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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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When ancient poetic prayers endure and become part of the traditional prayer liturgy, the situations they describe take on an increasingly symbolic meaning over time, as the circumstances that prompted them grow ever more remote – allowing them to be associated with a wide range of situations. Anyone reciting a psalm from the Book of Psalms is probably not reading it as a historical document, nor even as a literary work of art, but rather as a distillation of an experience they can identify with. Thus, the various guises of the phrase “dwelling in the house of the Lord” became imbued with a variety of meanings that developed over space and time, to reflect a broad spectrum of expressions of the notion of God’s proximity and the sense of entitlement to His protection. The same can be said about the concept of sheltering under God’s wings, which evolved from a metaphorical illustration to a common turn of phrase. This process, by which a particular adjective or concept eventually takes on a multitude of meanings, allows one to identify with all that it represents, in a variety of situations. The meaning of the word “king” – either in the psalm titles associating with the life of King David, or any other, unnamed monarch – is an extreme example of this.

Literary analysis makes it possible to draw conclusions about the experience depicted in each psalm. Each of the six chapters of our investigation dealt with a different type of religious...

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