ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Griggs, PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jun• 10•14

CASCADE_TemplateGriggs, Robert W. A Pelican of the Wilderness. Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014.

This is not an academic book and thus doesn’t really qualify to be reviewed on this site! However, this is a book that every academic should read! This is about a pastor who holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School, University of Minnesota and Andover Newton Theological School who suffered severe depression to the extent of attempting suicide. So, this is a ‘must-read’ for all academics for a reality check and see where they are heading. There is a second reason for reading this book. In this autobiographical account Griggs has woven his academic knowledge and personal experience into a beautiful fabric. That is what makes Walter Brueggemann comment on the blurb that, ‘Robert Griggs has deftly transported them (the Psalms) into his own story of depression, anguish, and recovery of health, life, and faith.’

This is not just about Psalms. As the title indicates Griggs tells us how many contemporary American films helped him in his recovery. Thus he benefited from two resources that is available to all of us. The ancient text of the Psalms still maintain the power to help us cope with our present day realities of pain and joy. Then there is quite a lot of wisdom in the contemporary world as well. This comes in the form of books that interpret for us the modern society, culture and religion. Griggs has compiled a very useful bibliography as well as a filmography—a list of films that helped him.

With all the degrees and experience of serving the same church as pastor for twenty-six years Robert Griggs had lot of knowledge and helped a lot of people. However, he discovered in the Psych Unit that he is dried up—literally, because the chemicals that help people to keep their balance (like Serotonin and Norepinephrine) had dried up in his brain. These had to be replenished through rest and medications. He had to be trained to cope with life with the help of his doctors and fellow inmates over a period of five weeks that he was in the ‘loony bin.’ He had to readmitted for another week because he seems to have ignored the lessons he learnt.

In his depression he was like a ‘pelican in the wilderness’ (Psalm 102:6). He borrows the language of the Psalms to understand and cope with his situation. And he comes out of it finally as the prophetic fulfilment of the words of another psalmist: ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). In the process of narrating his story Griggs also helps us to understand the importance of making choices, struggles with issues of faith, hope etc. This story aptly illustrates what Brueggeman describes as ‘disorientation’ and ‘reorientation’ in the Book of Psalms: ‘From Pulpit to Psych Unit’ (first chapter) and ‘From Psych Unit to Pulpit’ (last chapter). For any academic this gives a very useful, helpful break from the daily encounter with the ‘heavy stuff.’

Limburg. PSALMS FOR SOJOURNERS (2002)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Apr• 09•13

Limburg, James. Psalms for Sojourners (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) pages xiii, 128.
James Limburg is known for his two major works; the commentary on Psalms in the Westminster Bible Companion Series and that on Jonah in the Old Testament Library Series.
Psalms for the Sojourners is a simple introduction to the book of Psalms without  intimidating jargons and does not require any specialized training in the area. Limburg takes examples of each type of Psalms and illustrates the relevance of each of these poems. In this book Limburg has very aptly closed the gap that is there between Psalms scholarship and the ordinary person in the pews. The most commendable thing is that he does it without compromising valuable academic insights but also not being very patronizing.  In fact he harnesses scholarship for the service of those sojourners. Sojourners for Limburg are those who consider their life as a pilgrimage. He believes that the Psalms, “… address the days of our own lives, in times of hurting as well as times of happiness, helping us to learn how to pray and also how to praise.”
The message of the Psalms are made very clear and is significance for all of us in the modern world is evident in this treatment of selected Psalms. The style is anecdotal. The author tries to bring his point home by referring to stories from his life and of others. Such real life illustrations makes the message so relevant and something from which the readers can not run away from.
The format of this small book is as inviting  and unthreatening as its content. All those who love the Bible and particularly the Book of Psalms will find it reading this book exciting, relieving and building.

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.

Domina. POETS AND THE PSALMS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 11•08

Domina, Lynn (Editor). Poets on the Psalms (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2008), pages: 304 ISBN: 1595340483.

This collection of essays by a number of contemporary English poets (mostly American) on the Book of Psalms is fascinating. For the trained theologian and church-persons this is an offer of fresh air. The Book of Psalms has been read, chanted, sung, interpreted and preached from within the four walls of the churches for two thousand years. The Jews also had considered it sacred and had their life around it for still more years. The book of Psalms which has been the monopoly of the synagogue and the Church is approached by poets who are mostly from outside the walls of the Church and the Synagogue.
In this book, poets with a wide variety of religious experience and some having no serious religious experience have brought together their understanding of the psalms. For example, Carl Philips one of the authors claims to be biracial and gay. Having no religious upbringing the author started reading the Bible as an adult. On the other end of the spectrum is Pattiann Rogers who grew up with the KJV of the bible and even learnt memory verses. The KJV had a lasting impact on her poems. In between comes poets who were Jews but lived among non-Jews, practicing Christians and so on.
The wide variety of authorship means a wide range of freshness of the views in these essays. For example, violence in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms in the form of imprecatory Psalms and a God who advocate violence has been subjects of theological discussion for so many years. However, Alicia Ostricker has a new perspective on this, which is rather non-theological. Unlike Christian theologians she don’t want to reconcile God’s cruel nature. She rather would like to be a like “the abused woman who keeps forgiving her abuser.” She has a power conclusion to her essay which sums up her views on divine violence. Reflecting on her own poems she writes, “Like the Biblical Psalms, mine seem to be love poems of God. But I cannot justify my love.” In the midst of these rather non-academic essays we find Enid Dame, “Psalm 22 and the Gospels. A Midrashic Moment and a Hope for Connection” which has more of an academic tone. The author who is from a working class Jewish background and had to share space with Christians in schools and neighbourhoods explores how a Jew finds the reading of Psalm 22 by Christians. For the Jew Psalm 22 is metaphorical, however, for the Christian the victim and the enemies of Psalms are historical.
Most of the authors prove that it is possible to write on the Psalms without the usual theological jargons. In a similar manner this collection proves that there are multiple perspectives possible on the Book of Psalms. And each perspective is informing and fresh. This is a very small sampling and one has to really go through this exceedingly enjoyable book to enjoy its freshness and vigour.