«He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes and does not return» (Ps 78, 39)

The Theme of Memory and Forgetting in the Third Book of the Psalter (Pss 73-89)

by Marco Pavan (Author)
©2014 Thesis 478 Pages


Aimed at identifying the function of the aspects of remembering and forgetting in the Psalter, this opus seeks to offer a lexicographical synthesis of zkr and škḥ in the Psalter and an analysis of their function in Book III (Pss 73-89) and in Ps 78, text in which the notions of remembering and forgetting occupy a relevant role. By doing so, the detailed focus on a particular portion of the Book of Psalms makes it possible to highlight the importance of the theme of memory and that of forgetting in the whole Psalter, both from the point of view of the composition of its global message, and from the point of view of a focused re-reading of the traditions that have to do with the origins of Israel. For its readers the Psalter turns out to be a book about remembrance and for remembrance.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowlegements
  • Introduction
  • 1. Area, method and aim of the present research
  • 1.1 Area of research
  • 1.2 Method of research
  • 1.2.1 The Psalter as a book
  • 1.2.2 Synchronic perspective, lectio continua and lectio ripetitiva
  • 1.2.3 Method of the present research
  • 1.3 Structure of the research
  • 1.4 Aim of the research
  • Chapter I: The lexemes זכר and שׁכח in the Psalter
  • 1. זכר in the Psalter
  • 1.1 זכר qal
  • 1.2 זכר hi.
  • 1.3 זכר niphil
  • 2. שׁכח in the Psalter
  • 2.1 שׁכח qal
  • 3. Conclusions
  • 3.1 Overall view
  • 3.2 First glance at זכר and שׁכח in Book III
  • Chapter II: Memory and Forgetting in the Third Book of the Psalter
  • 1. The dramatics of Book III
  • 1.1 Pss 73-83
  • 1.1.1 Ps 73
  • 1.1.2 Ps 74
  • 1.1.3 Ps 75
  • 1.1.4 Ps 76
  • 1.1.5 Ps 77
  • 1.1.6 Ps 78
  • 1.1.7 Ps 79
  • 1.1.8 Ps 80
  • 1.1.9 Ps 81
  • 1.1.10 Ps 82
  • 1.1.11 Ps 83
  • 1.1.12 Summary overview of Pss 73-83
  • 1.2 Pss 84-89
  • 1.2.1 Ps 84
  • 1.2.2 Ps 85
  • 1.2.3 Ps 86
  • 1.2.4 Ps 87
  • 1.2.5 Ps 88
  • 1.2.6 Ps 89
  • 1.2.7 Summary overview of Pss 84-89
  • 1.3 Summary overview of Book III
  • 1.3.1 The three sub-groups
  • 1.3.2 The speakers in Book III
  • 1.3.3 Conclusion
  • 2. Memory in Book III
  • 2.1 The frame: Pss 74; 88; 89
  • 2.2 Ps 87,4
  • 2.3 The core: Pss 77; 78; 79
  • 2.4 Ps 83,5
  • 2.5 Final summary
  • Chapter III: Memory and Forgetting in Ps 78
  • 1. Method and perspective of the analysis
  • 1.1 Intertextuality and «inner-biblical interpretation/exegesis»
  • 1.2 Peculiarity of Ps 78
  • 1.3 Working decisions
  • 2. Translation and critica textus
  • 3. Structure and style
  • 3.1 Syntactic elements
  • 3.2 Significant occurrences of lexemes or syntagms
  • 3.3 Stylistic elements
  • 3.4 Two structural proposals: concentric and/or «parallel»
  • 3.5 Conclusion
  • 4. The role of the lexemes זכר and שׁכח
  • 4.1 Memory in the introductory section (vv. 1-8 and 9-11)
  • 4.2 Memory in the reflection of vv. 32-39
  • 5. A paradigmatic rereading
  • 5.1 The «ritornelli» (vv.
  • 5.2 The mystery of election (vv. 32-39.67-72)
  • 6. Conclusion: memory in Ps 78
  • Conclusion: Memory and forgetting in Book III of the Psalter
  • 1. Summary of the preceding analyses
  • 2. The profile of memory in Book III
  • 3. Memory as unifying factor of the third book
  • 4. Conclusion
  • Appendix A Tables for Chapter II
  • Appendix B Tables for Chapter II
  • Appendix C Lists of significant lexemes in Book III
  • Appendix D Syntactical problems in Ps 78,1-8, and 9-12
  • Appendix E Map of the lexemes of Ps 78
  • Abbreviations and sigla
  • Bibliography

