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Reviews > Book reviews >

The songs of old

John Rogerson finds passionate enthusiasm in an excellent guide to the Psalms

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SCM Studyguide: The Psalms
Stephen Dawes
SCM Press £16.99
(978-0-334-04342-3)
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

The Psalms: Intimacy, doxology and theology
Sotirios Christou

Phoenix Books £9.99
(978-095458098-8)

STEPHEN DAWES has written an excellent introductory study guide to the Psalms. Each main chapter is headed “Voicing” followed in turn by the words Praise, Shalom, Dissonance, Penitence, Hope, Spirituality, and Theology. In this way, justice is done to the tradi­tional classification of the Psalms into various genres, but the choice of topic titles enables connections to be made with religious experiences that are timelessly relevant.

Each main chapter focuses on psalms that are examples of the topic titles; and an encouraging feature of the book is that readers are given tasks to do, including studying particular psalms as opposed merely to reading about them.

In the course of the work, much technical information about the psalms is conveyed in non-technical language. The book also contains a glossary, an extensive bibliography, and an annotated guide to the main commentaries in English on the Psalms.

The book is not confined to the canonical psalms of the Old Testament. A section entitled “Psalms before and after Psalms” draws attention to other psalm-like passages such as the so-called Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.1-43 and the Song of David in 2 Samuel 22.2-25 (or 52), as well as the psalms from among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the songs found in the apocryphal “Additions to Daniel” (from which comes the Benedicite), and the pseudepigraphical “Psalms of Solomon”.

A closing chapter on “New Studies in Psalms” describes the Am­­erican “canonical” approach to seeing the Psalter as a whole book rather than a collection of indi­vidual pieces, as well as recent work on “reception criticism”, particularly in the writings of Susan Gillingham. The lack of reference to the large amount of recent German scholar­ship on the Psalms is presumably conditioned by the target audience of the book, which is not expected to read German fluently.

Sotirios Christou’s book is a kind of mini-commentary on 30 of the Psalms, written by someone who effectively conveys his own passion­ate commitment to them as re­sources for worship and prayer. It is a very individual and eclectic book. It contains many quotations from recent American books on the Psalms, while at the same time adopting a conservative and tradi­tional view of their authorship.

Thus, David is seen as the author of those psalms attributed to him in the psalm titles, although there are occasional hints that Davidic authorship is not universally accepted by scholars. The problem with situating the Psalms in the life of David or the Jerusalem cult is that of relating them to today’s world. In the present case, the gap is bridged by the author’s passionate style and enthusiasm.

Canon John Rogerson is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield.

Tom Wright offers 20 studies on one of the Gospels in Mark, part of his For Everyone study-guide series. Each begins with a short introduc­tion and opening question, then offers further questions on the passage, its interpretation, and its application. These can be used with the For Everyone commentaries or separately, and can be followed by individuals or groups (SPCK, £4.99 (£4.50); 978-0-281-06178-5).

A commentary on 2 Peter and Jude has been written by Robert Harvey and Philip Towner as part of the IVP New Testament Commentaries series. The authors offer biblical exposition and application in the same format, in a way that they believe is unique (IVP, £9.99 (£9); 978-0-85111-677-8).

In A Shetland Bible, Charles Greig has translated both Old and New Testament passages into the islands’ dialect. A CD accompanies the book, on which 35 of the pas­sages are read by the author and others (Saint Andrew Press, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-0-7152-0915-8).

These books are available from the Church Times Bookshop.

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