Psalms and Wisdom Literature of Israel
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: TWR 1:30-2:30; or by appointment
This upper-level biblical studies course focuses primarily upon select poetic books contained in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) which emanate from two formally distinct yet intersecting social circumstances––those pertaining to communal cult and praxis, and those pertaining to individual, scribally oriented piety and reflection. Significant attention will be directed to unpacking the relationship of these poetic works to other genres of literature found in the Bible (e.g., national epic; myth; ritual; prophecy; etc.) as well as to some non-biblical and parascriptural works from Jewish and surrounding cultures which exhibit formal and ideological similarities to the biblical psalter and wisdom compositions.
There is one fundamental text required for this course––that of the Hebrew Bible itself in a suitable English translation. While many students already own Bibles or at least have access to public copies in the library, very few undergraduates realize that certain popular translations are outdated and/or are of substandard quality. Moreover, most of the popular and/or liturgical editions possess little (if any) competent annotation and cross-referencing. Therefore, in order to complete the assignments for this course, the following text is required:
Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia & Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).
Frequently, supplementary readings will be assigned or distributed by the instructor as needed.
a. Homework exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (at least three or four per week; optimally one per day) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of three (3) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (based on the scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 50% of the course grade.
b. Final Examination. One (1) written final examination, consisting of one or more essays, comprising 25% of the course grade. The exam will occur in class during the final class meeting. This exam is subjective in format, comprehensive in content, and will draw equally upon assigned readings and class discussion for its content.
c. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprise a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants. The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, apparent class preparation, oral contributions, and performance on pop-quizzes will constitute 25% of the final course grade.
d. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
91-100 A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
0-60 F = unacceptable work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All missed quizzes, unwritten reports, and neglected homework exercises will be averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade. There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) All papers and written exercises are due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually, the following class meeting). ‘Late’ submissions of reports (not homework exercises—see below) bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/F. Please note: these ‘days’ are calendar days, not class meeting days. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. An untyped submission automatically receives the grade F, as do those typed papers which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Homework exercises are due on the date announced by the instructor in class. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions; however, ‘early’ submissions are always welcome and will receive full credit.
4) Attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences, while regrettable, are unexceptional; three (3) is the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers the Individual Involvement component of your assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more earns an automatic F in that component. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Rough Course Outline
1. Introduction: historical-critical method; the Writings (Ketuvim) as literary corpus; issues in canonization
‘General Principles for Interpretation of the Tanakh’
Review of contents of Ketuvim in Tanakh; Deut 34:1-12; Mal 3:22-24; 2 Chron 36:1-23.
Ps 149:9 (MT); Ps 149:9 (LXX); 11QPsa col. 26.2-3 (= Ps 149:9).
Targum to Psalm 45.
James E. Bowley and John C. Reeves, “Rethinking the Concept of ‘Bible’: Some Theses and Proposals,” Henoch 25 (2003): 3-18.
Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Canonization of the Bible,” in The Jewish Study Bible (ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 2072-77.
Robert A. Kraft, “Scripture and Canon in Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation (ed. Magne Sæbø; 2 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996-2000), 1:199-216.
John C. Reeves, “Scriptural Authority in Early Judaism,” in James E. Bowley, ed., Living Traditions of the Bible: Scripture in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Practice (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999) 63-84.
2. Psalms, hymns, and prayers
a. editorial structure of the biblical Book of Psalms
b. types of psalms––form criticism & ritual implications
c. ‘psalms’ outside of the Book of Psalms
d. non-biblical and parascriptural parallels
Psalms 1-150; Psalm 151; 4Q and 11Q Psalms scrolls.
Exod 15:1-18; 1 Sam 2:1-10; 2 Sam 23:1-7; Isa 38:10-20; Jonah 2:3-10 (2-9 Eng.); Hab 3:1-19;
1 Chr 16:8-36; 1 Macc 1:36-40; 2:7-13; 4:36-59; 7:17; Bar 3:9-4:4; 4:5-5:9.
Psalms of Solomon 1-18 (AOT 649-82).
‘Pagan’ version of Ps 20:2-6.
ANET3 365-81; 383-92; 573-86.
Adele Berlin, “Reading Biblical Poetry,” in Jewish Study Bible, 2097-104.
Peter W. Flint, “Psalms, Book of,” in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; 2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 2:702-10.
