woensdag 6 februari 2013

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

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

Review in: Interpretation 2005 59: 426
Review door: William Brown
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/59/4/426.1.full.pdf+html

The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary
by Samuel Terrien
Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003. 971 pp. $95.00. ISBN 0-8028-2605-9.

PUBLISHED POSTHUMOUSLY, this one-volume commentary is the author's final work. Although not a crowning achievement, it is a treasure full of diamonds in the rough. Terrien sets forth three tasks: "to ... elucidate the theological significance of these poems," "to analyze their strophic structure," and "to discover a link between their archaic language and the intellectual demands of modern thinking and spirituality" (p. xiii). His "structural analysis" enables him to identify the strophic divisions within each psalm, as well as highlight the "integral unity of composition." Terrien includes an all too brief discussion of the literary integrity of the Psalter as a whole. While some posit Psalm 73 as the Psalter's central pivot, Terrien adds Psalm 90 to the discussion, thereby creating "two poles" around which the Psalter is organized.

Terrien discusses in cursory fashion the standard issues of ancient Near Eastern background, textual transmisson, and genre. More space is devoted to the music of the psalms and strophic structure. Although he overuses the label "sapiential" or "wisdom" to describe many of the psalms, he is quick to claim that the Psalter is not so much a didactic manual as a collection of sacred songs "destined to perpetuate the art of music in nights of distress as well as in days of serenity" (p. 24). The style of the Psalter is that of adoration, not instruction. Even Psalm 1 is "fit to be sung, not spoken" (p. 71). Terrien accords the office of "musician" equal status to those of priest, prophet, and sage. The Psalter is a "musicotheca" that provides a portrait of Israel coram deo and a picture of divinity coram humane (p. 45). Versed in poetry and music, the psalmists were '"theologians' unaware" (p. 45); their "sense of wonder" and "fierceness of emotion" underwrote the psalms (p. 61). In his theological analysis, Terrien sifts out the theme of "Yahweh's [elusive] presence" as central (p. 46) and proceeds to highlight the various roles God assumes in the Psalter, from creator and judge to protector of the poor. Lamentably lacking is an equally insightful treatment of the psalmists' view(s) of humanity.

Terrien's commentary on individual psalms begins with translation (which lapses into King James English wherever God is addressed) and "form." He then moves to commentary (by strophe), and concludes with "date and theology." Terrien is particularly attuned to the poetic contours of the psalms and their rich imagery. His theological analyses are provocative but occasionally idiosyncratic, laden with abstract and artificially constructed terms (some of which could be typos) bereft of explication. While each psalm is introduced with a bibliography (which rarely goes beyond 1995), Terrien's primary conversation partner is himself (and, by extension, Job). His historical and theological reflections are mostly musings, frequently cast as hypothetical suggestions. Throwing caution to the wind, Terrien dares to be historically specific for many psalms (e.g., Psalm 45 as a "love song" for Ahab and Jezebel). But whether you agree or disagree, his reflections are consistently thought provoking, even if you're not sure what he means. But, then, that's vintage Terrien.


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