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The Psalms in Israel’s Worship

July 26, 2008

Sigmund Mowinckel’s The Psalms in Israel’s Worship is a brilliant book and if you have not yet read it then I would urge you remedy that situation ASAP!

    Foreword: The Book of Psalms and Its Interpreters,
    by James L. Crenshaw

    Select Bibliography

    Translator’s Preface

    Author’s Preface to the English Edition


  1. The Psalms and the Cult
    1. The problem
    2. Testimonies about the cultic use of the psalms
    3. Allusions to the temple cult in the psalms — song, music and dance
    4. The cultic origin of psalmody as such, and the problem of the extant psalms
    5. What is ‘cult’?
  2. The Method of the Cultic Interpretation
    1. The form critical (form historical) view-point
    2. The cult functional view-point
    3. The sources for our knowledge of Israelite cult life
    4. Preliminary classification of the psalms
    5. Psalms outside the Psalter
    6. Ancient oriental psalm poetry
  3. ‘I’ and ‘We’ in the Psalms — ‘Royal Psalms’
    1. ‘I’ and ‘we’. ‘Corporate personality’
      The Israelite conception of community and individuality, 42 • The cultic community as an ‘I’, 43 • The community’s cultic representative, 43 • ‘I’ as an expression for the corporate personality, 44 • Smend’s theory of the ‘Collective I’ and its core of truth, 46 • The king as the community’s cultic incorporation and representative, 46
    2. What are ‘royal psalms’?
      No particular ‘psalm type’ but psalms in which the king takes a leading place, 46 • An actual Israelite/Judaean king, 47 • Not a future ‘Messiah’, 48 • The king ideal as a future-looking form for the empirical king, 49
    3. The ancient Israelite conception of the king
      Linked up with that of the Near East in general, 50 • Ancient Near Eastern king ideology, 50 • The Israelite development of the king ideology, 52 • ‘Yahweh’s anointed’, 53 • The king’s ‘divinity’, 53 • His ideal world dominion, 55 • His relationship to Yahweh and people, 55 • The king as representative of the community, 56 • Israelite modification of the king’s ‘divinity’, 57 • The king as Yahweh’s adopted son and intermediary, 58 • The king’s role in the cult, 58
    4. The place of the royal psalms in the cult
      In general, 61 • The ritual of anointing and Ps. 2, p. 62 • Ps. 110, p. 63 • Ps. 101, p. 65 • Ps. 72, p. 67 • Ps. 20, p. 69 • Ps. 21, p. 70 • Ps. 89, p. 70 • Ps. 18, p. 71 • Ps. 45, p. 73 • Ps. 28, p. 74 • Isa. 38.9ff., p. 74 • Summing up, 75
    5. Royal and national psalms
    6. National psalms in the ‘I’ form as royal psalms
      Imagery, 76 • The title ‘by David’, 77 • Summing up, 78
    7. ‘Democratization’ of religion
  4. The Hymn of Praise
    1. Form and content, composition
      Introit, summons to praise, 81 • The main section of the hymn, 83 • The two main types: the enumerative and the descriptive style, 85 • The themes, Yahweh’s ‘excellencies’, 86 • Mood, 88 • Petition in the hymn, 89 • Delivery, the hymn’s place in the cult, 89
    2. Varieties of the hymn
      ‘Zion hymns’, 90 • The hymn to God’s Law, 90 • The reflective contemplation, 91 • The ‘I-hymn’, 92 • The individual song of praise, 93 • The ‘I-form’ as the most ancient, 93
    3. The hymns and the annual festivals
      Paschal psalms, 94 • Harvest and epiphany psalms, 94 • New year psalms, 95
    4. Hymnic elements in other psalm types
      Hymnic motifs in psalms of petition and of lamentation, 95 • Older and unmixed style, 96 • Imitations of the hymnic style, 97
    5. The delineation of God in hymn and psalm
  5. Psalms at the Enthronement Festival of Yahweh
    1. The meaning of ‘enthronement psalms’
    2. The poetical situation (imagery): the enthronement of Yahweh
    3. The cultic situation: the interpretation of the enthronement psalms
      The contemporaneous character of the psalms: Yahweh has now become king, 109 • Historical interpretation, 110 • Eschatological interpretation, 110 • Mythico-cosmic realities experienced as contemporaneous, 111 • Cultic character of such experience, 112 • The poetic situation presupposes a corresponding cultic situation: an enthronement festival of Yahweh, 113