Hermann Gunkel, “The Collection of Psalms” and “The Superscriptions of the Psalms,” in his Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric in Israel (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998), 333-51.
Charles F. Nims and Richard C. Steiner, “A Paganized Version of Psalm 20:2-6 from the Aramaic Text in Demotic Script,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (1983): 261-74. [See esp. p. 264].
Nahum M. Sarna, et al., “Psalms, Book of,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 13:1303-34.
William Robertson Smith, “The Psalter,” in his The Old Testament in the Jewish Church: A Course of Lectures on Biblical Criticism (2d ed.; New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1892), 188-225.
Ben Zion Wacholder, “David’s Eschatological Psalter 11Q Psalmsa,” Hebrew Union College Annual 59 (1988): 23-72.
3. The contextualization of ‘wisdom’: the wise courtier tale-type
Ahiqar Legend; 1 Esdras 3:1-4:57; Daniel 1-2; Genesis 37, 39-41; Esther 1-10.
W. Lee Humphreys, “A Life-Style for the Diaspora: A Study of the Tales of Esther and Daniel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973): 211-23.
Susan Niditch and Robert Doran, “The Success Story of the Wise Courtier,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977): 179-93.
Shemaryahu Talmon, “‘Wisdom’ in the Book of Esther,” Vetus Testamentum 13 (1963): 419-55.
Lawrence M. Wills, The Jew in the Court of the Foreign King: Ancient Jewish Court Legends (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990).
Eli Yassif, The Hebrew Folktale: History, Genre, Meaning (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 27-30; 61-64; cf. 343-51.
4. Biblical wisdom literature: generic considerations & some characteristic forms
a. lists — 1 Kgs 5:9-14 (4:29-34 Eng.); Prov 30:11-14, 15-16, 18-19, 21-31; Job 38-39; m. ’Abot 5.1-15.
b. aphorisms — Prov 10:1-22:16.
c. fables and parables — Judg 9:6-20; 2 Sam 12:1-4; 2 Kgs 14:8-11//2 Chr 25:17-19; Isa 5:1-7.
d. riddles — 1 Kgs 10:1-24; Judg 14:12-18; Prov 30:4; Josephus, Antiquities 8.146-49.
e. extended monologues or discourses — Proverbs 1-9; Qohelet 1-12 (i.e., Ecclesiastes).
f. dialogues — Job 1-42.
All the above cited texts.
H. L. Ginsburg, “Ecclesiastes,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 6:349-55.
H. L. Ginsburg, et al., “Job, The Book of,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 10:111-29.
Hermann Gunkel, The Folktale in the Old Testament (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1987).
Yassif, Hebrew Folktale, 19-22; 23-26; 191-209.
5. Some non-biblical and parascriptural parallels
a. Egyptian wisdom literature
b. Babylonian wisdom literature
c. Ben Sira (Sirach or Ecclesiasticus)
d. Wisdom of Solomon
e. Qumran wisdom literature
f. Rabbinic wisdom: Pirqe Avot
Ben Sira 1-51; Wisdom of Solomon 1-19; 4Q184-185; 4QInstruction; m. ’Abot 1-6.
ANET3 412-25; 596-600.
Daniel J. Harrington, “Wisdom Texts,” in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; 2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 2:976-80.
M. B. Lerner, “The Tractate Avot,” in The Literature of the Sages, First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (ed. Shmuel Safrai; CRINT 2.3; Assen/Maastricht and Philadelphia: Van Gorcum and Fortress, 1987), 263-81.
Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (Anchor Bible 39; New York: Doubleday, 1987).
David Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 43; Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1979).
Supplemental Bibliography for RELS 3107
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit and which are currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The most up to date are The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; ed. Katherine Doob Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-09) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Dated but still reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the new Encyclopaedia Judaica (22 vols.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007).
General Studies on Biblical Verse, Including the Book of Psalms
Luis Alonso Schökel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1988).
Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985).
Adele Berlin, Biblical Poetry Through Medieval Jewish Eyes (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).
T. K. Cheyne, The Book of Psalms (rev. ed.; 2 vols.; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1904).
Mitchell J. Dahood, Psalms (AB 16-17A; 3 vols.; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966-70).
S. E. Gillingham, The Poems and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
George Buchanan Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry (repr., New York: Ktav, 1972).
Mayer I. Gruber, Rashi’s Commentary on Psalms (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998). Annotated English translation of Rashi’s commentary to Psalms 1-89.
