Book Reviews

Psalms as Torah

Reading Biblical Song Ethically

Gordon J. Wenham Grand Rapids 2012-02-01

In a day when it is faddish to view the Torah as poetry it is refreshing and intriguing to find a study that approaches the matter in quite the reverse—the Psalms as Torah. Though most careful readers of the Psalms see didactic and even regulatory features in them, few have taken the time and effort to categorize these features synthetically. Wenham has done this in a well-written, inspiring, and informative work.

To avoid a lengthy discussion of the critical issues attendant to Psalm studies, Wenham opts for what he calls “a version of canonical criticism” (p. 8). By this he means that matters of authorship, dating, Sitz im Leben, and the like receive little attention while the focus stays on the text as it stands. He begins with an instructive survey of Jewish and Christian approaches to the Psalms that made them much more central to worship than they are in modern times. Next comes an analysis of Enlightenment impact on the Psalms that stripped them of much of their traditional authority but which, at the same time, opened windows to a greater appreciation of them as literature.

Following a chapter on the enormous value in memorizing the Psalms, the author addresses the “unique claims of prayed ethics” which interiorize their truths in ways otherwise impossible. The heart of the book consists of Wenham’s fascinating comparisons between the Torah and Psalms (chap. 5). This is seen in the appropriation of common technical terms—and also in the articulation of specific themes in the Psalms (chap. 6). In addition, much of the narrative of Torah is embedded by law and this also finds expression in the Psalter (chap. 7).

The closing chapters address virtues and vices in the Psalms (chap. 8), appeals for divine intervention (chap. 9), and the ethic of the Psalms in the New Testament (p. 10). A work that is both eminently practical and profoundly and properly theological, Psalms as Torah is a welcome addition to the library of every preacher of both Psalms and Torah.

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