The sedra of Behar, essentially consisting of one chapter, contains the laws of Shemita – the sabbatical year – and the Jubilee.
I began to think about the importance of the Jubilee year, and the way that the concept has crept into modern culture. The true Jubilee – that is, a fiftieth anniversary – is known nowadays as a Golden Jubilee; but, as you will be well aware, over the past couple of decades we have also celebrated in this country a Diamond Jubilee and a Platinum Jubilee for the late Queen’s reign. The word itself (yovel) first appears in verse 10 of chapter 25 of Vayikra, and actually refers to the blast on a shofar by which the Jubilee year was announced. It is one of those Hebrew words that has slipped into English – like the words Hallelujah and Amen – without the average Brit having any idea of its origin.
And that in turn got me thinking about last week’s Coronation service and how much it was influenced by Jewish thought and practice as embodied in the Tanach. And I also wondered about any overlap with our regular or occasional prayers. So here are a few thoughts on the topic.
It is well known that biblical accounts of the coronation of Solomon were a significant influence on the form of the Coronation service. In particular, the anointing with holy oil is referenced to the ceremony briefly described in the first chapter of the book of Kings; and the famous Handel anthem Zadok the Priest is loosely derived from verses 39-40 of that chapter. The words sung are:
Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king; and all the people rejoiced and said: God save the king. Long live the king. May the king live forever. Hallelujah. Amen
In fact, the last sentence echoes what Bathsheba said to David on his deathbed a few verses earlier when he vowed that her son, Solomon, rather than Adoniyahu, would succeed him as king:
Let my lord king David live for ever.
Another reference to Kings, this time the second chapter, comes after the enthronement and homage in the Coronation service with an anthem derived from verses 1-3:
Be strong and show thy worth: keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways.
It also seems to me that the changes in vestments during the service must owe something to the procedures followed by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. These were initially described in the sedra of Acharei Mot and later elaborated in Temple times (as set out in the Avodah service in the Yom Kippur Musaf), particularly the switch from a white garment (known in the Coronation service as the Colobium Sindonis) during the anointing to a magnificent gold robe, the Supertunica. The High Priest had several other changes of clothes, but the removal (and eternal concealment) of the white robe to be replaced by a gold robe was at the climax of the Yom Kippur ceremonies.
Apart from the Book of Kings, most of the other references to the Tanach come from the Book of Psalms, some of which appear in our liturgy. In fact, the entire ceremony began with extracts from Psalm 122 being sung:
I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the House of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity in itself.
Vivat Regina Camilla! Vivat!
Vivat Rex Carolus! Vivat!
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces.
As an aside, I do wonder whether the average citizen realises that this is the same Jerusalem that is the capital of Israel today.
We recite that psalm as part of the Shabbat mincha service between Succot and Pesach. And you may not realise that our Ark curtain displays the Hebrew words “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee.”
Another psalm familiar from our liturgy is psalm 20, known as ‘Lamnatseach’, which is read in most daily weekday Shacharit services. Just one verse was included in the Byzantine chant sung in Greek in the service, namely the last one, but with a not-so-subtle change in the translation. The Hebrew text is translated as:
O Lord, save. May the king answer us on the day we call.
This becomes, in the Coronation service:
O Lord, save the king and answer us when we call upon you.
The major part of the Byzantine chant is based on psalm 72, described as a psalm for Solomon, which does not feature in our regular liturgy.
Earlier in the service, two anthems composed by the Jewish composer Debbie Wiseman were based on psalm 47. This is very familiar to us: it is the psalm repeated seven times before the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.
Following the crowning of the Queen, a long piece composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber was based on the words of psalm 98, which is the fourth psalm recited in the Kabbalat Shabbat service before Lecha Dodi is sung.
Then towards the end of the service, a well-known hymn was sung:
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
This is based on psalm 103. The first line is a translation of Borechi nafshi et Hashem. But this is not the familiar psalm read on Rosh Chodesh, which is psalm 104, and is not in our regular liturgy. It is, however, one of the psalms recommended for recital on recovery from an illness. And it includes the lines (not included in the hymn):
As for man, his days are like grass; like a flower of the field he flourishes. For a wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
These words are sadly too familiar as part of the funeral service.
The final psalm referenced in the Coronation service is psalm 21, two verses of which were set to music for the coronation of George III in 1761. It does not figure in our liturgy:
The king shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord. Exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation. Thou shall prevent him with the blessings of goodness, and shall set a crown of pure gold upon his head.
So much for the psalms. There were two other borrowings from Jewish scriptures. The first is known as the Sanctus and consists of the words (sung):
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.
The first sentence is of course part of our Kedushah, and comes from Isaiah, chapter 6, verse 3. It was repeated later in the service by the Archbishop in the course of a long prayer, with the word Sabaoth substituted for ‘hosts’ – which is, of course, a direct rendition of the Hebrew.
Finally, the service included the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Cohanim) taken from the sedra of Naso which we read every day.
So, to conclude, the Coronation service included material from all three constituents of the Tanach: from the Torah (Naso and Acharei Mot), the Nevi’im (Kings and Isaiah) and the Ketuvim (Psalms).