The book of psalms

Introduction

A book is assessed by its introduction and the conclusion which depicts the intentions of the compiler while determining the form and the subject matter. This seems to be not true of Biblical books and in particular to the book of Psalms. Most of the scholars agree upon that the Psalter is "clearly neither the work of a single author or the result of one single act of compilation."[1] Then the primary question remains as to what would be the purpose of Psalms? Why was the book of Psalms placed amidst of biblical books? I would not be venturing into such details, yet, such questions and its meanings are relevant in understanding the intensions of the Psalter while analysing Psalms 1 and 2.

In such a process one is not devoid of ambiguities, yet, open to the possibilities of knowing How Psalms 1 and 2 would set a stage in introducing the Psalter and its intension as a whole. While analysing Psalms 1 and 2 from a form-critical perspective I would be presenting suggested evidences put forward by Scholars who view it as a single composition or as being distinct (either ways could be debatable). Keeping these evidences in mind is it possible to assess Psalms 1 and 2 holistically? Without denying the fact that anyone method or complex of methods can justify to its original meaning intended by the Psalmist.

However there have been various "debates and discussions,"[2] on the dual role of the Psalter in opening up the subject matter not only of the Psalms, in relation to the first book of Psalter (Ps 3-41) but also as a whole. Scholars like J. L. Mays and G.T. Sheppard have argued that Psalms 1 and 2 should be read together for their, "introduction clues the reader that the primary topic of the book will be the comparison of the righteousness and the wicked, their character and fate [....] associated with wisdom and by implication with tora."[3] Creach in his recent article on Hebrew Psalter has cited many "linguistic similarities,"[4] using Ps.1:3a citing Ezek 47.12 and draws a parallel with Ps. 2:6, in relation to other Psalms. Gerard Shepard further affirms that, "the Psalms constructively interpret each other by means of several parallel literary features where Ps.1 sets forth as a didactic generalization is modelled in historical terms by Ps.2."[5] Hence these evidences clearly depicts how the interpreters have given sufficient focus to formal features such as chiasmus, inclusion, word play and ambiguity in understanding the key role played by Psalms 1 and 2 as an introduction to the Psalms as a whole. Such stylistic analysis belongs to the study and understanding of any poetic text, focusing on the fundamental human needs. Many of the Psalms are perceived to be the result of exilic and post-exilic, particularly through Psalms 1 and 2 impacted by the concerns of wisdom and torah and the search for true piety rather being influenced by the cultic celebrations.

With the discovery of various texts which are decidedly different from the, "order and arrangement of the Psalms,"[6] to mention a few: Hebrew texts Kennicott mss, Qumran, Massoretic texts, Greek manuscript Codex Bezae and so on. Such differences have led the scholars to affirm that the Psalms 1 and 2 should be read as one unit as opposed to few Scholars who hold it as distinctive. Scholars such as Botha, Brownlee, Bardtke, Auffret and Miller, Robert Cole and others have suggested that there exist a close relationship between Psalms 1 and 2.

Evidences could be cited from the rabbinic tradition based on "Babylonian Talmund Tractate Berakoth 9b-10a"[7], where the first verse of Ps 1 and the last verse of Ps 2 were "considered to be a literary unit."[8] Evidences could also be sighted from early Christian sources in Acts 13:33 coming from Ps 2:7, according to Craige, were "intend[ed] to provide a double perspective in introducing Ps1 as wisdom and Ps 2 as prophetic."[9] In reference to Deut17: 14 - 20, Brownlee, suggests that "the two Psalms are joined together to form a coronation liturgy."[10] The basic question remains as to why do the editorials put these two Psalms together, is beyond this paper.

There is also equal evidence could be sighted from scholars such as Willis, Marc Girard, Lipinski and Millard who view Psalms 1 and 2 as distinct based on socio-religious context, dating, style, vocabulary, imagery and the structure of the Psalms. Willis in his paper on Psalm 1 - Entity, attempts to demonstrate How Psalms 1 and 2 are inconclusive against the "common view"[11] held by the scholars based on unity. He further argues that if such is the case then same arguments could follow for Psalms 2 and 3 to the rest of the Psalms. Millard in his paper on "Die Komposition des Psalters (1994),"[12] following in the footsteps of Wilson has presented his case to treat the individual Psalms in their entity. He brings a strong contrast between Psalms 1 and 2 basing on eschatological judgement. I wouldn't be going into various minute details of distinguishing how Psalms 1 and 2 are one and yet different, which is beyond the scope of this paper.

