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Growth of the Psalms Tradition

May 1, 2009

As I have been re-reading Childs’ work I thought it pertinent to repost the following, taken from B. S. Childs’ Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments pages 193-194.

One of the major modifications of Gunkel’s form critical approach which has occurred during the last decades has been the recognition of the multilayered quality of the Psalms which is no longer content to speak of a limited number of pristine forms. Whereas Gunkel was fully aware of psalms of mixed forms, he tended to regard such phenomena in a negative light as part of a process of deterioration. Increasingly the modern approach has moved in the opposite direction in seeing the change, growth, and loosening of the traditional conventions in a positive theological light as the best key to the new kerygmatic function to which each psalm has been assigned.

He goes on

One of the most widespread features in the growth of the tradition was a new eschatological interpretation of older material. Particularly ancient complaint psalms have been intertwined with material of a very different sort which renders the psalm as a whole in a different way. For example, in Ps. 102 verses 2-12 and 24-25a (ET vv. 1-11, 23-24a) show all the stereotyped features of an individual complaint psalm. However, the remaining verses 13-23, 25b-29 (ET vv. 12-22; 24b-28) focus on the future rather than the past, on ‘the generation yet to come’. Similarly Ps. 22.2-22 (ET vv. 1-21), which is a complaint psalm, has been coupled to a psalm of thanksgiving and has the effect of subordinating the sorrow of the complaint to the sure deliverance of the thanksgiving. Certain scholars (e.g. J. Becker, Israel deutet) have preferred to speak of a post-exilic redaction to explain the new eschatological dimension. However, regardless of how one explains this process of reinterpretation, the result is increasingly to give the Psalter an eschatological flavour.

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