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Altes Testament


Groenewald, Alphonso


Psalm 69: Its Structure, Redaction and Composition.


Münster: LIT 2003. XIV, 388 S. gr.8° = Altes Testament und Moderne, 18. Kart. Euro 24,90. ISBN 3-8258-7031-6.


Patrick D. Miller

Neben dem angegebenen Titel in dieser Rezension besprochen:

Eaton, John: The Psalms. A Historical and Spiritual Commentary with an Introduction and New Translation. London-New York: T & T Clark International (Continuum) 2003. X, 536 S. gr.8°. Kart. £ 25,00. ISBN 0-567-08980-0.

Not the first dissertation devoted to a detailed study of Psalm 69, Groenewald¹s comprehensive work is an in depth examination of the structure and meaning of the psalm and how it came to its present form. His large aim is to combine synchronic and diachronic readings to show that both kinds of readings are required to understand the psalm fully. In pursuit of that goal, he is largely successful.

At the beginning, G. does a critical analysis of the Hebrew text. This is done generally with care and the kind of rational analysis that is central to good text criticism. The reviewer often found himself agreeing with G.¹s critical decisions. It should be noted, however, that the approach is very conservative. As far as I can tell, G. does not vary from the MT at any point. Even where the text is somewhat incomprehensible and plausible proposals have been made for emendation (e. g. v. 23), G. holds to the »general principle« to »deal with the MT as conservatively as possible.« The principle is not bad on the whole, but realizing that the MT is full of errors of all sorts, one needs to be careful about exploiting such a conservative method to the degree that one¹s judgment is already skewed by an assumption that clicks in at every textual instance. Sometimes the MT is chosen as the preferable text here without serious argument or effort to show its intelligibility.

The treatment of structure and meaning is a detailed exegesis of the text as we have it, uncovering seams in the text, repetitions, shifts from one mode of expression to another, for example, the use of metaphors to convey traditional images and expressions of affliction (e. g. 2­5), alongside sentences that seem almost biographical and descriptive of specific actions and groups (e. g. 6­14). He also notes a kind of structural duplication in the text as it presents a complaint in verses 2­5 and then proceeds to another section of complaint in verses 6­14. Then a petitionary section in verses 14­19 is followed by a second petitionary section in 20­30. The final section is one of praise that moves out from the psalmist¹s declaration of praise to the call to the oppressed and indeed heaven and earth to praise the Lord. The duplications help in pursuit of the redactional history, but they are not always convincing. With regard to verses 20­30, for example, the first section here is really a continuation of the complaint ­ or a return to it, as the case may be. So also there are petitions in the second complaint section. Such interplay of complaint and petition is common in the psalms, but it makes it somewhat more difficult to make the argument about repetition reflecting Fortschreibung.

Out of this structural analysis and exegetical probing of the text, G. uncovers evidence of seams and breaches that lead him toward his redactional or compositional conclusions, the development of which is set forth in chapter 4. He begins by a helpful presentation of three models or approaches to the redactional history of the psalm. One is a defense of the unity of the psalm despite arguments that might be set against that. A second approach sees the disparities so large as to suggest that the psalm really reflects two different psalms. The third approach, which G. follows, along with the majority of contemporary interpreters, interprets the text of the psalm »as the result of a gradual and multi-stage process which took place over an extended period during which an older portion was occasionally expanded and newly accentuated« (177). The kinds of evidence he uses to reach this conclusion include such matters as the unusual length of the psalm for an individual lament, the way in which different depictions of the affliction incurred by the lamenter are compositionally detached from one another (as others have noted), and the movement at the end from the highly individual character of most of the lament to a collectivistic tone. Some of his general arguments are more vague, for example, the shift near the end from the praise of God¹s deeds to the consequences of the deeds.

