NYC Institute Announcement: Psalms and Israelite Poetry

I didn’t think I’d be able to teach again in Fall, but my schedule changed and then I was asked. And so, I announce an Institute class to be held Tuesday nights at 8Pm at the Union Square building in Manhattan, on Psalms and Israelite Poetry. Class begins next Tuesday, Sept. 11th, and will continue through the 1st week of December (anticipated.)

Why study Psalms? A few reasons, which I’ll elaborate on in the first week’s intro. Psalms was the most translated Old Testament book into Greek during the early NT period, and the most popular book at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls); moreover, Psalms is the most quoted book in the New Testament. As Psalms are human responses to God (prayers, hymns, etc.), they cover a lot of our normal situations; frustration at feeling like we’re doing what we should but not getting anywhere, feeling like God isn’t answering, and so on. It’s a very emotive book, easy to relate to. It’s also vastly underread and underappreciated.

Although I proposed it, I’ve never taught this class before. I have multiple goals.

  1. Expose students to Psalms and poetry, which includes most of the prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), Job,  and things like Deuteronomy 32, Exodus 15, etc. I expect we’ll spend most time in Psalms, with short detours elsewhere.
  2. Learn how to parse Semitic poetry a bit. Since it’s so common in our scriptures and so different from what we know, we need to learn how to read, parse, and appreciate it.
  3. Music- Many of the Psalms were meant to be sung, some in the Israelite temple/sanctuary. A huge outpouring of musical creativity has adapted the Psalms into various musical traditions. I hope to talk about these a little (as I only know a little) and play some of these during class, and thereby helping students gain an appreciation of scripture set to music.  I confess that I find much of this tradition far more beautiful, meaningful, and uplifting than the stereotypical English-language Mormon Tabernacle Choir repertoire. To each his/her own, of course. I have an example of one of my favorite adaptations set to go in a post on Sunday.

Class will probably be thematic. Week 1 will be a general  intro, week 2  on how to read Hebrew and Israelite poetry, parallelism, etc.,  week 3 intro to the book of Psalms. The following weeks we’ll cover such subjects as Psalms and Creation; Psalms, Christ, and the New Testament (probably 2-3 weeks there); Psalms and Ritual/Temple; Psalms and “Doctrine” (in which we’ll look at terms/concepts like death, sin, hell, etc. in Psalms), and others. I don’t have it all put together yet, and expect some of it to come together no earlier than the day before I teach it.

While my record of blogging my Institute classes is, well, not very good (last winter in my Genesis class, I petered out after about 6 weeks, scroll down), I will put up the initial posts with some resources, references, notes, and other material. Beyond that, I won’t make any promises, because as much as I want to post frequently and in-depth, I usually can’t.

So stay tuned, first post on Sunday.

8 comments for “NYC Institute Announcement: Psalms and Israelite Poetry

  1. September 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Ben, I’m seriously considering coming.

    But, I think I’ll come on Tuesday, September 11th, since the 10th is Monday.

  2. Ben S.
    September 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Um, the week of September 10th… Edited.

  3. Roger
    September 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Are you going to discuss the Book of Ecclesiates?

  4. Ben S.
    September 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Hadn’t considered it yet, but it’s unlikely to get its own week.

  5. September 6, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Sounds great! I look forward to this. I love Psalms, and agree that it is definitely underappreciated.

  6. Brad
    September 6, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I’m jealous – in Texas, so getting to Manhattan would be a bit of a problem :) I’ve been studying the Old Testament this year and this looks like it will be a great class. What are your recommendations on translations/commentaries? I’m reading Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative right now (loving it) and plan on reading his translation of the Pentateuch next. How would you rate his Psalms translation?

  7. Ben S.
    September 6, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Brad- I just purchased Alter’s Psalms translation, haven’t gotten far. However, I think he does very good work, and I have high expectations. Art of Biblical Narrative is challenging, but very rewarding to whomever can slog through.

    As to OT commentaries and translations, I’ve written a little in the past- my only T&S post on the topic here, and this from seven (!) years ago.
    This is the second request I’ve gotten to write up a list. Give me a week or so to throw together a good post.

    Edit: Here’s another good old post of mine on the topic.

  8. Clair
    September 7, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I just finished reading Alters translation. It might have ruined Psalms for me. It seems entirely temporal, devoid of spirituality. The prayers and praise are for military or political victory or deliverance, or physical healing. I can read into it my view of inspiration, heaven, afterlife and salvation, but they are absent in the text. It could as well have been written by another ruler in a neighboring society about its god and their daily fortunes.

    Say it ain’t so.

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