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The answer to Books 1-3

March 4, 2009

The first three books of the Psalter have Royal Psalms at their seams (Pss. 2, 41, 72 & 89) indicating that these should be understood as a collection. Not that they stood as a collection independently from Books 4 and 5 but that they stand as a unity in and of themselves within the Psalter. Their focus is the Davidic covenant and the (apparent) failure of this covenant vocalised in Ps. 89:

Lord, where is your unfailing love?
You promised it to David with a faithful pledge.
Consider, Lord, how your servants are disgraced!
I carry in my heart the insults of so many people.
Your enemies have mocked me, O Lord;
they mock your anointed king wherever he goes.

This questioning is met by the assertion that Yahweh is king in Pss. 93, 95-99 and Book 4 is replete with assertions that Yahweh is the protector of Israel concluding with a Psalm on creation and two on the exodus, the two great events whereby Yahweh displays his sovereignty and love for Israel.

Book 5 then opens, following upon two exodus psalms, by saying:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west,
from north and south.

This answers the question that had been raised by the Babylonian captivity and Psalm 107 is characteristly Deutero-Isaianic.
Books 5 proceeds to unpack this by showing the hope of the Davidic king to be ‘renewed’ and so we find Pss. 110 and 132. The whole tenor of Book 5 seems to be eschatological so linking up with Deutero-Isaiah and Deutero-Zechariah culminating in Ps. 150 where the whole creation unites to praise Yahweh.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2009 3:52 pm

    I may have noted this chart before – if so please excuse my failure to remember.

    I like your summary above – I find the classification of psalms extremely difficult to chart. There does not seem to be an easy way to visualize the complexity.

  2. March 22, 2009 5:01 pm

    This is a fine summary here of Gerald Wilson’s seminal dissertation (published by SBLDS) The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. I am quite amenable to Wilson’s work, and think he inaugurated a sort of paradigm shift in Psalms scholarship in which it was demonstrated the final form of the Psalter did have some sort of cogent shape.

    Nancy deClaisse-Walford’s Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel picks up Wilson’s treatment and expands upon it in a cogent, readable introduction.

    I, however, would quibble with the statement offered in the post above that Book IV ends with two exodus psalms. A paper I presented at SBL 2008 in Boston (Book of Psalms section) entitled “The Ancestral Covenant in Psalms 105 and 106: Their Function as the Conclusion to Book Four of the Psalter,” argues that these Zwillingpsalmen (“twin psalms”) have been misread by scholarship, who has focused upon the exodus within them, as though it were the only event of ancient Israel’s history narrated. I argue, instead, that when set alongside Genesis–and indeed Genesis and the Psalter arguably achieved their ‘final forms,’ or at least developed in the same fertile theological soil of ancient Israel’s post-exilic context)–and the rest of the Pentateuch, it is the ancestral covenant in all its particulars (land, progeny, blessing, presence, protection) that forms the bedrock for the exodus material. The exodus is then a logical consequence/outgrowth of the ancestral promise (see the many mentions in Exod of YHWH “remembering” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Indeed, the ancestral covenant, I argue, forms an inclusio over the two psalms (by use of the Hebrew word brtw “his covenant” – Ps 105:8 and 106:45). The paper was well-received, and once time permits I plan to edit and submit it for publication.

    Just a little equivocation here . . . but an important point to think about, nonetheless.

  3. March 22, 2009 6:20 pm

    Thanks for your comments John. You certainly raise some important considerations.

    In terms of Pss. 105 & 106 I think their placement at the end of Book 4 is to bring to mind the work of Yahweh in the past as the ground of eschatological hope, (cf. David Mitchell) which is picked up in Book 5 hence Book 4 is all about the Babylonian captivity and awaiting a return to the land promised in Gen. 15 &c. and the ancestral promise you note is present. The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant is picked up in Pss. 110 and 132.

  4. March 22, 2009 6:37 pm


    Indeed, I echo your (and deClaisse-Walford’s, and Wilson’s) sense of the purpose of Pss 105 and 106 at the close of Book IV. I, however, just choose to emphasize the ancestral covenant as the most meaningful way of looking at YHWH’s past history of interaction with his people. It seems to me these two psalms, grounded in the ancestral promise (which, one must remember, is a promise initiated solely at God’s behest), lend themselves to a hope for the future, again grounded in YHWH’s own initiative, and containing all the elements of the promise: land, descendants, blessing (Gen 12:1-3), as well as the expanded elements of presence and protection (Gen 28:13-15).

    I hope the paper will be accepted for publication in the future. In the meantime, I am about to take comps/prelims, then going to start on the dissertation, and submit an article on Matthew I presented at SBL in Boston for publication. Life is busy.

    All the best!

  5. March 24, 2009 3:19 pm

    John – Thank you for the note on the envelope of covenant – it is joined by the command to remember in 105 and by God’s remembering in psalm 106. Also it is perhaps not stretching a point to recognize the inclusio of NXM (and of course Moses) between 90 and 106 (anticipated by 103).

  6. March 25, 2009 1:22 am

    What I have found interesting is the preponderance of people who want to read Ps 106:45 (and the psalm itself) as discussing the Mosaic/Sinai covenant (for instance, Konrad Schmid in his Exodus und Erzvater). In the paper I discuss above I delivered at SBL, I actually set out to clarify my position by tempering what I had said, noting the ambiguity inherent in the psalm’s leaving the specific covenant unnamed. I, however, in that practice became increasingly convinced that the covenant in 106 is no doubt the ancestral covenant. As a result, a good 5-7 minutes of my paper at SBL in Boston was given over to defending this idea (which I apparently did successfully), but it was fascinating to me that the first question I got was more or less, “what other covenant could it be in 106:45?” I was elated, and amused. But in no way can I see the Mosaic covenant as the operative covenant in Ps 106.

    Moses in the Psalter is another very interesting issue. Off the top of my head, on this see Robert Wallace’s The Narrative Effect of Book IV of the Hebrew Psalter (published in 2007 by Peter Lang). There is another reference I have in mind, but I have lost it at present.

  7. March 25, 2009 1:47 am

    John – I would no more associate covenant with one or the other – to me brit is just that God is involved as one of the parties – and that makes the whole trustworthy – so I must be reminded to remember but God remembers. As for Moses – his fame is as prophet and person – there was none like him. If David needed praying for (Psalm 89 being a solid lament) then Moses was a good man to call on for prayer!

    That is a top of the head comment to the top of yours. I am enjoying your blog and the stimulus to conversation you have begun – bravo. I nearly commented but wasn’t sure I could spell diachronic.

  8. March 25, 2009 2:13 am

    Please do not hesitate to comment! No spell-check required!

    I hope you will engage!


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