Museum plays diplomatic role on psalm's 'warning to Israel'

Fri, Jul 28, 2006, 01:00

In a week in which it secured one of its most remarkable artefacts, the National Museum yesterday found itself intervening in an unlikely international quarrel over global geopolitics and Biblical prophecy, writes Ruadhán Mac Cormaic.

As news of the discovery of a 1,000-year-old psalter in a bog in the midlands made its way briskly around the world this week, keen eyes fell on an ostensibly peripheral detail: while most pages had yet to be carefully studied, the museum had said, there was one that was legible. Psalm 83.

And with that, the news websites and blogs began to hum, each one honing in on Psalm 83 and its supposed reference to "the wiping of Israel from the map".

On Wednesday, under the title An Amazingly Timely Discovery, a writer with one Israeli news magazine devoted an entire column to the find, which he regarded as "nothing short of a phenomenon".

"I don't want to take it any further than I should, but time may show that the discovery of the Irish psalm book was a warning," he wrote.

However yesterday, before it all got out of hand, the director of the National Museum, Dr Patrick Wallace, issued a statement saying the text visible on the manuscript found in the bog does not refer to the wiping out of Israel but to the "vale of tears".

"This is part of Verse 7 of Psalm 83 in the old Latin translation of the Bible [the Vulgate] which....would have been the version used in the medieval period.

"In the much later King James version the number of the psalms is different, based on the Hebrew text and the 'vale of tears' occurs in Psalm 84.

"The text about wiping out Israel occurs in the Vulgate as Psalm 82" which equals Psalm 83 (King James version), he said.

"It is hoped that this clarification will serve comfort to anyone worried by earlier reports of the content of the text," Dr Wallace added.