The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

7
Psalms
at the Dead Sea

It is now time to turn from a reconstruction of the formation of the book of Psalms to a consideration of the use of the Psalms through history. This consideration turns us into many paths, including the use of Psalms by Jews through the centuries and the use of Psalms in the New Testament and by Christians through the centuries, in liturgy and in study, in hymns and in recitation.

After I finished writing my own treatment of these topics in this section, there came to my attention a little book from eighty years ago, The Psalms in Human Life by Rowland E. Prothero.1 In spite of its title this work does not touch at all on Jewish use of the Psalms or on the Psalms in the New Testament; it does not deal with the Eastern Orthodox Church or with the Roman Catholic Church after the sixteenth century. It does not analyze liturgy or commentaries. It essentially offers stories from church history, beginning with the church fathers and continuing through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, with the emphasis on Great Britain and France and on Protestants; we learn, for example, the favorite psalm of Charlemagne (Psalm 68, “Let God rise up”).2 Though there are no footnotes, the author does include a full bibliography of sources, and his book is a gold mine of examples from church history: there are two chapters, for example, on the French Huguenots. It is therefore a useful supplement to my treatment here.


The Jews, 323–63 B.C.E.:
The Challenge of Hellenism

After the death of Alexander the Great, as we noted in chapter 6, Palestine found itself part of the Ptolemaic Empire, that portion of Alexander’s realm that lay in Egypt. What happened in the following two centuries is complex, but at least an outline of events is necessary here.

The basic issue for the Jews of the time was how they would respond to the challenge of Hellenism. The Greek language and the Greek way of life were everywhere. It was not simply a matter of the Jews in Alexandria translating the Jewish

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