It’s one thing to acknowledge that the book of Psalms is written as poetry. It’s quite another to consider what difference the poetic style makes to interpretation of the Psalms. What if we encountered Psalm 139’s claim that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” not in private devotion or from the mouth of a lector in church but in a context more like that of def jam? This great piece is Marty McConnell’s “Instructions for a Body.”
Does it matter what order you read psalms? Would it matter if Psalm 22 were really Psalm 122 instead?
Most folks would answer “no” to those questions. The book of Psalms is usually treated as a semi-random anthology of poetry and prayer. Individual psalms may differ from one another (some are laments, some are praise, some praise the king, etc) but those genres run throughout the Psalter.
Read it front to back →
back to front ←
from the middle outwards ← →
It really doesn’t matter.
Thanks to all those who responded to my call for Psalms stuff. Here, I report on the array of objects we handled in our first Psalms class.
Not surprisingly, there were an array of musical settings of psalms. These included psalms marked for chanting within Christian and Jewish services, as well as those made into hymns for congregational singing.
Psalm-based performance pieces ranged from anthems and chorale pieces to contemporary praise music to Psalms passages in Coolio and U2 lyrics. We looked at hymnals from various denominations, as well as CD’s and could have watched youtube clips of contemporary artists. Among our collection were loans from the the rare book collection of the Lancaster Theological Seminary library:
1. Sternhold, Thomas and John Hopkins. The Whole Booke of Psalmes… London: Company of Stationers, 1625. The first English language version of metrical Psalms in use from at least 1562.
2. Tate, Nahum and Nicholas Brady. A New Version of the Psalms of David. Amsterdam: Henry Gartman, 1772. This version of the Psalms with music notation (first published in 1696) replaced the earlier Sternhold and Hopkins psalter in use most of the 17th century.