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"My Words Are Lovely": Studies in the Rhetoric of the Psalms by Robert L. Foster and David M.  Howard Jr. (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies: T & T Clark) As the authors of The Postmodern Bible end their chapter on rhetorical criticism, they write, "The jury is still out, therefore, on just how successful and profitable the application of rhetorical theory has become in the rebirth of rhetorical criticism in biblical interpretation."' Part of their concern is the seemingly uncritical adaptation of various rhetorical theories without the interpreters' awareness of their own rhetorical situation and aims and how these influence the use of rhetorical theories.

The editors of this volume share this concern, and the present volume is an attempt to recapture what has been central to the study of rhetoric since at least the time of Aristotle, namely, a focus on the means of persuasion in a discourse. Already in 1994, David Howard had noted a contrary tendency in rhetorical-critical approaches in Old Testament studies, which tended to focus primarily on stylis­tics, and he called for a return to a focus on the persuasive aims of a text.' A decade later, Robert Foster had come to a similar conclusion as he observed rhetorical-critical studies of the prophets and the Psalms. This volume is a product of editors and contributors dissatisfaction with the prevailing state of affairs and a reflection of our mutual interest in Psalms study.

The scope of the essays has not been limited to a particular rhetorical method, and so readers will note a variety of approaches to the Psalms, from discussions using classical rhetorical categories to use of modern cognitive science. What ties these essays together is an interest in determining the persua­sive aim of the psalms/psalmists. The essays in Part I of this volume address either overarching methodological concerns or discuss topics of broad interest (e.g. lament). Part II consists of essays treating the rhetorical effect of one or two individual psalms.

In his lead essay, Rolf Jacobson urges that "Rhetorical analysts of the Psalms should pay attention to their own rhetorical situations and aims and weigh those when considering how to imagine the rhetorical situation of a psalm.” Our hope is that all the essays here will stimulate further study of the Psalms with rhetorical analysis as the basic approach. It seems to us that the landscape of Psalms research has yet to benefit fully from rhetorical analysis as a way of understanding the psalms and their effects.

The title for this volume, My Words Are Lovely, translates the last clause of Ps 141:6. This clause expresses a belief that the psalmists, in seeking to persuade God and humanity, formed their words artfully in order to achieve their desired effect. The essays collected here help to expose the artistry of the psalmists that have made their words persuasive for several thousand years. 

  • Essays: Part I: Theoretical and Thematic Considerations in the Rhetoric of the Psalms
  • "The Altar of Certitude": Reflections on "Setting" and Rhetorical Interpretation of the Psalms by Rolf Jacobson
  • Persuading the One and Only God to Intervene by Dale Patrick and Kenneth Diable
  • Rapid Change of Mood: Oracles of Salvation, Certainty of A Hearing, or Rhetorical Play? By Leann Snow Flesher
  • Growling Dogs and Thirsty Deer: Uses of Animal Imagery in Psalmic Rhetoric by J. Kenneth Kuntz
  • "Night to Night," "Deep to Deep": The Discourse of Creation in the Psalms by William P. Brown
  • Topoi of Praise in the Call to Praise Psalms: Toward a Theology of the Book of Psalms by Robert L. Foster
  • Part II: Case Studies in the Rhetoric of the Psalms
  • "Yet Thou Hast Made Him Little Less Than God": Reading Psalm 8 from A Bodily Perspective by Johan H. Coetzee
  • Psalm 33 And the Creation Rhetoric of a Torah Psalm by Diane Jacobson
  • Psalm 44:O God, Why Do You Hide Your Face? By Nancy L. Declaissé-Walford
  • Psalm 88 And the Rhetoric of Lament by David M. Howard, Jr.
  • Psalm 102: Lament and Theology in an Exilic Setting by W. H. Bellinger, Jr.
  • The Rhetoric of Two Narrative Psalms 105 And 106 by Thomas H. Olbricht
  • Why is Psalm 147 Still "Catchy"? by H. Viviers


