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Newfound Book of Psalms Doesn't Predict Doom, Experts Say

Blake de Pastino
National Geographic News
July 27, 2006
 
It's not the end of the world, experts announced today. The opening passage of a thousand-year-old Christian prayer book discovered in Ireland does not say that doomsday is near.

When the medieval text—a Book of Psalms dated to about A.D.1000—was unearthed by a construction worker in a bog last week, archaeologists described the find as a miracle.

(Read "Medieval Christian Book Discovered in Ireland Bog" [July 26, 2006].)

But the discovery has since met with some nervous speculation about its possible religious significance.

Doomsayers have focused on the passage that the 20-page text, written in Latin, was opened to when it was first uncovered: Psalm 83. (See photo at left.)

In the King James Bible, the psalm is a lament to God describing the attempts of nations to wipe out the name of Israel.

"Thine enemies … have said, Come, and let us cut [thy people] off from being a nation," the psalm reads, "that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.'"

Given the current conflict in Lebanon between Israeli troops and Islamic Hezbollah guerrillas, this detail struck some observers as particularly ominous.

(See "Photo Gallery: Hezbollah, Igniting Conflict" [July 14, 2006].)

"Mention of Psalm 83 has led to misconceptions about the revealed wording and may be a source of concern for people who believe Psalm 83 deals with 'the wiping out of Israel,'" officials at the National Museum of Ireland, where the manuscript is being kept, said in a statement today.

The true meaning of what the text reveals, they say, has been quite literally lost in translation.

"[We] would like to highlight that the text visible on the manuscript does NOT refer to wiping out Israel but to the 'vale of tears,'" the officials said.

The newfound prayer book, they explain, is an ancient Latin translation from the Greek known as the Vulgate. But the King James Bible, which was translated from Hebrew to English more than a thousand years later, assigns different numbers to the psalms.

So the Psalm 83 found in the Irish book, they say, appears in King James as Psalm 84, which is a song of praise and longing for godliness.

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee," the passage reads, "… who passing through the valley of Baca [the vale of tears] make[s] it a well."

The museum officials say they expect the difference speaks for itself.

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

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