Revelations, Books of Psalms and other scriptures

Last week we noticed some embarrassing corrections related to how newspapers described the Epistle to the Ephesians. In the comments, Godbeat veteran Ann Rodgers wrote:

My paper today carried a Washington Post story about the memorial service for explosion victims in West, Texas, that said President Obama alluded to the “Books of Psalms.”

Could that be true? The Books of Psalms? Is Biblical illiteracy this bad? Literary knowledge at an all time low? Let’s check out the passage:

It was the second time in as many weeks that Obama had to console a grieving community after a tragedy, following a trip to Boston last week. Before he spoke, videorecorded eulogies quoted the tearful grandparents, parents, wives, relatives and friends of the fallen. At Baylor, the wails of crying babies and young children echoed through the Ferrell Center.

“I cannot match the power of the voices you just heard on that video,” Obama said. Alluding to the Books of Psalms, he said: “You have been tested, West. You have been tried. You have gone through fire. But you are and will always be surrounded by the abundance of love.”

Yikes. Or is it that bad? As commenter Brett responded:

Ann — What’s in our Bibles as the Psalms has been considered to be made up of five “books” or sections, each ending with a doxology or a benediction. The sections are Pss. 1-41; Pss. 42-72; Pss. 73-89; Pss. 90-106 and Pss. 107-150. Some Bibles will have headings like “Book 1″ or “Book 4″ to mark the groupings.

That being said, the division is not common knowledge and although it’s possible President Obama meant his construction in that way, I’d imagine it’s just one of those slips of the tongue that happen sometimes.

I didn’t watch President Obama’s comments, but I didn’t take it that it was his reference to the “Books” of Psalms but, rather, the Washington Post‘s. The commenter later noted:

Whoops, just reread Ann’s comment and realized she may have been talking about what the WaPo writer said and not the President. If it was the writer, then I’m agreeing with her that it’s the kind of omission from ignorance that also brings us “the Book of Revelations.”

Nothing makes me want to scream quite like people making the Revelation of St. John into “Revelations.” Anyway, for future reference, here’s the passage from which President Obama was riffing:

Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.

The more you know, as they say.

Psalms image via Shutterstock.


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