Theology of the Psalms

Theology of the Psalms

Theology of the Psalms

Theology of the Psalms

Excerpt

“Israel in the presence of Yahweh (Israel’s answer)”—this is how Gerhard von Rad characterized the Psalms within the larger portrayal of biblical theology in his Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 1. We must first clarify the assumptions behind this basic position of von Rad’s in terms of his whole approach. Note that “Israel’s response” as it is expressed in the Psalms is, according to von Rad, viewed in the larger context of Israel’s historical traditions. Before dealing with the theology of the Psalms, von Rad made specific reference to the two fundamental complexes of traditions in the Old Testament. “Jahweh twice intervened in Israel’s history in a special way, to lay a basis of salvation for his people” (1962, p. 355). “Round the first datum—Israel became the people of Jahweh and received the promised land—lies the Hexateuch with its wealth of traditions, to unfold this work of Jahweh adequately and to interpret it. The other, the choice of David and his throne, became the point of crystallization and the axis for the historical works of the Deuteronomist and the Chronicler” (von Rad, 1962, p. 355). In addition to these basic events to which the blocks of traditional material bear witness, Yahweh revealed himself in the history of his people as Lord. The prophets proclaimed his intervention in history and the new beginnings he made with his people. But not even they could refer to any other bases of saving activity than the revelation at Sinai and the choice of David and his dynasty.

In the light of these two basic events and the traditions around them, von Rad views the situation in the Psalms in the following way. “When these saving acts had happened to her, Israel did not keep silent: not only did she repeatedly take up her pen to recall these acts of Jahweh to her mind in historical documents, but she also addressed Jahweh in a wholly personal way. She offered praise to him, and asked him questions, and complained to him about all her sufferings, for Jahweh had not chosen his people as a mere dumb object of his will in history, but for converse with him. The answer of Israel’s, which we gather for the most part from the Psalter, is theologically a subject in itself” (1962, p. 355).

Even though it is appropriate and desirable to deal with a theology of the Psalms, which really is “in itself an object of theological inquiry,” under the general theme “Israel in the presence of Yahweh,” it is also necessary to be specific about the nature of “Israel’s response” as part of a dialog. This must be done, be-

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