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The Religious Experience in the Book of Psalms


Shamai Gelander

This book deals with the world of the psalms, in order to reveal the elements of faith as expressed in the various prayers. It includes an encompassing study of the variety of experiences: How can an individual in distress experience a situation which contrasts his actual reality altogether? What causes an individual to believe that God wants him to live and does not want him to die? What are the individual’s sources of confidence in justice as ruling over the universe, and his confidence that the harmony of the universe leaves no room for evil? Virtually all books of the Old Testament express the world view and opinions of their authors, with a didactic purpose on mind. Not so the Book of Psalms: Here we can find an expression of the pious individual’s world and his beliefs. The psalms are what the authors sought to place in the mouth of the worshippers, thinking that they would aptly express what was on their mind. Anybody who seeks to understand how faith and thoughtfulness join together with the individual’s emotions through a wonderful creative shaping, is invited to read this book.


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3. The Experience of Closeness to God


3.1 “In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge” In the previous chapter we examined the various meanings of dwell- ing in the house of the Lord. This led us to an inspection of another, related aspect of the religious experience: the mutual sense of close- ness between God and the individual. This sense, in turn, has several aspects to it, and appears in various degrees of intensity. However, fundamentally it is nothing more than a further internalization of the sense of dwelling in the house of the Lord. Like that dwelling or receipt of sheltering, the sense of close- ness is most clearly expressed in a nearly uniform image of sheltering under the wings of God. It is virtually impossible to identify the source of the expression “In the shadow of thy wings.” Although there are winged deities in the ancient East – the “winged” attribute appears in texts of Ras Shamra,1 and Canaanite descriptions of deities were adopted in the Hebrew Bible and attributed to the God of Israel – there is no reason to assume that this was the case in this expression. In biblical descriptions of God as being airborne, the wings are ascribed not to God, but to cherubs,2 or of the 1 See M. Dahood and T. Penar, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” in: L.R. Fisher (ed.), Ras Shamra Parallels I, Rome 1972, p. 230, note 292. 2 For more on Talmudic sources that maintained that the cherubs took the form of winged...

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