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The Religious Experience in the Book of Psalms

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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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Introduction

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The central aim of this book is to explore the unique qualities of the Book of Psalms. Other books in the biblical canon express the outlooks and views of the religious “authorities” – the priests/legislators, or prophets – or in general, the spiritual leaderships overseeing the biblical compositions, or the word of God as understood by His representatives on earth. By contrast, the Psalms give a voice to any person of faith who wants to put his case before their God, while showing how their plights and joys, and feelings of depression or elation, are linked to their faith.1 There are other books in the “wisdom literature” – such as Job and Ecclesiastes – in which the authors give vent to the anguish of their doubts and express the crisis that has befallen their faith in the face of conflict between conventional wisdom and the lessons of their own life experience. But while those books require scholarly introspection, the psalms in the Book of Psalms – including those attributed to the biblical “wisdom literature” – are, first and foremost, about an emotional and cognitive experience that brings about a rapid transformation in the worshipper, who as a result is mentally transported, to some degree or another, to his desired circumstances, to the point that he is oblivious to, the sensations arising from his actual situation. These transitions involve not only a change from hardship to salvation, from despair to hope, and from supplication to praise and gratitude, but also a sense of belonging to...

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