    4. Enthronement psalms: the age of the literary type and of the corresponding festival
    5. The enthronement festival
      Connexion with the festival of epiphany, harvest, tabernacles, new year, consecration of the temple, 118 • The enthronement festival of Yahweh a special aspect of the old new year festival, the feast of tabernacles, 121
    6. The pre-Israelite background and prototypes of the festival
      The Canaanite festival of the new year and renewal of life, and survivals thereof in the Yahweh cult, 130 • The general pattern of ancient oriental cultic new year festivals and its influence upon the Yahweh cult, 135
    7. The specifically Israelite character of the festival
      The elimination of the idea of the death and resurrection of the deity, 136 • History as Yahweh’s act of salvation, 139
    8. The festal myths
      Psalms of other types which belong to the enthronement festival or derive from its plexus of ideas and experiences, 140 • Yahweh’s ‘coming’, his epiphany, 141 • The myth of creation, the fight with the dragon or primaeval ocean, 143 • The ‘judgment’: what is to happen in the re-created earth, i.e., allotting the fate of the new year, 146 • Yahweh’s relationship to the other gods and their judgment, 148 • The myth of the fight of nations, 151 • The election and the exodus: the exodus myth, 154 • The renewal of the covenant, the covenant myth, 157 • The commandments, 157 • The promises of Yahweh, 159 • Yahweh’s admonition and rebuke, the problem of theodicy, 160 • Universalism and particularism, 161 • The gifts of the kingdom of Yahweh, 162 • The earthly king, 164 • The epic formulation of the festal myths, 165
    9. Some of the main acts and rites of the festival
      The processional road (via sacra), 170 • The great procession, Ps. 68, p. 172 • The cult drama of the re-finding of the ark, Ps. 132, p. 174 • Pss. 2 and 15, and the ‘laws of entry’, 177 • The procession up to the altar, Ps. 118, p. 180 • The ‘sham fight’, Yahweh’s fight and victory, Pss. 46 and 48, p. 181
    10. Form and content of the true enthronement psalms against the background of the experiences of the festival
    11. The emotions and mood of the festival
    12. The retrospective and prospective elements in the festival and its psalms
    13. The relationship of the festival to the Jewish hope of restoration and the eschatology
  6. National Psalms of Lamentation
    1. Days and rites of penitence
    2. Psalms for such days of penitence and prayer
    3. Form and content of the psalm of lamentation
      Invocation, 195 • Hymnic introduction, 196 • The lament; description of the need (danger) of the enemies, 196 • The enemies’ curse (‘āwen), 199 • The petition, 201•The execration of the enemies, 202 • Pleas for revenge, 203 • Motivation for hearing the plea, 204 • Motive of compassion, 204 • Motive of confidence, 206 • Motive of innocence and psalm of innocence, 206 • The ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’ in the psalms, 207 • Motive of penitence and psalms of penitence, 214 • The ideal of religious humility, 215 • The vow, 216 • Certainty of the hearing of petition, 217
    4. Protective psalms; ‘psalms of confidence’
    5. Psalms for the annual days of penitence and prayer; petitions for the nation’s return
    6. Psalms of general petition
    7. Intercessory psalms
  7. National Psalms of Lamentation in the I-form
    1. The king (‘I’) as the people’s representative in the properly national psalms of lamentation
    2. Royal psalms of lamentation and petitions on the occasion of public disaster or danger
    3. The lament over wicked tongues and false accusers
    4. Style, form, and content
      The various ‘moments’: invocation, petition, lament, motive of confidence of being heard, vow, assurance of the hearing of the petition, the anticipatory song of thanks, 230 • Examples, 230 • Differentiations in form and content between ‘we’ and ‘I’ psalms of lamentation, 235 • ‘Protective psalms’ and ‘psalms of confidence’, 237
    5. Need or danger envisaged as a dwelling in the realm of the dead, a concept common to psalms of both lamentation and thanksgiving
    6. Real suffering or cultic ‘mock sufering’?
    7. Analogies with Babylonian ‘I’ psalms


