Saturday, October 3, 2009

Which Law in Psalms?

In assessing the Psalms view of the Law of God, it is a crucial task to identify what Law is referred to. The phrase hwhy hrwt appears three times in the psalms, in what are traditionally called ‘Torah Psalms’, (Ps 1:2, 19:8(7), 119:1). The meaning of hrwt is better rendered ‘instruction’ rather than ‘Law’, though the content of YHWH’s instruction is interpreted in a variety of ways. Modern literary approaches, following Child's have identified the placement of Ps 1 as a ‘hermeneutical key’ for reading the canonical book of the Psalms.11 The mention of Torah in the first psalm, combined with the fivefold shape of the Psalms, imitating the shape of the Pentateuch, leads some to consider the reference to Torah as self referential, that is, the Psalms present themselves as Torah, teaching the people of God how to praise and pray.2 Levenson, working from Ps 119 expands the term to include any teaching from YHWH, especially

emphasising teaching unmediated by the Pentateuch3 McCann goes further to identify hrwt simply with the will of God.4 While the literary approach to canonical reading is in many ways laudable, the editorial placing of Ps 1 should not override it’s content. Interpretations that fail to see the connection to the Pentateuch and Deuteronomy in particular say too little. The phrasing of Ps1:2, especially with it’s reference to meditating day and night upon the Law, is found only here and in Joshua 1:8, where the law of Deuteronomy is on view. The language used in parallel to hrwt in Ps 19 and Ps 119, dqp, hwxm, fpvm, qj, twdo are particularly Deuteronomistic ways of referring to the Law, and are clustered in a similar way in Deut 5:31, 6:1, 7:11, 11:1, 26:16-17. 55 While the combination of walk, stand and sit in Ps1:1 is similar to the language of Proverbs, it also overlaps with Deut 6:7. That Psalm 119 seems to have no ‘book consciousness’’, reference to Moses or specific commands does not warrant positing alternate forms of Torah 6 The Psalms elsewhere contain reference to both specific commands of the Pentateuch7 and the sweeping narratives of the Pentateuch8 , and a book consciousness in relation to the Law and personal piety and redemption.9 Nor does the juxtaposition of cosmic language and the Torah of YHWH necessarily lead to a redefinition of the Torah along cosmic natural theology lines.10 Rather their juxtaposition functions as a

comment on the steadfastness of the Law. The Torah is studied, searched, and recited by the psalmist, indicating some kind of written form.11 Though the references to the Torah of YHWH may serve a canonical function in Ps 1, the clearest identification is with the Hebrew Scriptures in general and Deuteronomy in particular. “Although they [the Psalms] are not themselves Yahweh's torah, they are rich sustenance for a Torah oriented religious person”12

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