The outcome of his analysis is a five-layered text that begins, quite plausibly with the first complaint (vv 2­5), the first petition (vv 14b­19), and the brief expression of praise (v 31). The use of the water and pit motifs in the complaint and the petition certainly holds these parts together, and, as G. argues, this basic text ­ essentially the same basic text proposed by Zenger and Hossfeld ­ produces a typical individual complaint psalm in its structure and motifs. To this basic text was added a layer of post-exilic origin and concerned with the temple and its rebuilding (vv 6­14a, 20­30, and 34). Because the elements of this second layer, which has echoes of Jeremiah, Isaiah 53, and Pss 22 and 102, parallel the structural elements of the basic text ­ though this is not as easy to see with regard to verse 34 ­ this layer cannot be seen as existing independently but was added on to give new interpretive meaning to the basic text. As G. sees it, »in this layer a zealot for the temple used an old individual complaint song in order to depict his suffering and motivate the prayer for help from the disgrace and reproach he had been subjected to by his social neighborhood« (297). The third layer is a »Zion theological end« in verses 35­36b, which involves elements not customary in the individual lament, specifically the motif of cosmic joy and the deliverance of Zion. G. detects similar moves in Psalms 22 and 102 and believes the motif of joy in this context probably comes from persons inspired by Deutero-Isaiah. The argument is cogent but always reversible. That is, the similarities to other psalms may point to a shared way of creating the psalm rather than common moves to layer, and the cosmic joy of is certainly not peculiar to Deutero-Isaiah. Yet G. tries to guard against making connections by very general parallels by noting that some of the language in the psalm is only to be found elsewhere in Deutero-Isaiah (231 f.). The fourth stage involved adding a new ending with verses 36c­37, what G. calls a »servants« adaptation coming from the time of Nehemiah and indicating »a special group of people who played an active role in post-exilic times in shaping the literary heritage of Ancient Israel« (300). The final phase of the text, from the latter half of the fourth century, is »an actualizing inscription« (vv 32­33), which serves »to actualize the text of Psalm 69 for its present community, viz a community of the 'poor' as the 'godseekers'« (301). This inscription also provided a compositional ingredient. The redactors who added it also put together Psalms 69­71 and 72 to form the concluding part of the second Davidic psalter. Both the cult-critical dimension and the »theology of the poor« may be seen as aspects of the formation of the second book of the Psalter. The outcome of all of this process is a »series of developmental stages which conceal a kind of religio-historical compendium. The different textual stages give witness to the history of Israel¹s faith« (304).

The resulting picture of the history of the text is quite credible and, as already noticed, not far distant from the analyses of others, such as Hossfeld and Zenger in their Psalms commentary. The differences come primarily after the first two stages, which lay out the basic lament and the way in which each part is then expanded. The fine-tuning that goes on with regard especially to the final section of the psalm, verses 32 and following, is understandable and demonstrates also the often tenuous grounds for making sharp distinctions and dating layers of a psalm. With others, G. sees in the cult-critical dimension of the psalm a significant element in the history of composition of the first two books of the Psalter. That makes sense, but it is not always clear that such an element of the text is a late addition for compositional purposes. As G. points out, the critique of the cult is an ancient element in Israel¹s story and may have been an early element in songs having to do with the temple.

The similarities between the work of G. and that of other interpreters is one of the pluses of the book. His analysis is quite exhaustive. That is important when such an investigation tends to corroborate previous investigations while also fine-tuning them and showing possibilities of significant modification. One of the strengths of this book and one of its most appealing features is the fact that tracing the Fortschreibung process and doing redactional-critical analysis are never divorced from G.¹s effort to say what the psalm is about as well as such questions as who, when, and why. That is, G. believes that in the careful analysis of the growth of the text ­ and only in that process ­ one can get at the final intention of the text and what were the different times and different groups ­ as well as their aims ­ at work in the different stages of the text¹s coming into being. The riches of the text are not fully explored if one¹s attention is devoted entirely to interpreting the present text on a flat plane without exploring the depths of its history. The multi-faceted and careful interpretive work found here makes G.¹s book a sine qua non for any extended effort to understand the meaning and history of this important psalm.

John Eaton¹s commentary on the Psalms is written for a wide audience and assumes a church audience. That is, it is a generally non-technical exposition of each psalm with attention to New Testament and liturgical use where appropriate. E. does not hesitate to refer to the Hebrew where he finds it necessary, but readers at any level of familiarity with the psalms will be able to comprehend his interpretation. An introduction deals with such matters as poetic form, musical aspects, the settings of the psalms, their theology, and the history of their use and interpretation. Each psalm begins with E.¹s own translation followed by some attention to genre and setting issues and then an exposition of each part of the psalm as he sees delineates them. For each psalm he presents a conclusion in which, as he says, »I appreciate the psalm as a whole and in relation to spirituality today, especially in the Christian tradition« (VII). The conclusion seeks, therefore, to provide a kind of bridge from the more exegetical exposition into the contemporary appropriation of the psalm. That aim is under-girded by E.¹s inclusion of a brief prayer at the end of his treatment of each psalm.

Among the features of E.¹s interpretation, one may note a tendency toward the early dating of many of the psalms ­ »the main period of composition ... lying between 1000 and 400 BCE, with the early part of this period ... having been especially fruitful« (104) ­ the king as the figure behind the speaking voice of many of the psalms, and an interest in placing the psalms in conversation with each other and with other books. The result of the whole is a thoughtful and helpful presentation of the Psalms for a general audience, including both lay and clergy. Because of the way the commentary reflects E.¹s long scholarly interest in the Psalms, Old Testament scholars and teachers will also find it beneficial though without some of the technical exegetical work that is necessary to go deeply into any psalm.