Monday, 13 September 2010

An Abstract of my doctoral thesis on Ps 24

The following is an abstract of my doctoral thesis on Ps 24 which Susan Gillingham has kindly offered to publish at the forthcoming Oxford Conference on the Psalms. It focusses on the exegetical dimension, leaving aside the hermeneutical and dogmatic parts of my doctorate. I'd appreciate feedback and questions (and bear in mind that the content of this blog is copyright):

My thesis is an attempt to read Ps 24 in the context of B.S. Childs' “canonical approach,” rightly understood. The first half outlines the coherence of his approach, which is not a method but a comprehensive construal of the particular nature of Israel's religious traditions that factors in the ontological reality its God. 

Turning to Ps 24, I argue that it is a poetically structured reworking of prior authoritative traditions with the goal of constraining future reception of those traditions, accomplished dialectically in the context of Israel's broader theological heritage, with the goal of witnessing to the true theological substance of that heritage. In particular, I argue that Ps 24 attempts to penetrate to the heart of God's ways in the world by drawing on Israel's core traditions of creation, Sinai/Zion, holy war, and the Davidic king and by subtly structuring their interrelations. 

The interpretive crux is the poetic juxtaposition of two portrayals of character: the obedient character of those who may access the fullness of creational life within the temple on Zion, accrued upon completion of the journey of pilgrimage, and the character of the author and guarantor of this life, the Lord, presented as a mighty warrior, about to enter into that very same location. The juxtaposition entails a subtle poetic movement of “actualization,” enacted within the protological/eschatological horizon of creation, whereby the Lord appears to accomplish what is only a possibility for Jacob. The significance of this juxtaposition, however, remains vague at the level of the Psalm alone. An account of Israel's cult along with a “theology of the Psalter” proves the paradigmatic centrality of Ps 24's themes to Biblical faith and strengthens the sense of their interconnectedness, yet it does not resolve the significance of their poetic presentation. 

A significant hermeneutical key is provided by the “canonical marker” לדוד, which asks us to read the Psalm in relation to the theological persona of David, a hermeneutical construct within the Psalter that takes its cue from the Book of Samuel. In Samuel we find that the context that constitutes David's identity mirrors the structure and content of Ps 24. On the one hand, David is an historically particular free agent who, out of love for God and Israel, acts on Israel's and his own behalf in obedience to torah in order to bring it and himself, through battle, to full creational blessing on Zion (2 Sam 6-8). On the other hand, David's story is embedded in a broader eschatological narrative in which David is a vehicle of the true agent of history, the Lord, who similarly acts in order to bring about his own purpose of divine communion with his righteous people in full creational blessing on Zion. As Ps 24 implies, God, through David, is the true subject of Israel's redemption in Zion, though not without its obedience. Given the persistent presence of disobedience, this fulfilment in time remains proleptic and the ancient cycle of Israel's struggle for life and divine judgement/redemption is perpetuated. This same dialectical pattern applies to the “David of the Psalter” whereby, on the one hand, “David” struggles for his own and Israel's life and witnesses to the Lord's intervention in judgement/salvation and, on the other hand, this cycle is situated within the ultimate context of divine reality. 

Ps 24's paradigmatic nature and hermeneutical function for Biblical faith becomes clearer when it is read as the frame and climax of the chiastically structured sub-collection of Pss 15-24. As part of the frame (Pss 15 and 19), it functions to set the remaining Psalms within the context of base realities: obedience to torah for the sake of creation. As the climax of the collection, understood as a series of intensifying parallelisms, it depicts the fulfilment of that reality with an arrival in Zion/new creation itself, albeit an arrival by the Lord with Jacob apparently in his train. 

A final clarification is provided by the Book of Isaiah, itself related to the Psalter, which deals with the persistent problem of Israel's disobedience by reconstituting it by means of the “Servant,” the “father” of 3rd Isaiah's redeemed “servants.” Thus, similar to 2 Sam 7 and in line with the dialectic of Ps 24, the Lord's creation intentions come to fruition in Zion upon the entry of a newly constituted Jacob, created and led by the Lord. Like Ps 24, however, Isaiah closes with the Lord still poised before the gates, leaving the consummation of Israel's pilgrimage open to the future. 

Finally, in an attempt to clarify the Psalm's theological subject matter in its “economic” and “ontological” dimensions, this reading of Ps 24 is brought into dialogue with patristic and rabbinic exegesis, Jenson's Trinitarian metaphysic of heaven and Farrow's treatment of the Ascension


Reb Anthony Loke said...

have you finished your doctoral studies? if so, congrats!

my viva would probably be in january 2011 latest. am editing my thesis 1 last round before sending it back to be passed to my docotral examiner.

Reb Anthony Loke said...

looking at the list of conference speakers, really gonna miss this! people we only get to read in books like bill bellinger, klaus seybold, erhard Gerstenberger, adele berlin, jonathan margonet etc!!!!

Phil Sumpter said...

I'm not finished yet, I've still got to write all this up!

Best of luck with your own thesis.

Unknown said...

Sounds fascinating---although, it seems Childs' extremely dense writing style has rubbed off on you!

Maybe read a little Austen or Capote or something before you sit down to write out the whole thing.

Other than that, all I can say is, I've enjoyed reading along (mostly in silence) with your project over the last couple of years, and I can't wait to read the finished product!

Phil Sumpter said...

That's kind of you Luke. The summary is dense as I only had a page of A4 on which to print it. In terms of mass, it accounts for about 40% of my thesis.

Bobby Grow said...

Sounds good, Phil! When do you anticipate having the final version of your thesis/diss completed?

Phil Sumpter said...

June 2011.

Andy Witt said...

Hi Phil,
I'm in a doctoral program at Wycliffe College in Toronto, and I'm planning on writing a dissertation on a contextual analysis of some part of Book I of the Psalter, probably 3-14. I've been able to study with Robert Cole in the States and am now under Chris Seitz here at Wycliffe, so it seems like we share similar concerns regarding the Psalter. Considering what I want to write on, I'd like to be able to engage with you a little more on your thesis. Could you shoot me an e-mail? andy.witt[at]

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