The popular culture of the first century was, technically, a rhetorical culture. In a rhetorical culture, literacy is limited, and reading is vocal. Even the solitary reader reads aloud (Acts 8:30). The normal mode of writing is by dictation, and that which is written down is intended to be read aloud to a group rather than silently by the individual. Such a culture is familiar with writing, but is, in essence, oral. The predominantly oral nature of a rhetorical culture requires speakers to arrange their material in ways that can be followed easily by a listener. Clues to the organization of thought are, of necessity, based on sound rather than on sight.
The pre-first century Jewish culture was no different. The Old Testament was written to be heard as well as seen. Oral patterning, therefore, can be seen throughout the Hebrew Bible and especially in poetry. This incontrovertible fact impacts the interpretation of Psalm 60:4 (Hebrew Bible 60:6, subsequent verse references follow the English Bible). Two interpretations are seen in the following representative translations:
“You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow” (English Standard Version, ESV).
Three translation variations appear in this verse. The first relates to bow and truth. The Hebrew word in question occurs only here in the Old Testament. Two words develop from three consonants (fvq): “bow” considered to be an Aramaic form of the often-used word for “bow” (fv#q) = tv#q#), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 905), and “truth” (f=v=q) occurring only at Proverbs 22:21 instead of the very frequent Hebrew word for “truth” (tm#a$). This second word is considered rather harsh sounding so that a helping vowel frequently occurs between the last two consonants in these kinds of verbs (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 88 and 93-94). With this helping vowel, the rare word “truth” parallels the rare word “bow” both in form and sound (fv#q)).
“You have given a banner to those who fear You, That it may be displayed because of the truth” (New American Standard Bible, NASB).