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Psalms As Torah
Reading Biblical Song Ethically – Studies in Theological Interpretation
by Gordon J. Wenham
Publisher:Baker Academic imprint of Baker Publishing from SPCK
Published:01 February 2012
Gordon Wenham writes 'I follow those who see the Psalter as a second law, the law of David to be meditated upon like the law of Moses, the Pentateuch.' (p. 205). Professor Wenham recognises that understanding such an approach is in its early stages, but he makes a convincing argument. Why should ethical behaviour outlined in the Psalms have such an influence? Because, 'To pray a psalm is to address both God and fellow worshipers...Liturgy does not simply invite assent; it demands it.' (Ibid.). The psalms / prayers shape the ethics of the community and are 'Torah' ('law') because they are means by which instruction is given. It is no coincidence that the Psalter, like the Pentateuch, is divided into five 'books'.
After the 'Series' and 'Author' Prefaces, and an 'Introduction', the first four chapters look at the general background of the Psalter, while the following five outline the ethics implied or taught by the psalms. The final chapter examines how the writers of the New Testament use the psalms to define a 'Christian ethic'. Notes are included in the text; there is a 'Selected Bibliography' as well as 'Scripture', 'Author' and 'Subject' Indexes.
While this is an 'academic' book, the author's style makes it a gentle and compelling read. Even if one simply uses the relevant Index, one gains greater understanding of the psalms, so making 'praying the psalms' a richer experience, especially for those who celebrate any of the daily Offices of the Church.
Reviewer: J.Nicholas Latham (25/08/12)