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Psalm 88 and the Holocaust: Lament in Search of a Divine Response

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Psalm 88 and the Holocaust: Lament in Search of a Divine Response
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   Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007) 00-00   .brill.nl/bi BiblicalInterpretation  © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/156851507X168476 Psalm 88 and the Holocaust:Lament in Search of a Divine Response * Carleen Mandolfo Colb College  Wen I die, I ill see te lining o te orld.Te oter side, beond bird, nation, sunset.Te true meaning, read to be decoded. Wat never added up, ill add up, Wat as incompreensible ill be compreended.And i tere is no lining to te orld?I a trus on a branc is not a sign,But just a trus on te branc? I nigt and daMake no sense olloing eac oter?And on tis eart tere is noting except tis eart?Even i tat is so, tere ill remainA ord akened b lips tat peris,A tireless messenger o runs and runsTroug interstellar felds, troug te revolving galaxies,And calls out, protests, screams. Czesla Milosz, “Meaning” 1  Abstract Most biblical lament psalms provide suerers it a teodic response to teir pligt,oen marked b te tpical si to praise expressed in tese psalms. In individual *) Tis paper as frst ritten and presented during a ellosip at te HumanitiesResearc Centre, Australia National Universit, 2001. I am grateul to te centre’s colle-gialit and support during te riting o tis paper. Tanks are also due to Katarina von Kellenbac’s careul reading and useul comments on an earlier dra; and to mresearc assistant, Cris Holcombe, or is painstaking editing. 1) Tis poem as been m muse as I ave grappled it as to take into account te Soain m biblical reading practices. bi_14-48_CS2.indd 1 bi_14-48_CS2.indd 1 22-12-2006 9:32:27 22-12-2006 9:32:27  2 C. Mandolo / Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007) 00-00  laments, even ile God’s airness is questioned, usuall implicitl, ultimatel God’srelationsip to te supplicants’ troubles is justifed, usuall b an insistence on God’s jus-tice. Psalm 88 is a singular exception to tis generic rule. Tere is no si to praise, noattempt to render te supplicant’s suering meaningul (toug one migt not realizetis based on te insistence o commentators to read te psalm teodicall). Tis anom-al, coupled it te psalm’s undiluted indictment o God, makes Psalm 88 an idealbiblical praer or a Post-Holocaust orld. Keywords [to be inserted]  Introduction In a recent stud, I applied a dialogic-critical approac  a la MikailBaktin to te lament, or complaint, psalms, particularl te individuallaments, ound in te Hebre Bible in order to argue tat several lamentsare explicitl double-voiced. 2 Tat is, tese psalms can be proftabl readas te ideological interaction o to consciousnesses, a supplicant and adidactic voice, rater tan onl te supplicant expressing to opposing  viepoints. In most lament psalms, te supplicant’s complaint is coun-tered it expressions o praise or trust in God’s justice. Te interpla o te to positions—sometimes expressed it to dierent grammatical voices, sometimes seemingl voiced b te supplicant ersel—results ina dnamic teological trut, but one tat tends to privilege a teodicoutlook or reasons I ill outline belo. In tis paper I ill demonstratein as not previousl done o Psalm 88 is singularl monologic, ageneric anomal among laments. Psalm 88’s unmitigated complaint asgarnered it disavor in teological and liturgical arenas, but I ill arguetat in a post-Holocaust climate te black seep o te Psalter deservesreconsideration; and it is its ver monologism tat makes it particularlsuitable or post-Holocaust teological consideration.Baktin b and large soed disdain, in dialogic terms, or poetictexts, claiming te ere among te most monologic o all discourses. Ina perusal o te countless tomes ritten on te Psalms in te past cen-tur, one migt tink most commentators agree it Baktin. Altougscolars are unanimous in recognizing a distinct si in tone itin 2) C. Mandolo, God in te Dock: Dialogical ension in te Psalms o Lament  (Seeld:Seeld Academic Press, 2002). bi_14-48_CS2.indd 2 bi_14-48_CS2.indd 2 22-12-2006 9:32:28 22-12-2006 9:32:28  C. Mandolo / Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007) 00-00  3 laments, rarel do te account or tis si b te presence o anoter voice, or even consciousness. o use Baktin’s terminolog, te read“monologicall,” tat is, or te most part te ear onl one voice pra-ing in te psalm, and in te process tend to atten out te dnamic anddialogic trut presented in most lament psalms. Psalm 7 provides a goodexample o te tpical voicing si—rom frst person to tird persondidactic speec—so prevalent in lament psalms. (SUP stand or te sup- plicant’s or pra-er’s voice, and DV stands or te didactic responsive voice): SUP: v. 7 Arise, yhwh, in our anger;li oursel up against te ur o tose vexing me.Rouse oursel on m beal.Ordain airness!v. 8 Let te congregation