Dianne BERGANT. New Collegeville Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72, Psalms 73-150. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013, vol. I: pp.142, vol.2: pp.153; $14.95 each volume. Pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-2857-7; 978-0-8146-2856-0.
José Enrique AGUILAR CHIU. The Psalms: An Introduction. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014, pp.116. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-8091-4880-6 (pbk.) ISBN 978-1-58768-368-8 (ebook).
Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207
These two recent works on the psalms: Dianne Bergant, professor of Old Testament at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and José Enrique Aguilar, professor of New Testament at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio are both well-written slim volumes aimed at non-specialist audiences such as bible study groups or college students (Aguilar’s introduction mentions graduate students). Their major difference is—using language of Gunkel’s Form Criticism—the Sitz im Leben of the reader.
Dianne Bergant’s Psalms commentary is part of the New Collegeville Bible Commentary series. The format is: the text at the top of the page and comments for each of the psalms beneath. It would be useful for a bible study group or a homilist preparing a liturgy or an individual reader involved in lectio divina as a method of prayer. Each of the two volumes begins with a brief seven page introduction: first, the overall “book” (or five “books”): the composition , literary characteristics, types of psalms (laments, hymns, etc.); then the theology and usage today of psalms in both Jewish and Christian communities. The commentaries on individual psalms sometimes include—when pertinent—historical notes (e.g. Ps 22: is post-exilic: since God’s sovereignty over the dead, in v.30 “All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage” differs from Ps.6:6 “In death there is no remembrance of you. Who praises you in Sheol?”) Occasionally there are notes on Christological interpretation, such as Matthew’s use of Ps.22:31f. “The generation to come will be told of the Lord…proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” to describe the passion of Jesus (Matt 27:35-46)
José Aguilar’s work is definitely for the classroom (graduate school or seminary) as the preface notes: the book began as a series of handouts for a study of the Psalms. There is no “commentary” on individual psalms as in Bergant’s work. Aguilar presents the Book of Psalms overall, not individual psalms. It would also be an excellent resource for a homilist or bible study group because of the methodology for study it defines. I definitely intend to use his five steps for “Studying the Psalms” as an assignment in my own Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures.
to Understanding the Psalms” is a scholarly series of eighteen sections (think ‘notes’ for lectures) that condense useful information about psalms—their literary features, classification by literary genre, relation to other biblical or ancient poetic texts, theology, history of interpretation, Christian use (including a helpful list of psalm texts quoted in the New Testament). Some of this information is definitely “graduate” level, such as the notes on psalms at Qumran, other “Solomonic” psalms, the Hebrew meter and rhythm. Part II, “Categories of Psalms” presents eleven types or “forms.” For each psalm type, these eleven chapters presents its basic structure, an example of the type – with a text divided into parts and brackets in the margin; then three different types of analysis (literary, theological, historical), concluding with a note on the Christian appropriation. Extremely clear, useful for bible study and the classroom. One note: Aguilar prefers to use the term “supplication” (individual and public) rather than lament or complaint for the most common type of psalm: a good point, since the dominant element in these prayers is our petition for salvation.Aguilar’s book is divided into two parts—each with its own set of notes. Part I, “Background