Paul BEAUCHAMP. Psalms Night and Day. Translated by Peter Rogers, S.J. (Marquette Studies in Theology, N. 84). Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2015, pp.271; $27.00. Pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-2857-7; 978-0-8146-2856-0. Review by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207.
Paul Beauchamp’s book on the psalms is not a commentary on the psalms (like Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms: translation with commentary) but a spiritual and theological treatise on the psalms as prayer. A first part, “The Psalms and Us” (difficult—problems with translation) introduces the Psalter, especially its importance for the gospel writers and Christians. The next three parts—which Beauchamp calls a “grammar of prayer,” treat structural parts of psalms or the three main types of concrete situations and needs in which the psalmist prays: Supplication (Part Two), Praise (Part Three), and Promise (Part Four).
Part Two (Supplication) begins by explaining how we use psalms as Christians: we read about the psalmist’s ordeals that lead to an outcry (because they are just): they resemble what we are. Jesus Christ put on the text of the Psalms, but we “recite” them. Jesus fulfills the Scriptures especially in his Passion. Thus the Psalter is an important aspect of the Gospel. The Psalms also point to the importance of the body in prayer: thus the many examples of body parts or social relations as my complaint (sickness, betrayals, death). Regarding sin and evil, Beauchamp shows that the real evil is the fact of accusing. He links the “Accuser” in Job to the Devil and Satan in Revelation. He cites Paul’s Letter to the Romans on how Satan uses the Law to accuse us.
In Part Three, Beauchamp presents “Praise and Thanksgiving.” Praise refers to goods that are outside us; Thanksgiving to good things in us. He illustrates this using David (to whom many Psalms as “Praises” are attributed). He expands on David and Saul to demonstrate opposites in responding to God. He also notes that Praise is the beginning and end of prayer. Folded in between (as in a tissue) is Supplication: these explanations help read the psalms which continually link Supplication and Praise as a structural “couple”.
Part Four includes insightful chapters on the Psalms as “desire” (“for life”—linking desire to humans as “nephesh”); the special role of “bread” in the psalms, as well as in the Gospel of John; and finally, psalm prayer as a “Path” that corresponds to humans who move or “walk” a path that can be dangerous… or the path of life (corresponding to the “ways of God.”)
In Part Five (Psalms and the World), Beauchamp opens each of six chapters with an individual psalm as examples of what he terms three aspects of how God is depicted: first (A) “Near Creation” (Pss 8,19,104,139): creation as the overall object of praise and the content of psalms images as poetry; second (B) “Distant Creation” – God’s creative actions in history (Pss 136, 74 & 89); finally (C) – “Creation to Come” – using Pss. 93-99 (God as King or enthronement psalms) to show how the psalms project hope and a future horizon. The overall goal Beauchamp’s treatise on the psalms is to inform the modern reader on how to understand and read the Psalter as prayer and an expression of Israel’s faith. At one point he even calls the Psalter Israel’s Gospel. Christianity’s roots are the Old Testament and the Psalms that summarize it as prayer.
A final section: “Recapitulation” is a detailed commentary and interpretation of Psalm 22. Using elements of Parts One to Four (the themes and views of God in the Psalter), Beauchamp clarifies why this psalm combines two speakers—the individual (“My God…why have you abandoned me”) and the community (“I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”) to which the psalmist will announce Israel’s God who dominates death. God himself is not implicated in the causes of death—death is foreign to him—but the sufferer whom God rescues can announce to the community who God is.
The “Interpretation” of Psalm 22 expands on the Psalmist as afflicted using the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: this leads to a final discussion of how the psalms as a “mask” can be worn by later peoples—including Christians who describe the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
A very positive contribution of this book is a very helpful discussion of “meaning” in relation to words. The psalmist’s words correspond to the reality of God (who cannot be understood without using words and without humans who experience a horizon beyond this world: these experiences—especially the reality of the Word made flesh) us to grasp what we call God
A critical note regards the translation: in the theoretical sections (see above: Part One), the translation adds to the difficulty of understanding (e.g. “Behind these literary rapprochements, which assume in the Evangelist a learned knowledge and which thus call for a learned exam…”). Second: there is no attempt at inclusive language (always “man”).