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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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1. On the Methods of Ancient Commentaries


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1.  On the Methods of Ancient Commentaries

The notion that the psalms are prayers of allegorical significance is the conclusion of a prolonged and extensive interpretive process, but for the purposes of this introduction I shall sum up its chief highlights through the work of A. Simon.

A detailed examination of four different approaches to the Book of Psalms7 reveals, I believe, what they have in common. Whether we see the psalms, as Ibn Gikatilla did, as prayers and non-prophetic songs, or as sacred prophetic poetry, like Ibn Ezra, or side with Saadia Gaon in his polemic against the Karaite view,8 the notion that the Psalms are allegorical is a repeated theme. Thus, Saadia Gaon thought the Book of Psalms was a supra-temporal manual – a “Second Torah,” as it were – and hence, too, his objection to the use of psalms to serve the fleeting needs of internal conflict.9 Simon also notes that the Karaites, by viewing the Psalmic literature as prophetic, and its authors as prophets of consolation, were presenting biblical prayer as superior to its rabbinical counterpart.10 In the case of Gikatilla, his reading of the Psalms as allegory is clear from his interpretation of the title of Ps. 30: “A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the House of David.” This psalm is problematic for two reasons: one is the anachronistic reference to the dedication of the Temple, the other is the discrepancy between the title and the...

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