A study of wisdom Psalms in the Old Testament
This thesis was an attempt to read the wisdom psalms in the Old Testament more effectively. In the introduction, the problems identified in the research on wisdom psalms were analyzed along the history of investigation into wisdom psalms. According to investigation, the main problems of the research of wisdom psalms can be summarized in three main aspects. The first research problem mainly lies in the negligence of the careful reading of the content of wisdom psalms. While most scholars are busy with the identification of wisdom psalms, the form-critical question concerning wisdom psalms, namely as to what the specific content and message of wisdom psalms are, is subsequently neglected. The second research problem is that pertaining to the context of wisdom psalms. Some narrow views of the Sitz im Leben of wisdom psalms demand broader socio-historical investigation of wisdom psalms. Furthermore, recent interest in the canonical shape of the psalms also calls for more attention to reading wisdom psalms in the broad canonical context of the entire Psalter. The third research problem is the theological implications of wisdom psalms. How wisdom psalms are theologically valued and what the theological implications of wisdom psalms are for the believing (and even unbelieving) community are considered necessary aspects of investigation in the present study. For the methodological analysis of more effective reading of wisdom psalms, based on the three main aspects of research problems and tasks, a three-dimensional approach, namely an intra-textual reading, an extra-textual reading and an inter-textual reading, was proposed as a reading strategy concerning wisdom psalms. From the perspective of intra-textual reading, the poetic structure and poetic content of wisdom psalms were investigated. Following this, the extra-textual dimensions of wisdom psalms were discussed in order to scrutinize the socio-historical context of wisdom psalms. The aspect of the inter-textual canonical shape of wisdom psalms was also examined in order to understand wisdom psalms in the broader canonical context. For the scope of research, four wisdom psalms or psalms with predominantly wisdom elements and themes were selected, namely Psalms 1, 37, 49 and 112. These psalms are generally regarded by most scholars as typical or bona fide wisdom psalms. Other psalms containing wisdom elements and themes (e.g. Psalms 19, 32, 34, 73, 111, 119, 127, 128 and 133) were also briefly discussed when the elements and themes are inter-textually related to the selected wisdom psalms. In this manner, Psalms 1, 37, 49 and 112 were multidimensionally read in the main body of the thesis (Chapters II-V), based on suggested three-dimensional reading, namely the intra-textual reading, the extra-textual reading and the inter-textual reading — one chapter for each wisdom psalm. A brief introductory remark was made concerning the first part of the study of each wisdom psalm. The Massoretic Text and the author's own translation of each wisdom psalm then followed with discussions of some translation problems in order to establish the best textual base for the study. Subsequently an analysis of the poetic structure and poetic content of each wisdom psalm was done, based on the intra-textual reading of the psalm. Thereafter, both the literary genre and life-setting of each wisdom psalm were taken into consideration, based on the preceding study of poetic content and its extra-textual clue from the content. From then on, the canonical context of each wisdom psalm was discussed on the basis of inter-textual relationships of the psalm. Finally, all the preceding study outcomes were synthesised in order to grasp the overall message of each wisdom psalm with special attention to the wisdom perspective of the psalm and its implications. In the conclusion of the thesis, a comparison regarding the similarities and differences of the content, context and theological emphasis within the four proposed wisdom psalms were presented with regard to synthesizing all the study outcomes and their overall theological implications. Thereafter, a number of remarks were presented on the possible practical theological implications and some promising applications and suggestions for future research as an example of the present study for contemporary readers. For the contents and the implications thereof, all the wisdom lexical terms and intense forms of wisdom features and styles from the proposed wisdom psalms were synthesized and the overall implications from the contents presented. Regarding the context of wisdom psalms and the theological implications thereof, it was proven that wisdom psalms might have had a communal liturgical setting with the primary aim of communal instruction. Mixed literary genres and forms as well as the socio-historical context of wisdom psalms support this contention. This inference differs considerably from the traditional hypothesis of non-cultic setting and the private use of wisdom psalms for meditation. For the canonical shape of wisdom psalms and its implications, it seems that wisdom psalms formulated a wisdom frame in the Psalter with the purpose of giving proper wisdom counsel in order for the afflicted community to overcome their apparent problems, and to put their hope in eternal God. For the wisdom themes and their theological implications, four main aspects crystallised from the study: (1) the two ways (contrasting life-styles); (2) the fear of the Lord and directing the way of Torah; (3) the reality but inevitability of retribution; and (4) the centrality of God: the Lord reigns! These four main themes have a logical relationship: in order to choose a blessed life between the two ways (contrasting life-styles), human beings have to fear the Lord by obeying His Word (Torah) and committing their ways of life under the wings of the reign of God even though many inquisitive questions are in mind regarding the theory of retribution and theodicy. The Lord will then repay them for their good decision and conduct according to His trustworthy Word and Deed. The cohesive factor in this logical relationship is the created order in God's creation: the order in that natural universe created and maintained by God. For the practical theological implications, it was pointed out that the main practical function of wisdom psalms is instructional, and the goal of that instruction is about the reign of the Lord that solves the problem of all the conflict and fear, even the fear of death, in the journey of life. In this way, wisdom psalms have a transforming power of life: those who are fools, wisdom psalms make wise; those who are frustrated, wisdom psalms encourage; and to those who are in darkness, wisdom psalms offer permanent hope. Thus the condition of the church and the culture in this time of the so-called post-modern world reinforces the need to recover wisdom psalms for what they can teach us. A suggestion for the identification of wisdom psalms was presented for further research on the topic: a wisdom psalm is any psalm that dynamically develops both wisdom forms (and styles) and wisdom themes (and motifs) richly throughout poetic artistry. The three-dimensional reading strategy is also recommended in order to read the intra-textual dimension of wisdom psalms more closely, the extra-textual dimension of wisdom psalms more profoundly, and the inter-textual dimension of wisdom psalms more broadly. As this thesis has proven, wisdom psalms are always contemporary, and consequently relevant to us. Through listening to and reading wisdom counsels in wisdom psalms by means of songs, prayers and instructions, and by living accordingly, we can gain broader insight and a more concrete picture of who God is and who we are and how we should live, then as all true theology can finally inspire, enlighten and edify us.
- ETD@PUK