← 8 | 9 → Acknowlegements

The present work is a reproduction, with only a few marginal revisions, of the original dissertation in Italian which was submitted towards obtaining the doctorate in Biblical Studies and defended on 30 January 2014 before the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

The thesis was supervised by Prof. Gianni Barbiero SDB, to whom my first and heartfelt thanks are due. Under his guidance, I have been able to explore in depth the vast and rich world of the Psalms and to participate in the complex work of interpretation which these texts require. I can say with gratitude that Prof. Barbiero knew how to create in every way the conditions in which this long and laborious course of research was able to take place as happily as possible, thus demonstrating a dedication – one recognised, moreover, by all his students – which will always remain in my memory. His expert advice and scholarship joined with his sensitivity and care conferred on his guidance a paternal character for which I am profoundly grateful.

I must acknowledge also the help of Prof. Jean-Pierre Sonnet SJ, the second reader. In particular, he is to be thanked for having wished to share and accompany this course of research with his teaching and his advice; for having communicated his stimulating observations; and for the gift of insights able to open up new horizons and points of view both on the object of study and on the methodology to be employed. For me these observations, constitute a kind of «treasure» which I hope, God willing, to exploit more fully in my continued work of research.

I also offer my thanks to Prof. Bruna Costacurta and Prof. Pietro Bovati SJ, third and fourth readers respectively, for the attention they have given to the present work and for their penetrating observations formulated during the discussion.

My thanks are due also to all the personnel of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, from the Fr. Rector, to the teachers, the Library assistants and all who work there. I would like to record particular thanks to Fr. Karl Plötz SJ, recently deceased, who accompanied my first years of study in the Institute: his profound linguistic ability, his humility and his pleasant amiability represent for me, still, the «face» which welcomed me and introduced me to the long and complex cursus of Biblical Studies.

← 9 | 10 → I would like also to thank those persons and institutions which in various ways but with equal concern have allowed me to bring this course of study to its completion. I remember especially: Mons. Diego Coletti, Bishop of Como, who fostered and accompanied my first years of study; Mons. Luciano Giovannetti, Bishop Emeritus of Fiesole and Mons. Mario Meini, Bishop of Fiesole, for their support and encouragement; the Community of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary, in particular Don Tullio Citrini, the Rector, and Don Ugo Ughi; the Trappist community of Tre Fontane and the Cistercians of San Bernardo alle Terme.

I would also like to thank also those people who, during these years, have allowed me to share fruitful moments of encounter, sharing and discussion with regard to Holy Scripture. The list would be too long to mention everyone so that I must limit myself to remembering in particular the Cistercian communities of Cortona, Valserena and Vitorchiano, the Sorelle Figlie di Maria di Nazareth of Castel San Pietro (BO), and the community of Poor Clares at Camposampiero (PD).

Finally, a special thank-you is due to Dr. Michael Tait who undertook the onerous task of translating the present work from Italian, completing it with great dedication and skill.

The present study is dedicated to my mother, who died five years ago but who, from heaven, was able to help with the conclusion of this work which she had so long awaited, and to Fr. Nino Barile, my fellow religious and spiritual father, from whom I have received, in addition to initiation into the monastic life, the first rudiments of knowledge of the biblical languages and everything which I have tried to bring to fruition in this work, above all love for Scripture and for the Church. My gratitude to both of them is inscribed indelibly in my memory.

← 10 | 11 → Introduction

«The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order […] will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities»1.

The role of memory in making up the various areas of human experience is something known to all and its value hard to underestimate2. Even where there is no theoretical reflection on the bases and characteristics of the phenomenon of memory3, the act of remembering is of central importance in the make-up of the identity of a person, a people or a culture to the extent that the belonging to any kind of social or communitarian unit can undoubtedly be determined on the basis of the shared memory of the members of that unit4.

