V. Steven PARRISH, A Story of the Psalms: Conversation, Canon and Congregation. Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2003. pp. 160. $14.95 pb. ISBN 0-8146-2906-7.
Reviewed by Leo MADDEN, Ohio Dominican University, COLUMBUS, OH 43219

As the sub-title of the book suggests, this work presents a convergence of many methods and ideas: poetry and narrative, faith and deeds, past and present.

The thesis of the book is that the entire book of Psalms narrates the story of Ancient Israel, her "emergence, establishment, collapse and reemergence" (viii). Following recent trends in Psalms study that read the Psalter more as a narrative than a collection of isolated poems, the author traces the drama that unfolds in the Psalter, especially as it pertains to Ancient Israel's perspective on the Monarchy and the Torah.

Section I of the Psalter includes Psalms 1 and 2, the introduction not only to the collection but to the very faith of Israel itself; these two Psalms reveal Ancient Israel's initial struggle for existence and identity based on the fundamental rôles of Torah and King. Section II of the Psalter includes Psalms 3-72, a collection marked by bold confidence in the identity and mission of Ancient Israel as a consequence of the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. Section III of the Psalter (Pss 73-89) reflects Ancient Israel's experience of the collapse of the Davidic dynasty and Exile in Babylon. The final section of the Psalter (Pss 90-150) re-affirms Ancient Israel's identity and mission not based on Monarchy but on the reign of the Lord.

For Parrish, contemporary Christian communities in the West (which he calls "Christendom") live in a situation analogous to the life of Ancient Israel after the Exile: old structures of the Church no longer satisfy members and do not seem to offer effective responses to challenges facing the Church (e.g., the expressed desire on the part of the laity, especially women, for positions of authority and preaching). In this situation of fundamental uncertainty, the Psalms can offer guidance to Christian communities as they re-emerge from the crisis of the breakdown of Christendom and as they, like Ancient Israel, identify new ways to trust in the Lord alone. Christianity today, like Ancient Israel after the Babylonian Exile must ask these fundamental questions: Who are we? How do we move forward into the future, into a world that is vastly different from our past? And in the dialogue around those questions, all voices should be given an opportunity to offer a vision.

The bulk of the book is an overview of the most important of the psalms in each section of the Psalter, and the author is careful to recognize the thematic connections between one psalm and another within a section, to point out discordant ideas found within a section of the Psalter, and to suggest parallel situations facing Christianity the West today. To his credit, the author does not devote excessive amounts of time assessing form-critical questions or debates among contemporary scholars.

The intended audience for this book is a student in a Christian seminary. Thus, this book would be a helpful complementary text in a course that studies the Psalms from a Christian perspective. Parrish reminds us that the Psalms, like so many sections of the Bible (e.g., the four-fold Gospel), contain many voices that need to be heard.


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