woensdag 13 februari 2013

Review of: Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100 (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2005; in: Interpretation

Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100 (Hermeneia), Fortress, 2005.

Review in: Interpretation 2007 61: 218
Review door: William P. Brown
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/61/2/218.full.pdf+html

Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100
by Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger.
Edited by Klaus Baltzer. English translation by Linda M. Moloney.
Hermeneia. Fortress, Minneapolis, 2005.
552 pp. $65.00  (cloth). ISBN 0-8006-6061-7.

FRANK-LOTHAR HOSSFELD (University of Bonn) and Erich Zenger (University of Münster) have teamed up to develop a literarily sensitive and technically sophisticated commentary on the middle portion of the Psalter. Their work originally appeared in German (2000) in the Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament (HTKAT) series. Now it appears in English under the aegis of Hermeneia. The next volume will be on Pss 101-150 and thereafter Pss 1-50. The order is deliberate: it is only in the last volume that the authors will proffer a detailed analysis of the entire Psalter's formation in their introduction. So the last shall be first. In the meantime, the reader must hit the ground running with an all too brief introduction that focuses exclusively on the Psalter's redactional development. The introduction to this volume is not for the neophyte.

To summarize, Hossfeld and Zenger identify various groupings of psalms (shaped by certain "compositional arcs") and their order of codification. They identify Pss 52-68 as the "oldest collection," which came to be expanded into a "Davidic Psalter" consisting of Pss 51-72 through the work of the "Asaphite theologians," who also created Pss 50, 73-83. But before this collection was finalized, the Korah cluster (Pss 42-49) was added, together forming the so-called "Elohist Psalter" (Pss 42-83). This "partial Psalter," the authors contend, is not the result of a "reticence toward the misuse and utterance of the Tetragrammaton"—a much later development—but the product of "theological thought that emphasizes God's distance and transcendence" (p. 5). The resulting collection subsequently grew into the "Messianic Psalter" (Pss 2-89), divided into three "books." Finally, Pss 90-92 were added, serving as transition to the final collection, namely, Pss 93-100, the "YHWH is king" psalms. And so (voila!) we have our fully redacted collection for this volume. How the authors actually know the precise ingredients and their order vis-à-vis the final product remains an open question, but as a heuristic model it is useful.

As with most Hermeneia volumes, much space is devoted to copious translation notes, including text-critical notations. The authors skillfully navigate the various scholarly positions on a given psalm (complete with extensive quotations), attending to matters of genre and poetic form as well as theological significance. Exposition follows. New to this volume is the sustained attention given to "context, reception, and significance" for each psalm. "Context" refers to a psalm's relationship to neighboring psalms; "reception" discusses how the psalm was appropriated in later textual traditions, from Targum and Septuagint to the NT. "Significance" refers primarily to the psalm's theological contribution to biblical faith.

Some psalms are also given iconographical treatment. For Ps 76, the authors present several ancient drawings of lion and solar imagery, particularly of Egyptian and Mesopota-mian provenance, which supports their argument that God is profiled as a "fighting lion" and sun-deity (pp. 265-69). The authors' generous use of iconographical material, drawn in part from the work of Othmar Keel, highlights the rich stock of mythical tropes that many an Israelite psalmist adopted for liturgical usage.

A description of the authors' treatment of a particular psalm is revealing. Psalm 82 has been the darling of countless exegetes, and for good reason. It is, in the words of Zenger, "one of the most spectacular texts of the Old Testament" (p. 337). And this opinion is shared not only by a few erudite Psalms scholars. John Dominic Crossan refers to Ps 82 as "the single most important text in the entire Christian Bible" (The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years after the Execution of Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998,575).