I Cried to the Lord: A Study of the Psalms of Solomon's Historical Background and Social Setting by Kenneth Atkinson (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism: Brill Academic Publishers) examines the date of composition, the social setting, the provenance, and the religious affiliation of the eighteen Greek poems known as the Psalms of Solomon, a Palestinian Jewish pseudepigraphon from the first century B C E. In order to determine the dates of composition, social setting, provenance, and religious affiliation for each of the eighteen Psalms of Solomon, the present study divides these poems into two major historical units: Pompeian and pre-Pompeian era Psalms of Solomon. A separate chapter examines the remaining Psalms of which the precise historical backgrounds are uncertain. Each chapter focuses upon one or more Psalms. All begin with a translation of the psalm under examination, along with textual notes when necessary, a summary of the poem, and a discussion of all the characters mentioned in the text. This is followed by an examination of each Psalm of Solomon's historical content and a discussion of any individuals or groups alluded to in the composition. The following section on the sectarian affiliation builds upon the historical reflections and describes the psalmist's theological beliefs. The conclusion of each chapter summarizes the implications of the material presented and its implications for understanding the nature of the community that wrote and collected the Psalms of Solomon. The book explores the Psalms of Solomon's use of poetry to document Pompey's 63 B C E conquest of Jerusalem through a comparison with contemporary classical texts, Dead Sea Scrolls, and archaeology. 

Chapters one and two, on the Pompeian Psalms of Solomon, explore Psalms of Solomon 2 and 8, which reflect upon Pompey's 63 B.C.E. conquest of Jerusalem. Both texts attempt to explain why God has allowed the Romans to destroy the city and desecrate the Temple. When the author of Psalm of Solomon 2 hears the unexpected news that the Roman general who besieged Jerusalem has been murdered in Egypt, he rejoices and concludes that his community's prayers brought about the man's demise. The writer of Psalm of Solomon 8 denounces Sadducean priests for their incorrect adherence to the ritual laws of purity which have polluted the Temple and have, there-fore, rendered the entire sacrificial system worthless. Because these two Psalms of Solomon contain the greatest number of precise historical references, they are examined first since they provide a firm chronological basis for determining the dates of the other Psalms of Solomon.

Chapter three, on the Pre-Pompeian Psalms, explores Psalms of Solomon 4, 12, 7, 15, and 13. These poems describe events that occurred prior to Pompey's conquest of Jerusalem, denounce wicked politicians, and reflect their authors' concern for the Temple's safety. Also, they seek to justify God's righteousness in the face of continued persecution. Because many were likely written prior to the Roman conquest, they are not only the earliest Psalms of Solomon, but also constitute an important witness to Jewish religious disputes and political divisions in Jerusalem before Pompey's capture of the city.

Chapter four examines messianism in Psalm of Solomon 17. Because this text contains the earliest and most detailed pre-Christian expectation for a Davidic messiah, it is perhaps the most important of the Psalms of Solomon. The author of this psalm denounces the Hasmonean monarchy because they were non-Davidic kings. He also castigates the Hasmonean rulers for allowing Gentiles to attack the city in 63 B.C.E. and desecrate the Temple. In this psalm the writer does not attempt to convince his opponents to adopt a particular halakic interpretation, but simply looks forward to their destruction by a militant Davidic messiah. This expectation for a violent messiah suggests that the community of the Psalms of Solomon underwent a profound theological change following the Roman conquest of 63 B.C.E. The writer of Psalm of Solomon 17, for example, does not encourage his community to seek atonement through righteousness, prayer, and fasting. Rather, he has abandoned any hope that his fellowship will not be persecuted. Justice has been projected into the future since only God's direct intervention, he believes, can save his group. His community must simply endure until the Davidic messiah arrives, destroys their opponents, and gives them a favored position when he reigns as king in Jerusalem.

Chapter five discusses all the remaining Psalms of Solomon. These psalms are collected together in this section since their precise dates of composition are uncertain. Also, because they contain little historical information, there is insufficient evidence to comment upon their sectarian affiliation. They are included in this study for the information they may provide about the distinctive worship practices of the people who wrote and collected the Psalms of Solomon.

The conclusion summarizes the previous chapters and discusses the particular sectarian beliefs of the community behind the Psalms of Solomon. This chapter also suggests that the present arrangement of the Psalms is the work of a redactor, who collected and shaped these psalms for liturgical purposes. The redactor chose these psalms because they document his community's reaction to the changing political and religious situation within Jerusalem. His selection of these eighteen poems has considerable impact upon their interpretation since they suggest that the people who used the Psalms of Solomon in their religious services continued to worship apart from the Temple cult. They continued to emphasize piety as a substitute for sacrifice while they awaited the arrival of the Davidic messiah. Because the Psalms of Solomon were likely arranged for use in synagogue worship, they are also an important historical witness to the development of Jewish liturgy following the Roman conquest.

