Psalms: A Cantata About The Davidic Covenant -- By: John H. Walton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:1 (Mar 1991)
Article: Psalms: A Cantata About The Davidic Covenant
Author: John H. Walton

Psalms: A Cantata About The Davidic Covenant

John H. Walton*

With respect to hermeneutics during the past century, there can be no doubt that context has finally come into its own. Biblical scholarship at large and specifically evangelical Biblical scholarship have come to realize that a verse or section must be treated in its context to be interpreted correctly. This is a principle that extends from the earliest OT books to the latest NT books as well as stretching across most genre lines. We have learned to speak of microcontexts within a particular pericope as well as macrocontexts on the scope of a book or even in the context of Scripture as a whole.

The advent of canonical criticism has heightened even further our sensitivity to context as a reflection of the editor’s agenda. In books such as Samuel or Genesis, discerning the logic of selection and arrangement has become as important for interpretation as the meaning of words and phrases.

The book of Psalms has historically defied attempts to understand its macrocontext. Each psalm was considered an independent unit, related to those around it seemingly by only an arbitrary editorial process. This conclusion did not always arise out of the conviction that there was no editorial agenda or purpose as much as through a failure to identify such a purpose. Despite the consensus that there is no perceptible agenda to the editor’s arrangement, there has been a certain intrigue over such editorial evidences as the five-book structure of Psalms even since Talmudic times.

The whole issue has been reopened for discussion in the aftermath of the 1981 Yale dissertation by Gerald Wilson,1 who began by analyzing some of the principles of arrangement of psalmic literature observable in the ancient Near East in collections such as the Sumerian temple hymns and the Mesopotamian catalogues of hymnic incipits. He found a general tendency for compositions to be arranged by genre category.2 He continues:

This chief principle of organization could be modified by a number of other concerns. Evidence has been adduced for divisions and groupings (within genre groupings or, indeed, on some occasions, overriding them) based on (1) liturgical correspondences; (2) series; (3) currency of usage; or (4) the language of the composition. What emerges is an extremely flexible system of

* John Walton is associate professor of Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

classification capable of sufficient modification to accommodate the various purposes for which individua...

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