Friday, 10 September 2010

The substance of Psalm 24

This is a provisional attempt to briefly summarize my understanding of the reality to which Psalm 24 testifies. I'd appreciate critical feedback or suggestions:
The reality attested to by the final form of Psalm 24 is a protological/eschatological narrative in which God's own destiny consists in communion with a righteous people in the context of new creation, a reality proleptically experienced in the temple yet consistently interrupted by the presence of cosmic and human evil and thus the need for divine militant intervention. Despite the requirement of wilful human participation in this reality, it is ultimately God himself who not only creates the space of new creation but also the people to inhabit it.
Even this is not the "rock bottom" reality to which Psalm 24 witnesses, as it is only the economic unfolding of the eternal ontological being of God himself. Thus, the reality to which Psalm 24 witnesses is not the "narrative" of God's activity but the eternal substance of his being himself. But I'm writing this for an Oxford Psalms conference so I have to watch my language.


Bob MacDonald said...

Hi Phil - are you at the Psalms conference - great - I hope we will meet. I will be there on the 21st adjusting to jet lag. I have just finished a complete reading of the psalms in Hebrew out loud - it is helping me learn. Big book! I look forward to your paper and will give you my feedback

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Bob, I won't be giving a paper - I'm not that important! - through a twist of luck the organiser has offered to publish an abstract of my thesis along with 11 others. Still, look forward to meeting you there.

As for reading the Psalms aloud, I'm in the process of learning to sing them. I learn plainsong a while back and have discovered that it is very easy to transcribe the Hebrew. As you say, this way of appropriating them opens up new dimensions.

Gary said...

I highly recommend looking up the band "Sons of Korah" if you intend to sing the Psalms. Some of their work is on youtube.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks Gary, I discovered them a while back but haven't got round to purchasing anything. Plainsong, however, has a special function for me: it helps me really meditate on the content. For those interested in the Psalms sung in Hebrew, at you can buy CDs of the Psalms being chanted according to the Moroccan tradition's interpretation of their ta'amei hammiqra.

Bob MacDonald said...

Phil - that's quite a packed summary. My coloured translation is here with a few brief comments

How do you read verse 4? As my life or his life? Would one or other reading make any difference to your summary?

Singing is something I have done all my life - to sing with the spirit and understanding is a long process of growth. (Psallam spiritu et mente 1 Cor 14:15 RSCM motto)

Andrew Esqueda said...

Phil, thanks for this. You said, "Thus, the reality to which Psalm 24 witnesses is not the "narrative" of God's activity but the eternal substance of his being himself."

I wonder if in response to this it would be fair to say that the "narrative of God's activity" is necessarily related to God's essential being. So that, God's being is not abstracted from God's work. It seems to me that this might help pull the Psalm together and make better sense of its protological and eschatological aspects. So, because the Psalm does speak about God's narrative or history, it also simultaneously speaks of God's being--thus, what God does protologically and eschatologically is who God is essentially.

It seems like this relationship could help strengthen your thesis especially because there is an emphasis on God's relationship to and activity for creation.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Bob,

I've commented on your blog. As for v. 4, I think that the original reading was "his life," though the first person suffix is very ancient (cf. Codex Alexandrinus). Delitzsch reckons that the first person is the one regarded as authoritive by Jewish tradition, which doesn't mean that this is also the more ancient version. According to the ArtScroll commentary on the Psalms, however, נפשי is the traditional pronunciation whereas נפשׁו is the traditional spelling. E. Hirsch tried to incorporate both into his translation: "Who has not lifted up his soul which is mine unto vanity"! I think third person makes most sense (cf. Ps 15, which is only about interpersonal relations) and gels with the following Ps 25. However, the first person gives the text the impression that it is a dialogue, whereby the question in v. 3 is addressed to God. This is like Ps 15. I find that 3rd. Pers. makes the most sense.

As for its significance to my summary, it is not too relevant, as I've kept the summary very broad. There I am interested in a basic Biblical pattern which I think Ps 24 embodies, whereby righteousness per se is the requirement for entrance into God's new life. Of course, for the interpretation of the Psalm on its own it is important.


that's a very valid point, thank you! I had already thought of that when I re-drafted my abstract (now posted here; see the last few lines). I still struggle to understand this issue, however: I understand that the church has always gone from history to ontology, that it has affirmed that "God's act is not foreign to his being but in fact grounded in it" (McGlasson), but why did it feel that it had to do that? Why is important that God's being and doing are not separated? My source is McGlasson, and he doesn't say why this ought to be the case, beyond giving a citation of Ezek 1 and Ps 121:3-4, which is hardly evidence. The most he says is the following:

"Noetically, the act of God is the only basis for our knowledge of the being of God. But now we must proceed a step further, in a theological movement of thought that is just as legitimate and necessary. Ontically, the being of God is the only basis for the reedeptive act of God for the sake of humanity. God acts for our salvation in Jesus Christ in a way that reflects who he is in his eternal being" (Invitation, 194).

I'm guessing that being as a basis for redemption is the clue here, but for some reason I can't quite grasp what this is all about.