Daniel J. HARRINGTON, Why Do We Hope? Images in the Psalms. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008. pp. 109. $14.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-3085-3.
Reviewed by Alice L. LAFFEY, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610

The monograph complements Harrington’s earlier volume, What are We Hoping For? New Testament Images (Liturgical, 2006). Whereas, according to Harrington, New Testament writers are focused on the kingdom of heaven, a right relationship with God, and eternal life with God and Jesus Christ as the object of their hope, the hopes of the Old Testament writers are seemingly more numerous and widespread, ranging from progeny, a land of their own, national security, a just leader, restoration after the return from exile, to the vindication of the wise and righteous. Yet God is ultimately the source of and the primary object of the psalmists’ hope. Because God is central to the psalms, they are filled with figurative and metaphorical language. The book’s cover portrays six images of hope: an eagle, the back of a reflective man, lightning, mountains, a sheep, and a pathway. Harrington pays special attention to images that express hope that can be found in the forty psalms he examines.

Harrington defines hope as “a desire accompanied by the possibility of, or belief in, its realization” (p. x). He says that it “has an object or focus, looks toward the future, and has a basis or ground in reality,” and quoting Thomas Aquinas he describes hope as “what is agreeable, future, arduous, and possible of attainment” (p. x). Many exegetes organize the psalms according to their content or literary form (e.g., lament, thanksgiving, kingship. law, wisdom); as songs and poems employing images and metaphors they are able to convey “a wide range of emotions, including discouragement, rage, fear, gratitude, and joy." The basis of Harrington’s selection of psalms, those that most overtly express hope, is consistent with his aim. He wants “to let the psalms speak for themselves, and to help readers today to approach them more intelligently and reverently” (p. xii). Though he interprets the biblical texts with attention to the ancient historical contexts that produced them and the original communities that received them, he also considers “how the image of hope in the psalm points to or is ‘fulfilled’ in the person of Jesus or in early Christian life” (p. xiii). At the end of each essay Harrington includes questions intended either for the contemporary reader’s personal reflection or for group discussion.

The psalms examined in this volume are the following: Pss.1-3; 8; 15; 19; 22-23; 29-31; 36-37; 45; 47-48; 51-52; 62; 65-66; 72-73; 76; 82; 88; 91; 95; 103; 106; 110-111; 121-122; 130; 135; 137; 141; 146, and 150.

For this reviewer, Daniel Harrington’s scholarship is outstanding and his commitment to the believing community unquestionable. This tiny little volume is a treasure.


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