The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception

By Peter W. Flint; Patrick D. Miller Jr. | Go to book overview
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NANCY L. deCLAISSÉ-WALFORD, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thus begins one of the most heartfelt laments in the Hebrew Psalter. It is a lament made more poignant, perhaps, because of its connection with the passion narratives of Jesus of Nazareth. According the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus spoke the opening words of Psalm 22 in his dying moment as he hung on the crucifixion cross.1 In addition, Psalm 22 is the traditional psalm read at the feast of Purim, words placed on the lips of Esther as she risks her life to save her people.But Psalm 22 is poignant in itself, without any connection to the heroic efforts of Esther or to the passion narratives of the Christian scriptures. J. Clinton McCann, Jr., observes, in fact, that “Psalm 22 is not unique because it is used in the New Testament (and, we might add, used at Purim); rather it is used in the New Testament (and at Purim) because it is unique.”2 The words of this psalm are gutsy, graphic, and grief-filled. They give the reader pause; they make the reader stop and consider. So let us pause for a moment and consider the words of Psalm 22.We will begin by observing that Psalm 22 is a usual psalm and yet an unusual psalm. In what ways is it usual?
1. It is a lament.
2. It is ascribed to David.

In Book I of the Psalter, where Psalm 22 is located, twenty-seven of the forty-one psalms are laments. And all of the psalms in found here, except for Psalms 1 and 2, are “psalms of David.”3 The superscription

1 Angela M. Hubbard, in “Psalm 2 and the Paschal Mystery,” The Bible Today
36 (1998) 111, states: “The passion story is probably the oldest continuous narra-
tive about Jesus and Psalm 22 is tightly woven into that narrative.”

2 J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” in Leander E. Keck (ed.), The
New Interpreter's Bible
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) 4.762.

3 Psalm 10 is strongly linked to Psalm 9. See H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A
(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988) 188-89; and William L. Holladay,
The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993) 77. Psalm 33 has solid linguistic links to Psalm 32.


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