INCOMMENSURABILITY AND MUTUALITY
The Psalms have “theological use” both through their liturgical repetition and through their didactic authority as a way of shaping, schooling, and nurturing the singing, learning community of faith in a peculiar way. The work of the Psalter is to trope Israel's imagination with reference to a God who is odd and incomparable. That the Psalter is an enterprise of trope means that it is distinctly “unfamiliar” in its claims and offers not a common-sense characterization of Israelite life in the world, but a strenuous, alternative presentation that intends always to subvert and delegitimate Israel's ordinary, common-sense entry into the world.1
Specifically, the God to whom Israel's life is endlessly referred in the Psalter is offered as “incomparable,” both in power (the accent of the hymns) and in solidarity (as stressed in the complaints).2 That unarguable quality of YHWH that in turn bespeaks Israel's incomparable character is YHWH's relatedness to Israel as a defining mark of YHWH. That relatedness (“You shall be my people”) that recharac-
1 See Patrick D. Miller, “The Theological Significance of Biblical Poetry,” Lan-
guage, Theology, and the Bible: Essays in Honour of James Barr ed. Samuel F.
Balentine and John Barton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994) 213-30 “repr. in Pat-
rick D. Miller (ed.), Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology (JSOTSup; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) 233-49”.
On the defining “unfamiliarity” of the text, attention may usefully be given to
both Karl Barth, 'The Strange New World within the Bible,” The Word of God
and the Word of Man (New York: Harper, 1957) 28-50; and Martin Buber, “The
Man of Today and the Bible,” On the Bible: Eighteen Studies (New York:
Schocken, 1982) 1-13. See more generally, Wesley A. Kort, Take, Read: Scrip-
ture, Textuality, and Cultural Practice (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State
University Press, 1996).
2 For a review of the data, see C.J. Labuschagne, The Incomparability of
Yahweh in the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1966). See also my summary, Brueg-
gemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minnea-
polis: Fortress, 1997) 139-44.