Magazine article The Christian Century

Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)

Article excerpt

Psalms (New Cambridge

Bible Commentary)

By Walter Brueggemann

and William H. Bellinger Jr.

Cambridge University Press, 670 pp., $39.99 paperback

I am often asked by pastors and seminary students, "What is the best commentary available on the Psalms?" I interpret the question to mean, "What commentary will best help me preach and teach from the Psalter?" Even with that more narrow focus, the question is nearly impossible to answer. In the past 20 years nearly every denomination and university press has published at least one commentary on the Psalms, so we have an incredibly rich trove of such resources at our disposal.

Though it may be impossible to identify a single Psalms commentary as the best for Christian exposition, two have long stood above the rest for their balanced, insightful, and theologically rich interpretation: J. Clinton McCann Jr.'s treatment of the Psalms in the New Interpreter's Bible and James L. Mays's commentary in the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. This new commentary by Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr. deserves a place alongside the work of McCann and Mays.

The excellence of this commentary should come as no surprise. Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, is one of the most prolific Old Testament scholars of our time. He is the author of more than 100 books, including several important works on the Psalms. Bellinger is professor of Old Testament and chair of the religion department at Baylor University. He is widely recognized as an authority on the Psalter, with four books and numerous articles on the Psalms to his credit.

This commentary is a rare gem. It combines accurate and disciplined scholarship with fresh theological insight in a discussion that is clear and accessible to a broad audience. The format of the commentary includes the NRSV translation of each psalm followed by an expository essay. The essay typically begins with introductory comments about the psalm's genre, purpose, theology, main subject, and literary structure. Then the authors discuss the psalm's contents selectively rather than in a verse-by-verse format. The result displays the authors' significant interpretive skills, theological acumen, and creativity.

In addition to the essays are two brief segments labeled "A Closer Look" and "Bridging the Horizons." The former typically includes discussion of an exegetical issue that the authors find interesting and want to highlight. For example, they use "A Closer Look" to explore the expression "Lord of Hosts" in Psalm 84 and to discuss the meaning and background of "to thank" in Psalm 107. "Bridging the Horizons" is mainly devoted to a broader theological issue or to the history of the use of the psalm. These two sections do not appear in the discussion of every psalm, and the treatment of some psalms includes more than one "Bridging" or "Closer Look" segment.

Brueggemann and Bellinger seldom introduce new or innovative interpretations of individual psalms. They are masterful, however, in their presentation of what is most certainly known about the Psalms and in the illustrative style they use to discuss various issues.

For example, in the discussion of Psalm 93 the authors explain Sigmund Mowinckel's well-established theory that the words "the Lord is king" once served as liturgy for a festival in which Israel's God was ceremonially enthroned in the Jerusalem temple. According to this view, the line was perhaps understood to mean something like "the Lord has become king" and was shouted as the Ark of the Covenant was installed in the Holy of Holies. …

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