Psalms.PSALMS. By Konrad Schaefer. Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry. Pp. xlv + 399. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 2001. Cloth, $49.95.
The author works and lives in the world-wide Benedictine community and its peculiar tradition of praying and singing the psalms. But besides being the abbot of "Our Lady of the Angels" in Cuernavaca, Mexico, he is an Old Testament scholar, well versed in Hebrew poetry and religion. From these two life-situations he is drawing his inspiration to create a spiritual guide through the whole Psalter based on deep insights into language, metaphors, structure, and the theology of each individual text.
Konrad Schaefer expounds his basic views on psalm-study and psalm-praying in a concise and illuminating introduction (pp. xi-xlv). Poetry for him constitutes a special condensation of reality, accessible to anyone because of its universal beauty and meaning. Therefore, the ancient "community of faith adopted them [i.e., the psalms] as a fitting expression of their life" (p. xi). "...poetry is approached as it is composed-calmly, so that it can be absorbed naturally, convincingly" (p. xi). But the art of ancient word-weaving transcends individual experience: "...the Hebrew poem is both deeply personal and the patrimony PATRIMONY. Patrimony is sometimes understood to mean all kinds of property but its more limited signification, includes only such estate, as has descended in the same family and in a still more confined sense, it is only that which has descended or been devised in a direct line from the of a flesh and bone community of faith" (p. xi). It is important for modern readers and meditators to know what the old poetic imagery was like, how the repetition and parallelism An overlapping of processing, input/output (I/O) or both.
1. parallelism - parallel processing.
2. (parallel) parallelism - The maximum number of independent subtasks in a given task at a given point in its execution. E.g. worked, and how the linguistic structure was set up. Likewise, the dramatic dimension of the Psalms should be recognized: "If we consider the psalms as liturgical texts, these sudden changes of discourse and mood are not so surprising. In the liturgy, shifts of address and modes of discourse are natural and necessary" (p. xxiv). All this means to say, that the psalms in their essence are a "School of Prayer." "The poet provides the words and images, and the orante infuses them with new meaning.... To appreciate the psalms is to understand them as the poetic expression of a religious experience, preserved by a worshipping faith community which extends to the present" (pp. xxv-xxvi). Here is the strong point of Schaefer's interpretation: He has clear hermeneutical conceptions of how the interplay between poet and congregation, reader and texts may function. All of these agents are actively taking part in the formation of prayer and praise, meditation and preaching within the Psalter (cf. especially pp. xxvi-xxxii). What many Christians consider to be obstacles in adapting psalms today--namely, the ancient treatment of violence, enemies, retribution, disease and sin, death and resurrection, curses and demons--K. Schaefer magnificently incorporates into his contextual hermeneutics hermeneutics, the theory and practice of interpretation. During the Reformation hermeneutics came into being as a special discipline concerned with biblical criticism. pointing inclusively to modern situations which in fact coincide with ancient experiences (p. xliv).
The largest part of the book (pp. 3-358), naturally, goes to the interpretation of individual psalms and--this is a marked sideline of Schaefer's thought--to the cohesive book-length text of the whole Psalter (in my opinion an idea inherent in the Benedictine tradition more than in the Hebrew Psalter). Each psalm receives careful attention in terms of its Hebrew concepts and metaphors, poetic structure, typical agents (expressive: the poet; descriptive: supplicant In an authentication system, supplicant refers to the client machine that wants to gain access to the network. See 802.1x. ; enemies; friends), modes of expression, experience and argumentation, theological conclusions, etc. Schaefer proves to be the fine scholar whom we expect: His sensibility to linguistic and poetic matters is profound, producing mountains of valuable results. Surprisingly enough, however, most of the discussion and interpretation remains strictly on the level of ancient composers and constituents. The "Introduction" raised hopes for much more concreteness in situating prayers as well as demonstrating that interaction of ancient and modern experience while reading, studying, and praying the psalms. Yet, there are only very scant allusions to the involvement of the modern reader and interpreter in Schaefer's commentary. Concomitantly, there are few inferences from typically ancient occasions of suffering and joy, as extant, for example, in biblical narratives. Note that some ancient interpreters do not hesitate to connect psalms with opportune op·por·tune
1. Suited or right for a particular purpose: an opportune place to make camp.
2. Occurring at a fitting or advantageous time: an opportune arrival. historical situations (cf. Pss 51:2; 52:2 [RSV RSV respiratory syncytial virus; Rous sarcoma virus.
respiratory syncytial virus
RSV 1 Respiratory syncytial virus, see there 2 Rous sarcoma virus, see there = Superscriptions]; 1 Samuel 2; Jonah 2; Isaiah 38; Jer 15:10-21, etc.). If the original poets transformed concrete experience into powerful artistic imagery of universal validity, are we not compelled--as interpreters of the living Word--to revert to the concreteness of basic human existence, that is, to make universal images transparent for ancient and, more importantly, for modern life-realities?
Thus, the fullness of ancient misery reflected in the great variety of "complaint psalms" of individual and community certainly included a wide spectrum of human anxieties and despair not so well known to modern people: bad portents (omina), attacks from demons Demons
See also devil; evil; ghosts; hell; spirits and spiritualism.
one who denies the existence of the devil or demons.
recognition of the existence of demons and goblins. , violation of taboos, etc. What are today's comparable shakings of personal faith and communal trust in God? The so-called "psalms of the poor" (cf. Psalms 9-10; 37; 49; 73) apparently grew out of particular social conditions (cf. Nehemiah 5). How can we define the newly poor of our present world in juxtaposition juxtaposition /jux·ta·po·si·tion/ (-pah-zish´un) apposition.
The state of being placed or situated side by side. to those of old? There have been, no doubt, many situations of thanksgiving and praise in Israel, which gave rise to respective songs. Are we able to state more concretely the celebrations, motives, or moods of our biblical forbears when they took to feasting and singing psalms? Do we know about their religious rituals, small or large, which gave expression to common exuberance? And how do our opportunities in real life as well as in liturgical context to render thanks, give offerings, and jubilate in the presence of the Lord differ and coincide with the psalmist's situations? If we start out with such an admirably contextual and cotextual model of interpretation I would expect in each treatise, short as it may be, some indication of possible avenues towards the concrete analogous flesh-and-bone-realities of our world.
Nevertheless, the author has taken some first steps in that desirable direction. He has accumulated a great wealth of information along that line, how initially poet and orante, redactor and community worked together to mold, use and transmit that unfathomable treasure of the biblical Psalter. Konrad Schaefer is to be credited with many valuable insights and rich liturgical experiences in psalm adaptation. He leaves it, as we may say, to the modern reader, meditator, and supplicant to concretize con·cre·tize
tr.v. con·cre·tized, con·cre·tiz·ing, con·cre·tiz·es
To make real or specific: "The need to simplify and concretize . . . was hardly acceptable to a mind fascinated by the . . . his own encounters with the World and God and synthesize To create a whole or complete unit from parts or components. See synthesis. into the old poems his or her own daily experience.
Erhard S. Gerstenberger
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