The Psalms of Solomon were written between approximately 67 B.C.E. and 63 B.C.E. by an unknown Jewish sectarian community that resided in Jerusalem. The city itself is clearly the focus of the collection. Four of these poems, Psalms of Solomon 1, 2, 8, and 17, describe military attacks on Jerusalem. The writer of Psalm of Solomon 4 recounts political disputes that occurred in Jerusalem's Sanhedrin. Psalm of Solomon 11 describes the future return to Jerusalem of all the Jews who live in the Diaspora. Although several other locations have been proposed as the place were the Psalms of Solomon were written, because of their focus on this city, the majority of scholars accept a Jerusalem provenance for the entire collection. This geographical locale is important for understanding the Psalm of Solomon's sectarian background, since it means that the authors of these poems lived in close proximity to the Temple. This chapter summarizes some of the distinctive beliefs and worship practices reflected in the Psalms of Solomon and their implications for understanding Second Temple Judaism.

Discipline emerges as a central concept in the Psalms of Solomon since the writers of these poems believe that it can atone for sin. The basis for this discipline is the Law (Ps. Sol. 10:4; 14:12). The community of the Psalms of Solomon believe that the Law requires that they endure their suffering to atone for their transgressions. The Qumran sect and the Psalms of Solomon's authors also deem that under ideal circumstances the sacrificial system in the Temple is the best way to approach God. Because of the Temple's defilement by its priests, though, both groups maintain that a strict adherence to their particular lifestyle is the best means available for bringing humans in close contact with God in the absence of Temple worship. Because the community of the Psalms of Solomon chose to stay in Jerusalem during Pompey's siege, it is likely that their belief that daily suffering atoned for sins required them to remain in the city and suffer at the hands of its foreign conquerors and their political enemies (Ps. Sol. 2, 4, 8). There was nothing left for them to do but pray.

The Psalms of Solomon's authors stress the practice of regular prayer (Pss. Sol. 3:3; 5:1; 6:12: 7:67; 15:1). Prayer was apparently the focus of worship for the community of the Psalms of Solomon. The entire collection is essentially a work of prayer that attempts to explain why the righteous suffer. The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, like the authors of the Psalms of Solomon, used liturgical prayer in their worship services in which they acknowledged their sins and proclaimed their acceptance of God's punishment.

The Psalms of Solomon should be viewed as a primary, yet largely neglected, witness to Sadducean halakhic practices and Jewish religious disputes concerning the operation of the Jerusalem Temple prior to the Roman conquest. They show that for many Second Temple Jews, purity was something that dominated their daily lives. When the priests defiled the Temple, the entire nation's connection with God was severed. With no means to correct the situation, something had to be done. The dilemma facing many Jews was whether God could still be worshipped in a defiled Temple. For the writers of the Psalms of Solomon and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the answer was a resounding no. Each group chose a different response to this situation in order to maintain the purity of their respective faith communities without the ritual intervention of the Temple priests. While the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls chose to leave Jerusalem and maintain their purity in an isolated desert settlement, the community of the Psalms of Solomon remained in the city, where they stressed prayer, fasting, and "cried to the Lord" (Ps. Sol. 1:1).

Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel by Hermann Gunkel, translated by Joachim Begrich and James D. Nogalski (Mercer Library of Biblical Studies: Mercer University Press) Hermann Gunkel's commentary on Psalms (Die Psalmen, HKAT) - by many considered to be his magnum opus - was published in 1926. But he was unable to complete his final work on the Psalms. The severe suffering of his final months of life forced him to hand over his incomplete manuscript, at Christmastime 1931-1932, to his pupil Joachim Begrich. Gunkel died on 11 March 1932. Begrich put the final touches on the organization of Gunkel's last work on Psalms, and it was published in 1933 as Einleitung in die Psalmen: die Gattungen der religiosen Lyrik Israels. The work now stands as a beacon of in the critical study of the Hebrew Psalms and as an important contribution to thematic study much of which is still topical 66 years later.

 Contents: Foreword Joachim Begrich Translator's Preface 1 The Genres of the Psalms 2 Hymns I. The Linguistic Form II. The Manner of Performance III. The Religion of the Hymns IV. The Relationship of Hymns to Other Genres V. The Internal History of the Hymns 3 Songs about YHWH's Enthronement I. Form and Content II. The Cultic Situation and History of the Enthronement Songs 4 Communal Complaint Songs 5 Royal Psalms 6 Individual Complaint Songs 7 Individual Thanksgiving Songs 8 Smaller Genres I. Sayings of Blessing and Curse II. The Pilgrimage Song III. The Victory Song IV. The Thanksgiving Song of Israel V. Legends VI. The Torah 9 Prophetic Elements in the Psalms I. The Eschatological Material of the Psalms II. The Forms of the Eschatological Contents III. Eschatology's Penetration of the Psalms IV. Eschatological Psalms in Relation to the Eschatology of the Prophetic Books V. Other Prophetic Genres in the Psalms VI. The Situation of the Prophetic Psalms VII. The Purely Intellectual Influence of the Prophets on the Psalms VIII The Time of the Prophetic Psalms 10 Wisdom Poetry in the Psalms 11 Mixtures, Antiphonal Poems, and Liturgies I. Mixtures II. Antiphonal Poetry III. Liturgies 12 The History of Psalmody 13 The Collection of Psalms 14 The Superscriptions of the Psalms Index of Scripture References Psalms Other Scriptures 