Inheriting, from many points of view, an uninterrupted tradition going back, above all, to Plato and Aristotle, to be precise, research on the memory is ← 11 | 12 → flourishing at the present time5. Specialised studies6, periodicals7, dictionaries8, research projects and study groups9 have been devoted to analysing this phenomenon in its complex aspects: neurological10; psychological11; sociological12; philosophical13; and cultural14. Such a concentration clearly reflects the awareness, which became acute after the two world wars, of the structural importance of the «memory factor» in the make-up of the identities of individuals and peoples, above all when this «factor» involves situations of suffering, grief, conflict or even manipulation15.

← 12 | 13 → In the sphere of biblical research, all things considered, memory has received relatively limited attention16. There stand out a series of lexicographical17 and theological studies18 on the lexemes rkz and, to a much lesser extent, xkv, just as, more recently, articles and monographs devoted to the role of memory in the make-up of the identity of Israel in the various phases of its history19 and, as a consequence of this process, in the writing of the biblical books20. The recent studies of the Egyptologist  J. Assmann on the origins of monotheism have aroused a certain debate within biblical studies too, awakening in this area of study interest in the «forms» and «functions» of memory21.

← 13 | 14 → 1. Area, method and aim of the present research

The lively panorama of research on the memory in the various fields of knowledge and the debate aroused recently by the writings of Assmann have highlighted the opportunity to advance, within biblical studies, the consideration of a subject that is so important. The usefulness of such an enquiry is dictated even more clearly when one takes into account that theological research, in its various aspects, has recognised it importance for some time now22.

1.1 Area of research

The choice of the area and method of research matures under the influence of entwined stimuli of various kinds. Two of these merit particular attention.

We should mention, first of all, the purely statistical datum of the frequency of the lexemes rkz and xkv in the Psalter (65x and 33x respectively)23, the highest in the whole of the Hebrew Bible. These roots appear throughout the work in a rather uniform way, with a certain concentration, as we shall show, precisely in Book III (Pss 73-89)24. Thus, within Scripture, the theme of memory is situated in a special way within the context of prayer, to designate a personal attitude whether of man or of God, and the book of Psalms appears one of the privileged areas able to grasp, as it were in actu, its essential coordinates25.

An important inspiration for this present study has been the 1992 article of  N. Lohfink, devoted to the relationship between «Psalmengebet» and «Psalterredaktion»26. The author recovers, so to speak, the vision of the Psalter as a book of meditation from the Jewish and Christian tradition27 in order to draw ← 14 | 15 → from it, on the exegetical plane, the important consequence of its unitary composition and the decisive influence of meditative activity on its literary form28. This viewpoint involves two principal consequences:

1. the concatenatio29 and the lexical and thematic connections between neighbouring psalms30 are in the service of the lectio continua of the Psalter and of its meditative «assimilation»31;

2. the psalms thus arranged sequentially turn the Psalter into a «dialogische Dramatisierung»32, in which the meaning of each text or of parts of it is enriched with new aspects thanks to the network of relations with the context, near and remote, in which it is inserted33.

The intention of forming a book of meditation, therefore, affects the literary form of the Psalter and emerges, on a lectio continua of the work, by virtue of a particular attention to the complex network of verbal and thematic relations not only within each psalm but also in the context of the psalmic sequences34. If we regard meditatio as a proper activity of the heart and of the memoria35, we can conclude, without, we think, betraying Lohfink’s thought, that remembering and forgetting are central dimensions for the very form of the Psalter36 and that the meditative/mnemonic aim determines its composition and its structure. Thus, these considerations provide a further incentive, on a different level from that of the quantitative, for taking the Psalter as a privileged area for analysing the subject of memory in Scripture.

A further motive for undertaking this research arises from the fact that there are no studies devoted to the analysis of memory in the Psalter either from the ← 15 | 16 → literary37, or from the generically anthropological38 or theological39 point of view, except, as regards this last aspect, the debate over the cultic meaning of rkz40. The close relationship between prayer, meditation/memory and literary form on which the above-mentioned article by Lohfink is based points towards a research perspective which endorses the analysis of the Psalter as a unity and of remembering as one its structural themes or, to put it in other words, which takes account of the relationship between form and content in the book of Psalms in the light of memory.

