The Psalms in Israel's Worship - Vol. 1

By Sigmund Mowinckel; D. R. Ap-Thomas | Go to book overview
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Author's Preface to the English Edition

This book originally appeared in Norwegian dress in 1951; it has been revised in certain respects for the present edition. One chapter, which dealt with the use of the psalms in the Church, and which was strongly coloured by having been written during enemy occupation, has been omitted.

Scientifically speaking, the historical viewpoint from which I regard the psalms is that of form history -- or, as it may better be termed, type history (Gattungsgeschichte) -- a method of approach introduced by Hermann Gunkel. But when I began my Psalmenstudien I-VI ( 1921-24) it had become apparent to me that that point of view was not sufficient. In order to understand the psalms in their relationship to the religious life of Israel and of Judaism it is necessary also to use in addition the cult functional approach. They must be viewed and comprehended in their relationship to the congregation's devotional life. The great majority of the psalms which have come down to us do not simply derive, as a matter of form history or literary history, from ancient cult poetry -- they are real cult psalms composed for and used in the actual services in the Temple. Private and more personal psalm poetry first occurs in the late Jewish period. In the Psalter such psalms constitute a minority.

The Norwegian edition bore the title Offersang og Sangoffer -- 'Song of sacrifice and Sacrifice of song' or 'Offering song and Song offering'. This was meant to suggest one of the avenues through the history of psalm poetry in the Old Testament. What I mean by that will appear in the chapter entitled 'The Learned Psalmography' (Chap. XVI).

One result of my work in connexion with the psalms -- which has even surprised myself -- is to see to how great an extent the piety and image of God which grew up within the official cult religion in the Temple at Jerusalem is presupposed by, and not a result of, the activity of the great classical prophets. Within the Christian Church the Psalter has always been the most used and most beloved book of the Old Testament. The biblical psalms have been the fons et origo of Christian hymnody, and they have still much to teach us about the real essence of writing hymns for divine service; for they provide a corrective to the often only too subjectively lyrical in more modern religious poetry and song.

The chapter on The Psalms at the Enthronement Festival of Yahweh was delivered as the Dale Lectures at Mansfield College, Oxford in 1953. I frequently think back with joy and gratitude to that occasion.

I would also express my thanks to the translator, Mr D. R. Ap-Thomas for his unwearying patience and care; the work has not been easy. My thanks go likewise to the publisher for his kindness in undertaking to publish the English edition.

SIGMUND MOWINCKEL. Oslo, October, 1961

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