donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 73-150 (AOTC), Abingdon Press, 2002; in: Irish Theological Quarterly

Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 73-150 (AOTC), Abingdon Press, 2002.

Review in: Irish Theological Quarterly 2005 70: 179
Review door: Michael Maher
Gevonden op:

Psalms 73-150 (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries).
By Richard J. Clifford. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.
Pp. 334. Price £19.99. ISBN 0-687-06468-6.

In my review of the first volume of Dr. Clifford’s commentary on the Psalms (see ITQ 68 (2003) 176-177) I drew attention, among other things, to the general structure of the commentary and to some of its special characteristics. Since, as one would expect, the author follows the same pattern in this second volume - treating each psalm under three headings, Literary Analysis, Exegetical Analysis, Theological and Ethical Analysis - I can avoid general comments on the work, and I choose instead to illustrate the quality of the commentary on the Psalms that form the subject of the present volume by focusing on Clifford’s treatment of a few individual psalms.

I go first to the commentary on Ps. 110, a psalm which poses many problems for the modem reader. Clifford begins his examination of this psalm with the words, ’Psalm 109 opened with a wicked accuser standing at the right hand of an innocent person (v. 6) and concluded with the hope that God “stands at the right hand of the needy” (v. 31). Psalm 110 continues the picture by its oracle “sit at my right hand” (v. lb) which is repeated in v. 5.’ Earlier, in his introduction to Ps. 108, Clifford had said of that psalm that ’Its vehement petitions foreshadow the anguished pleas of Ps 109.’ In this way he tacitly intimates that these three psalms ( 108-110) are interconnected. They are not just three individual psalms that have been casually placed one after the other by an editor. In taking this approach Clifford is joining forces with an increasing number of modem scholars who draw attention to the fact that on many occasions a number of psalms are placed together in the Psalter because they have certain linguistic, thematic or theological topics in common. So, for example Pss. 3-7 form a collection of Lamentation psalms. Clifford notes that Ps 110 is a royal psalm consisting of oracles to the king ’presumably at a ceremony of installation or an anniversary of it.’ He wastes no time in trying to reconstruct that ceremony, an enterprise that would be largely hypothetical in any case. Instead he goes on to give a brief account of the role of the king in Israelite thought, showing how Pss. 110, 2 and 89 celebrate different aspects of the royal office. Under the rubric ’Exegetical Analysis’ he gives a concise explanation of the two oracles, vv. 1-3 and vv. 4-7, that constitute Ps. 110. He makes judicious comments on the obscure verses 3 and 7 without getting the reader bogged down in the variety of solutions that have been proposed to the difficulties raised by these verses. In his ’Theological and Ethical Analysis’ he briefly develops the idea that Israel’s royal psalms are concerned with the kingdom of God, and he makes the point that Christians can pray Ps. 110 ’to express their appreciation for the kingdom of God and for the means of achieving it, Christ, Son of David and high priest.’

We now turn our attention to Clifford’s commentary on Ps 83, a psalm that has been excluded from the current Catholic Breviary, known in English as The Prayer of the Church. An earlier commentator has described this psalm as ’an unedifying and tedious catalogue of bloody violence.’ Clifford makes no such sweeping judgement of the psalm. Instead he places it in its historical context, clarifies the historical references in the psalm, and explains that the ten nations mentioned in vv. 6-8 designate all the enemies of God’s people. Vv. 9-17 are an appeal to God to scatter those enemies and to reduce them to shame and disgrace. The final verse foresees a time when they will recognize that Yahweh alone is God and that he is ’Most High over all the earth.’ In his ’Theological and Ethical Analysis’ Clifford asks ’Can a plea for violent intervention be Christian prayer?’ He answers in the affirmative, explaining that ’basically the psalm is a prayer for the introduction of divine rule in the world, for the “reign of God.”’

In the ’Theological and Ethical Analysis’ of Ps 150 with which Clifford ends this volume he writes: ’Psalm 1 declares happy those who recite the divine words of the Psalter. “Happiness” comes because the psalms turn one toward God, the Lord of the universe. - Ps 150 urges again and again that every living being is to respond wholeheartedly to God in the vast cathedral of the cosmos.’ These lines form a very appropriate ending to a two-volume work that not only sets the psalms in their historical context and explains their literary qualities, but also draws out the theological and spiritual riches that are to be found in Israel’s ancient treasury of songs. Clifford’s compact commentary will provide a reliable guide for pastors, students and members of faith communities who wish to come to grips with the Psalms and their message.

Mater Dei Institute,
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