  1. Personal (Private) Psalms of Lamentation
    1. Are there such psalms?
  2. Psalms of sickness. The conception of sickness in Israel
    Yahweh’s wrath as punishment for sin, 2 • Demons of sickness, 2 • Evil curses and ‘witch-craft’ (‘āwen), 3 • Sin and uncleanness, 4
  3. Ritual remedies for sickness and uncleanness
  4. Ritual psalms of sickness; enemies and ‘āwen
  5. Possible other psalms of sickness
  6. Psalms of sickness for the king’s use
  7. Content, form, and style
  8. The psalmists’ conception of sin
  9. Sickness as an image of need and danger or as a secondary suffering
  10. Possible other occasions for personal psalms of lamentation
  11. I-psalms of lamentation (and psalms of thanksgiving), their relationship to the cult
    Personal feeling and experience no ground for calling them non-cultic, 18 • Valuation of sacrifice in relation to psalms of thanksgiving, 20 • The psalmists’ conception of the former compared with that of the prophets, 24

  • Public Thanksgiving Psalms
    1. The Victory Song
  • The festival of thanksgiving and the occasional psalm of thanksgiving
  • Public psalms of thanksgiving in the I-form
  • Royal psalms of thanksgiving
  • General psalms of thanksgiving of the community at the regular festivals
  • Personal (Private) Thanksgiving Psalms
    1. Festivals of thanksgiving and psalms of thanksgiving; the occasions
    2. Content and form, 32
      Introduction, 32 • Narration of the need, invocation of Yahweh and the hearing of the petition, 33 • Confession and witness, 35 • References to the thank offering, 39 • Hymnic motifs in the thanksgiving, 40 • The basic feeling, thankfulness and confidence, 41 • The inscribing of psalms of thanksgiving on memorial (votive) stelae, 41
    3. Communal thank-offering festivals
    4. The individually experienced and felt
  • Psalms of Blessing and Cursing
    1. The blessing and the cursing word in the cult
    2. The blessing word in the psalms
    3. The cursing word in the psalms
    4. Two-way blessing and cursing formulae
  • The Prophetic Word in the Psalms and the Prophetic Psalms
    1. The cult oracle and the temple prophets
      Priests, seers and prophets in earliest Israel, 53 • The connexion between the prophetic guilds and the temples, 55 • The oracle in the cult and in the psalms, 56
    2. Oracular promises in conjunction with psalms of lamentation
    3. Royal oracles
    4. Oracles at the annual festivals
    5. Why mere promises?
    6. The condition for the promises: obedience to Yahweh’s command
      Relationship to the prophet’s foretelling, both in their presuppositions and their influence, 65
    7. Religious and moral conditions and the ‘decalogical tradition’
      The enforcement of the covenant commandments and the ‘torah of entry’, 70 • Elements from the hope of the return and eschatology, 72
  • Mixed Style and Liturgical Compositions
    1. Varying ‘types’ in one and the same psalm an expression of the religious life in the cult
    2. Cultic liturgies
    3. Disintegration of style and mixture of styles
  • Psalm Singing and Psalm Singers
    1. The guilds of singers at the temples
    2. Temple singing
  • The Psalmists
    1. The temple — or private conventicles?
      The original source of cultic psalm poetry everywhere to be sought among the cultic personnel, 85 • What of the (greater part of the) extant psalms of Israel and Judah?, 85 • ‘The pious’, ‘the righteous’, ‘the needy’, in the psalms, 86 • Were there private pietistic groups in Judaism?, 86 • Private psalm singing, 88 • The psalms in the synagogue, 88
    2. The psalmists’ relationship to the temple in Jerusalem
    3. The psalmists belonged to the temple singers
      The temple singers not priests, 90 • The psalmists’ social standing, 91 • The relationship of singers and psalms to the temple prophets, 92 • The singers as tradents of the psalm tradition, 94
    4. The genuine traditions about the psalmists
      The titles, 95 • Asaph, 96 • Heman and Ethan, 96 • The sons of Korah, 97 • The historical kernel, 97
    5. ‘David’ in the psalm titles
      The original meaning of the note, 98 • The older interpretation on the basis of ‘learned’ interest, 99 • The situations adduced in the titles, 100
    6. ‘Moses’ and ‘Solomon’
  • The Learned Psalmography
    1. The wise and the wisdom poetry
    2. Some non-cultic poetry and song in Israel
    3. The petition as an expression of the life of piety and its dependence on the traditional forms of cultic poetry
