Archive for the ‘Exegetical’ Category

I am very interested in and am presently composing a paper on the topic of our contemporary praying of the Psalter and the imprecatory psalms in particular. Part of this has required my mining through various treatments of the imprecations among commentators with an eye toward their examination in light of Girardian construals of Christian theology.

Among the more provocative treatments to have come across my path in recent weeks has been that of S. Mark Heim in his recent work Saved from Sacrifice. Heim approaches the laments generally as the voice of “paranoia” expressed by the victim of sacrificial scapegoating:

Alongside the fierce expressions of anger there is a regular refrain we might regard as a kind of paranoia. It runs to the following effect. I am surrounded by a crowd of people who plot against me. I am accused unjustly. I am alone with no one to support me. Those who oppress me think they are serving God. I am persecuted and about to die. …This plea for deliverance seeks relief from an oddly specific kind of evil: conspiracy of a whole community or crowd against a weak and abandoned one, the crushing of an arbitrarily chosen person on a false pretext, leaving no record. In other words, this is what the sacrificial scapegoating looks like from the side of the victim.[1]

Of course, this got me thinking about the unfortunate NRSV translation of ha-ish in Psalm 1:1 as plural (“those”). No doubt this is an instance of the editorial preference for gender neutral language, but the shift from the singular to the plural destroys the “one against many” power dynamic intended by the psalm itself. Now if (and I realize that I developing a galloping midrash here), canon-critical authors are correct in their insistence that Psalms 1 & 2 comprise a “preface” to the entire corpus, summoning Israel to Torah obedience and/or loyalty to the Davidic monarchy[2], it would seem that we are intended to read the imprecations in a more collective light as reflecting the voice of Israel or her royal figurehead. This would not entirely negate approaches to the imprecations as the expression of individualized psychology (who doesn’t relate to them at one time or another?), but it does frontload the messianic and qua-Israel intention of the community that collected the psalms into a single corpus.

Thus Bonhoeffer’s argument that Christ is the implied singer of the whole Psalter may not be so-illicit an imposition of latter Christian mitigation of the text. Rather, while being distinctive in its identification of Jesus with Messiah and with the faithful of Israel, the messianic and qua-Israel sense of the psalms would seem to have some actual exegetical warrant (or at least editorial precedent).

[1] Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 82.

[2] Walter Brueggemann’s treatment comes to mind here among others. He suggests—rather stridently, I might add—that the communities placement of Psalm 1 at the beginning of the Psalter “intends that all the Psalms should be read through the prism of torah obedience.” “Bounded By Obedience and Praise: The Psalms as Canon” JSOT 50 (1991): 64. Cf. Jesper Høgenhaven, “The Opening of the Psalter: A Study in Jewish Theology” SJOT 15[2] (2001): 169-180. Høgenhaven is more insistent that Psalms 1 and 2 are a single composition, but formal similarities are there in either case.

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The citation from Calvin offered below follows on the heels of the discussion concerning Baptism, and specifically the teaching of Romans 6:3-4, in this thread.  I offer Calvin as witness that one may possibly have a claim to being (yes) “confessionally Reformed,” and still maintain that the holy Apostle had the entire rite of Baptism in mind when teaching the Roman Christians about their union with Christ in his death and resurrection in Baptism. 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

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