Wednesday, 7 March 2012

How does Psalm 2 relate to Psalm 1?

It is now generally accepted that the opening two Psalms of the Psalter function as a "gateway" to the book as a whole. Not only do they contain the two main themes that will be unfolded in what follows (Torah, Ps 1, and kingship, Ps 2), shared vocabulary and themes indicates that they have been purposely juxtaposed with each other. The most evident example is the framing function of the felicitation "Happy is the one who ... ."

If we have a case of two "Zwillingspsalmen" (twin-psalms), how are they to be related? Matthias Millard (in Die Komposition des Psalters) argues that Ps 2 specifies the identity of the righteous one in Ps 1: The righteous one is the king. The consequence is that he evil ones of Ps 1 are the enemy kings of Ps 2.

But is this correct? I would have thought that the parallel created by the framing אשרי ("happy who") clauses means that it is the torah and the king that are being set in parallel and not a would-be righteous individual and the king. What is being juxtaposed are two means of "redemption": kingship and torah. Happy is the one who imbibes the Law and happy the one who seeks shelter in the (Messianic) King.

In other words, the function of the juxtaposition is to portray two sides of a single coin answering the question: "How can we be happy?" [*]

What do you think?

[*] This also implies that Patrick Miller's interpretation does not go far enough. He argues that Ps 1 qualifies Ps 2 Deuteronomy-like by saying that whoever the king is, he must be like the individual in Ps 1. This is no doubt true, but I don't get the impression that this is the function of the juxtaposition. The issue is how the reader may be happy, not what is the nature of true kingship.


Bob MacDonald said...

Happy is more than a frame for Pss 1 and 2. It also occurs in every closing psalm of a book and as thematic prior to and in acrostics: 32-33-34, 40-41, (65 preceding the harvest which itself is in the centre of a circle per the inscriptions: korah-Asaph-David), 72, 84 (the respite psalms in Book 3), 89, 94, 106 and in Book 4 a few more (112, 127-8, 137) and 144,146 surrounding the last acrostic and preceding the final Hallel. I don't have excuses for the extras in Book 4, but the word is part of the formation of the Psalter as a whole.

Re 1 and 2, I think Robert Cole's article convinced me that 2 and 149 are an overall frame. Also there are word/conceptual connections between 1 and 2, but it is not so exclusive of the king and the student of Torah (Rashi's lily). The privilege of binding the kings is given to the xasidim - not a sect, but those who know the merciful character of God. The bindings thrown off in Psalm 2 cannot be escaped. Perhaps a dash of Qohelet's futility is needed for spice (e.g. Pss 39, 144)

TheraP said...

Hello! I have from time to time read your blog but never had reason to comment. And I am intrigued by your recent questions. Forgive me if I bundle my comments.

First, in all humility (as someone from another field entirely) I offer my own "meditation" on Psalms 1 and 2 here:

And regarding "gate" I point you to Thomas Merton's concept of the Gate of Heaven as Jacob referenced it and as it refers to the point of contact with God in each of us (2 versions by Merton) here:

With a related post (giving background to Merton's concept along with some thoughts of my own) here:

Peace be with you.

Phil Sumpter said...


thanks for your comments. No doubt the larger structuring of the Psalter must come into play when interpreting Pss 1 - 2.


Thanks for the links. I can't read them in detail now, though that is not to reject what you have written or your particular approach. At the moment I am primarily concerned with the standard historica-critical question of editorial intentionality.

Ron said...

Hey Phil,
This is a fascinating take on the Psalms intro. I'm really glad to see you throwing down some more blog posts also. Too bad I can't visit you during this ISBL as with the last.


Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Ron. There's a slim chance I might be at SBL Chicago and the IBR meeting.

Joseph Kelly said...

Phil, I recommend you consult Benjamin Sommer's "Psalm 1 and the Canonical Shaping of Jewish Scripture" in Jewish Bible Theology: Perspectives and Case Studies, ed. Isaac Kalimi (Eisenbrauns 2012). If you can't get your hands on that volume yet, consult Sommer's chapter in the 2009 Abingdon Press Biblical Theology volume edited by Leo Perdue.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for the tip Kelly (and sorry for the late reply! Hectic days right now). It would be particularly interesting getting a Jewish perspective on this.

Andy Witt said...

Re Bob's comment,

Have you seen Robert Cole's new monograph on Psalms 1-2? I've been able to glance through it a bit, but it's essentially his article expanded.

I like some of the areas Millard goes, as far as Ps 2 particularizing Ps 1, but I wonder if it is limiting Ps 1 to that point of reference. That is, we are still dealing with twin psalms that have a dual opening to the Psalms, not two psalms that are to be read as one. My sense is that Psalm 1 gives a paradigm for a righteous individual ('the man') in both the ways of this life and their consequences, which then is expanded to include the larger categories of the righteous (who imitate him and share his fate) and the wicked (who oppose his ways and share an opposite fate).

Psalm 2, then, doesn't so much clarify Psalm 1, but gives us the framework within which the rest of the Psalter will speak; that is, the nations/rulers/people are in rebellion against Yhwh and his Messiah, but Yhwh will install his king on Zion and give him those nations as an inheritance. The same "two ways" of Psalm 1 and there at the end of Psalm 2, and this King takes on the paradigmatic role of the Man of Psalm 1 - and the rest of Ps 2 characters follow suit. Perhaps I would say, in Miller's words, that Ps 2 qualifies Ps 1.

I do find your point intriguing - the setting of up of both Torah and Messiah. But what do you do with something Psalm 14 moving into the group your working through (15-24)? Doesn't 14 suggest that no one "imbibes" the Law, leaving mankind in a kind of desperate state? 15-24, here, answer by showing a righteous King who is able to enter the sanctuary, in a sense leading us all in after him.

I find the history of Christian interpretation intriguing here. Some focus exclusively on how Christ is the speaker - "David" being a clue to the messianic role, leaning heavy on themes from Psalm 2. Others focus on how the psalms as "like a mirror" to believing readers - "David" being a clue to one who trusts in God and aims to live within the world of Torah, leaning on Psalm 1. Much of interpretation, then - though this is probably too simplistic and a bit anachronistic - leans on one of the two poles of the introduction.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Andy,

Thanks for your thoughts. I can only afford a quick response for now.

You say: ) 15-24, here, answer by showing a righteous King who is able to enter the sanctuary, in a sense leading us all in after him. Perhaps the move you describe (inability to fulfil the law; need for righteous king who can) somehow relates to the move from Psalms 1 to 2? The subjects of the ‘happiness’ could be seen as the same in both cases.