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«He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes and does not return» (Ps 78, 39)

The Theme of Memory and Forgetting in the Third Book of the Psalter (Pss 73-89)


Marco Pavan

Aimed at identifying the function of the aspects of remembering and forgetting in the Psalter, this opus seeks to offer a lexicographical synthesis of zkr and škḥ in the Psalter and an analysis of their function in Book III (Pss 73-89) and in Ps 78, text in which the notions of remembering and forgetting occupy a relevant role. By doing so, the detailed focus on a particular portion of the Book of Psalms makes it possible to highlight the importance of the theme of memory and that of forgetting in the whole Psalter, both from the point of view of the composition of its global message, and from the point of view of a focused re-reading of the traditions that have to do with the origins of Israel. For its readers the Psalter turns out to be a book about remembrance and for remembrance.
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Chapter III: Memory and Forgetting in Ps 78


From the considerations arising from the previous chapter, among the things that stand out is the particular position of Ps 78 in Book III of the Psalter: «pole» of this sequence, with Ps 89, closely linked to 81 on account of their recalling of the Exodus and with 86 through their explicit Davidic reference1. This prominence emerges also from considering the distribution of the motif of memory: this text is the hinge of 77-79, in which memory performs a crucial role2 and is, moreover, the only psalm in Book III in which rkz refers both to God and to man3.

To complete our analysis, therefore, we shall turn to considering Ps 78 more closely in the confident hope of studying more deeply what we have so far gathered concerning the motif of memory in Book III of the Psalter.

In conformity with the object of this present study, we shall not aim, in this chapter, at an overall analysis of Ps 78 – hardly an easy undertaking given its length! – so much as a focusing on the motif of memory within it. There will be two standpoints from which the research will develop: the function of the lexemes rkz and xkv in describing the centrality of remembering, an act commanded to the Israelites for all time (vv. 2-8) and key to reading the story of Israel (vv. 12-72); and the narration/rereading of the origins of Israel as a paradigm for the readers’ memory.

This last...

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