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  • Randall Short 12:17 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    “Against you, you alone, have I sinned” 

    Miserere mei, Deus (Have Mercy on Me, O God)

    Most likely you have read, sang, or at least heard the words of Psalm 51, the Bible’s most well-known and beloved “penitential” psalm, in one form or another (you might enjoy the performance at the bottom of this post while reading). In many traditions, Psalm 51 is specially chosen for prayerful reflection during Holy Week and Lent (especially Ash Wednesday), but it can also be frequently heard in regular services throughout the year. For instance, do these verses sound familiar?

    Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. (Verses 1–2)

    Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
    Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
    Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Verses 10–12)

    The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Verse 17)*

    Prayer of David, Psalm 51

    According to the title line that precedes the psalm, this prayer was composed by King David “when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It might have as well said, “…after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, secretly ordered her husband’s death, and took her as his wife.” If you do not know the story well, take a few minutes and read it in 2 Samuel 11–12.

    *I am quoting from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Of course, there are small differences in wording among the various versions (KJV, NRSV, JPS, ESV, NIV, etc.), but I think they are close enough that you can hear your favorite version pulsing behind any of them if you are at all familiar with this psalm. Also, note that the passage in question is the 6th verse in some translations. And in Eastern Orthodox versions that follow the Septuagint, the psalm in question is the 50th psalm instead of the 51st.


    Against you, you alone…?

    Now, with the story of David and Bathsheba in mind, look at the first half of verse 4:

    Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight…

    Taken by itself, this line is easy enough to understand. But how about when you read it as David’s prayer of repentance after the prophet Nathan confronted him? I will not rehearse that episode here. For the moment, it is enough to consider Nathan’s charge against David:

    Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. (2 Samuel 12:9)

    This was no simple affair between consenting adults. King David used his position of power to take another man’s wife for his sexual pleasure. And when he failed to cover it up, he essentially sentenced Uriah to death (and possibly other soldiers who died along with him).


    King David’s Sin in Light of the Decalogue

    To put it in simple, “biblical” terms, one might argue that King David broke the last six of the Ten Commandments, namely, all of the commandments that regulate human relationships. The obvious ones are these:

    “You shall not covet . . . your neighbor’s wife.”

    “You shall not commit adultery.”

    “You shall not murder.”

    But how about the others? Though he may not have broken the letter of the following commandments, it is not difficult to see how he violated ethical principles behind them.

    “You shall not steal.”

    Of course, David’s “theft” of another man’s wife is covered under the commandment against adultery. But the prophet himself characterized David’s crime as one of theft (2 Samuel 12:1–4, 7–9).

    “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

    Though the original command may be primarily applicable in legal settings where people are taking oaths and testifying before elders or judges in order to settle lawsuits and the like, the spirit of the commandment prohibits deceitfulness and false reports that hurt one’s “neighbor.” If King David had been successful with his coverup, his deception would have led Uriah and nearly everyone around him — including David’s own child and future descendants — to believe that Uriah was the father of King David’s child. When that failed, King David’s secret ruse resulted in Uriah’s death; it threatened to undermine Joab’s reputation as a competent commander on the battlefield (see Joab’s concern in 2 Samuel 11:18–21); and it placed public blame for Uriah’s death on the Ammonites instead of King David himself, the real conspirator behind it.

    “Honor your father and your mother.”

    Even in highly individualistic societies, parents are shamed by the crimes of their children. How much more so in communitarian societies such as ancient Israel (for instance, consider the nature and significance of the “house of the father,” or bet ‘ab, as a social unit in ancient Israel)? As the prophet declares, David’s crimes would have lasting repercussions for his family, and very public ones at that (see 2 Samuel 12:10–12). Though David did not intentionally act to dishonor his father and mother, he brought shame to them and their extended family nonetheless.


    Confessing Sin Against . . . Whom, Exactly?

    Whatever one might conclude about David’s violation of certain commandments, the point is this: King David committed heinous crimes against his loyal servants, against his neighbors. In light of all this, then, how can a reader who views this psalm as King David’s own confession make sense of the statement in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned”?

