woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: S. Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. 2 vols. (ECC), Eerdmans, 2003; in: Theology Today

S. Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. 2 vols. (ECC), Eerdmans, 2003

Review in: Theology Today 2004 61: 130
Review door: Walter Brueggemann
Gevonden op: http://ttj.sagepub.com/content/61/1/130.full.pdf+html

The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary.
By Samuel Terrien
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003. 971 pp. $95.00.

Samuel Terrien (1911-2002) completed this weighty study of the Psalter in his most senior years, during which, it is clear, he lost nothing of his scholarly acumen or his capacity for bold and vigorous articulation. His characteristic qualities of astonishing erudition and elegance of expression are fully displayed in this commentary, which provides a standard consideration of each psalm plus venturesome suggestions on some themes that have long preoccupied the author.

The book opens with a learned and comprehensive introduction, including a note on Psalm 151 from Qumran. The format for each psalm, in turn, includes a fresh translation, an exhaustive bibliography, and a discussion of form, followed by an extended “commentary” with a conclusion concerning “date and theology.” Two features in this commentary merit special notice. First, Terrien has read and used everything published in the field. His capacity to digest and activate a rich, extensive bibliography is longstanding and continues here. Of particular interest is his frequent appeal to French scholars, who are often neglected in a field dominated by German- and English-speakmg authors. Thus, he cites with ready familiarity Auffret, Bonnard, Martin-Achard, Dhorme, and the entire galaxy of French scholarship, an offering not much available in the usual studies.

Second, Terrien’s signature mark in psalm study is his attention to strophic structure, an interest indicated in this book’s subtitle. While his approach to strophic structure has not been generally followed, the heuristic value of his sense of internal poetic coherence and structure is enormous. While the commentary on every psalm is arranged in strophes, his analysis of Psalm 22, which he outlines in an elaborate poetic pattern, and his acute analysis of structure in Psalms 74, 104, and 139 may be considered representative examples.

Of course, the payoff of this, like every good commentary, is the author’s fresh insight into the details of the text. I single out, among a number of psalms, Terrien’s discussion of Psalm 73, which he links to “Jeremianic circles.” Here, among other matters, he asserts: “The man who is nearest to God upon this earth receives a foretaste of eternal felicity.” In reflection upon verses 25-26, Terrien comments: “The summum mysteriosum [height of mystery] is here reached by man’s attempt to express the ineffable.” And he concludes: “Theology is born out of the quest for truth and its doubts. It matures into creedal statement after the sublimity of divine possession.” The commentary is permeated with such original articulations that invite the reader into rich, new awareness. The reader senses on every page that here speaks a scholar deeply rooted in faith with a powerful mystical tinge. In The Elusive Presence (1978), Terrien paid focused attention to the contemplative and the artistic. In his life’s work on the Book of Job, he moved deeply into issues of absence and presence. All of that rich learning is mobilized here in most probing and suggestive ways, malung connections all the way from deep mysticism to the ordered life and faith of the church.

It is a special privilege to comment on this book, as Professor Terrien was my first teacher of the Psalms. In his graduate seminar at Union Theological Seminary (New York), he worked with strophic structure in ways that bewildered and dazzled-always attentive to detail, always playfully and open to dialogue, always holding acute criticism close to evident faith. All of that elegance appears here, to our great benefit.

Columbia Theological Seminary
Decatur, GA

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