The Semantics of צרר Lexemes in the Hebrew Psalter

  • Michael D Rasmussen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


Psalms containing lexemes derived from the Hebrew root 1צרר (to bind, be in distress) are studied in order to reveal a previously-unnoticed generic subgroup in the Psalter. Chapter 1 discusses methodology, particularly with respect to the structural and cognitive linguistic principles used throughout the study. Part of chapter 1 discusses the concept of “genre,” incorporating both Louis Hjelmslev’s mid-20th century discussion of genre as a multi-axis
matrix, as well as drawing upon recent applications of prototype and fuzzy set theory to the definition of the term “genre.” Chapter 2 determines which psalms will be the subject of the study. Since the Hebrew Psalter contains both 1צרר lexemes as well as lexemes derived from the homonym 2צרר (to be hostile, be an enemy), chapter 2 investigates translational patterns in ancient versions as well as elements of Hebrew grammar and syntax in order to
separate instances of these two roots. The core of the study (chapters 3 through 5) conducts a two-fold investigation of psalms that include 1צרר lexemes, with respect to these psalms’ uniqueness in the Psalter. First, the structural linguistic principles of paradigmatic and syntagmatic analysis are applied to psalm texts as wholes, resulting in a set of syntagms that
only appear in psalms that include 1צרר lexemes. Second, these syntagms are classified using principles from the field of cognitive semantics. The result is a set of three cognitive domains (given the domain names [POWERLESSNESS], [PALPABLE THREAT], and [ENTREATY]) which are relatively unique to psalms that include 1צרר lexemes, and which are part of the cognitive profile of distress in the Psalter. In this way, a given psalm can be understood as displaying more than one generic identity, so that psalms which are dissimilar
vis-à-vis traditional form-critical classifications are seen to be nonetheless similar with respect to distress. Chapters 6 and 7 round out the cognitive profile of distress with an analysis of two more salient domains (given the domain names [EXTRA-LINGUISTIC CAUSE], and [GUILTY?] which, although being necessary components of the profile, are not unique to distress psalms. Chapter 7 studies 1צרר lexemes with respect to the overall editing of the Hebrew Psalter, leading to a conclusion that after the Babylonian exile,
distress was more strongly associated with divine discipline and displeasure; whereas before the exile it was more associated with declarations of innocence. Chapter 8 conducts an exegetical and cognitive semantic analysis of Psalm 107, which contains more 1צרר lexemes than any other psalm. This psalm is investigated as a test case and exemplar of the cognitive profile that has been uncovered in the prior chapters. The final chapter draws
conclusions with respect to the generic identity of distress psalms.
Date of Award26 Nov 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorJamie Grant (Supervisor) & Robert Shillaker (Supervisor)

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