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Approaching and Interpreting the Book of Psalms

Weeks 1-2, Psalms (OT426, etc.), Melbourne School of Theology, 02-2017

Andrew Brown

on 9 October 2017

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Transcript of Approaching and Interpreting the Book of Psalms

Approaching and Interpreting the Book of Psalms
interpret with nearby psalms,
in their
interpret with similar psalms,
based on their
= the more holistic, literary approach of the last forty years, including:
= the form-critical approach of the twentieth century
structure reflects historical contexts in which psalms were written and assembled
= accidental historical shape
structure deliberately reflects the story of Israel's journey or emphasizes a theme
= purposeful shape
a more orderly psalter?
a less orderly psalter?
in a
thematic unity?
narrative unity?
How quickly to the cross?
The differences between the psalters of MT, LXX, Syriac and Qumran psalms scrolls seems to indicate that the contents of the book were still being finalized as late as Jesus' time.
Psalms Exegesis (OT426/626), 02-2017
in a
A Choice of Settings
Straight Facts about the Book of Psalms
Psalms is the longest book of the Bible (Y/N)
If you opened a plain Bible text in the exact middle, you would open in Psalms (Y/N).
The centre chapter of the English Bible is Psalm ......
The shortest chapter in the Bible is Psalm ......
The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm ......
The title 'Psalms' comes from a (Hebrew/Greek/Latin/English) word for a song of praise, originally from the sound made by a bowstring, hence a harp string.
The most quoted OT book in the NT is Psalms (Y/N).
The author of the book of Psalms was David (Y/N).
Clues toward a Biographical Approach to the Psalms
Titles directly mentioning David, apparently as author: 72 psalms.
Can you see a pattern to where these appear?
Titles referring to events in David's life:
how many of these can you find, and which parts of David's life are featured?
Titles referring to Levitical singer-songwriters associated with David, Asaph and the Korahites (see 1 Chronicles 6:31-46, which shows that all three Levitical clans are represented)
Other psalms whose content fits David's experience could then be read as representing his voice.
The Septuagint (LXX), with 86x Davidic psalms, shows trend towards extension of Davidic origin to entire Psalter.
Look for Psalms without titles and use Bible software to find out what LXX does in these cases.
Natural shift to messianic reading matures in NT/Christian interpretation of Psalms (= week 9 seminar topic)
Using Bible software, check the titles of Psalms 39 & 88.
How many times does the Hebrew prefix 'lamed' appear?
What does this tell us about the range of meanings possible for the lamed prefix?
Do you think that 'l'David' is meant to indicate authorship?
i.e. which setting provides the desired coherence to the psalms collection?
= a traditional Christian way to read the Psalms
= a Modern way to read the Psalms
Clues toward a Historical Approach to the Psalms
'Grammatico-historical' exegetical method - important in evangelical Christian interpretation
Involves taking note of author's intended meaning given his audience and context.
What makes this interpretive approach more difficult when it comes to Psalms?
Some psalms do appear to betray a historical setting in relation to Israel's history.
Try to find...
A psalm early in the book that would make sense coming from before the exile of Judah
A psalm from the middle of the book that would make sense coming from the exilic period.
A psalm from the latter half of the book that would make sense coming from the post-exilic period.
What makes a 'concept album'?
Does the book of Psalms qualify as a concept album?
If so, what's the concept?
What are modern examples of a 'concept album'?
All are best understood as elements of the psalms rather than boxes into which all psalms must fit.
formal unity?
late five-book form in imitation of Torah
framing of book with outermost psalms
earlier collections like the Songs of Ascents (120-134) finally gathered into grand collection?
Whybray et al sceptical of any further 'shape'
Simply understand in general thematic terms?
A general movement from lament to praise?
A common suggestion (Wilson, Mays, McCann, & Futato) is "The LORD reigns".
...in terms of Israel's pilgrimage from Davidic kingship through exile and to restoration (see deClaissé-Walford, 21-38)
Do the Davidic parts of this arrangement need to consist solely of Davidic psalms, the exile section of exilic ones, etc.? (Think about 'concept albums' again.) Check 1 Chron. 16:7-36.
The Progress in Purpose of the Book of Psalms
Crafting of songs mostly for personal and private self-expression to God
Writing-down of songs more for preservation and public re-use in liturgical (formal worship) contexts
Combining of songs into canonical book of Psalms for meditation or instruction (see Futato on Psalm 1, pp. 57-72)
Reinterpreting of songs in terms of the experiences of Jesus, on the basis of David typology
Note that the audience of these songs develops from people of Israel & Judah to post-exilic Jews and on to followers of Jesus.
...assume that there is a Davidic king on the throne of Judah
"Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness."
(Psa 72:1 NIV)
...reflect on the destruction of the temple
"O God, foreigners have invaded your chosen land; they have polluted your holy temple and turned Jerusalem into a heap of ruins."
(Psa 79:1 NET)
...imply a return from Babylonian captivity
"When the LORD restored the well-being of Zion, we thought we were dreaming." (Psa 126:1 NET)
We notice psalms that...
i.e. pre-exilic
i.e. exilic
i.e. post-exilic
Redaction criticism
, focused on editing
Rhetorical criticism
, focused on methods of persuasion
Literary criticism
, focused on the use of language re form (structure) & meaning (semantics).
Key contributers: Robert Alter, Gerald Wilson, J. Clinton McCann.
How does Futato find this theme supported by the structure of the book (see pp. 73ff.)?
"David complains in this psalm, that he is reduced to such circumstances of distress that he is like a man in despair. But after having recounted the calamities with which he was so severely afflicted, he emerges from the abyss of temptations, and gathering courage, comforts himself with the assurance of deliverance. At the same time, he sets before us, in his own person, a type of Christ, who he knew by the Spirit of prophecy behoved to be abased in marvellous and unusual ways previous to his exaltation by the Father. Thus the psalm, in the two parts of which it consists, explains that prophecy of Isaiah, (Isaiah 53:8,) “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation?” "
Calvin's Christological Hermeneutic - Psalm 22
Commentary on Psalms
, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom08.xxviii.html
Holladay, W. L.
The Psalms through Three Thousand Years
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 333.
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