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Psalms 49:11-13


49:11 Their grave becomes their permanent residence,

their eternal dwelling place. 1 

They name their lands after themselves, 2 

49:12 but, despite their wealth, people do not last, 3 

they are like animals 4  that perish. 5 

49:13 This is the destiny of fools, 6 

and of those who approve of their philosophy. 7  (Selah)

1 tc Heb “their inward part [is] their houses [are] permanent, their dwelling places for a generation and a generation.” If one follows the MT, then קֶרֶב (qerev, “inward part”) must refer to the seat of these people’s thoughts (for other examples of this use of the term, see BDB 899 s.v., though BDB prefers an emendation in this passage). In this case all three lines of v. 11 expose these people’s arrogant assumption that they will last forever, which then stands in sharp contrast to reality as summarized in v. 12. In this case one might translate the first two lines, “they think that their houses are permanent and that their dwelling places will last forever” (cf. NASB). Following the lead of several ancient versions, the present translation assumes an emendation of קִרְבָּם (qirbam, “their inward part”) to קְבָרִים (qÿvarim, “graves”). This assumes that the letters bet (ב) and resh (ר) were accidentally transposed in the MT. In this case the first two lines support the point made in v. 10, while the third line of v. 11 stands in contrast to v. 12. The phrase בֵּית עוֹלָם (betolam, “permanent house”) is used of a tomb in Eccl 12:5 (as well as in Phoenician tomb inscriptions, see DNWSI 1:160 for a list of texts) and מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan, “dwelling place”) refers to a tomb in Isa 22:16. Cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV.

2 sn Naming their lands after themselves is a claim of possession.

3 tn Heb “but mankind in honor does not remain.” The construction vav (ו) + noun at the beginning of the verse can be taken as contrastive in relation to what precedes. The Hebrew term יְקָר (yÿqar, “honor”) probably refers here to the wealth mentioned in the preceding context. The imperfect verbal form draws attention to what is characteristically true. Some scholars emend יָלִין (yalin, “remains”) to יָבִין (yavin, “understands”) but this is an unnecessary accommodation to the wording of v. 20.

4 tn Or “cattle.”

5 tn The verb is derived from דָּמָה (damah, “cease; destroy”; BDB 198 s.v.). Another option is to derive the verb from דָּמָה (“be silent”; see HALOT 225 s.v. II דמה, which sees two homonymic roots [דָּמָה, “be silent,” and דָּמָה, “destroy”] rather than a single root) and translate, “they are like dumb beasts.” This makes particularly good sense in v. 20, where the preceding line focuses on mankind’s lack of understanding.

6 tn Heb “this [is] their way, [there is] folly [belonging] to them.” The Hebrew term translated “this” could refer (1) back to the preceding verse[s] or (2) ahead to the subsequent statements. The translation assumes the latter, since v. 12 appears to be a refrain that concludes the psalm’s first major section and marks a structural boundary. (A similar refrain [see v. 20] concludes the second half of the psalm.) The noun דֶּרֶךְ (derekh, “way”) often refers to one’s lifestyle, but, if it relates to what follows, then here it likely refers metonymically to one’s destiny (the natural outcome of one’s lifestyle [cf. NEB, NIV, NRSV “fate”]). (See the discussion in K. Koch, TDOT 3:285.) If one prefers the more common nuance (“lifestyle”), then the term would look back to the self-confident attitude described in the earlier verses.

7 tn Heb “and after them, in their mouth they take delight.” The meaning of the MT is not entirely clear. “After them” is understood here as substantival, “those who come after them” or “those who follow them.” “Their mouth” is taken as a metonymy for the arrogant attitude verbalized by the rich. In the expression “take delight in,” the preposition -ב (bet) introduces the object/cause of one’s delight (see Pss 147:10; 149:4). So the idea here is that those who come after/follow the rich find the philosophy of life they verbalize and promote to be attractive and desirable.

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