The Psalms in Israel's Worship - Vol. 1

By Sigmund Mowinckel; D. R. Ap-Thomas | Go to book overview
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I and 'We' in the Psalms -- The Royal Psalms


How the corporate view of reality and society in ancient Israel determines the relation between 'we' -- psalms and 'I' -- psalms has already been mentioned.

The basic reality in human life is, for the Israelite, not the individual, but the community.1 The individual had his real existence in the tribe. Outside of that he was nothing, a severed member, one without rights, 'whom everyone that findeth him shall slay, as Cain said. But this community was not only an external and judicial one, it was even more a spiritual one. To the Israelite, a species, e.g. an animal species, was not a combination of individuals, an abstraction, or a sum. The species was the original entity, which manifests itself in the single specimen. Likewise with human beings: the tribe -- ' Israel', 'Moab', etc. -- was not looked upon as a sum of individuals who had joined together, or who enjoyed an existence of their own apart from the whole to which they belonged; it was the real entity which manifested itself in each separate member. We might, with Johs. Pedersen, say that 'the individual Moabite is not a section of a number of Moabitic individuals, but a revelation of "Moabitehood" '. To the Israelite this was the reality, it was in no wise an abstraction. One sees this from the general attitude to the traditional blood revenge. The responsibility lay on all, not so that each one had a part in it, but placing the whole responsibility on each individual. To those who had the grievance, every single member of the manslayer's clan or tribe would at a given moment represent the whole tribe.

We may also see this clearly in the view taken of the founder of the tribe. Each tribe, or group of tribes, has a common ancestor, 'the Great Sheikh' as the Bedouins call him today, and the tribe is named after him. All the historical memories of the tribe, besides all sorts of legends and stories are centered in his person. Traditions about the life and wanderings of the tribe, its social and religious institutions, its borders, rights of possession to wells, and so on, are usually in some way or other connected with the person of the ancestor;2 he is the one who has experienced and

For the following statement cf. Johs. Pedersen, Israel I-II, pp. 263ff. and Index s.v. Individual, Individualism; Wheeler Robinson in Werden d. Wesen d. A. T. (BZATW 66), pp. 49ff.; id., The Group and the Individual. Cf. also Bräunlich in Islamica, 1933, 1-2.
After J. Lindblom, Israels religion, pp. 13f.


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