‘Come, children, listen to me!’ Psalm 34 in the Hebrew Bible and in Early Christian Writings (Coniectanea Biblica Old Testament Series 32)

Written by Lars Olov Eriksson Reviewed By Beat Weber

Eriksson’s study of Psalm 34 is a synchronic one with consideration of poetic devices and their function. He examines not only the psalm itself, but also offers a thorough history of the interpretation of the psalm in the NT writings and in the early Church Fathers.

In the first main part Eriksson’s point of departure is the masoretic shape of Psalm 34. His ‘close reading’ advances methodologically in four steps, including language, style and structure, form and some conclusions on situation and date. Eriksson structures his language section, examining vocabulary, motifs and themes, on the presentation of the characters: God, the psalmist and ‘the others’. Thereby he sees that the psalm borrows material which is related to the language of psalms and wisdom. But his stress lies in the conviction that this psalm is to be understood as an individual whole rather than as an anthology. One can recognize a skilful and deliberate shaping by an author who stands in a poetic tradition. In his investigation of style and structure he examines repetitions, parallelisms and related devices. Special attention is given to the alphabetic pattern of this acrostic psalm, which is an important key for its understanding. For Eriksson the pattern is ‘poetry for the eye’. At the same time the aim and function of the psalm is programmatically expressed. In his form section Eriksson discusses the three proposed forms of the psalm: thanksgiving psalm, wisdom psalm and mixed form. Besides his general criticism of the method itself, he thinks that the psalm does not fit any of these characteristics, although there certainly exist features in common with sapiental literature. In the notoriously difficult question of the situation and the dating of the psalms, Eriksson remains inconclusive. The psalm is for him most probably located in a teaching/learning environment, and he favours a dating in the pre-exilic period.

In the second part, about the usage of Psalm 34 in early Christian writings, Eriksson elaborates three partial citations (lxx) of it in the NT, namely 1 Peter 2:3 (v. 9a); 3:10–12 (vv. 13–17) and (presumably) John 19:36 (v. 21). In the patristic literature of the first three centuries (exclusive of Origen), Psalm 34 has 39 citations, about average for the psalms. Eriksson discusses the usage of the psalm in works such as 1 Clement, Barnabas, Adv. Haer. and others. These works often utilize the second half of the psalm in parenetic contexts, as an argument of conclusion, summary or confirmation. The study closes with a bibliography and four indices (references, subjects, modern authors and selected Hebrew and Greek words).

The merit of Eriksson’s work is that he is able to demonstrate that this neglected psalm has a beauty and message worthy of study. His analyses are solid. An exemplary guide for other contributions can be seen in his way of binding together an exegetical and a history of interpretation approach. In relation to the NT this helps in promoting a biblical theology. In the exegetical part his examination of the acrostic device is most convincing.

Eriksson’s work is not innovative. Often he collects and summarizes other opinions rather than advances a new view. There are many repetitions through unnecessary conclusions and summaries. What I miss in his investigation is a translation of the psalm. Besides the primacy of the synchronic approach—here I would agree—I feel there is a tendency in the book to neglect diachronic considerations. For example, there is a gap between his assumption of taking the masoretic shape of the text as a basis for his analyses and his supposition of an exilic setting, In the second part of this study, I (along with Eriksson) would wish for an examination of the use of the psalm in Jewish traditions (especially in pre-rabbinic Jewish literature).

Beat Weber

Linden BE, Switzerland