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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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2. Transitions & Transformations


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2.  Transitions & Transformations

In this chapter we will try to track the worshipper’s experience according to three types of changes in his condition. One is transformation: by virtue of his unshakable belief, he is already experiencing the desired state as if it has actually been achieved. In the second, he moves from a state of doubt – or even, perhaps, a crisis in faith – to recovery, where he is sure of triumph. The third type encompasses various types of transitions from despair to hope. In some psalms the expressions of hope are so earnest, that the tone of desperation gives way to one of praise and thanksgiving – but even then, in the great majority of instances, it transpires that the speaker’s true state is one of distress.

In all these psalms there are certain recurring elements that adhere to the strict rules of this literary form. Nonetheless, in every psalm there is also a point where the poet breaks free from rigid protocol and conventional turns of phrases, to express a unique and one-off experience.

2.1  The transformation experience: from the actual to the desired (per Ps. 23)

In this context, when we speak of religious experience, we do not mean a prolonged state, but a sensation, or range of feelings that remove the individual out of his daily routine and familiar surroundings, as well as from his usual appreciation and attitude toward that reality. It is impossible...

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