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Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) [Paperback]

Walter Brueggemann , William H. Bellinger Jr
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

17 Feb 2014 New Cambridge Bible Commentary
This text introduces the book of Psalms and provides an exposition of each psalm with attention to genre, liturgical connections, societal issues and the psalm's place in the book of Psalms as a whole. The treatments of the psalms feature a close look at particular issues raised by the text and the encounters between the world of the psalm and the world of contemporary readers. The exposition of each psalm provides a reader's guide to the text in conversation with relevant theological issues.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 670 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (17 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521600766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521600767
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Advance Praise: “Walter Brueggemann and Bill Bellinger form an impressive team. Both are outstanding interpreters of the Psalms, and together they have produced a commentary that is clear in structure and lucid in style, up to date in scholarship and astute in application – indeed, a compelling introduction for anyone seeking to appreciate the Psalms in their ancient and contemporary settings.” – Susan Gillingham, Worcester College, University of Oxford

“Brueggemann and Bellinger provide a powerfully versatile presentation of the Psalms for students and scholars alike. Their commentary deftly covers the classical issues of scholarship and at the same time ‘bridges the horizons’ of the ancient text and the contemporary reader. Levinas and Calvin, Moltmann and Martin Luther King, Niebuhr and Niebuhr, and so many more are brought into conversation with the ancient words of lament and praise. The result is feasting on the psalmic word.” – William P. Brown, Columbia Theological Seminary

“This superb commentary is exactly what one would expect from two of the leading Psalms scholars in the world – excellence! Drawing on the full range of traditional and more recent methods and perspectives, Brueggemann and Bellinger’s comments are always theologically insightful, and they consistently engage contemporary issues such as globalization, consumerism, human rights, and religious chauvinism.” – J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Eden Theological Seminary

Book Description

Introduces the book of Psalms and provides an exposition of each psalm with attention to genre, liturgical connections, societal issues and the psalm's place in the book of Psalms as a whole. Treatments of the psalms help readers interact with the psalm and emphasize matters of worship, theology and society.

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3.0 out of 5 stars Some great insights but strangely uneven 4 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Opening Remarks
It has seemed like a long wait for this commentary. Both authors have a strong track record with Psalms scholarship. Walter Brueggemann’s contribution to Psalms scholarship, in particular, is immense. He famously initiated little less than a new interpretive paradigm with his characterisation of psalms into psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation (see 'Psalms and the Life of Faith', ed: Patrick D. Miller).

The commentary opens with a concise, but helpful, survey of key background information on the Psalms. The approach of the commentary is also explained, the use of four interpretive frameworks are singled out:

1. An attention to genre, along the lines of Gunkel’s seminal form-critical insights.
2. An awareness of cultic setting, although not with dependence on any overarching festival hypothesis.
3. Consideration of ancient near-eastern societal issues. This includes matters central to some aspects of Brueggemann’s concern with the dynamics of power within society.
4. Exploration of the placement of psalms within the Psalter during its editing.

There is nothing controversial about the choice of these four areas. They do however, indicate that the commentary’s strength will lie with its exploration of the ancient context rather than the modern use of the psalms. That this is the case is also flagged in a two sentence conclusion on page 8.

Below are some comments on how the commentary tackles some key psalms:

Psalms 1 and 2
Both of these psalms are flagged as being part of an introduction to the Psalter. This is a consensus of modern Psalms scholarship.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, helpful commentary - including the NRSV Psalms 9 May 2014
By TheraP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This one-volume commentary, which takes different tacks with different psalms, is all the commentary many people might need. Indeed, it stands ready to enlighten those wanting just one volume that "speaks volumes". Depending on specific issues raised in a particular psalm, the commentary takes different tacks (background, ritual use, inherent wisdom, movement of emotions, poetic themes, etc), nearly all of them interesting and understandable, so that you want to read more and more of the book. Each psalm, even the longest psalm, gets a few succinct pages, which focus not just on the single psalm but also include highlighted portions of text delving into further background of a more general nature. And the prose is a joy to read, not just understandable but at times it positively sparkles! For example, describing Psalm 104, which the authors suggest contains a theology of of ecology, of environmentalism, we read:

"Psalm 104 is a prime example of the way in which Israel - in hymnic modes - responds to the generative, life-giving power of creation and refers the wonder of creation back to the faithful power of the creator. Although the psalm has Egyptian parallels and reflects an older generic theology of creation, it has been made, through the traditioning process, into a vehicle for Israel's Yahwistic faith.

"The psalm begins with a summons to the self to turn fully ("bless") to YHWH, ceding self in celebrative affirmation to YHWH (v.1)... After the summons YHWH is named as "my God' and 'exuberantly affirmed' ... [with] a long glad inventory of all facets of creation that are credited to the creator God (vv. 2-23)...

"The psalmist is smitten with the beauty, awesomeness, generativity and ordered coherence of creation to the wondrous power of the creator."

So beautifully written is the description and analysis, and I've really only quoted a tiny bit, that one wants to read the commentary on Psalm 104 again and again. Along with the psalm itself, of course. It's a commentary one actually wants to read in its entirety, not just as a reference book.

