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Posted March 24, 2003

Book: The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary
Author: Samuel Terrien
Critical Eerdmans Commentary, Cambridge, UK, pp. 971

Excerpt from Jacket:

In this monumental work, his more ambitious undertaking, the late Samuel Terrien brings together a lifetime of scholarship on Psalms, long the wellspring of Jewish spirituality as well as the main hymnal of the Christian church.

The book’s insightful and clearly written introduction treats such subjects as the longevity and ecumenicity of the psalms, their Near Eastern background, the Hebrew text and ancient versions, their music, their strophic structure, their literary genre, and their relation to the New Testament. In the commentary itself Terrien freshly elucidates the theological significance of these collected poems by putting readers in touch with the formal versatility and religious passion of the psalmists themselves. While Terrien always engages in scientific exegesis before drawing theological conclusions, he is careful to allow full expression to the theological — especially, the doxological — voice of these unmatched spiritual songs. The result is a commentary that provides a link between the archaic language of Psalms and the intellectual demands of modern thinking and spirituality.

Throughout his exposition Terrien shows great respect for the scribal testimony of the Jewish tradition, especially the consonants of the Masoretic text. He likewise displays great care in finding the most accurate meaning for Hebrew words of obscure origin. This meticulous work renders a translation of Psalms more reliable than those of Terrien’s predecessors. He also draws on many fruitful gains of structural analysis in discerning the strophic divisions within the Hebrew text. Often he finds unity of composition where earlier critics denied it. And for readers interested in specific aspects of translation and interpretation, Terrien has appended bibliographical lists of modern works on each psalm.

Excerpt from book:

Psalm 16: 9-10

Thus my heart is full of joy, my glory is gleeful!
My body takes its rest in security;
Thou wilt not abandon me in the underworld,
Nor let thy beloved see corruption.

The poet now turns to the elation of a constant intimacy. “My body is gleeful.” It maybe the most ethereal aspect of his consciousness. The word “glory” is usually applied to God, but it may be a chosen word for human honor and radiancy. The psalmist is thus able to pass from the jubilation of his terrestrial interests to a spiritual dance of his inner being. The current of consciousness moves from the theme of well-being in this mortal life to a life of delights beyond the grave. The permanence of the human person is a consequence of a divine communion. It is not related to the Hellenistic view of the immortality of the soul. Deprived of the Presence, the selfhood of humans is not immortal by birth. It will be abandoned in the underworld.

As the beloved of Yahweh, he will never see the lower depths of the underworld. He knows that love, which attaches him to his God, will not be ruptured by death. On account of the Presence, the prospect of annihilation in the underworld has vanished. Even in Sheol, God’s beloved believes that he will be received into glory. The well-being that was only terrestrial and temporal in Strophe II has become eternal delights in Strophe V.

Table of Contents:


I. Longevity and ecumenicity of the Psalms

II. Ancient Near Eastern background

III. Origins of the Psalms

IV. Growth of the Psalter

V. The Hebrew text and the ancient versions

VI. The music of the psalms

VII. Strophic structure

VIII. Literary genres

IX. The theology of the psalms

X. The psalms and the New Testament

XI. Selected commentaries

Psalm 1 to Psalm 150