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Altes Testament


Hauge, Martin Ravndal


Between Sheol and Temple. Motif Structure and Function in the I-Psalms.


Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1995. 314 S. 8o = Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Suppl. 178 Lw. £ 45.­. ISBN 1-85075-491-8.


Patrick D. Miller

Norwegian Psalms scholarship has been heavily, indeed primarily, identified with the name of Sigmund Mowinckel and his epochal Psalmenstudien, whose themes and perspective were then repristinated in The Psalms in Israel’s Worship. The work under review by his countryman, Martin Hauge, while frequently citing Mowinckel’s work, shows how far Psalms research has moved from Mowinckel’s time, even from the dominating consensus Gunkel effected around the delineation of Gattung and the search for the Sitz im Leben.

Taking as an example Psalm 140, H. first shows how the psalm traditionally is interpreted along one of several options depending upon which set of motifs is stressed. When the war motifs (vv. 3b and 8b) are stressed (e.g. by Birkeland and Mowinckel), then the I of the psalms is seen as the king under attack by national enemies and the setting is the appropriate ritual situation before battle. Other motifs, such as those of the hunt (v.6, cf. 12b) or of judgment (v.13) are related to this or given some figurative function. When the word motifs (vv.4, 10,12a) are stressed, the I is usually regarded as a private individual with private problems, the enemies’ words possibly being curses; the motifs of war and hunt are seen as having figurative function. When the judicial or judgment motifs of v.13 are stressed, the dominant situation becomes one of judicial procedure (à la H. Schmidt) and the enemies are the prosecution, while the I appeals to the deity for vindication in judgment (cf. Beyerlin and Delekat). Other motifs of the psalm are then viewed as metaphorical. The fundamental problem H. sees in these ap-proaches is their methodological simplicity. They seem to be mutually exclusive and restrictive, not accounting for the complexity and openness of the text to various functions and actualizations. Each view takes some features of the text literally and some figuratively, but "what is one scholar’s literal element becomes the other scholar’s metaphor and vice versa" (p.14). H. would come at the text fundamentally as a textual or literary phenomenon and approach the "I" of the psalms also as a literary phenomenon whose identity is contained within the frame of the text. The texts themselves indicate their conceptual and ideological character, which means one needs to deal with them as such rather than in terms of historical speculations and sociological categories, though along the way H. examines the rela-tion of the psalms to ritual. His focus is on the "I" of the psalm and his relation to the form-critical enterprise is well indicated in the following quotation:

"...the texts are primarily analysed as compilations of motifs and interrelated motif groups, with the formal structure seen as an expression for the relationships between motifs. Moreover, the motifs are immediately translated into biographical categories, and understood as expressions for acts or events or aspects of a ’situation’, with the I acting in a situation or series of situations. The main difference would be that the biographical data are limited to the textual frame, so that ’situations’ refer to literary categories. Thus, the I related to Yahweh, to the circle of enemies in human or animal form, or to the circle of the righteous, or to temple activities, refers to situations equally ’real’ as consecutive or related events within the one dimension of textual reality." (p.23)

H. moves then to a very detailed study of several psalms in which the "I" is central. These include Psalms 140, 36, 84, 42-43, 26, 27, 5, and 62. Along the way other psalms and parts of psalms are brought into significant interaction with these primary texts and the motif structure H. sees operating within them, for example, 23, 52, 73, 118:19-21; 130, and 131. The fundamental motifs that H. sees operating in these varied psalms are the temple and the way. These spatial /local/ geographical motifs indicate that the "real" problem of the I is not to be understood in terms of war or sickness or judicial process but as longing for God and the experience of the presence of God. The way and temple motifs refer to "religious orientation and total life commitment, with the relationship to the temple signifying some comprehensive type of via religiosa" (p. 48). H. shows how these basic motifs are developed in complex ways, with different psalms showing different dimensions of the movement and various negative expressions for the feared fate of the I, especially the motifs of Sheol and the enemies. The latter come to play in various ways, identifying the crisis of the I and representing negative expressions of presence in the temple­ see the prophetic exhortations against unidentified persons who are in the temple in proper fashion but are enemies of the righteous and innocent.