But Ps 82 is also one of the most controversial, if not ambiguous, of biblical psalms. It reports a particularly dramatic scene "in the assembly of the gods" in which God judges and sentences to death all the "sons of the Most High" for failing to establish justice for the marginalized. But does the psalm actually engage the gods from on high, or does it speak metaphorically of corrupt judges on earth? Zenger first discerns three discrete ideas in Canaanite myth that the psalm retrieves "to shape an original Israelite poesy": 1) "the Canaanite pattern of the hierarchical assembly... with a 'god-president' at its head"; 2) the distribution of territories to individual deities; and 3) the rise of a particular deity to the pantheon's summit (p. 329). The use of the felicitous designation "god-president" may be more than just a scholarly designation for the rank of high god in the assembly, because, at least in modern American discourse, it just as easily refers to a human individual within the political realm. (I'll let readers fill in the blank.) And therein lies the crux: does the psalm operate primarily within the heavenly or in the "world-political" realm?

Only after Zenger discerns the various roles Israel's God assumes within the psalm (i.e., as accuser, judge, and governor) does he wade into the debate with characteristic judiciousness. He presents the case for each position and identifies a third position, namely, that to choose between the two assumes a "false dichotomy" (p. 330). The psalm, he concludes, operates on both levels. It announces the "death of all the gods—except for the God of Israel— and the disempowerment of the systems of dominance that rely on these gods" in the earthly realm (p. 334). Psalm 82 thus presents a "powerful social critique" (p. 331).

Zenger presents a careful analysis of the literary contours of the text that unites v. 1 (an "exposition" cast in "reporting style") with v. 5, which he interprets as a communal lament corresponding to the concluding petition in v. 8. The rest is divine discourse (w. 2-4,6-7).

Central to the psalm is what Zenger calls the "radicalizing of the ancient Near Eastern 'ethics for the poor'" in w. 3-4: the psalm calls for a "comprehensive alteration in social and political conditions" in behalf of the marginalized, which includes not only widows and orphans but also the "mass of small farmers, artisans, and day laborers" (pp. 333-34). Dramatically, Israel's God does not simply ascend to top rank among the gods; YHWH dissolves the whole divine assembly (p. 336).

Regarding the psalm's preceding context, Zenger finds an integration of the "theology of the poor" in previous psalms, particularly in the Asaphite collection. Moreover, Ps 82 "offers a visionary glimpse of the fulfillment of Ps 81" (p. 336). Looking forward, Ps 82 is transitional for the following psalm, the climax of the Asaph composition. In terms of reception history, Zenger makes the suggestive claim that the Septuagint resets the psalm on Olympus. He notes the quotation of 82:6a in John 10:34-35, which allows him to explore briefly the hermeneutical appropriation of OT texts in the New. The psalm's significance, in conclusion, lies in its "definition" of the true God as one "whose divinity [is tied] to the fate of the poor and dispossessed" (p. 337), much in tune with the portrayal of God in Exodus.

The discussion of Ps 82 is illustrative of the scholarly rigor and passionate convictions that characterize the authors' discussion. We will no doubt hear more about the Psalter's "theology for the poor" and creational emphases in the subsequent volumes.

And now for some quibbles. The authors' translations of the Hebrew are frequently cumbersome, indicating exegetical indecision and inconsistency. Alternative translations for a particular Hebrew word are featured in the translation itself: e.g., "indeed/for," "scattered/ scatters," "rejected/rejects" all in Ps 53:6, "indeed/certainly" in 62:2, "blind/arrogant" in 73:3, and "steadfast love/mercy" in 59:11. The enigmatic term Mahalath is left untranslated in Ps 53:1 but is translated in 88:1 ("Sickness"). Misprints and editorial sloppiness also hamper the presentation: several of the exegetical notations for Ps 56 do not match the translation (due to a missed footnote in v. 5; see also 72:17). The "ancient persons" of Ps 78 are actually "ancient versions" (p. 285). Although the notations are full, certain words in the translation require notation but are curiously left unaddressed (e.g., 73:3a; 79:5b; 90:10c). Finally, scarce mention is made to Qumranic versions of the Psalms in the text-critical discussion.

To an extent, such mistakes and inconsistencies are expected for such a substantive and detailed volume. Still, they are annoying. In comparison to the commentary's masterful exposition of these psalms, they are mere blemishes. The next volume is eagerly awaited.

William P. Brown

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