However, in general both Psalms 1 and 2 has no title or superscription, and are chiasmus in nature. Psalm 1 is attributed as wisdom psalm probably because of its style which is more didactic than Psalmodic. Most of the scholars agree that the meter is quite irrelevant, for it is more like a prose than a poem. This Psalm places emphasis on the written law, teaching about reward and punishment. Psalm 2 is being attributed as royal psalm probably its style is close to the "cultic setting either the enthronement of the king or yearly celebration of his accession."[13] This Psalm conveys the idea of adoption. Some scholars consider Ps 2 as Ps 1 for it's a later edition and Ps 1 is counted as preamble, in reading acts 13:33 mentioned above.

Hence while evaluating the Psalms 1 and 2 from a Form critical perspective one should keep in mind the two sides of the arguments set forth as mentioned earlier. First I would be citing various components sighted by the scholars to treat Psalms 1 and 2 as a single unit. In recent times the "hermeneutical spectacles,"[14] cited by Wilson, a tone that sets the interpretative framework of the Psalter. There seems to be a stage of reconnection set between torah psalm and kingship psalm. The Psalter begins its discussion of the two- ways, a way of the righteous as significantly opposed to the ways of the wicked. There has been a key reference to Deut 6 in v 1 expressing how the faithful have to live their life in obedience to Yahweh. Ps 1 seems to be quite independent, implies chiastic structure referring to righteous and wicked in vv 1-2 pointing towards Ps 2. Similar Chiastic structure could be found in v.6 referring to the word way. The Deuteronomic overtones continued in v.3 describe the effects of being faithful, like trees planted by streams of water could also be sighted in Jer. 17:7-8, which is quite similar to Ps 2:6,12. In my opinion this citation from Jer. borrowing Deut language and expression is important for it conveys the consequences of rejecting the Torah and the restoration connected with it. Example the Heb Salak is used as an accusative verb, a kind of pun referring either to a fruit or to the fruits that can be bourne in obeying the Torah or by rejecting in reference to wicked vs. righteous in v.1. In v 3 the word Chaff seems to indicate the importance of total commitment there is no half-way between righteous and wicked. There seems to be a shift in v5 from an apocalyptic eschatology to eternal (spiritual) judgement quite evident in Ps1 is being explicitly presented in Ps 2 through vv 7-9. Thus one could cite various similar rhetorical devices in both Psalms 1 and 2 shedding light on the implicit and explicit verbal parallels between the conflicts and the restoration complementing each other. The dual introduction creates a certain amount of ambiguities in the mind of the reader, yet the clues indicated should not exhaust the possibilities in congruent with editorial shaping.

It is interesting to note though there are alleged similarities between Psalms 1 and 2 on closer examinations betrays this fact. In Ps 1 the theme is deliverance of the individual is led by Yahweh but in Ps 2 the deliverance of the nations is led in submission to Yahweh. Scholars have suggested that there might be a thematic correspondence between righteousness and wicked in Ps 1 and the dramatic representation is of the rebellious king and nations in Ps 2, as well as in v 12. Other than that there is no clear evidence could be sighted except the word Yahweh which appears in Ps.1. In general Ps 2 seems to be quite a problematic in terms of dating and the subject or the speaker involved in. The Psalm begins by describing the nations rebelling against Yahweh and his anointed one v 1-3 and sums up in submitting to Yahweh in v 10-12. Ps 2 draws a chiasmus between nations conspire and peoples plot implying political chaos. There seems to be a synonymous parallel between Yahweh and his anointed one in v.2, followed by a series of rhetorical questions makes it hard to guess the subject intended to by the Psalmist. Dahood seems to suggest number of troops in v2 might mean as to "count,"[15] as in Gen 14:14 is only his opinion. Another problem is its universality, pointing towards anointed might imply a messianic tone which is not clear. The Psalm becomes more complicated as it moves further in reference to Lord in v4. There is also an anthropomorphic explanation of God who shares with human feelings. In v7 today I have begotten you either refers to the Day of Atonement, probably a day of coronation, an annual festival, again kingship is an issue to be dealt with. The Psalm becomes more problematic as it reaches v.11 fear and trembling and kiss his feet might be a textual corruption. Scholars have suggested methods to correct this textual error. In my opinion the one which seems convincing is probably the one suggested by Burtley to make a mechanical shift in order to depict the meaning intended by the Psalmist.