In the present work, therefore, we shall concentrate, not so much on the determination of a possible anthropology of memory in the Psalms41, or on the cultural mnemonics possibly present in them42, nor shall we attempt to discover, by the comparative method, some notions about the cult in ancient Israel43 or to define the semantic field of rkz and xkv in the Psalter44; we shall seek rather to appraise the function of the theme of memory in a chosen, representative section of the collection of the Psalter – Book III – to gather from it both the features of remembering and forgetting present in it and its influence in determining the literary form of the sequence45.

1.2 Method of research

Lohfink’s article also lays down the fundamental hypothesis in the light of which the method of the present work is organised: that of the reading of the Psalter as a literary unity. However, before being able to formulate methodological choices along the lines of this hypothesis, we must set out and examine the elements which make it plausible.

1.2.1  The Psalter as a book

The analysis of the collection of Psalms as a book and not as an anthology of independent texts is a fairly recent result of «Psalmenforschung». It is to the works ← 16 | 17 → of  G.H. Wilson46 that we owe the decisive contribution towards a reading of the book of Psalms as a literary unity, carrying an overall message – an almost revolutionary claim when set against the prevailing exegesis of at least a century which considered the psalms as individual texts, independent of their position in the collection47. Wilson’s work provided the decisive impulse to a certain number of studies dedicated to verifying the possibility of identifying both the compositional techniques and redaction of the Psalter48 as well as the perspective orienting the whole book49. The debate is still lively but, although there is no lack of discordant voices50, with time, this hypothesis has gained an ever greater consensus51.

That the Psalter, in its canonical form52, is a unitary book implies that the order of the psalms is intentional and is meaningful. This claim involves two fundamental consequences:

1. on the one hand, the individual texts find their full meaning only if placed in the ensemble;

← 17 | 18 → 2. on the other hand, the book unfolds its overall message from the reading in sequence (lectio continua) of the psalm or groups of psalms53.

Scholars have supported this hypothesis essentially on the basis of two fundamental factors: the presence of indicators or compositional techniques which allude to a possible structuring of the sequences and, at the same time, of a complex web of connections generated by the poetic quality of the language of the Psalms. Moreover, these two aspects, imply each other mutually and in part overlap.

In relation to the first point, although employing methods that are not completely homogeneous54, scholars have drawn attention to the function of the superscriptions or titles55 and of the doxologies56, elements which permit the fundamental division of the Psalter into five «books»57 and into collections or groups within these58. In the same way59, there has been an investigation of the structural role of the beginning (the so-called «portal»: Pss 1-2)60, the conclusion (Pss 146-150)61, and, to a lesser extent, the centre of the Psalms62. Other phenomena, more ← 18 | 19 → closely bound to the poetic form of the psalms and their reciprocal relationships, on which we shall dwell shortly, agree, in pointing out the sequences at the «lower» levels, as far as pairs of psalms63. In some cases, even the agreement between position in the whole and the genre of the psalm appears to be significant for the structure of the book64.

All these observations contribute to confirming the hypothesis that the Psalter – and not only the individual psalms – was composed not in a random way but as a unity; at the same time, it offers a perspective of linear reading which emphasises the necessity of lectio continua in order to «enter» into the content of the book as a whole65. By analogy, therefore, with what can be observed for the individual psalms66, the Psalter too develops a certain drama on which are imprinted the rhythms of prayer67 as a result of the sequencing of independent texts and their reciprocal relationships.

← 19 | 20 → Further confirmation and clarification of what has been claimed so far comes from the consideration of the poetic quality of the Psalms68, an aspect which has been demonstrated several times starting out from the peculiarity of their language69, among which we may mention:

1. the structuring of the phrases through juxtaposition rather than coordination70;

2. the use of the syntax of direct speech71;

3. the structuring of the message to be communicated through the placing in parallel of the simple elements (lexemes or syntagmas) or the complex ones (phrases or structures)72;

4. the preference for metaphors and images73;

5. the representation of space and time in a «condensed» and « broken», and not a linear mode74.