Hermann Gunkel, Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric in Israel (trans. James D. Nogalski; Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1998).
Benjamin Hrushovski, “Prosody, Hebrew,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971 ed.), 13:1195-1240.
Alastair G. Hunter, Psalms (London and New York: Routledge, 1999).
Hans-Joachim Kraus, Theology of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986).
James L. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and its History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).
Herbert J. Levine, Sing Unto God a New Song: A Contemporary Reading of the Psalms (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).
Patrick D. Miller, Interpreting the Psalms (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986).
Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (2 vols.; New York: Abingdon, 1962).
Albert Pietersma, A New English Translation of the Septuagint, and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under That Title: The Psalms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
The Poetical Books (ed. David J. A. Clines; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
Uriel Simon, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms: From Saadiah Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991).
Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962).
James H. Charlesworth, “More Psalms of David,” OTP 2:609-24.
James H. Charlesworth, et al., Pseudepigraphic and Non-Masoretic Psalms and Prayers (The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations 4A; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997).
Peter W. Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms (Leiden: Brill, 1997).
David Flusser, “Psalms, Hymns and Prayers,” in Jewish Writings (ed. Stone), 551-77.
George Buchanan Gray, “The Psalms of Solomon,” APOT 2:625-52.
James A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967).
______, The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa) (DJD IV; Oxford: Clarendon, 1965).
R. B. Wright, “Psalms of Solomon,” OTP 2:639-70.
Ancient Near Eastern Psalms and Hymns
Albrecht Götze, “Hittite Prayers,” ANET3 393-401.
Samuel N. Kramer, “Sumerian Hymns,” ANET3 573-86.
Ferris J. Stephens, “Sumero-Akkadian Hymns and Prayers,” ANET3 383-92.
John A. Wilson, “Egyptian Hymns and Prayers,” ANET3 365-81.
General Studies on Biblical Wisdom Literature
Richard J. Clifford, The Wisdom Literature (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998).
James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (rev. ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998).
E. W. Heaton, The School Tradition of the Old Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
Roland E. Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1990).
Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972).
R. B. Y. Scott, The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1971).
More Technical Studies of Wisdom Literature
Joseph Blenkinsopp, Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament (rev.ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
John J. Collins, “Cosmos and Salvation: Jewish Wisdom and Apocalyptic in the Hellenistic Age,” History of Religions 17 (1977): 121-42.
James L. Crenshaw, Urgent Advice and Probing Questions: Collected Writings on Old Testament Wisdom (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995).
Leo G. Perdue, Wisdom & Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).
Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom (Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1971).
Stuart Weeks, Early Israelite Wisdom (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994).
R. N. Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition in the Old Testament (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1974).
Wisdom in Ancient Israel: Essays in Honour of J. A. Emerton (ed. John Day, et al.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East (SVT 3; Leiden: Brill, 1960).
Near Eastern and Non-Biblical Wisdom Literature
G. H. Box and W. O. E. Oesterley, “Sirach,” in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament [= APOT] (2 vols.; ed. R. H. Charles; Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), 1:268-517.
John J. Collins, Jewish Wisdom in the Hellenistic Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).
Herbert Danby, “Aboth,” in The Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 446-61.
Maurice Gilbert, “Wisdom Literature,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (CRINT 2.2; ed. Michael E. Stone; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 283-324.
H. L. Ginsberg, “The Words of Ahiqar,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament [= ANET3] (3d ed.; ed. James B. Pritchard; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 427-30.
Daniel J. Harrington, Wisdom Texts from Qumran (London & New York: Routledge, 1996).
R. Travers Herford, “Aboth,” APOT 2:686-714.
W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960).
______, “Ludlul bel nemeqi: I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom,” ANET3 596-600.
James M. Lindenberger, “Ahiqar,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [= OTP] (2 vols.; ed. James H. Charlesworth; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983-85), 2:479-507.
J. Rendel Harris, et al., “The Story of Ahikar,” APOT 2:715-84.
The Sage in Israel and in the Ancient Near East (ed. John G. Gammie and Leo G. Perdue; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (AB 39; New York: Doubleday, 1987).
Jonathan Z. Smith, “Wisdom and Apocalyptic,” in Visionaries and Their Apocalypses (ed. Paul D. Hanson; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 101-20.
John A. Wilson, “Egyptian Instructions,” ANET3 412-25.