Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer

Article excerpt

They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer, by Patrick D. Miller. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995. Pp. xvi + 464. $40.00/$24.00.

Patrick D. Miller's previous works have contributed to our understanding of the Psalms and the theology of the Hebrew Scriptures. In this volume, he makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the biblical tradition of prayer, a subject that has sparked renewed interest among biblical scholars in recent years.

The introduction to Miller's volume begins with the assertion, "No single practice more clearly defines a religion than the act of praying." Miller also believes that prayer and theology are intimately related. In this volume, Professor Miller presents not so much a constructive theology of prayer as a treatment of the form and theology of biblical texts related to prayer. He tells his readers that most of the volume relates to the Old Testament, though he does attend to New Testament texts. He writes for a broad audience in both the academic world and the church.

The first chapter presents the broad setting of biblical prayer by exploring the various types of prayers from the nations neighboring ancient Israel. The chapter is organized (as is the remainder of the volume) so that the reader may make connections. Miller's approach to the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and related Near Eastern materials is a balanced one. He notes the differences in polytheistic and monotheistic faiths but also presents the continuity between prayer in ancient Israel and among other ancient Near Eastern peoples. The second chapter considers the terminology for prayer in the Hebrew Scriptures. Miller's treatment is quite helpful in organizing the usage of the terms. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the time and place of prayer and gestures associated with the act.

The central section of the book is chapters 3-5, in which Miller follows the biblical path through the prayer for help to divine response to thanksgiving. He is here indebted to studies on the Psalms, especially the work of Claus Westermann. In the chapter's discussion of the basic form of the prayer for help, three items are noteworthy. One is the presence of praise in the address to God. Miller shows that the sharp distinction some have drawn between Mesopotamian and Hebrew prayers at this point is not satisfactory. A second helpful insight is the distinctions Miller draws between complaint and lament. A third especially insightful dimension of the chapter is the attention to the language of the psalmic petitions (pp. 97ff.). In the chapter on the response of God, Miller rehearses the biblical evidence that there is divine response to prayer. He then provides a full and balanced treatment of the oracle of salvation as a significant form of response. The chapter concludes with theological implications. The fifth chapter, "Doxology and Trust," considers the connections of praise and thanksgiving and various themes in the biblical prayers of thanksgiving. …

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