No, its not that I have eaten too much for dinner or had too much of the blogosphere. But rather, returning to Ps. 51 after a few weeks break, I find myself trying to define the verb “to full.”

In Ps. 51:4 and 9,

    Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

    Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. JPS

the verb for “wash” is כּבס but it applies only to washing clothes, not to the body. In fact, I was rather surprised (I don’t know why) to find that the Gesenius Lexicon has,

    pr. to tread or trample with the feet, to wash garments by treading on them when underwater

and in Holladay,

    To full, ie. clean cloth by treading, kneading or beating

I found very little for “to full” in the Concise Oxford dictionary,

    to cleanse and thicken cloth

and in an online form of Webster’s offers,

    *Full Foil. … [F. fouler] to tread or trample under one’s feet, to press, oppress. 1. To tread under foot; to trample.

This is how you get felt, of course. But now we call the action of making felt “felting.” I don’t know how this meaning could be translated but it certainly does not mean that God daintily wipes away the stains. It does not evoke an image of gently pouring water over our bodies in a peaceful cleansing ritual.

It is a harsh metaphor for drubbing the dirt out of something with one’s fists and washboard or feet and pebbles. The Greek for this, πλύνω, has the English meaning “to launder.” (This word is not used in the Greek New Testament for “washing in the water of the word.” Eph. 5. )

It is camping time again and this recalls times at the beach with a bacon greasy frypan, swirling water and grit round and round until its clean – it does a surprisingly effective job without detergent. Who knew? Keep a bucket of gritty sand by the kitchen sink and kiss good-bye to detergent forever!

Most translations are content with “wash.” However, The Message has,

    scrub away my guilt,
    soak out my sins in your laundry.
    I know how bad I’ve been;
    my sins are staring me down.

Does anyone know of any other translation that has a distinctive translation of כּבס in this psalm? I thought I remembered a post about this last year but I can’t find it.

*Full. Dictionary.com. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Full (accessed: May 08, 2008).

PS We have a new member of our elite ‘those who are interested in Bible translation’ club. Jane has posted her insights on Isaiah 32.16-18.

Iyov mentions that he intends to post more on the Geneva Bible and he even hands out a copy of the text before class.

8 thoughts on “Full

  1. Nathan says:

    Fascinating; thanks for pointing this out. I checked Calvin Seerveld’s rendering in Voicing God’s Psalms and it seems apt:

    Scrub me utterly clean o my guilty wickedness!
    Make me pure from my wasteful sin!

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    To tread under foot; to trample.

    This is how you get felt, of course.

    Sadly I don’t very often get felt. But on the rare occasions that women do feel me they usually manage to be bit more gentle than that! 😉

    The Message has,

    scrub away my guilt,

    So for once The Message gets it right, with a far more accurate translation than the others.

  3. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    @Nathan: Thanks for the link to the Seerveld volume. I have his utterly fascinating treatment of the Song of Songs and will look forward to eventually getting his perspective on the Psalms as well.

  4. Jane says:

    Thanks for inclusion into the club but you guys are way, way beyond my league. Let’s say I’m an interested amateur and would love to have time to get more involved in what you are doing but work at the office tends to take over my life!

  5. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    However, Jane, you do work in more than one language at a time so you have some good insights. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Tim says:

    I wonder about the trampling, in the places we’ve been it has usually been more beating the clothes on a rock at the stream or well. Though these have mainly been much wetter places 😉 I realise that I do not know how laundry was done in ancient Israel… time for more research!

  7. Henry says:

    Please see the URL http://tinyurl.com/5rcg2a

    It has a brief history of fullers earth, which is still used in cleaning products today. The material is fullers earth, the workman is a fuller, and the process is fulling.
    When we find that anciently, fullers earth was used to remove grease, dirt, odors and fecal matter, we can understand just how filthy David felt, and see that a good fulling was just what he needed.

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