Psalms and Prayers

Written by Bob Becking and Eric Peels, eds. Reviewed By Leslie C. Allen

This diverse and stimulating volume of fifteen papers by Dutch and British scholars has a general focus on Israel’s response to God’s revelation. (These papers were read at the Joint Meeting of the Society of Old Testament Study and Het Oudtestamentisch Werkgezelschap in Nederland en België, Appeldoorn, in August 2006.)

Four papers deal with particular Psalms. Alistair G. Hunter explores the lexical and structural links between Ps 55 and the book of Jonah and hypothesizes that the psalm was the literary inspiration for the story, the name “Jonah” or “dove” playing on Ps 55:6. Christiane de Vos and Gert Kwakkel maintain the coherence of the complex Ps 69, or at least vv. 1–32, from the particular perspectives of the psalmist’s understanding of himself as both sinner and zealous saint and of God as both punisher and savior, who is on his enemies’ side and also on his own side. Jan Fokkelman tackles the much-debated issue of structure in Ps 103, refining an earlier study. He finds three stanzas, vv. 1–8, 9–16, and 17–22, which subdivide into eight strophes. The fifth strophe, vv. 11–13, functions as the heart of the psalm; it has two surrounding rings of strophes, vv. 9–10 and 14–16 and vv. 6–8 and 17–19. Jan Holman, who has written much on Ps 139, here examines the difficult v. 20. He supplements his plausible earlier find of a reference to idols in v. 24 with a carefully argued suggestion that two terms for idols occur in v. 20, so that the verse charges that the psalmist’s enemies use Yahweh’s name for idolatrous ends.

There are five general studies of the Psalter. The first is John Elwolde’s contribution, which asks what text-critical light the Qumran Hodayot shed on Pss 1–41 in seventeen cases of possible usage. He engages carefully with previous scholarship and his meager results in no way detract from the worthwhileness of his investigation. There are four thematic studies. Adrian H. W. Curtis ponders the rarity of divine fatherhood in the Psalter. John Day discusses where the ark and the cherubim are referred to in the Psalms and where not. Roger Tomes asks what is new in the formula “sing a new song” in the six psalms in which it appears and in Isa 42:10 and also in Judith 16 and Rev 5 and 14, where it is echoed. Paul Sanders examines a series of arguments used to persuade God to help in the Psalms against the background of the arguments brought to the Hittite gods in the prayers of the fourteenth-century king Mursili II and discusses their manifold similarities and a few significant differences. He also adduces some parallels in Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts. He suggests that the similarities are due to the influence of the older Babylonian tradition on both Hittite and Israelite religion.

Two papers are concerned with the later use of the Psalter. Howard N. Wallace enquires into aspects of the book that built bridges enabling faith-communities to appropriate its contents. He finds a complex process of shaping in the Psalms to encourage later use and illustrates it with a number of examples from the beginning of the Psalter, such as the linking of Ps 2 with Ps 1 that opened up its royal content to a general readership. Gordon Wenham approaches the same concern from an ethical standpoint. Using other examples of religious compilations and their intended impact on readers and drawing on speech-act theory, he maintains that reading the Psalms is a speech-act that commits the reader to following a God-approved life.

Marjo C. A. Korpel’s paper is devoted to cases in prophetic literature, the hymn of Isa 12:2–6 and the prayer of Jer 10:23–25. His interest is in evidence of textual delimitation as an aid to understanding the relation between the texts and their contexts. The remaining three papers deal with prayers set in narrative texts of the OT. The first, by Jaap van Dorp, studies Isaiah’s prayer in 2 Kgs 20:11 and in particular “the dial of Ahaz” (NRSV). He uses the precise language of the text to identify it not as a staircase but indeed a sundial, a type that employed retrogradation, a reproducible but essentially mysterious phenomenon that the text attributes to divine intervention. Pancratius C. Beentjes makes an extensive examination of all the prayers and psalms in Chronicles and shows that they reflect the Chronicler’s distinctive theological emphases. Finally, Eep Talstra engages in a careful study of the prayer in Nehemiah 1 and finds that it uses traditional texts and truths to create a new discourse of prayer suitable for the situation in which God’s people now found themselves.

Leslie C. Allen

Fuller Theological Seminary,

Pasadena, California

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