    In fact, most Bible scholars today do not think that David was the actual author of this psalm. They are fairly certain that the psalm “titles” (or “superscriptions,” as scholars often call them) were added long, long after the psalms were composed and adopted for use in ancient Israel’s worship. But apart from a few notable exceptions, even scholars who think Psalm 51 was composed centuries after King David’s time still view the psalm as a prayer composed for the purpose of confessing personal and/or communal sins . . . including, if not especially, sins against other people.

    So whatever you think about the psalm’s origins, this basic problem remains:

    What does it mean for someone who has deeply hurt his or her neighbor to tell God, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned”?


    How would you answer this question? Give it some thought. Then come back to see how commentators from ancient to modern times have answered it, and to consider what we might learn from (and about) their approaches to this confession of sin.

    • Raymond 2:59 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thats a great article indeed. We sell our beliefs our religions each time we sin. We violate so many other principles and laws and bring shame to Christianity.

      • John 3:49 am on November 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Randall, Thank you for writing and sharing this post. I appreciate it because, quite frankly I stumbled upon it, my spirituality has ebbed rather than flowed. Reading the comments provoked thought and reflection. I believe it’s time for me to pick-up my bible again. Thanks.

    • Kurt 5:30 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      That is a great question Randall. And I think it’s one of those that we’ll not know the answer to, this side of heaven. I’m no Bible scholar and could only offer speculation. That being said, here’s a simple thought to consider: It seems to me that when we sin against people, we’re sinning against other sinners, so it’s not the same as sinning against our God who is without sin. So it’s in that sense that we’re sinning against God and God alone as the Psalmist says. Because our God is the only One who perfectly does not deserve for anyone to do anything against Him.

      Thanks for the interesting and provocative post!

      • Randall Short 10:25 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for sharing the thought. At some point I plan to introduce some classical and modern commentaries that make suggestions along that line (among other possibilities). It’ll be an interesting idea to consider and explore more deeply.

    • Amazing 3:40 am on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for this article Sensei,

      I found it quite interesting especially the question that you raise at the end. I am preaching a series on 2 Samuel and we were in chapter 12 last Sunday So this is makes your article even more interesting for me. One of the books I am using for this series is ‘2 Samuel, Out Of Every Adversity’ by Dale Davis. He cites the story of Franz Joseph Haydn a musical genius whose wife had so little regard for his composing genius that she cut up his manuscripts to use for hair-curling papers. Ralph Davies asks the question ” was she merely expressing contempt for his music? certainly not. Her contempt for his music was only a visible sign for her contempt of him.
      David did sin against Bathsheba, Uriah and to some extent his army but viewed in the right perspective he sinned against God or as the Samuel text puts it he despised Yahweh. Hence David is realizing that greater sin is actually against none other than Yahweh.
      I agree with Kurt’s response, Its no longer about our hurting the neighbor that’s at stake but realizing how that sin despising Yaweh himself.

      • Randall Short 9:23 am on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for taking the time to comment, Amazing!

        That’s a great story about Haydn’s wife. I can’t help but wonder what she’d say if asked why she did that — for instance, did she have any reason to feel like he loved music more than her? — but I won’t go there.

        I think this answer has a wide appeal. In the next few days I’ll share some reflections on a commentary that more or less takes this approach, so I’m holding back from saying too much myself here (in this post I mainly wanted to raise the question and encourage others to think about it with me; thanks again for doing that). But I’ll share just one thing that comes to mind right now.

        I think it’s significant that the Lord’s Prayer includes both divine and human forgiveness (And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us”). There, too, sin against God appears to be the primary (first order) concern, but the prayer implies that sin against other people (also) needs to be forgiven by people and not God alone. One could argue, of course, that this does not “apply” to the sin or spirit of Psalm 51. But I wonder. Whatever the case, I think that this line (Ps 51:4) raises all sorts of religious, theological, and ethical questions that are worth thinking and talking about. Please continue to read and interact! (And say hello to your family for the Shorts.)

