A Brief History of Psalms Studies -- By: Kevin Gary Smith

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 06:1 (Sep 2008)
Article: A Brief History of Psalms Studies
Author: Kevin Gary Smith


A Brief History of Psalms Studies1

Kevin Gary Smith2

Bill Domeris3

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to provide and up-to-date review of the major periods in the history of psalms studies, with particular reference to the recent quest for the editorial shape and purpose of the Book of Psalms. The authors divide the history of interpretation into four major periods—pre-critical, historical-critical, form-critical and redaction-critical. Pre-critical interpretation (before 1820) generally considered the shape of the Psalter significant, but made no formal attempt to identify its purpose. During the historical-critical (1820-1920) and form-critical (1920-1980) periods, scholars treated the Psalter as an ad hoc collection of lyrics for use in temple worship; the focus was on the historical Sitz im Leben of the psalms. The modern interest into the editorial shaping of the Book of Psalms marks a renewed belief in the fact that the order of the psalms is significant and the first serious attempt to discern the editorial purpose or message of the Psalter as a ‘book’.

1. Introduction

In recent times, the level of scholarly interest in the Book of Psalms has risen to unprecedented heights. The Psalter held pride of place amongst the books of the Old Testament in the ministry of Jesus and the early church. Throughout the centuries, the psalms have captured the hearts of Christians and ranked amongst the most popular of all biblical materials in the devotional life of the church. Yet in terms of biblical scholarship since the advent of critical era, they have taken a back seat to most of the other Old Testament materials. The current revival of scholarly interest in the psalms is largely due to research demonstrating that the Psalter is not a haphazard collection of psalms, but a purposefully arranged ‘book’, suitable for literary analysis.

In this article, we briefly review the history of psalms study from biblical times until the present. Our purpose is to place the current quest for the editorial shape and purpose of the Book of Psalms in its historical perspective. We shall begin our survey with ancient approaches to the psalms, work through the historical-critical and form-critical periods, and then devote considerable time to recent proposals regarding the overall shape and purpose of the Psalter.

2. Pre-critical interpretation

The Septuagint has appropriately been called “the first monument to Jewish exegesis” (Daniel 1971:855). In ...

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