Hence one could view Psalms from different perspectives, adhering to reality, as expressed by the Psalmist through various themes running in Psalms 1 and 2. In my opinion I feel that each Scholar would not be devoid of ambiguities, trying to see psalms from ones glasses. Probably Psalmist might have had his own ambiguities while expressing these Psalms, which have gone through a series of transformation over the centuries, adhering to various manuscripts. One such example could be cited in Ps. 2: 11, referring to serve the Lord with fear and trembling seems to be paradoxical, not knowing who the subject referred here. Is the Psalmist referring to Yahweh or to the earthly ruler?

In my opinion I feel that the scholars have to go beyond the form-critical approach while analysing Psalms for a holistic perspective can shed more light in understanding the Psalms due to its complexity. Though most of the scholars consider the Psalms as a Book regardless of authorship, pre-historic collection either post exilic of pre-exilic dealing with different fragments, the Psalms tend to overlap with each other (no matter on which categories they fall into). Hence we need both perspectives that hold not only the literary aspect but also taking into account the cultic practices, temple worships that constitutes Psalms. It is clear the form-critical analysis does not speak of emotions involved in Psalms. Even when one is working with holistic method is not devoid of ambiguities.

In general the Psalter has conveyed his message by adhering to the "instructions set by Yahweh and his faithfulness by emphasising his kingship"[16]. Thus the Psalter has tried his best in expounding a uniform message by placing Psalms 1 and 2 as being fully integrated with the book is quite evident and for various reasons viewing them as distinct and separate makes it more intriguing. It is sad to note that the scholars have given too much importance to "form-critical exegesis but have ignored the stylistic aspects as features of the text's expression."[17] Form - critical method has a future if the past is buried by taking into account various new trends such as rhetorical criticism, reader - text response, aesthetics, and various stylistic analyses which would help in understanding the interrelated relationship between language and text based on socio-cultural aspects.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • A. Anderson., "The Book of Psalms: 1-72", The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald E. Clements, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).
  • Cole Robert., An Integrated reading of Psalms 1 and 2, [JSOT 98(2002) p. 75-88] ISSN 0309-0892.
  • Craigie C . Peter, Word Biblical Commentary Vol 19 Psalms 1-50, Word Books Publisher, Texan, 1983.
  • G.H. Wilson., The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBLDS 76; Chico, CA:Scholars Press, 1985).
  • Gerald T. Sheppard, Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct: A Study in the Sapientializing of the Old Testament (BZAW 151; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980).
  • J. Clinton McCann, The shape and Shaping of the Psalter, journal for the study of the Old Testament Sup. Series 159, Sheffield Press Academic Press, 1993.
  • John T.Willis, Psalm 1- Entity, ZAW, 91:3 (1979), (p. 381- 401).
  • Matthias Millard, Die Komposition des Psalters. Ein formgeschichtlicher Ansatz (Forschungen Alten Testament 9; Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1994): David M. Howard, Jr., Ph.D, Recent Trends in Psalms Study, Barker House (1999).
  1. A. A. Anderson., "The Book of Psalms: 1-72", The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald E. Clements, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 24.
  2. J. Clinton McCann, The shape and Shaping of the Psalter, journal for the study of the Old Testament Sup. Series 159, Sheffield Press Academic Press, 1993, p. 84.
  3. Ibid., p. 16
  4. Cole Robert., An Integrated reading of Psalms 1 and 2, [JSOT 98(2002) p. 75-88] ISSN 0309-0892.
  5. Ibid., p. 77.
  6. Ibid., 3, p. 15
  7. John T.Willis, Psalm 1- Entity, ZAW, 91:3 (1979), ( p. 381- 401), p. 386.
  8. Craigie C . Peter, Word Biblical Commentary Vol 19 Psalms 1-50, Word Books Publisher, Texan, 1983, p. 59.
  9. Ibid., p. 60.
  10. Ibid., p. 60.
  11. Ibid., 7 p. 393
  12. Matthias Millard, Die Komposition des Psalters. Ein formgeschichtlicher Ansatz (Forschungen Alten Testament 9; Tbingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1994): David M. Howard, Jr., Ph.D, Recent Trends in Psalms Study, Barker House (1999), p.8
  13. Ibid., 1 p.63.
  14. G.H. Wilson., The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBLDS 76; Chico, CA:Scholars Press, 1985), pp. 204 - 207
  15. Ibid., 13 p. 65
  16. Gerald T. Sheppard, Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct: A Study in the Sapientializing of the Old Testament (BZAW 151; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980), 136-44
  17. Ibid., 10 p. 17

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