← 20 | 21 → The structural factors of the poetry or poetics75 of the psalms which emerge from the above points are, basically, parallelism and dialogicity76: the first can be applied both to individual psalms and to sequences, and can, therefore, be concerned with the compositional technique of the verse or the way the texts are arranged in sequence77; the second describes the complex relations of the psalm with the surrounding context which, alone, permits the full understanding of it78. Also from this point of view, phenomena already observed by scholars within the individual psalm can also appear analogously within the sequences: the already mentioned concatenatio79; the repetition of identical or similar phrases or lexemes80 which produce inclusion81 or chiastic or concentric figures82; changes of subject or of ← 21 | 22 → «gender»83; asymmetry or «gaps» at the level of the verse and the sequences84; concatenation of common motifs85; formulae positioned in crucial places; focused use of key words86. In the same perspective, we should also include deliberate ambiguities and plays on words87.

To the dialogic aspect of the poetics of the individual psalms and of the Psalter we have to ascribe, more specifically, the peculiar «choral» form of the book: in fact, with the principal voice of the worshipper in the Psalms, there alternate various voices or speakers, including also the «third party», the enemies88. This alternation is juxtaposed with that of register (lament, praise, supplication, sapiential reflection, etc.) and often occurs paratactically, as if without apparent logic, both within the individual psalm and between psalm and psalm89. Among the voices of the Psalter, that of David is certainly prominent as the ideal «speaker» of the psalms, not only of those attributed to him but of the book in general90; the Davidic ← 22 | 23 → tone and the taking up of themes, motifs and characters of the Pentateuch thus render the Psalter a kind of version or praying «re-presentation» of the history of Israel91.

Attention to the poetic form of the Psalms, then, permits the specification in a more exact way of the dynamics which are generated between the sequences or even between texts that are «distant» from one another. In the course of the lectio continua, structured by the division into five books, themselves made up of collections and «lesser» groups, perception of the complex web of reference between the psalms and the play of the different voices which echo in them involve the reader, gradually92, in the drama of the Psalter and permits him to discover that overall message which constitutes the final point of its internal development93. From this point of view too, the hypothesis of a literary unity of the Psalms is shown to match the intention of its redactor(s) and is, therefore, fruitful.

In sum, therefore, we can claim that the elements highlighted here corroborate the hypothesis that the Psalter is an ordered and organic collection of independent texts – prayers or, more generally, poetic compositions94 – arranged in such a way as to form, as a totality, a complete discourse with a unitary message95. ← 23 | 24 → The employment of indicators which partition the whole into lesser units and the presence of the links between psalms and psalms, plus the alternation of the voices which echo in them, guide the reader towards the discovery and the enjoyment of this message.

1.2.2  Synchronic perspective, lectio continua and lectio ripetitiva

What kind of reading then is presupposed by the hypothesis that we have adopted and what are the methodological consequences for an enquiry into the function of the theme of memory and forgetting in the Psalter?

At a general level, the elements mentioned in the previous section point, first of all, to a synchronic reading of the Psalms, guided, by the final form of the text96, oriented, therefore, by the previously mentioned indicators97 and sensitive to the complex web of references within the sequences or within the Psalter as a whole98. Clearly, this perspective is not to be taken in a way antagonistic to or exclusive of the diachronic99, since, in fact, research on the origin of the individual psalms or of parts of them, carried out, within certain limits, with the tools of «Literarkritik» and of intertextuality100 can make its contribution to the understanding of the texts101. If, however, one accepts the hypothesis that the Psalter was edited or composed as a unitary book, then it follows that its message as a book can be recognised not so much or not only in starting out with research into the sources, the redactional ← 24 | 25 → layers or the influences undergone by the individual psalms or their sequences102, as with a reading of the text according to its «canonical» form, in which the individual «pieces» receive a further significance from their insertion into the «whole»103.

