Back to issue

At over a thousand pages, this work is possibly the most detailed, balanced, and up-to-date commentary on the Psalms. The NICOT series in which it is found is broadly evangelical and targeted at a wide range of readers such as scholars, pastors and priests. The user-friendliness of this commentary is evident through its use of traditional versification from English Bibles, gender-inclusive language, and transliterated Hebrew.

The Introduction is comprehensive and well written. Two particular features highlight the authors’ method. First, they maintain a form-critical approach, not as a way to uncover the settings behind the text, but to consider the textual forms themselves as important for interpretation (pp. 16–19, 79). Second, they adopt a canonical approach to the Psalms which views the five-book structure of the Psalms as an expression of the canonical story of Israel. Book I begins with the story of David’s reign before moving to Solomon’s in Book II. Book III depicts the fall of Israel (and Judah) through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Book IV is a reflection of Israel’s struggles during the Babylonian exile, while Book V celebrates the return and establishment of the people of God (p. 29). The shape of the five-book structure provides a rationale for “existence and a new statement of national identity” (p. 39).

The commentary on the 150 psalms is divided relatively equally among the three authors. Jacobson comments on the majority of psalms in Book I, and several psalms in Book IV. The entirety of Book III and the majority of the psalms in Books II and IV are handled by Tanner. deClaissé-Walford undertakes the rest. I find Tanner’s discussions of textual issues to be detailed and robust, while deClaissé-Walford covers more ground on historical issues. Jacobson is more sensitive to poetic elements in the text, and his theological reflections are often penetrating and punctuated by sharing his own experiences. As far as format, the commentary on each psalm falls into four parts. The first is a prefatory discussion on genre, setting, superscription, and the psalm’s structural divisions. This is followed by the translation and the commentary on the text. A brief theological reflection concludes the study of each psalm.

Two strengths of the commentary deserve mention. First, the authors demonstrate sensitivity to rhetorical/poetic devices, wordplays, and key themes. The authors have retained difficult or redundant readings and preserved emphatic Hebrew syntax. For instance, the translation of Ps 31:22[MT 23]a (וַאֲנִי אָמַרְתִּי בְחָפְזִי/“In my alarm, I, I said”) leaves the pleonastic first-person pronoun intact, thereby capturing the personal thrust of the Hebrew text. Similarly, the authors have illustrated how a poetic “centering device” serves to emphasize the key theme of Yhwh’s kingship in Ps 67 (p. 539).

Second, the commentary includes extensive Psalms texts from Qumran for text-critical analysis. Taking advantage of the publication of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (e.g., vol. XVI) at the turn of the millennium, the authors—especially Tanner—have enriched their text-critical discussions by consulting manuscripts of the psalms from Qumran. This is a feature lacking in Psalms commentaries written before the 1990s, and will be helpful to those interested in text-critical work on the Psalter.

Nonetheless, several weaknesses detract from the strengths of the commentary. First, several methodological propositions featured prominently in the Introduction did not come to fruition in the commentary. deClaissé-Walford’s canonical approach and her overarching historical proposal for the five Books remain disappointingly impressionistic. Each psalm is generally treated in isolation from its neighbors. Her canonical proposal requires the Psalter, and Book V especially, to be seen as a historical search for the identity of postexilic Israel. Consequently, the Psalter’s messianic and eschatological perspectives are downplayed (note especially Ps 110; p. 838). It is also unclear how the “evocative language” of Hebrew poetry, as highlighted by Jacobson (p. 42), makes a difference in the actual interpretation of the Psalms. This “evocative” concept is not clearly detailed beyond the Introduction.

Second, defining text divisions beyond the level of the verse is problematic. The authors have used the terms “stanza,” “section,” or “part” to specify higher-order groupings of the text beyond the verse. However, a “stanza” can range from a single verse to seven or more. A “section” or “part,” for divisions beyond the stanza, can be similarly arbitrary (pp. 372, 385, 447). These higher-order divisions are generally based on thematic considerations, though at times they are based on formal poetic elements in the text. It is also unclear how these terms relate to poetic divisions such as the “strophe” or “canto” used by other scholars (e.g., Pieter van der Lugt).

Third, the commentary evidences the kind of inconsistency that arises from multiple authorship. For instance, different figures for the word count of חֶסֶד in the Psalms are cited by different authors (pp. 319, 405). Strategically prominent expressions are also translated differently, such as הוֹדוּ (“testify” vs. “give thanks” in Pss 106:1; 107:1; pp. 792, 814) and אַשְׁרֵי (“happy” vs. “content” in Pss 1:1; 119:1; pp. 59, 872).

In comparison to the other single-volume Psalms commentaries published in 2014 (Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic]; Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr., Psalms, NCBC [New York: Cambridge University Press]), this NICOT commentary on the Psalms has achieved more in terms of textual criticism, translation and methodological balance. The balance can also be credited to the synergy among the strengths of the individual authors. Specialists, students, and pastors alike will find this commentary invaluable in their study of the Psalms.

Peter C. W. Ho
University of Gloucestershire
Cheltenham, England, UK

comments powered by Disqus