Because the commentary series utilizes the NRSV version, the authors do not need to justify the translation (by interminable footnotes as in some commentaries). Nevertheless in unobtrusive ways you can see that the authors at times take exception to bits of the NRSV translation, for example in Psalm 1 - using the singular in referring to the "person" in verse 1 (NRSV uses "those") as "blessed or happy" - and cautioning that the word "happy" (NRSV's translation) does "not connote pleasing external circumstances in life but rather a deeper joy about the fruitfulness of the way of living urged on the reader's of the psalm."

If I had to describe the book overall, I'd say it presents succinctly an enormous amount of information, information of types both specific to each psalm as well as enlarging upon issues raised by a particular psalm, which relate to the psalms as a whole or across other books of the Bible. In addition, the prose at times reaches poetic heights - sparkling, uplifting, verging on prayer. Which personally bring me great joy!

Which brings me to my small beefs - which I do not hold against the authors but the series itself. I purchased the "hardback" - as I really love the psalms and do make use of commentaries. Well, for the cost, this appears to be a paperback with stiff covers. It is not really a "bound book" - as one would expect given the cost involved (when compared to the Hermeneia series binding and cost, for example). If I had it to do over again, I'd buy the paperback along with a download to my Kindle, both of which together are way cheaper than the hardback cost. And more versatile! (Or, I suggest that the publisher should - at least - allow people who have unsuspectingly purchased the hardback to download a Kindle copy for free or for a very nominal fee.)

Because this book, to my mind, is one I want to refer to over and over. It is such a joy to read - on many levels. It is informative and succinct and beautifully written. And for that reason, I grieve that my hardback isn't really what I expected. And though I want a Kindle copy - truly I do - I hate to pay more money still, after feeling gypped already in paying so much for so little (I refer to my so-called "hardback" copy).

I thought long and hard about my 5 stars. They are for the authors! For the joy of reading. To invite others to rejoice in a one-volume commentary, which is all most of us would ever need. (Even though I still look forward to the very scholarly third volume on the psalms in the Hermeneia series. Even though this seems to be a year with many, many books on psalms coming out. Too many to read them all - I only wish I were younger had decades to do that.)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Toda Rabba (thank you), Authors! 2 Sep 2014
By Hungry-4-the-Word - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this commentary. I am a fluent reader of the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew, have lived in Israel for the past 20 years, and have been a working tour guide since the year 2000. I am also intimately familiar with the physical settings of those locations that are associated with King David's life. Although my preference is usually for Hebrew language commentaries on the various books of the Hebrew Bible, I have thoroughly enjoyed this commentary, which I am using in tandem with a Hebrew one on the Book of Psalms from the "Olam Ha Tanaach" series. While I feel that native Hebrew speakers understand the nuances of Biblical Hebrew in a way unmatched by their counterparts in Western academia, this particular commentary has immensely added to my understanding of to the "big picture," or setting of each individual Psalm in the corpus as a whole. The authors are very good at showing not only the original meaning as it was likely intended to its original audience, but also explain why the particular psalm was placed in its final location within the greater work. And, most importantly, they do this in a highly edifying and easy reading manner. Never falling into the trap of being overly "philological," it's obvious the authors love the Book of Psalms on a personal level, and wish to make them as edifying and personal to their readers as they are to them, the authors. I think the New Cambridge Bible Commentary is a precious gem, and based on my experience with this volume, I plan to get the Genesis and Revelation volumes as well. This series has succeeded to find that all too rare balance between philological/historical based scholarship and beautiful/edifying prose. I thank the authors for deepening not only my understanding of the Books of Psalms, but my love for them as well. Toda Rabba!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great insights but strangely uneven 6 July 2014
By Mark J. Whiting - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Opening Remarks
It has seemed like a long wait for this commentary. Both authors have a strong track record with Psalms scholarship. Walter Brueggemann’s contribution to Psalms scholarship, in particular, is immense. He famously initiated little less than a new interpretive paradigm with his characterisation of psalms into psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation (see 'Psalms and the Life of Faith', ed: Patrick D. Miller).

The commentary opens with a concise, but helpful, survey of key background information on the Psalms. The approach of the commentary is also explained, the use of four interpretive frameworks are singled out:

1. An attention to genre, along the lines of Gunkel’s seminal form-critical insights.
2. An awareness of cultic setting, although not with dependence on any overarching festival hypothesis.
3. Consideration of ancient near-eastern societal issues. This includes matters central to some aspects of Brueggemann’s concern with the dynamics of power within society.
4. Exploration of the placement of psalms within the Psalter during its editing.

There is nothing controversial about the choice of these four areas. They do however, indicate that the commentary’s strength will lie with its exploration of the ancient context rather than the modern use of the psalms. That this is the case is also flagged in a two sentence conclusion on page 8.

Below are some comments on how the commentary tackles some key psalms:

Psalms 1 and 2
Both of these psalms are flagged as being part of an introduction to the Psalter. This is a consensus of modern Psalms scholarship. What is highly puzzling, however, is that essentially nothing is done to explore the consequences of this, except for a short comment on page 34 (see below for more on the nature of this comment). Surely if something functions as an introduction, to a larger whole, care needs to be given in establishing the implications of this for the entire work?