    4. Psalm composition a pious, inspired task
    5. Non-cultic psalms in the Psalter
    6. Post-canonical psalm composition
    7. The Poems of Ben Sira
    8. The Psalms of Solomon
    9. Hodhayoth, the Qumran psalter
    10. Early Christian psalm composition
  • Traditionalism and Personality in the Psalms
    1. Attachment to tradition and poetic independence
    2. The poets and the narratory ‘I’
    3. The poet and the ‘I’ in certain later private thanksgiving psalms
  • The Antiquity of Psalmography and the Psalms
    1. The rhythmical cult word
    2. The witness of earlier literature to cultic psalm singing and composition
    3. National temples and psalm composition
    4. Psalms preserved from the time of the monarchy, or even of David
    5. Psalms from the days of Judaism
    6. Psalms from Maccabean times?
    7. A history of psalmography?
  • The Metre of the Psalms
    1. Sense rhythm and imposed rhythm
    2. Fundamental problems in Hebrew metrics
    3. The basic form
      The four-beat ‘colon’, 164 • Verse feet, 164 • ‘Cola’ or ‘half’ verses, 165 • ‘Bicola’ (‘periods’) or ‘whole verses’, 165
    4. Thought rhyme (parallelismus membrorum)
    5. Rhythmical and logical units
    6. Strophes
    7. Uniform or mixed metres?
    8. Changes of metre
  • Israelite and Oriental Psalmography
    1. A common oriental psalm style older than Israel
    2. Comparison with Israelite psalms. Hymns
    3. Psalms of lamentation and of petition
    4. Thanksgiving psalms
    5. Canaanite and Israelite psalmography
    6. Babylonian and Egyptian models
    7. The metrical forms
  • Earlier Collections. The Compilation of the Psalter
    1. Testimony to gradual collection
    2. The various smaller collections
      (a) The ‘first Davidic Psalter’, 193 • (b) The ‘Elohistic Psalter’, its older sections: (c) ‘Korah psalms’, (d) the ‘second Davidic Psalter’, (e) ‘Asaph psalms’, (f) Korahite psalms, 84-89, p. 194 • The uniting of the first Davidic Psalter with the Elohistic Psalter, 195 • (g) ‘Pilgrim songs’, the ‘great Hallel’, (h) the enthronement hymns, (i) the ‘Egyptian Hallel’, (j) the ‘Hallel’, 195 • (k) the Hallelujah psalms, 105-7, p. 196 • ‘concluding doxologies’, liturgical formulae, 196
    3. The completion of the Psalter
    4. The five-fold division is quite secondary and does not reflect the history of the compilation
    5. How many psalms in the Psalter?
    6. When was the Psalter compiled?
  • The Purpose of the Psalter
    1. The collection used as a temple hymnal
    2. The purpose of the separate earlier lesser collections: the Asaph psalms, the Korah psalms, the second Davidic Psalter, the Elohistic Psalter, the pilgrim songs, the enthronement psalms, Hallel; the first Davidic Psalter; the psalms in the fourth and fifth ‘books’
    3. In what circles was the Psalter compiled? The ‘learned’ as traditionalists and canonists
    4. The purpose of the collection
    5. Consequences of the collection and canonisation of the Psalter. An end to cultic psalmography. Collective interpretation of older individualistic psalms
  • Technical Terms in the Psalm Headings
    1. Expressions indicating type of psalm
    2. Musical indications
    3. Information as to the psalms’ liturgical purpose and use
    4. Expressions referring to the accompanying rite
    5. Expressions of doubtful significance
      Additional Notes I-XL

      List of Abbreviations


      Subject Index

      Index of Scripture Passages Treated

      Index of Authors

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    4 Comments leave one →
    1. July 30, 2008 1:55 pm

      That really is an excellent book. I also like Bruggemann and McCann

    2. August 4, 2008 11:13 pm

      Since you seem to have a deep appreciation for the Psalms, I thought you might be interested in a worship systematic based around them. I call it “Prescriptive Psalmody”.

      I am definitely adding this blog to my blogroll!

      Richest blessings in Christ!

    3. Ari permalink
      December 11, 2008 4:01 am

      Does anyone know where i can find a list of psalms and their liturgical functions? Thanks.

    4. December 11, 2008 6:43 pm

      Hi Ari, when you speak of liturgical functions are you meaning their original use or their use canonically, i.e. the original setting in life of Ps. 3 or how Ps. 3 was used by the later Jewish communities?

      You may wish to have a glance through “Psalms Research Since 1955: I. The Psalms and the Cult”.

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