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Psalm 107 and Artificial Divisions

I did the Old Testament/Psalms portion of my lectionary reading today from the Jewish Study Bible.  The notes draw attention to the difficulty in separating Psalm 107 into the next book.  The division between books 4 and 5 of the Psalms occurs between Psalm 106 and 107.  But these divisions are later than the text itself.

One should be aware that the Psalms are a collection, and that they are individually composed.  This makes their context within the book somewhat different in nature than the context of a particular chapter in another book.  For example, when I look at a chapter in Samuel-Kings, I look for it’s place in the overall scheme of the history presented.  In Isaiah or Jeremiah, while I realize that individual oracles were written at different times, I look for some sort of thematic arrangement.  The Pslams are a bit looser than that, or at least we are less certain of just why the collection was arranged.  Certainly, it is a collection of material by more than one author.

The Jewish Study Bible points out that Psalm 107 fits into the theme of Psalms 103-106, and indeed resembles them more than it does Psalm 108.  They also suggest moving the word “Hallelujah” from the end of Psalm 106 to the beginning of Psalm 107.  I would need to look at this further, but I am less impressed with that suggestion, even though I suggested that the Hallelujah at the end of Psalm 104 be moved to the beginning of Psalm 105 when I Psalm 104 article" href="http://rpp.energion.com/psalm104.shtml" target="_blank">wrote on it in graduate school.

That change would result in an envelope of Hallelujah around Psalm 105 and again around Psalm 106, while Psalm 103 and Psalm 104 have an envelope of “Bless the LORD, O my soul.”  I think that single move I suggested back then works very well.

The thematic difference is more impressive, but I do see some thematic ties that point in both directions.  I’m not certain this division should actually be changed, though we should realize it’s later than the original collection, if “original collection” is even valid in reference to the Psalms.

I’m going to link to Bob McDonald at Bob’s Log,who has done much more work on the Psalms than I have (and that’s an understatement!), in the hopes that he will comment.

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  1. Henry – it is always good to read more about the psalms. I always look for the envelopes since they help me frame the text. The series from 103 to 106 has a summarizing coherence: 103 repeats the word ‘all’ 9 times and is focused on all – meaning each one of us in the circle of fear and remembrance. 104 is of creation, 105 and 106 about the Exodus and the rebellion in the wilderness. 105 and 106 are anticipated in a phrase of 103 – framing all of book 4 with Moses. So whoever ‘separated’ 107 from this group was exercising the considerable power of that one name as the frame.

    107 begins the final book with 5 examples + chorus of redemption. We are in the midst of a crisis now of ‘them that go down to the sea in ships’ with the huge ships filled with cars that can’t be sold lying idle off our coastal waters.

    107 relates back to the singular righteous of psalm 1 and the multitude of the chasidim, traditionally translated ‘saints’ – those who have been shown the mercy (chesed) as noted in psalm 149. Psalms 1, 2, and 149 the opening and closing brackets of the Psalter. This covenant mercy that redeems and rebuilds us all is of course a major component of the praise of the psalms. It is both our gift and our work. (Saints is a misleading gloss. ‘Those who have come under the protection of his mercy’ is a mouthful, but catches the meaning better.) So 107 legitimately begins a new book. And 106 certainly ends a book with the traditional doxology – an elaborate one combining blessing, amen and praise.

  2. On moving the Hallelujah at the end of Book 4. The doxologies quickly summarized: – Book 1 Bless, Book 2 Amen, Book 3 Bless and Amen, Book 4 Bless and Amen and Hallelujah – and this word could be seen as part of the ‘envelope’ of Psalm 106 … (my preference)

    Then does Psalm 107 need a Hallelujah to begin? It would provide a praise envelope for book 5 – but there are enough Hallelujah’s in Book 5 to make their presence felt at the beginning without a word being spoken! The Hallelujah’s begin in Book 5 with the acrostics 111 and 112 which follow the Royal 110 which in turn follows the prayer of the needy in 109. Where does that leave 108 in the thought process? Its envelope is salvation. Considering 109 is applied in the NT to Judas and 110 to the Anointed, 108 is not mentioned in the NT, 107 a brief mention in the magnificat in Luke, 111 and 112 both alluded to (Revelation and 2 Corinthians)…

    We could say that the Spirit has a global view in 107 – 5 icons of salvation, a specific view in 108 – this happens in a chosen nation and a particular geography, a detailed and highly structured prayer in 109: Verses 16-19 share in sequence 9 words with verses 21-22, 28-29. Then psalm 110 notes the triumph of the Anointed and its great cost and Psalms 111-112 celebrate with the first Hallelujah’s of the book. Psalms 113-117 continue the praise leading to a recapitulation of salvation in 118 and the massive praise of the Lord’s teaching in 119.

    A move to put the Hallelujah at the beginning of Psalm 107 is not out of the question – nice to have a tug of war in the structural game…

  3. My tendency was against moving the Hallelujah to the beginning of Psalm 107, but I didn’t have all that backup.

    A link to you was a good way to get a stack of research here! Thanks for both comments. You make good points, and I’m inclined to agree with you.

    I’ve found suggestions in the Jewish Study Bible are often quite interesting, but some are quite speculative.

  4. Thank you Henry for the invitation. I enjoyed reviewing the place of psalm 107 this morning and seeing just how transparent these psalms are – so much to write about! So much more to discover in this rich heritage.

  5. I was just browsing around and I discovered this allusion to Psalm 106 in 1 Chronicles 16:36

    Blessed [be] the LORD God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the LORD.

    Notice the reference to Hallelujah – given the Chronicler’s tendency to change words of the psalms as described here, it would seem likely that the Hallelujah belongs to this psalm and not to another.

  6. Henry – my apologies for shortchanging the complexity of the doxologies. Here is my penance.

  7. Bob – I call that success! I wanted your comments on the structure and I got them. I really appreciate your look at the structure. That’s some difficult work you do, and it makes things much clearer.

    As I read it, the “Hallelujah” at the end of Psalm 106 belongs just where it is, contrary to the LXX.

    Have I read you and your data correctly?

  8. Henry – there is competing evidence that we have noted: internal evidence in the psalm, the doxologies, and the LXX, but I think I incline to having the Hallelujah where it stands in Psalm 106. It is odd that the envelope in the psalm includes the doxology which itself is more part of the book than the psalm, but it anticipates the great Hallel at the end of the Psalter. I find the external usage in 1 Chronicles 6 tips the balance for me. There three psalms are used to create a new psalm and that new psalm has the praise spelled out with the full name of the Lord as part of the doxology.

  9. Henry – at Richard’s blog on the psalms, John Anderson points out the covenant envelope of psalms 105-106. ‘remember’ in 105-106 is a confirming structural marker for the pair.

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