Monday, 1 March 2010

The purpose of the Israelite cult

What the congregation wants to achieve through the cult, and what the 'power' from God is to create, is life - in the most comprehensive sense of the word, from the fundamental material need: rain, sun, fertility, the continuation of the race, the strength and victory of the child, and so on, up to the spiritual, religious and ethical values that are the lifeblood of the society - life for everything that belongs to its 'world.' The Israelites expressed the same idea by the word 'blessing'. Blessing is to be created, increased, and secured through the cult; the office of the priest is to 'bless in Yahweh's name'. Both life and blessing have their ultimate source in the deity.
S. Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 18. You can read the whole of the first two chapters here.


dave b said...
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dave b said...

really good quote, btw!!! i'll definitely be using that.

Bacho said...


I just picked up that book by Mowinckel at a used book store. What do you think of his work on Psalms? At some point I would love for you to blog on top ten works on Psalms any none-Psalms PhD student should read.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Dave,

glad to be of help :)

Hi Bacho,

I'm still intending to answer your question on allegory! I have a deadline to meet, hence the tardy response. I found my notes on Louth this morning and will give them a glance.

As for Mowinckel, I've just responded to your question via a new post, called One thing I like about Mowinckel, which you can read here:

Of course, apart from all that, I'm sceptical about his dismissal of the theological or interpretive value of the "prejudice of tradition;" I find his cult-reconstructions too speculative; I find the idea that the psalms as they now stand were composed for the cult not particularly convincing (I'm working on the parade example: Ps 24; I'm more with Gunkel on this issue); I'm uncomfortable with his talk of "religion" in general; and of course I think the canon ought to play a fundamental role in elucidating what this reality actually was that Israel experienced. But nevertheless, I think he makes the vital point that there is a reality that was experienced and that it had an impact on the shape of Israel's institutions and even literature. I just think that this force continued throughout Israel's history.

As for books, I think you ought ask John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry on that. I'm really not well-enough read (yet!). I really like Spurgeon's commentary on the Psalms. Childs' chapter in his Introduction is still worth reading, especially as he retains many nuances that get lost in other synchronic readings of the psalter. The work of Hossfeld and Zenger is important, especially on the redaction of the psalter at the micro-level (the Hermeneia commentary is in English). I like Jerome Creach's work (especially The Destiny of the Righteous. Goldingay's commentary looks promising. For parallelism, Alter is awesome (I haven't read Berlin yet). Fokkelman's work has been incredibly helpful for me and has possibly influenced me the most, though I think it needs to be supplemented for form critical (in the good sense) work. The best article on form criticism that I've come accross so far his Raymond C. Van Leeuwen's "For Criticism, Wisdom, and Psalms 111-112" in The Changing Face of Form Criticism. Sorry that I can't be of much help right now!

Bacho said...


thanks for your lengthy comment. It is very helpful. I am glad you found your notes on Louth. I look forward to your thoughts on it and allegorical interpretation.

I have read chunks of Goldingay's commentary. It is good, but I think as any commentary it suffers when attempting to move into modern day implications of the text. Without a defined audience or a specific community in mind these types of attempts often feel bland, shot-gun style exercises in futility.

I am assuming that by Zenger you mean Eric Zenger. His book "God of Vengeance?" is amazing. Here is his summary of Psalm 137 that I find so evocative, “Psalm 137 is not the song of people who have the power to effect a violent change in their situation of suffering, nor is it the battle cry of terrorists. Instead, it is an attempt to cling to one’s historical identity even when everything is against it. Still more, it is an attempt, in the face of the most profound humiliation and helplessness, to suppress the primitive human lust for violence in one’s own heart, by surrendering everything to God- a God whose word of judgment is presumed to be so universally just that even those who pray the psalm submit themselves to it.” [48]