Sixty-One Psalms of David
Selected and translated by David R. Slavitt
Oxford University Press
$18.95, hardcover; 120 pages
ISBN 0-19-510711-X

People have sought in the Psalms to find a voice for personal and collegial devotions. With their variety of themes and intensity of mood, their zealous lyricism and unruly fluctuations between faith and fear, and their prodigious, incantatory cadences, the Psalms supply words for the deeply human shout or murmur to God. The emotional power of these prayers and the literary artistry and suave directness of their images are as compelling today as when they were composed two to three millennia ago.

That simplicity and craft are obvious in SIXTY-ONE PSALMS OF DAVID by David R. Slavitt. Following in the tradition of Ezra Pound’s Versions and Robert Lowell’s Imitations, Slavitt, an esteemed poet and translator of Ovid, Virgil, Seneca, and others, sets the Psalms into a vigorous modern idiom.

A plaintive pealing in waves of contemporary address, his verse lingers in the vicinity of faithfulness, at least in prosody of the virile parallelism of the Hebrew forms and diction. Perhaps the most unprecedented and immediately attractive feature of these renditions is Slavitt’s skillful use of traditional poetic forms. Here the Psalms are compressed, clarified, and given the satisfying shapes and textures of English poetry. Working most often in rhymed tetrameter quatrains, but also employing rhymed couplets and other forms, Slavitt brings all the subtlety and expressive power of modern English versification to these Psalms, and the result is a poetry that fits comfortably in the lineage that includes Sir Philip Sydney, John Donne, William Blake, and Richard Wilbur.

SIXTY-ONE PSALMS OF DAVID will make good companion volume to regular bible translations on our shelves. The fresh and illuminating counterpoint of these verses will tease a simple blend of prayer and poetry in symmetrical alliance. To exhibit how Slavitt recaptures the poetic mood of these Psalms, compare his version of Psalm 115 with the Authorized Version:

Authorized Version: Psalm 115





Not unto us, O LORD,
not unto us, but unto thy name
give glory,
for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.
Wherefore should the heathen say,
Where is now their God?
But our God is in the heavens:
he hath done
whatsoever he hath pleased.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not:
eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not:
noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not:
feet have they, but they walk not:
neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them;
so is every one that trusteth in them.
O Israel, trust thou in the LORD:
he is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD:
he is their help and their shield.
Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD:
he is their help and their shield.
The LORD hath been mindful of us:
he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron.
He will bless them that fear the LORD,
both small and great.
The LORD shall increase you
more and more,
you and your children.
Ye are blessed of the LORD
which made heaven and earth.
The heaven, even the heavens, a
are the LORD’S:
but the earth hath he given
to the children of men.
The dead praise not the LORD,
neither any that go down into silence.
But we will bless the LORD
from this time forth and for evermore.
Praise the LORD.

  Psalm 115 Slavitt version:




Not for our sakes, O Lord, but for
Your glory that men may adore
and bless Your name, we ask that You
may make us thrive and prosper to
silence each rude and scoffing nation.
Make a persuasive demonstration
of what You are. They worship mere
silver and gold figurines with eyes
that do not see, ears that can’t hear,
objects than any person buys,
in a shop, like dolls to entertain
a child, and to these dolls they pray
for long life, health, fair weather, rain . . .
But Israel does not do as they.
The Lord is our help and shield, and we
trust in His strength and know that He
will keep the house of Israel and
of Aaron and will bless our land.
All those who fear Him, He will bless
and give increase. The heavens, yes,
are the Lord’s, but He has given men
the earth. We must be grateful then
for all our lives, as long as we
have breath to worship Him: praise be.
to God for life and light and for
the world, now and forevermore.













Slavitt is well known for his own poems, novels and journalism. He has published more than fifty books. Most recently his work as translator has garnered much critical comment, most of it favorable. His translations include The Metamorphoses of Ovid, The Fables of Avianus, the “Eclogues” and “Georgics” of Virgil, and Seneca: The Tragedies, volumes 1 and 2, all available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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