At the same time, the hypothesis that we have adopted gives rise also to the privilege to be accorded to the lectio continua of the Psalter104: the unitary message of the Psalter is «revealed», so to speak, by means of reading the individual psalms in sequence and in a way which we could define as «quasi-narratival»105 or, perhaps more precisely, «dramatic»106. Given the peculiar nature of the texts or text (the Psalter) under examination, this perspective confers on the act of reading at least two fundamental aspects107:

1. the lectio continua puts in perspective and values all those above-mentioned phenomena of repetition among the psalms which, taken together, «outline» the dramatics of the Psalter. At this level, for example, one can grasp dynamics of focalisation108, antithesis or climax, as well as the modulation and variation of motifs within the sequences109, in such a way that adhesion to the canonical order involves, in a «temporal» sense, the progressive unveiling of the Psalter’s message;

2. at the same time, the lectio continua, becoming lectio ripetitiva110, allows the grasping of the broader structural links111 and the formation of an overall vision of the Psalter, in which the correspondence of the various elements, duly arranged in an hierarchical order, contributes to revealing, in its turn, the message of the Psalter in a «spatial» way112.

← 25 | 26 → Both these aspects are essential for the unitary vision of the text and the one cannot be dissolved into the other113: the lectio continua becomes the way in which to grasp, reading after reading, the subtle structural drama which underlies the Psalter. The latter, however, cannot be reduced to a static or univocal series of correspondences but is configured in the form of reading paths («Leserichtungen»)114 or, in some cases, of concurrent structures within a same sequence115 which, in their turn, refer to and enrich the lectio continua116. It is within this movement that the reader is led, gradually, to an ever fuller perception of the message of the Psalter117.

1.2.3  Method of the present research

How are we to develop, on the methodological level, our investigation on the theme of memory and forgetfulness in the Psalter starting out from the hypothesis which we have just presented and in the perspective of reading derived from it? There are two «horizons» which offer themselves for analysis:

1. on the one hand, consideration of the placing and function of the roots rkz and xkv in the Psalter and in Book III118;

2. on the other hand, somehow demonstrating the legitimacy of the assumption formulated above on the basis of Lohfink’s article according to which the theme of memory and forgetfulness determine, along with other factors, the composition, the structure and the purpose of the Psalter119.

Beyond a general attention to the form of the text, to the polyfunctionality of its elements and to the complex web of relationships among these120, at the operative level, the first point will involve chiefly:

← 26 | 27 → 1. assessing the occurrences of the two roots in the Psalter, sketching an initial draft of their function in the whole, and accounting more precisely for the choice of Book III as the area of research121;

2. starting out from the division of the Psalter into five books and into sequences more or less clearly delineated122, identifying with greater precision the «drama» and the overall message of Book III;

3. placing the lexemes rkz and xkv in the context of the individual psalms and in the sequences of Book III123 and, consequently, determining their function within the book and their role in the determination of its overall message124.

In line with what has been pointed out in the previous sections, the assumption behind such operations is that the meaning of rkz and xkv emerges, gradually, from a linear and dynamic lectio continua of the Psalter in the sequence established by the MT. In this process, to the cooperation of the reader is assigned the task of grasping the complex network of relationships which make up the text and reconstructing its message, allowing all the pieces to be arranged into an overall vision125 – in our case, allowing the function of the two lexemes in question to be revealed little by little to a careful reading «in sequence» of the psalms of Book III. In carrying out this kind of analysis, in addition to Lohfink’s article and the above-mentioned works, we shall seek to profit from the methodologies developed in the studies devoted to the analysis of a motif in a book or in a collection of the Psalter126 or of a single psalm in its context127.

The second point, by contrast, will be tackled by focusing our attention on a text of Book III in which the theme of memory and forgetfulness emerge prominently – in our case, Ps 78128. Starting from the circumstantial analysis of memory performed in the text, we shall be able, in some way, to point to the intention of the ← 27 | 28 → psalm to guide the meditation and to mould the remembering of the reader, establishing itself, thus, not only as a psalm «about» memory but also «for» memory.

In conclusion, having considered all the data thus collected together, we can extend our view, even if only germinally, to the Psalter as a whole and point out the structural role of memory and forgetfulness on the Psalms’ account of identity, with them forming not only a book «about» memory but also «for» memory and, so to speak, «against» forgetfulness.