Psalm 1 is ascribed a strong legal function in order to explain the ‘two ways’ described in the psalm. In this way the authors argue that the ‘wicked’, who are said to perish in the psalm, are in fact those in the community that have no place to stand in legal decisions. Such a reading, whilst not unheard of, does not seem convincing. As a poetic device, surely being blown away as chaff and perishing can’t just mean being on the wrong side of communal decisions? A lot of commentators do of course shy away from the traditional connotation of judgement. Yet, however uncomfortable such a topic is, the late date of psalm 1 and the poetic references to the harvest elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Jeremiah 51:33, Joel 3:13) make it difficult to defend anything other than the a reference to much starker judgement.

The exploration of psalm 2 in its cultic setting is very helpful for appreciating its origin and significance. I was however disappointed that the only mention of its Christian re-reading in Christological terms is a passing mention of seven New Testament passages which refer to this psalm. This, I guess, reflects an editorial decision regarding the New Cambridge Bible Commentary to ‘elucidate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures’. Such a choice means that the commentary needs to serve both confessions, but surely the use of the NRSV means that the volumes will be largely used by Christians, many of whom would expect a little more on how we are to use the Psalms today. Enriching though it is to see psalm 2 as a coronation ritual, this will not be how it is used in devotion or liturgy by Christians, nor, of course, will it be used in this way by worshipping Jews. The ‘Bridging Horizons’ section singularly fails to bridge horizons as it points to psalms 1 and 2 as an exhortation to instruction. Many readers will be puzzled by the claim that these two psalms, and indeed the whole Psalter, are primarily a means of instruction. This is indeed one role of the Psalms, but this requires careful explanation, as well as complementing with other dynamics.

Psalms 22-24
The reservations expressed above do not apply to these three psalms. Each of these psalms is explored with verve and conviction in its ancient context and there are some helpful explorations of later Christian theology. For example:

1. Moltmann’s Crucified God is introduced along with the theme of the suffering of the righteous to round off the coverage of psalm 22.
2. Jesus as shepherd is explained in terms of a biblical trajectory.
3. The use of psalm 24 in celebrating the Triumphal Entry and the Ascension is mentioned.

The only disappointment with the treatment of these three psalms is that little is made of the relationship between the three them indicated on page 8.

The Psalms of Ascents (120-134)
The coverage of these fifteen psalms was a delight to read. Each of these songs is unpacked with clarity, and a care to see them in their societal context. This latter point is important for, as is pointed out at the outset, these psalms of pilgrimage are, perhaps surprisingly, deeply concerned with community life. Not only are these psalms put into their original context eloquently, but attention is given to just how these songs address the societal challenges of Western culture imposed on those journeying on the Life of Faith. In this way there is helpful insight into topics such as:

Psalm 120 – homelessness (both literal and figurative),
Psalm 122 – a critique of ‘self-centred images of tribal and ideological futures.’,
Psalm 127 – a challenge to the culture of success.
Psalm 134 – carrying the ‘renewing power of the encounter with God in sanctuary worship into the rest of life’.

Conclusion
In summary this commentary has much to commend it. As a single volume, which is manageable and affordable, it successfully covers the ancient context of the psalms with conviction, clarity and insight. In much of its coverage, within the limits of the series, it makes helpful connections with today.

However, I found it a little uneven in how well it re-read the psalms from an Easter perspective – in places this is handled well and in others there seems to be a little reticence to make such a re-reading. In particular I found coverage of a specifically Christian re-reading of the Royal Psalms disappointing, especially as Brueggemann’s previous commentary (The Message of the Psalms) on some fifty psalms did not include any Royal Psalms in it. In my view the issues of the microstructure of the Psalter, mentioned in the Introduction to the commentary, is simple not considered fully enough.

This is not the definitive magnum opus from Brueggemann I was hoping for, but given its size I was always setting the bar rather too high!
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading the Psalms for Today 19 Oct 2014
By Lucy's Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While I'm neither an ordained minister or even someone trained in Old Testament studies, I had agreed to teach a short (seven weeks) Sunday School class on the Psalms. In preparation, I read six books my pastor recommended and found two books by Brueggemann to be the most useful because they examined the Psalms both in terms of their own time and in our own. Brueggemann is also a beautiful writer who reminds readers that the Bible is something that can teach us how to live today.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very fine! 14 July 2014
By Inquiring Mind - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
After spending Lent with books on the psalms by Merton, Bonhoeffer and 2 previous books by Brueggmann, I wanted a different kind of book on them. I had especially liked the two Brueggemanns, so when I saw this new commentary out, I popped for it. It's all I'd hoped and more: It's good scholarship but not academic. The 'bridges' aid insight into modern life, but don't read back from a Christian perspective. I pray through the psalter each month, and sometimes I want to go back after daily prayer and find out "What was going on there?" because much of the psalter, with a wardrobe change, is so contemporary. The human heart hasn't changed much in millenia.
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