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Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Jacobson. SOUNDINGS IN THE THEOLOGY OF PSALMS (2011)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 24•12

Jacobson, Rolf, (ed). Soundings in the Theology of Psalms: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780800697396.

This volume of eight essays by noted Old Testament scholars is the outcome of the ‘Book of Psalms Section’ of the 2008 SBL meeting in the expanded and revised form. However, the papers of the SBL session were complemented by other solicited essays and reprint of Walter Brueggemann’s essay. This volume also has an ecumenical flavour since scholars from various traditions like Wesleyan, Catholic, Baptist, and Lutheran have joined the group that is predominantly Reformed.

 The first essay by Walter Brueggemann is a reprint (‘The Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function’). Based on Paul Ricoeur approach Brueggemann suggests ‘the sequence of orientation-disorientation-reorientation’ to understand the use and function of Psalms.

 In the second essay, Harry P. Nasuti (‘God at Work in the Word: A Theology of Divine-Human Encounter in the Psalms’) argues that just as the description of God is a valid theological method in approaching the Psalms, an equally important method is to see the relationship between God and the believing communities. He argues that this relational aspect underlies the approaches that highlight ‘righteousness’ and the ‘righteous’ as the focal point of the Psalms.

Jerome F.D. Creach in his essay ‘The Destiny of the Righteous and the Theology of the Psalms’ argues that concern for the life and the destiny of the righteous  is a common theme of the Psalter that allows it to be read as book. Moreover, this theme also provides the theological context for other themes such as reign of God, justice and peace. The exploration on the methodolody and themes of the Psalter continues in the essay by J. Clinton McCann Jr. ‘The Single Most Important Text in the Entire Bible: Toward a Theology of the Psalms.’ He very convincingly argues that Psalm 82 is ‘crucially important for understanding the Psalms and especially for beginning to move toward a theology of the book of Psalms.’ He takes his cue from Dominic Crossan who remarked that, Psalm 82 is ‘the single most important text in the entire Christian Bible.’ He also suggests that in the context of violence, injustice and inequalities that we witness in our world today, Psalm 82 is very relevant for our times.

Violence and curses in the Psalms are the concerns of some of the essays as is the case of the essay by Nancy L. deClaisse-Walford ‘The Theology of the Imprecatory Psalms.’ She argues that the so called imprecatory Psalms are very much part of the Jewish and Christian canon. ‘We cannot summarily dismiss the imprecatory psalms and banish them to the periphery of the canon. They are integral part of the words of the Psalmists, rendered by their inclusion in the canon as the words of God and embraced by millennia of the faithful as part of the Scripture.’ Her persuasive arguments in favour of the imprecatory psalms end with how they can be incorporated in our worship.

 The same tone is maintained in the essay, ‘Saying Amen to Violent Psalms: Patterns of Prayer, Belief, and Action in the Psalter’ by Joel M. LeMon. He helps us to understand the violent imageries of the Psalms. This essay explores the ethical implications of the Psalms that have violent tones.

 The last two essays are again on the methodology of doing a theology of Psalms. In ‘“The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever”: The Theological Witness of the Psalter’ Rolf Jacobson suggests that the dominant vision of the Psalms is the faithfulness of the Lord.  His essay is to elaborate on this theme which he thinks plays the central role in the Psalter. He explores the semantics, genre of Psalms where this theme is used, faithfulness as experienced in the history, means of God’s faithfulness, etc sufficient to convince us that the theology of Psalms can be centered around this.

 In the last essay ‘Rethinking the Enterprise: What Must Be Considered in Formulating a Theology of the Psalms?’ Beth Tanner, helps us to understand the whole enterprise of biblical theology in general and theology of Psalms in particular. Tanner begins with the nature of Biblical Theology and the ways of doing it. She affirms that, ‘… at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the biblical theological enterprise has become contextual, and thus canonical, transitory and pluralistic.’ She also insists that in doing a theology of Psalms its poetic nature should be given due place. She goes on to insights from neurosciences about the role of poetry in human emotions and behavior should be considered in doing the theology of Psalms. ‘The Psalms reach places in both the brain and the heart that other genres do not.’ Tanner’s explorations thus are really daring!

 This volume like other titles in the series pushes the edges of Psalms study further towards new horizons. All the essays are equally illuminative and take the readers to a new level of understanding the Book of Psalms, fresh, insightful and innovative.

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