    • Medav 11:32 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      The many times I have read and sang this chapter, I have found it remorse that questioning it has been the last thing I thought of. This question is insightful. It provoked me to ask questions both from my perspective and from – assuming – David’s perspective. My questions were not exhaustive but led me to the great commandment – love for God and for neighbor.

      Reflecting the passage, I quickly thought David showed no love for neighbor not until I gave it more thought. David must have known his weakness. He was imperfect. Perhaps, he struggled not to sin but it was inevitable. I suppose, he might have thought of asking his neighbors for forgiveness; but by virtue of being imperfect, it would be unbearable to do this often, take for example 70 times 7 times, the inverse for forgive. He might have thought of his status as a king, an image to protect.

      David had this revelation that the best place to go was before God – the ultimate love and forgiver. I don’t imply that sinning became his habit. David had the fear of God in him as depicted in many of his psalms; more so, God highlights him as a man after His heart. David understood that his love for God was connected with his love for neighbor. He realized the crimes he committed were not only against his neighbors but also against God thus when he repented before God he had his guilt for his neighbors covered.

      Thanks Dr. Short for the question. I look forward to learn more from the commentaries.

      • Randall Short 8:13 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you for sharing your reflection, Medina.

        I think you have a talent for composing midrash (and I mean that in a good way). As you probably remember from reading Gary Anderson’s Genesis of Perfection in the course on Adam and Eve, a good midrash offers an imaginative and meaningful interpretation of a text by filling in the “gaps” in a text. I really enjoy that ancient approach to the biblical text.

        So I think your midrashic retelling of the story is quite beautiful (if I understand your meaning correctly, I especially like your image of it being unbearable for David). I can easily imagine you inspiring people with this sympathetic image of David.

  • Randall Short 10:02 pm on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Digging the Biblical World in Tokyo 

    If you happen to be in Tokyo this weekend and are interested in biblical archaeology (and understand Japanese), you might enjoy one or more lectures at this two-day seminar at Sophia University: 


    Excavating the Biblical World 
    The Current State of Biblical Archaeology

    Here’s more information in English and Japanese at Japanese Biblical Studies.

  • Randall Short 12:26 am on May 11, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Biblical Languages, Greek   

    New Testament Greek Studies in Japanese 

    If you read Japanese, or if you’re just interested in eccentricities, please take a look at my site for Japanese speakers studying New Testament Greek. The site is called Shinyaku Seisho Girishiago Kōza新約聖書ギリシア語講座).  

    I began with a series of videos in which I explain the exercise problems in the Japanese version of Jeremy Duff’s The Elements of New Testament Greek. Since I posted the first video about 3 weeks ago, the videos have been viewed for around 40 hours. That’s quite a bit more than I expected.

    Elements Girishiago

    This week I’ve begun a series of original short stories. I’m having my students write the stories in Japanese using only the vocabulary (list 1 and list 2) and grammar that they’ve learned so far. Then I translate the stories into Greek. The stories are simple, but they are a lot more fun to read than the exercises. It’s my first attempt to do extensive reading in New Testament Greek. Even if you don’t read Japanese, perhaps you can enjoy the Japanese-Greek stories.

    I’d be grateful for any help with getting the word out. You never know where you might find philhellenic Japanese. 

  • Randall Short 9:25 pm on December 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    New Issue of Old Testament Studies (in Japan) 

    At Japanese Biblical Studies, I’ve posted the English and Japanese titles of articles in the recent issue of Old Testament Studies, the journal of the Society for Old Testament Study in Japan. 

    Old Testament Studies 9 (2012)

    I also happen to have an article in this issue, which is based on a paper that I gave at the SOTSJ annual meeting in 2011. Take a look

  • Randall Short 6:14 am on August 4, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    A Window into New Testament Studies in Japan 

    It’s significant when a nation’s scholars in any given discipline get together. Next month, members of Japan’s small but active Society of New Testament Studies will gather for their two-day annual meeting in Nagoya, a large city in central Japan.

    If you would like to see what Japan’s New Testament scholars will be talking about at this year’s meeting, take a look at my translation of the paper titles. And if you happen to be a student or scholar of the New Testament, see if you recognize any of the names (especially among the moderators, who are mostly senior scholars).

