The Psalms and the Life of Faith

By Walter Brueggemann; Patrick D. Miller | Go to book overview

1

Psalms and the Life of Faith:
A Suggested Typology of Function

WHAT HAS BEEN the function and intention of the Psalms as they were shaped, transmitted, and repeatedly used?1 That is, what was the purpose of "doing them," albeit in highly stylized fashion? What was being done when the Psalms were "done"? Such questions move in a construcdve direction, in contrast to the more analytic questions of form and setting. To ask about the function of the Psalms means to move away from direct textual evidence and to engage in some tentative reconstructions. Our consideration of functionmust of course be based on the best judgments we have about form and setting in life.2 The present discussion assumes and fully

1. On the question of function and intentionality, see Hans Werner Hoffmann,
"Form-Funktion-Intention," 2AW 82 (1970): 341–46; Kirsten Nielsen, Yahweh as Prose-
cutor and Judge, JSOTSup 9 (Sheffield, England: Univ. of Sheffield Press, 1978), 1–4;
and Rolf Knierim, "Old Testament Form Criticism Reconsidered," Int 27 (1973):
449–68. Much of the current discussion of function concerns the extent to which
literary forms faithfully reflect and remain linked to their original setting and func-
tion. See especially Georg Fohrer, "Remarks on the Modern Interpretation of the
Prophets," JBL 80 (1961): 309–19, and idem, "Tradition und Interpretation im Al-
ten Testament," ZAW 32 (1961): 1–30, whom Hoffmann follows, and the more
programmatic statement of Martin J. Buss, "The Study of Forms," in Old Testament
Form Criticism, ed. John H. Hayes, Trinity University Monograph Series in Religion 2
(San Antonio: Trinity Univ. Press, 1974), 31–38.

2. Brevard S. Childs, "Midrash and the Old Testament," in Understanding the
Sacred Text, ed.John Reumann (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1972), 51, understands the
issue in this way: "One of the fundamental postulates of the form-critical method is
the insistence that the form and function of a genre must be held together. The
attempt of the form-critical method to analyze the stereotyped form of a literary

-3-

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