Providing balance to the general scholarly trend to focus on the non-narrative aspect of Hebrew poetry, this book argues that the Hebrew Psalter does contain stories, and their inclusion in ancient Israel’s worship texts contributes to the rhetorical power of the psalms in ways distinct from other poetic devices. Rebecca W. Poe Hays builds on literary theory and biblical studies of narrative to establish a clear definition of “story” and to identify where story appears in the book of Psalms. The majority of the book explores how these story portions of the Psalter—divided into the three broad categories of retellings of history, testimonies, and paradigms—function within their larger contexts. Each chapter includes a discussion of a particular category’s general characteristics, a close reading of representative texts, and an assessment of distinctive ways each type of story functions in the psalms in which they appear. These poetic, psalmic stories have the rhetorical power to draw readers uniquely into narrative worlds and inspire empathy, to guide readers into particular understandings of history and teach inductively, and to concretize the abstract and so shape the beliefs and behaviors of the communities who regard them as sacred texts.
Rebecca W. Poe Hays is assistant professor of Christian Scriptures at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.
Chapter 1: What’s in a Story? Clarifications and Constructions
Chapter 2: Stories that Narrate the Past: Retellings of History
Chapter 3: Stories the “I” Tells: Testimonies
Chapter 4: Stories that Invent Worlds: Paradigms
In recent decades the identification of genre has been considered essential for developing appropriate reading strategies to understand biblical texts. However, one enduring legacy of this focus on genre is the tendency to polarize types of literature. Rebecca W. Poe Hays challenges this tendency, inviting us to take seriously the role that narrative plays within the poetic world of the psalms and in so doing deepens what she describes as “the richness of the Psalter’s powerful language.” An accessible volume that connects readers with the Psalms through responsible and engaging interpretation.
The Function of Story in the Hebrew Psalter reminds readers that we, humanity, are “storied” beings. Poe Hays demonstrates how reading the psalms as “story” can transport readers into the world of the psalmists’ remembered past, into their stories, and invite readers to “live into” the stories unfolded in the psalms and make them their own. This work is a most important contribution to the ongoing study of the book of Psalms.
While much in Psalms scholarship has focused on the lyrical nature of Hebrew poetry or on the shaping of the Psalter, little has been done on the shaping power of stories in the Psalms. Now that gap has been ably filled by Dr. Hays, who demonstrates that narrative is a powerful and prominent element in the Psalter’s rhetorical “toolbox.” Written in an engaging way, this book is designed for both scholar and student alike.