donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (AOTC), Abingdon Press, 2002; in: Irish Theological Quarterly

Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72 (AOTC), Abingdon Press, 2002.

Review in: Irish Theological Quarterly 2003 68: 176
Review door: Michael Maher
Gevonden op:

Psalms 1-72 (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries).
By Richard J. Clifford, SJ. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.
Pp. 288. Price £21.99. ISBN 0-687-02711-X.

Down through the centuries, the psalms have provided Jews and Christians with a reservoir of inspiring hymns and prayers, and they have enabled countless believers to bring a theological dimension to the art of responding to the ups and downs of life. However, believers in different ages have understood the psalms in different ways, and scholars have brought different approaches to the task of interpreting them. Our modem understanding of the psalms has been strongly influenced by the creative insights of the German scholar Hermann Gunkel, who, in the early decades of the twentieth century, classified the psalms according to their ’types’ (hymns, laments, etc) and their literary features. Since Gunkel’s days, the psalms have been the subject of detailed literary scrutiny, with the result that we have come to appreciate the poetic beauty and the theological richness of these ancient poems in a manner that is essentially different from the way in which they were understood in earlier centuries.

On reading the book under review, one soon becomes aware that its author is thoroughly familiar with modern scholarship relating to the psalms. Furthermore, Dr Clifford does an excellent job of communicating the results of that scholarship to the reader who is interested in placing the psalms in their cultural setting, in understanding their poetic structure, and in discovering their message for us today.

Clifford begins his work with a compact but clear introduction to the Psalter in general (pp. 15-35). In these pages, he deals with such topics as ’The Psalter as a Reflection of the Temple and its Worship’, ’The Genres and Rhetoric of the Psalms’, ’Poetic and Rhetorical Features’, ’The Psalms as Prayer for Modem People’. Clifford expresses the currently accepted views on these and other topics in a concise readable fashion.

The author continues with a study of each of the seventy-two psalms that form the subject of his work. He discusses each psalm under three rubrics: ’Literary Analysis’, ’Exegetical Analysis’, ’Theological and Ethical Analysis’. Under the heading ’Literary Analysis’, he discusses the literary genre of the psalm, its poetic features, and its structure. So, for example, we are told that Ps 4 is an individual lament that has elements of a song of trust. It addresses a complaint to God in spirited language, but it also makes the case for loyalty to God. One can distinguish three subunits within the psalm: vv. 1-3 formulate a petition and a statement of hope; vv. 4-6 are an exhortation to others; vv. 7-8 are a statement of hope. The ’Exegetical Analysis’ offers, as one might expect, an exegesis of the psalm and of its individual parts. In Ps. 51, for example, Clifford distinguishes three distinct blocks of text. The theme of the first block (vv. 1-8) can be expressed in the words ’Forgive me, 0 God, because of your mercy, I acknowledge my sin’. The theme of the second block (vv. 9-17) can be summed up as follows: ’Renew me, restore me to the community, and let me proclaim your praises.’ The third and final little block (vv. 18-19) is regarded as an addition designed to reassure worshippers that when Jerusalem is rebuilt animal sacrifice will be restored. The ’Theological and Ethical Analysis’ brings out the religious and moral values that may be discovered in a particular psalm. Although this analysis does not focus on contemporary issues, it can stimulate the reader to reflect on these issues. We are told, for example that Ps. 72 ’is at once a praise of an ideal kingship and an admonition to the king’, and that a king can only succeed if he rules with justice (pp. 334). The reader of the psalm is left to ponder on what this might mean for those who hold power and influence in our modem world.

The editors of the series in which Clifford’s book appears have written: ’These volumes are designed and written to provide compact and critical commentaries for the use of theological students and pastors. It is hoped that they may be of service to upperlevel or university students and to those responsible for teaching in congregational settings’ (p. 9). Clifford’s work is eminently suited to the kind of audience described in these lines, and it can be recommended without reservation.

Milltown Park
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