Sunday, January 08, 2017

Psalms Reading

Some "new to me" textbooks for my Psalms and Wisdom Literature course.

It's nice to have new options to explore for teaching.  I always learn when reading and am so thankful for good books to read!

Psalms by the Day by Alec Motyer is a lovely new translation, commentary and devotional for the Psalms.  It will prove impractical for course use - as I would have to require learners to "rush" through a textbook that is designed to be used more reflectively and over a longer period of time.  The translation, textual commentary, and notes throughout were excellent.  In fact, I myself "sped" through the text as I was reading for the sake of gleaning new insight.  This is a text I may have to come back and use "Day by Day" more devotionally on it's 73 day reading preset plan!

Gordon Wenham's The Psalter Reclaimed is a nearly perfect text for introducing the Psalms within a Christian context.  This may be one of the "best" texts I've found to carefully, faithfully and with insight introduce emerging Bible scholars to the scholarly opinions (and consensus where applicable) on the Psalms, while being sensitive to issues of deep faith, too.  For example, Wenham makes clear that he was personally jolted to learn in his early University education that the Psalms were not about the Messiah, only to come to a fuller realization over time and his study that the Psalms were about the role and category of kings and coming messiah, without having to be precisely predictive of all events in the life of Jesus.  While he begins his chapter on "Reading the Psalms Messianically" noting his "shock and consternation" (82) at what he was first being taught in the Academy, he later writes, "I am inclined to think that originally many of these psalms were not understood messianically.  I do jib at Augustine's reading of 'I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me' as propecy of the resurrection.' A straight-forward historical interpretation of the psalmist's testimony to God's continuing protection seems adequate to me in this case.  But that is not to say that a historical interpretation is the last word" (99-100), before going on to say more about his understanding of sensus plenior.  A solid, easy, and quite brief resource.

I had pieced through portions of two texts by Glenn Pemberton in the past - both Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms (published 2012) and then After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again (2014.)  These texts were both easy and hard for me to review, as it is impossible for me to be unbiased.  Glenn is a personal friend, someone I hold in high regard for the caliber of his integrity, the credibility of his scholarship, the kindness of his personhood, and the depth of his pastoral care.  He and I began our Ph.D. program of study together in the mid 1990s and I have many regrets about not learning more from him and with him when we had more time to be together (though, we didn't have that much time with personal, family, work, academic lives - and that was the problem).  Additionally, as Pemberton notes in his writing, he has dealt with pain in his life - most specifically as he narrates relational issues, the loss of his home to a fire, and debilitating pain that has (only recently) forced his full-disability from teaching, which he loves and does with great skill.  As for the texts - they were both excellent.  I valued Glenn's ability to narrate his own story, woven in with excellent scholarship and quality prose.  Because of the way I (currently) teach my Psalms and Wisdom Literature course, I won't be using the textbooks as textbooks.  I do not believe my learners will spend enough time reading the textbook, in the small amount of 2 weeks we spend "intentionally" on lament in the course of study.  I lament this reality.  I may look to developing a pastoral care class with a department colleague in Theology and/or Psychology, where we used these texts with other texts on pastoral care, grief, loss, depression, addiction - to engage human loss in the midst of a Theocentric discernment of Creation and all the "mire" of life's complexity (Psalm 40 comes to mind!).  Glenn's scholarship and story will inform students in the classroom or the layperson at home, especially for those dealing with life's complexity.  In addition to deep reading that touched me, I'm thankful for the depth of friendship, collegiality and kindness I know in the author of these two books.  Glenn is a model Christian Scholar in every way.

The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology by O. Palmer Robertson. Keeping in mind that this blog is really more personal - a true "web log" of my thoughts and reactions - and not intended as a professionally focused "marketing" strategy of my "brand identity" here - my comments will be brief for a lengthy textbook.   I would direct "my" readers to a more full review at a blog I read, and, from which I became aware of this book in the first place back in January of 2016:   My two cents on the book were that "it felt like a reach" and "it was too long" in its suggestion that the "flow of the psalms is from "Confrontation to Consummation."  Perhaps it was because the "labels" fit too neatly into a nice whole, when a problem with the book of Psalms is the fact that the coherence of them, from start to finish in the Canonical shape is disputed and clearly lacks any simple, single and obvious frame from those who had the earliest hands in shaping the order of the books.  That being the case, I still found the book to be insightful and I enjoyed the idea of Robertson's notion that there exists a flow to the Psalms!  I tend to agree that the Psalms DO flow from start to finish - there are opening and closing elements the Book, and there five book imbedded structure in ancient copies we have of Psalms demonstrate there was intentionality to the shaping of the books.  I simply am not sure that the "neat" "system" Robertson offers is accurate.  Noting that, his suggestion is faithful within Christian identity and the book was well worth reading and I believe, would be of great value to many readers, and will inform some of my teaching in a lecture or two (as I will present Robertson's work), even as I will not adopt this as a textbook for course use.

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