    Nagoya CastleA Japanese painting from Nagoya Castle in Nagoya, Japan

  • Randall Short 10:40 am on July 29, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Online Resources for Research in Japan 

    Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII) has a very helpful site for doing research in Japan, about Japan, and about practically anything else. The site is GeNii – NII Scholarly and Academic Information Portal.

    I’m especially interested in using GeNii for research in biblical studies, but GeNii’s resources are essential for any discipline’s students and scholars who wish to benefit from Japanese research.

    GeNii 学術コンテンツ・ポータル

  • Randall Short 9:14 am on July 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply  

    Japanese Biblical Studies: for the Church, Academy, and World 

    My new blog, Japanese Biblical Studies, is all about biblical studies by and/or for Japanese.

    JapaneseNewInterconfBiblePhoto by Yoshi Canopus

    The first post, Introducing Japanese Biblical Studies, lists my 6 categories:

    • News
    • Publications
    • People
    • Education
    • Pop Culture
    • Nota Bene

    I usually encourage my kids and students to keep in mind a particular audience when they write. I’m still working on that. 

    Who do you think might be interested?

  • Randall Short 11:20 am on March 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: biblical studies, conference, sbl   

    Wordling the SBL’s 2011 Annual Meeting 

    Later this year, the Society of Biblical Literature will hold its annual meeting in San Francisco. Here are two Wordles I created from the program unit descriptions.*

    2011 SBL Program Units Wordle 1

    2011 SBL Program Units Wordle 2

    It’ll be interesting to see Wordles of the actual paper titles, but we’ll have to wait a few more months for that.

    Any surprises so far?

    *Note that I lowed all caps, and I deleted these words from the Wordle: also, among, annual, bible, biblical, call, contact, description, e.g, first, group, meeting, one, open, paper, papers, program, programs, proposals, provide, provides, research, sbl, scholars, second, section, seek, seeks, session, studies, study, third, three, topic, topics, two, unit, within

  • Randall Short 12:00 pm on April 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies 

    This book offers a new account of the origins of biblical studies, illuminating the relation of the Bible to churchly readers, theological interpreters, academic critics, and people in between. It explains why, in an age of religious resurgence, modern biblical criticism may no longer be in a position to serve as the Bible’s disciplinary gatekeeper.

    This is how Oxford University Press describes The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies by Michael Legaspi (Assistant Professor of Theology at Creighton University). You can find the publisher’s full description of the book, as well as brief reviews by Gary Anderson (Notre Dame), Walter Moberly (Durham), and Jon D. Levenson (Harvard), at OUP’s website.

    I predict that Michael Legaspi’s book will quickly rise to the top of “must read” lists for people who have academic interests in the Bible. But I think it will also be highly relevant for anyone else who wonders about the many ways people approach the Bible in modern times (and postmodern times, if you like). I make these predictions not only based on the impressive endorsements Legaspi’s book is already receiving, but also based on discussions with, and presentations by, the author about parts of the book.

    And that’s why I strongly recommend this book. I’m about to place my own order here (my Amazon link).


    Johann David Michaelis’s Latin edition of Robert Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (De sacra poesi Hebraeorum praelectiones; 1758, 1761). Among other discussions, Legaspi explains how this publication played an important role in scholars’ reconceiving “divinely inspired Scripture” as sublime literature that should be approached according to the same methods scholars used when studying classical texts from the ancient world.

    • AMBurgess 4:30 am on May 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m so excited to get my hands on this book. The unresolved tension between religious faith and academia is in need of a push forward, and I have no doubt Mike Legaspi’s book is exactly what’s called for. I also think it’ll be a perfect template for understanding all sorts of issues surrounding faith and modernity. It would be great to see a lot of colleges making it required reading.

