our Father in heaven' ... and extrabiblical Jewish prayers do have invocations with 'Father.' .... In the light of all the parallels, especially the Qumran texts, it is unwise to insist (as so many have when writing on the Lord's prayer) that Jesus use of 'Abba' was unique. ... At the same time, it remains true that early Christian sources speak of God as Father much more frequently than contemporary Jewish sources; and since Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; and Gal. 4:6 transliterate the Aramaic 'abba' into Greek, there is a good chance that the address was thought special because characteristic of Jesus." (Allison 1999: 117)

To be sure, McKnight, Bauckham and Hill are careful enough scholars to avoid referring to Jesus' usage as "unique," but they continue to emphasize discontinuity between Jesus and his Jewish context. Allison explores the same evidence in more detail, and stresses continuity.

I suspect the difference between Allison, on the one hand, and McKnight, Bauckham and Hill, on the other, comes down to scholarly posture:

(1) Allison is more cautious when it comes to filling in historical gaps: As evidence for ancient Jewish references to God as father, Allison quotes from a story in the Bablylonian Talmud about Hanan, the grandson of Honi the Circle Drawer:

"When the world was in need of rain, the rabbis used to send school-children to him who seized the train of his cloak and said to him, Abba, Abba, give us rain! He said to God: Lord of the universe, render a service to those who cannot distinguish between the Abba who gives rain and the Abba who does not." (b.Taanit 23b in Allison 1999:117)

In this case, Allison's caution is warranted. We know far less about Honi the Circle Drawer and his grandson than we do about Jesus. When we crunch the numbers and compare Jesus' usage with that of other ancient Jews, we need to keep the fragmentary nature of our surviving evidence in mind.

(2) Allison actively resists the deeply-ingrained Christian impulse to set Jesus over against his Jewish environment--and for good reason after centuries of Christian denigration of Jews and Judaism. To paraphrase Amy-Jill Levine, we don't need a bad Judaism to have a good Jesus. The authority of Jesus' teaching does not rest on its being unique in all respects. As Allison observes, "A Jew wanting to have nothing to do with Jesus could still pray the Our Father" (1999: 134).

References

Allison, Dale C. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Crossroad, 1999.

Bauckham, Richard. Who Is God?: Key Moments of Biblical Revelation. Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Hill, Wesley. The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019.

Levine, Amy-Jill. “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made about Early Judaism.” Pages 759–63 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

McKnight, Scot. A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Joy-Drenched Essence of All Things


Milton Steinberg's powerful novel about the rabbinic heretic, Elisha ben Abuyah, contains this remarkable description of the biblical--and rabbinic--worldview:
"Inevitably, contrasts suggested themselves between this [Greek] literature and that Scripture to which so many years of Elisha's life had been dedicated. It was a sternly earnest book, that of the Jews, and yet animated for all its dour austerity by a confident serenity which the Greeks seemed never to experience. For, given its presuppositions, all things were good by virtue of the God who pervaded them. There was for men no burning urgency in the quest for the fugitive experience. Love and laughter were but transient manifestations of the joy-drenched essence of all things." - Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf (Behrman House, 1939), 354.
I first finished reading As a Driven Leaf ten years ago today, and blogged about it here, here, and here. (I see that I was struck by this passage the first time through as well.)