“From the Narrow Straits, I Called, ‘Yah’”: The Storied Ethics of the Thanksgiving Psalms
Studies focusing on the ethics of the Psalter have become quite prolific in the fields of Psalms studies and Old Testament ethics over the last ten years. Despite this emerging interest, certain aspects have remained underdeveloped, if not completely untouched. One such aspect is the focus of this study – the ethical value of story and storytelling in the thanksgiving psalms. In brief, the argument presented here is that the storied retellings of the worshipper’s (and/or community’s) experience in the thanksgiving psalms should have greatly contributed to the ethical framework or ethos of the ancient Israelite worshipping community. In particular, the stories retold here construct a theological image of Yahweh that should shape the character of the worshipping community into a people who pray in the midst of suffering and despair, who believe that Yahweh will answer their petitions, and who then respond with gratitude and thanks when their requests are, in fact, answered. All of this is because the worshipper’s testimony or story has challenged the audience to trust that Yahweh is present and active, trustworthy and powerful, slow to anger and abounding in commitment. Admittedly, the potential outcomes listed above are not typically identified as overtly “ethical,” at least not in the way this term is currently used in the field of Old Testament ethics. However, they do form an important part of the holistic ethical vision of the life Israel should/could live or should/could have lived as presented in the Old Testament. As such, the studies of Old Testament ethics, in general, and the ethics of the Psalter, in particular, should include the community’s regular participation in the proper cultic activities and its spirituality as important facets of Israel’s ethical life. In order to demonstrate this thesis, the present study engages in a close reading of three thanksgiving psalms – Psalms 116, 118, and 138. In their own distinct ways, these three psalms articulate the storied ethics of the thanksgiving psalms by highlighting the importance of worship and spirituality and their function in the ethical formation of the worshipping community. This has been commonly overlooked in past work on the ethics of the Psalter, and as such, the present study provides an interpretive model for future engagement with the ethics of the thanksgiving psalms.
Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)
Bible, Psalms, Jewish ethics, Religious ethics, Israel, Storytelling
Missions and World Christianity