More Than Just Torah: God’s Instruction In The Psalms -- By: David G. Firth

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 06:1 (Summer 2015)
Article: More Than Just Torah: God’s Instruction In The Psalms
Author: David G. Firth


More Than Just Torah:
God’s Instruction In The Psalms

David G. Firth

St. John’s College, Nottingham

Approaches To Psalm 119 And The Psalter

Neither scholarly nor popular attitudes towards Psalm 119 have been uniformly positive. Weiser, for example, after providing his translation and notes, offers just over one and a half pages of comment on it.1 He regards it as an ‘artificial product of religious poetry’2 and though he does offer some slightly more sympathetic comments, concludes that the psalm ‘carries with it the germs of a development which was bound to end in the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes.’3 Others seem to find its unrelenting focus on God’s word as rather more than can be taken in, so that in the lectionary used by the Church of England for daily prayer it is the only psalm that is not read whole,4 with segments of it punctuating the cycle of readings at various points. And, from the perspective of personal experience, there is undoubtedly a look of terror from the congregation when one announces that there is a reading from it that is usually soothed only by subsequently mentioning that only specific verses will be read. Indeed, the length of the psalm is itself problematic for many, with Anderson commenting that this, along with its rigid structure, prevents ‘any real development of thought within the poem.’ He then adds that its variations on its main theme become a ‘monotonous repetition’ though he does concede that it ‘is impressive even in its repetitiveness.’5 For Mowinckel, it is a ‘styleless’ mixture of types and representative

of a type of didactic poetry that, in its lack of connection with the cult has failed to understand what a psalm should be.6

Mowinckel’s concerns of course preceded the more recent interest in Psalms as a book, but in a curious way they have paved the way for at least some initial reflections on how this psalm might contribute to this discussion. From Mays’ perspective, it is the very fact that Psalm 119, along with Psalms 1 and 19, does not easily fit into any of the established genres that makes them important for this purpose. Their very distinctiveness, which he thinks points to them being among the latest psalms composed, m...

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