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5.0 out of 5 stars An old song in a new way..., 19 Dec 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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I have a copy of this book sitting on my shelf right beside my bed. I keep the most useful commentaries and references there to be handy (I have the 12-volume New Interpeter's Bible, all my versions of the BCP, etc. on the same shelf).
It has a 70-page introduction by Terrien. This looks at historical setting of the ancient Near East, origins of the psalter, growth of the psalter over time, ancient versions and linguistic issues with the text, music and poetic structures, literary genres of different types of psalms, theological considerations, and the relationship of the psalms to the New Testament. Overall this is rather well done, not a great deal of depth on any particular topic (as each could merit an entire book), but a good introduction. That said, there are generous footnotes and extensive bibliographic information for further study.
`The Psalter is unique in the history of Jewish and Christian spirituality. For twenty-five centuries it has been sung, chanted, recited, read, translated, and annotated by adherents of Judaism, and for two millennia by the disciples of Jesus Christ, more often and with more alacrity than any other collection of sacred canticles.'
The Psalms provide a seed-bed for inspiration and spirituality for many, if not most, Christians and Jews. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other prominent Christian thinkers worshiped using the Psalms; Maimonides and Jewish communities of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic persuasions worshiped using the Psalms. They are of a literary heritage that dates even farther back than the 2500 years of their own existence; their echoes fall back as much as 1500 farther back to ancient Sumerian and Akkadian hymns. `The poetic art of many psalms, with its use of different kinds of rhythm and strophic structure, resembles the form and style of the cultic poetry preserved at Ugarit, which preceded by several generations the arrival of the Hebrews in the land.'
The Psalms themselves (150) are presented each by individual chapters. They are presented in new translation by Terrien, who has shown great care in following the Masoretic text closely and researching obscure words thoroughly. Each psalm is presented with a brief discussion according to form/structure, general commentary divided by strophe, and concluding with a discussion of date and theological issues. Again, each psalm has its own bibliography appended.
Terrien gives a lot of attention to the strophic structure, both in the introduction and in the individual commentaries. This structure is similar to both the writings of the ancient poets as well as the utterances of the ancient prophets. There are discernable patterns of verse and meter in the original language texts, and these are often lost in modern translation, that take too much of the structure and style of the modern language for granted as universal. Terrien's unique translation gives great attention to retaining linguistic nuances such as strophic style. This is readily apparent even from a brief glance at the layout on the page.
The Psalms contain praise, lamentation, hope, desperation, and most every strong emotion known to humankind. They speak of God's presence and God's absence, the glory of creation even in the face of trauma, the sovereignty of God and the victory of God's justice. They tap into other traditions such as prophecy as well as wisdom literature, and look to put things in a context and format for use, not just for reflection and reading.
Terrien's achievement here is a superb conclusion to a distinguished career as a Biblical scholar. A professor at Union Theological Seminary, he died shortly before this volume was published. It is a fitting testimony to his consummate skill as a scholar, and a wonderful inaugural volume for Eerdman's Critical Commentaries.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Psalms of David - Spiritual Songs & Meditations of Judaeo-Christian monotheism, 16 April 2010
By 
Nigel C. Jackson "SetheusPalingenius700" (Terre de Salvaesche) - See all my reviews
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Samuel Terrien's critical edition comprises lucid, fluent translations from the Hebrew with especial attention having been paid to interpretation of the Masoretic points, accompanied by erudite commentaries on the ancient Hebrew poetics, musical settings, context, symbolism, cosmological referents and theology of the Davidic Psalms. The background and resonances in Ugaritic, Akkadian, Babylonian, Caananite and Egyptian cultures are remarked upon and Terrien also brings a fresh and welcome note of insight into the various dimensions of meanings which these great spiritual songs hold, so rich in mystical significance and timeless relevance to the human condition. He notes the possibilities of the context within which each Psalm was composed and speculates upon the historical and artistic aspects which amplify our appreciation of the Psalms and of the Hebraic religious tradition which they embody. The critical tone, although spiritually sensitive, is rather more theological than theosophical (for the latter angle see Isaiah Tishby's brilliant 3 volume anthology 'Wisdom of the Zohar' which is replete with esoteric and kabbalistic perspectives on the symbolism of the Psalms) An essential work on the Book of Psalms which will be of special interest to those who follow the orthodox Judaeo-Christian stream of Abrahamic monotheism and to religious scholars and seekers generally - in personal prayer or collective worship the chanted poetics of recited Psalmody, as all who participate in the religious life of the synagogue and church appreciate, are a beautiful, contemplative and integral element within the religious life of the spiritual civilizations of Judaism and Christianity over millenia, our cultures, liturgies and arts glitter with their symbols and phraseology, and so this monumental tome is a valuable and rich exposition indeed. Highly recommended
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