    • Delia Guevarra 1:09 pm on June 17, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      The best book on the subject , It uncovers the past , the origins of the bible , the controversy and how it applies now . Any Theology student in the Seminary or for anyone searching for historical truth this book is amazing

  • Randall Short 5:20 pm on March 13, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David – Summary and Keywords 

    In my first post about my new book, I posted statements by a couple of well-known and a couple of anonymous biblical scholars. For my second post, I’d like to post here the summary that Harvard University Press used in their catalog (both online and in their Spring/Summer 2010 print catalog). It’s also the summary that vendors like Eisenbrauns and Amazon picked up (with lightning speed, I might add) when HUP started promoting my book online.

    Some of the best-known biblical episodes are found in the story of David’s rise to kingship in First and Second Samuel. Why was this series of stories included in the Bible?

    An answer that has become increasingly popular is that this narrative should be interpreted as the “apology of David,” that is, the personal justification of King David against charges that he illegitimately usurped Saul’s throne. Comparisons between “the History of David’s Rise” and the Hittite “Apology of Hattušili,” in particular, appear to support this view that the biblical account belongs to the genre of ancient Near Eastern royal apology.

    Having presented this approach, Randall Short argues that the biblical account has less in common with the Hittite apology than scholars have asserted, and he demonstrates how interpretive assumptions about the historical reality behind the text inform the meaning that these scholars discern in the text. His central contention is that this story should not be interpreted as the personal exoneration of David composed to win over suspicious readers. Rather, composed for faithful readers represented by David, the story depicts the dramatic confirmation of David’s surprising election through his gradual emergence as the beloved son of Jesse, Saul, all Israel, and YHWH Himself.


    The main purpose of a summary in a print catalog, of course, is to give readers a good idea of what the book is about. But online summaries have a purpose that is equally important. They draw people who are running searches on the key words and phrases to the website and let them know about the book in the first place.

    I would love to see what search strings bring people to my book’s site at Harvard University Press, Amazon, and the like. One problem with summaries, though, is that they don’t include — and can’t include without becoming nearly unreadable — many of the key terms and phrases that a lot of people among my intended readers are likely to be Googling and Binging.

    So, in the interests of reaching as wide an audience as possible, and hoping that you won’t be disappointed if your online search of any of the below terms brought you here, I offer a mini-index of keywords and phrases that somehow relate to my book. This, too, is rather limited, but I hope it’s skim-worthy and, more importantly, search-worthy.


    Interested in Any of the Following? Then please check out The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David:

    Biblical figures and themes: King David, King Saul, the Prophet Samuel, Davidic Covenant, David’s Anointing, Divine Election, Divine Rejection, Davidic King and Kingdom, Kingship in Israel and Judah

    Texts and corpuses: Books of Samuel, Historical Books of the Bible, the Former Prophets, Nevi’im, Nebi’im, Historical Psalms, Tanakh, Masoretic Text (MT), Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), Hebrew Bible, Old Testament; Samuel Commentary

    Critical sources, extra-biblical texts, etc.: History of David’s Rise (HDR), Apology of David, Ancient Israelite Royal Propaganda, Apology of Hattusili, Apology of Hattushilish, Hittite Empire, Ancient Near Eastern Apologies, ANE, Deuteronomist, Deuteronomistic, Dtr, Original Context, Final Form

    Modern Scholarly Approaches: Historical Critical Scholarship, Historical Criticism, Source Criticism, Redactional Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism, Ideological Criticism, Tradition Criticism, Canonical Criticism, Literary Criticism, Comparative Criticism, Theological Interpretation, Biblical Interpretation, Biblical Exegesis

    Scholars and works: P. Kyle McCarter, “The Apology of David” (JBL), and I Samuel (Anchor Bible); Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King; Steven L. McKenzie, King David: A Biography; James W. Flanagan, David’s Social Drama: A Hologram of Israel’s Early Iron Age; Harry A. Hoffner, “Propaganda and Political Justification in Hittite Historiography.”

    • Ed Gentry 10:41 pm on March 13, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Congratulations Randall. Well done. So yet another to add to my list of books to read.

    • Randall Short 11:36 am on March 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Ed! It’ll be an honor to be on an old friend’s reading list!

    • AMBurgess 4:36 am on May 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m going to have to order this book, Randall. It looks great.

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