Tradition and Interpretation

By G. W. Anderson | Go to book overview
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(a) The nature of the task--difficulties and principles

THE study of the Psalms in relation to Israelite worship has been very fruitful; it has rediscovered the vitality of many texts and done much to change our whole view of Israelite religion. Nevertheless, it has given rise to some difficult and controversial questions.

Of the various sources of difficulty, we may mention first the poetic style of the Psalms. This gives rise to many ambiguities when the original human context has been lost. Thus it is often doubtful whether a verb refers to past, present, or future, or whether it describes a fact or expresses a wish. Increasing knowledge of other Semitic languages has contributed much to the discussion of syntax and vocabulary, but has also created many new uncertainties. The stimulating commentary of M. Dahood well illustrates this, abounding in novel and controversial renderings.

Another difficulty is to specify what we mean by a psalm's 'original' meaning or use. Ancient compositions so often appear as new permutations of older stock rather than as original creations. If one sentence reflects a rite of mythological import, should we take it as evidence of the psalm's setting in Israelite worship, or might it be a fragment from pre-Israelite times, re-used with an altered intention? Are royal concepts evidence of a king's psalm, or have they been reapplied to commoners? Presumably, the most likely explanation of the parts of a psalm will be that which leads to a good explanation of the whole. 'Original' will refer to the meaning and use which belonged to the psalm when it was constituted in its


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Tradition and Interpretation


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