Within the motif structure, the crisis is usually related to categories of death, the I being in movement between Sheol and temple. The divine reality is experienced most directly in God’s intervention in crisis, but it does not stop there. The focus on permanent dwelling in the temple identifies the relationship to God as the continuing issue of the psalms. The motifs of temple, Sheol, and way provide a conceptual framework centered around locality and movement, but that conceptual structure is a reflection of biographical experience. This identification of the relation between the conceptual and the biographical is itself a reflection of the intricate interaction of stereotype and particularity in each of the psalms. In the I psalm the paradigm comes to actualization, but each actualization is quite particular and "personal" in its formulation, embodying in the I some aspects of the paradigm.

It is difficult to convey the richness and complexity of the author’s analysis of the psalms in terms of this motif structure. The book is not easy reading and requires constant movement back and forth between the text of the book and the text of the psalms. But the sheer weight of the argument as one reads makes it impressive. Among the significant features of the book are the following:

1) Its intricate examination of the interrelation between the stereotypical features of the psalms, which have been the focus of much of our form-critical study of the psalms, and the complex particularity of each psalm. A fundamental structure of motifs is discerned in many texts, but the working out of that conceptual structure is not done in a heavy-handed way. Each psalm is a particular manifestation of the categories. Its lines of continuity with the religious experience reflected in other psalms are discerned, but there is no easy equation of the formulation of one psalm with any other.

2) One of the primary features of H.’s study is his frequent location of the motif structure, as it is reflected in particular psalms, in other biblical texts. His work is therefore an important example of intertextuality, in this case via the vehicle of motifs and motif structure, signaled often in particular linguistic form but not confined to that. Thus Ps. 118:19-21 is placed in relation to Ezek. 44:1-3 to show that "the two texts reflect a common structure of sentences given to presentation of the gates in question, a qualification of the gates as very special due to some relationship with Yahweh, and finally regulations on the proper use of the gates in connection with rights of entry. This structure of sentences and motifs must point to a common origin probably in sacred regulations of admittance" (p. 66).

But H. is also able to relate the account of Hezekiah’s healing in 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38 to this same psalm text as the narrative texts connect healing with ascent to the temple. In similar fashion, the structure of the story of Elijah’s flight to Horeb in 1 Kings 19, as it develops in movement from one place to the other, can be related to corresponding motifs of the I-psalms, particularly Psalms 42-43. H.’s treatment of Psalm 5 is especially rich. The motif structure is related to the entrance liturgies of Psalms 15 and 24 but also to the related prophetic texts of Isa . l:l0 ff. and Jeremiah 7, suggesting a ritual background.

Further, that structure "applied as a series of events and with a relationship of conflict between two groups of actors contending for the same coveted goal of dwelling in the temple" (p. 197) becomes a template for analyzing such texts as Numbers 12, 16, and 2 Chron. 26:16-21, demonstrating that the motif structure can be applied to situations of priestly (Numbers 16-17, Exodus 25-31, 35-40) or prophetic (Numbers 12) categories or to prophetic admonishment connected with ordinary worship. These parallel texts are thus illustrative of usage and application. One of the things H. stresses most is the functionality and actualization, the reinterpretation and reapplication of the psalm texts in new and different situations. He sees this as very open-ended and the many and largely credible ways that he relates the motif structure of the psalms to other texts lets us see that there is a wealth of connotations and possibilities for situating and for bringing to expression what the I-psalms represent.

The issue of context or setting remains the most critical issue for Psalms interpretation. Form criticism has made a significant contribution to identifying a context of hermeneutical value. Psalms scholarship, however, is moving now in two different but related directions that suggest other fruitful interpretive contexts for the Psalms. One is the context of the Psalter itself and the way interrelationships among the psalms provide a way of reading the parts and the whole (so E. Zenger, F.-L. Hossfeld, G. Wilson, J. C. McCann, and others). The other direction, as this reviewer has also suggested, is in setting the psalms against the biblical story and stories themselves, a move that is as old as the superscriptions of the psalms. H.’s study is a major contribution in this second direction, carried out with a sophisticated and impressive methodology. It is hoped that the careful analysis of the motifs and motif structures of the psalms examined here and the imaginative way in which the author sets them against narrative texts will be suggestive to other interpreters of the Psalms.