woensdag 6 februari 2013

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

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

Review in: Pacifica 2003 16: 318
Review door: Antony F. Campbell, S.J.
Gevonden op: http://paa.sagepub.com/content/16/3/318.full.pdf+html

SAMUEL TERRIEN, ThePsalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. ISBN 0802826059. Pp. 900. Rrp. US$95.00.

Psalms commentaries in English are not exactly an endangered species, but they are not abundant either. In the last couple of decades, one might note Craigie-Allen-Tate (Word, 3 vols), Dahood (AB, 3 vols), Kraus (CC, 3 vols), Gerstenberger (FOTL, 2 vols), and Mays (1 vol.). In English, one-volume commentaries are rare. This one comes from Samuel Terrien (1911-2001), one of the towering figures of biblical scholarship's past, professor over the years at Union Theological Seminary in New York. The teachers he acknowledges are a roll call of the great names of French exegesis: Lods, Dhorme, Virolleaud, Dussaud, and the Dominican friars of the Ecole Biblique (Jerusalem). The publishers describe the volume as a "monumental work"; they are probably right.

There is a 65-page Introduction covering, among other things, the ecumenicity of the psalms, their ancient Near Eastern background and their origins, issues of growth, text, music, and strophic structure, as well as the questions of literary genres, theology, and relationship to the Newer Testament. Terrien's immense learning is evident. His writing remains accessible; documentation is kept to the footnotes. The major issues of recent psalm research are canvassed. It is done with sensitivity and sympathy; it is done with remarkably balanced judgement.

As Terrien notes, given their diversity, the 150 psalms "do not lend themselves easily to theological synthesis". This is a commentary in which theology plays a major role and the headings from the Introduction are worth noting: God's presence and absence - the creator of nature - the sovereign of history - the judge of the enemies – the protector of the poor and healer of the sick - the master of wisdom – the Lord of life - theology and doxology.

Before some selective sampling, it may be helpful to highlight the aims of the book. Terrien points to three tasks for the interpreter: (i) to clarify obscurities and elucidate theological significance; (ii) to analyse strophic structure; (iii) to discover a link between the psalms' archaic language and the intellectual demands of modern thinking and spirituality. I believe users will find that Terrien has performed these tasks with remarkable ability.

The book offers Terrien's own translation, not he says as "fluid and poetic" as Coverdale (1535) or "the King James masters" (1611) but aiming at an accuracy not available then. The work is addressed to both scholars and general readers. With this in mind, notes of textual criticism etc. have been reduced to a minimum. The bibliographies are extensive, useful to readers interested in specific aspects of translation or interpretation. Terrien is gifted with frankness and honesty:

The tone of certain psalms, it is well known, repulses the sensibility of our age. Let one recall the poverty and oppression endured, and the violence of wars. This might explain, without excusing, the terror, the despair, and at times the spirit of vengeance in which some of the poets wallowed.... Beyond the coarseness of individual or corporate cries for avenging, there may be an equilibrium between justice and compassionate humaneness.

Sampling from 150 psalms, in a book of over 900 pages, has to be inadequate. Here, however, are a few examples. On psalm 1: "Those who go the Lord's way will find an equilibrium between egocentricity and the ability to love neighbors and even enemies." "Psalm 2 reflects the theology of the great prophets. God is enthroned, but he is not immutable. Divine passion for righteousness threatens but also seeks to convert." On psalm 15: "Whoever has received the invitation of a Bedouin nomadic chief in the semidesertic regions of the Near East will appreciate and understand the theological metaphor of the divine hospitality .... It may be benevolent and even prodigal, but it does not encourage triviality." Psalm 22: "A theology of God's 'forsakenness' is never far from an anthropology of man's dereliction." Psalm 23: "It is not generally observed that the representation of God as a shepherd calls for a comparison between human nature and ovine obstinacy, with limited intelligence and a propensity to panic." Psalm 51: "The psalmist seems to have discovered the depth of his own shame at the very moment when he remembered that God loved him as a mother loves the fruit of her womb." Psalm 89: "A national calamity hit the elected people, from the elected king to an anointed king who has become the suffering servant of the Lord. No charge of iniquity, transgression, or sin justifies his fate." Psalm 104: ''The acquaintance of the psalmist with both the prayer of an Egyptian thinker - and a Hebrew wise man – can hardly be doubted. Like the poet of Job, this poet is an international seeker of God in world culture." Psalm 137: "This is one of the most beautiful poems of the Psalter, yet it ends with a monstrous imprecation." "Psalm 150 is sunk in ancient mythology, but its truth may survive its obsoleteness as the roots of its faith grow even more solidly anchored in the age of global humanity."

There is an index of subjects and one of scripture and other ancient sources. At $(US)95, the book is not cheap; in this day and age, what is? It is without question worthwhile; of how many things can that be said in this day and age?

Antony F. Campbell S.J.,
Jesuit Theological College,
Parkville, Victoria 3052.

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