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Developing a ‘manifesto’ for Psalm Studies

November 11, 2008

Previously I have set out six questions that are necessary to be asked of the Psalms. To which I would add the following trajectories:

1. We ought match Psalms as far as possible to Pentateuchal traditions both in terms of their cultic useage (e.g. Ps. 29) and their historical bias, e.g. comparing Ps. 78 with JE and Dtr.).
2. We need to enagage in multi-level reader-response criticism, e.g. ‘original’ psalm, the psalm in an earlier collection, and in its final form.
3. What was the influence of the Deuteronomist on the canonical shape of the Psalter in light of its strong Royal bias.
4. We shouldn’t assume that Psalms are related outside of the Psalter complex purely upon literary analysis, e.g. just because Ps. 1 and Ps. 2 are united by an inclusio in the final form of the Psalter we should not assume that this preceeded the canonical shaping of the Psalter, i.e. that they were linked in their Sitz im Leben. So also, does Ps. 33 follow Ps. 32 because of the linguistic linkages between Ps. 32:12 and Ps. 33:1 or is this merely coincidental?
5. We need to recognise that because the canonical shape of the Psalter reflects the beliefs of post-exilic Israel, especially the individual(s) who edited it into its final form we need to assess the extent to which the canonical approach can tell us about the worship of pre-exilic Israel, i.e. the story of how ancient Israel worshipped is told by the individual psalms not the Psalter per see.

If that is not completely clear (and I will probably re-word them) let me use Psalm 22 as an example. The student of the psalms should first start by understanding the Sitz im Leben of the individual psalm, this will, in the case of Ps. 22, yield the result that it functioned in the royal humiliation rite in the Autumnal New Year festival. Now there is the real question of whether it was used as we find it in the Psalter in such a role or whether there has there been redaction. Was the redactor cognisant of the cultic use of the Psalm and so chose it or has it been chosen owing to the themes that are present in it? i.e. has it been divorced from its cultic setting and so given a new interpretation? We also need to consider its placement within the Davidic collection (Pss. 3-42), the Sitz im Literatur of Ps. 3-89 and the place of Ps. 22s within that earlier collection, and then how it functions in the Psalter as a whole.

As my thinking becomes more coherent I will revise this inarticulate rambling!

In the meantime I would heartily suggest that you find a copy of The Changing Face of Form Criticism for the Twenty-First Century edited by by Marvin A. Sweeney and Ehud Ben Zvi. I am trying to apply the issues they raise to the Psalter as well as the issues that this raises.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2008 7:04 am

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on Childs’ work on the Psalms. He is, after all, the grand-daddy of the canocial approach. He wrote on them in his Introduction, as well as two important articles, both downloadable (or by me-to-you sendable) from ATLA: “Psalm titles and midrashic exegesis” and “Ps 8 in the context of the canon” (or something like that).

  2. November 18, 2008 5:20 pm

    I did briefly look at Childs here. Could you email me those articles, they sound good.

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