1.3 Structure of the research

On the basis of the considerations just developed, the research will be structured in three stages, corresponding to three fundamental operations, each marked with a particular perspective. These three steps will move the analysis towards a progressive focus on Ps 78, centre of the Psalms of Asaph and «hinge» of Book III.

In the first place, we shall set out to describe, in a summary way, the semantics of rkz and xkv, and their function in the book of Psalms129, pointing out the particular concentration in Pss 73-89. The analysis of the linguistic use and the distribution of the two lexemes in the Psalter will thus form the background of the ensuing research and the justification of the choice of Book III as the privileged area of enquiry.

The role of memory in Book III will form the object of the second stage of the analysis. In this context, we shall first of all outline the «drama» of Pss 73-89, that is, the way in which their overall message is being articulated in the movement of the lectio continua. Particular attention will be given to the distribution of the titles, the lexematic links between the psalms, the identification and placing of the speakers and their dramatic effect. Against this background, it will be possible to identify fairly precisely the collocation of rkz and xkv in the whole and how these come together to elaborate the message of the book130.

From what has been worked out in the first two steps, there will emerge the plausibility of a focus on Ps 78, a central text both in relation to Book III and to the subject of the present research, and, therefore, capable of furnishing further, important elements for the present enquiry. In this case too, we shall set ourselves to indicate the «drama» of the psalm by means of the analysis of the textual elements of which it consists131 and, then, to place the occurrences of the lexemes rkz and xkv in this context to grasp their function in the whole.

← 28 | 29 → This analysis will point out the programmatic role of vv. 1-8 in defining characteristics and tasks of the believing memory, a «programme» which the psalm in its entirety is intended to realise in a paradigmatic fashion. The further perspective on the theme of memory and forgetfulness which this assumption involves will be investigated by taking into consideration some passages chosen from the psalm and observing in them – by means of a comparison with the texts of the Pentateuch and the historical books – the ways in which the psalmist takes up and reconfigures the history of the origins of Israel. The demonstration of the dynamics of relecture present in Ps 78 will allow us to understand our object of research from a perspective complementary to the lexical one and to indicate the «structural» function of memory for the psalm and for Book III132.

1.4 Aim of the research

The interaction among the different perspectives set in play in the three stages of the analysis, just like the movement of gradual focusing on a specific text – from the Psalter to Book III and from these to Ps 78 – ought, in conclusion, to display in the most comprehensive view possible the various aspects of memory and forgetfulness. We shall concentrate our attention on two points:

1. the picture of the memory of God and man which emerges from Book III;

2. the role of memory in the determination of the compositional unity of Book III.

The image of memory which will emerge from the limited context of Book III can constitute a starting point from which to extend the enquiry to the Psalter and, to a certain degree, to the rest of the biblical canon133. At the same time, it will be possible to reveal the theological and anthropological connotation of this theme and its far from secondary role in representing the foundations of the relationship between God and man, allowing, thus, the understanding of the identifying factor of biblical memory with respect to other contexts.

At the same time, the highlighting of the structural role of remembering in the determination of the form of Book III will be able to offer a contribution to the identification of the principles of a unitary reading of the Psalter, to the debate concerning its purpose, and to the basic principle of its cohesion. The analysis of ← 29 | 30 → Ps 78 will be submitted also as a reconsideration of some problems of this text in a partly innovative perspective and, thus, as a formulation of new answers to «ancient» questions.

The picture of memory gained at the end of the present work could, in the final analysis, fill up in part the lacuna in scholarship observed at the start and corroborate, at different levels, the work of research on the Psalter as a literary unity. At the same time, this analysis will be able to offer a contribution and an incentive to the identification and implementation of further paths of research such as, for example, the role of memory in the activity of the redactors of the Psalter or of the other biblical books, and the interaction between poetry, memory and intertextuality134.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (November)
Psalmen Intertextualität Kanonische Interpretation
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 478 pp., 8 tables

Biographical notes

Marco Pavan (Author)

Marco Pavan studied Theology in Florence, Jerusalem and Rome. He is the author of several articles in international reviews and works as a translator of ancient Syriac works. Currently, he is cataloguing ancient Syriac manuscripts for the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.


Title: «He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes and does not return» (Ps 78, 39)
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476 pages