o te tribes encompass ou,and or teir sake return to te ig place (seat o judgment?).DV: v. 9 yhwh arbitrates beteen te peoples;  SUP: judge me, yhwh, according to m innocence,and according to m integrit itin me.v. 10 Let te ickedness o te evil ones cease,and establis te just.DV: Te one o tests te tougts and emotions is a just god. SUP: v. 11 M deense depends on a god o saves te uprigt o eart.DV: v. 12 God is a just judge, but a god o is indignant eer da. Tere is not time to la out m entire dialogic reading o lament psalms,but a brie exegetical summar ill set te stage or te signifcance o later observations about Psalm 88. Note tat tis section o te poem isbalanced b to quatrains o supplication, olloed b a line tat oers ateological corrective to teir implicit complaint. In verse 7, te suppli-cant suggests tat yhwh is not attending to is duties as arbiter andexecutor o justice. Te cr, “Ordain airness!” suggests a breac in teunderstanding beteen te supplicant and te judge o te eart. Tesupplicant’s cr o desperation is interrupted b an objective, tird-per-son voice tat implies tat yhwh is indeed on te job (v. 9a). Immedi-atel te poem sitces back to frst-person discourse and te plea is bi_14-48_CS2.indd 3 bi_14-48_CS2.indd 3 22-12-2006 9:32:28 22-12-2006 9:32:28  4 C. Mandolo / Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007) 00-00  resumed in muc te same ke it ic it le o, it demands or justice: “Judge me, yhwh, according to m innocence.” Te didactic voice responds tis time it an explicit assertion o yhwh’s justice; inact, God’s judgment is perectl just since is judgments are based oninner dispositions. Tis section fnises o it te supplicant speaking in a tird-person voice, giving te impression tat it is responding directl to te DV’s claim, and saing someting to te eect o: “I ope ou are rigt because tat is m onl ope”!Te upsot in man individual laments displa a similar dialogicalit,and te teological result is akin to a quarrel beteen ait and experi-ence, te ormer deending a retributive teolog along te lines o Deu-teronomistic tinking (“God is a just judge!” and te orld is operating accordingl), and te latter callenging yhwh’s justice or esed  (“Wereare ou, God; and  are ou letting tese tings appen to me?!”). InBaktinian terms, discursive trut rests in te tension beteen utter-ances, so in tis case, someere beteen te instabilit o experienceand te assurance o ait. But or a pure dialogic trut to emerge eac voice ould ave to be granted equal signiing poer and suc is notte case in most lament psalms. Wile te supplicant’s speec decenterste “normative” discourse o te DV to a degree (a dnamic unortu-natel rarel noted b commentators), ormal and grammatical superior-it is conerred on te DV. Te DV reects te retributive teolog tatdominates biblical discourse, especiall in te deuteronomistic istorand propets. Furtermore, te DV’s speec is rendered in an “objec-tive” tird-person discourse tat distances its data rom te unreliabilito experience. In Psalm 88, oever, experience takes precedence.Having noted tat most laments are (at least) double-voiced, e illbe in a position to appreciate just o uniquel single-voiced Psalm 88is. In sort, Psalm 88 is monologic in te extreme. It is pure complaint.And complaint ver clearl directed at God, no less:  W, yhwh do ou reject me,do ou ide our ace rom me?From m out I ave been aicted and near deatI suer our terrors erever I turn. 3 Your ur overelms me;Your terrors destro me. (vv. 15-17) 3) Folloing te JPS translation. Hebre uncertain. bi_14-48_CS2.indd 4 bi_14-48_CS2.indd 4 22-12-2006 9:32:28 22-12-2006 9:32:28  C. Mandolo / Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007) 00-00  5 Complaint is not directed toard enemies, nor toard some ill-defnedcondition o dis-ease. Psalm 88 is te onl psalm in te Psalter tatexibits no si to tanksgiving, no vo o praise, and no tird-persondidactic voice. According to te dialogic sensibilities o most psalms, e ould expect a aitul/ait-flled “anser” to te supplicant’s com- plaint, but instead te psalm ends ere it started—it anger and pro-test, in beginning, middle, and end. Tis generic anomal as earnedPsalm 88 a place in te basement o most Judeo-Cristian liturgical practices. Modern estern Cristianit, and Judaism to a lesser extent,ave esceed expressions o anger directed at God. 4 Furtermore, as Walter Brueggemann as noted, “texts tat migt protest against coreclaims ave been quickl read over and salloed up in a sustained acto expositor denial.” 5 Lectionaries, in general, go ligt on te use o angr psalms, and some completel omit Psalm 88 rom te scedule o readings. 6 And en laments are celebrated in liturg te Curc asavored tose laments tat ave a penitential qualit (or at least tose in ic te curc aters ave interpreted te complaint as an implicitacknoledgment o guilt). 7  raditionall, scolars as ell ave evinced a discomort in addressing te teological implications o Psalm 88. 8 It is not unusual to ear com- 4) D. Zub, “God as te Object o Anger in te Psalms,” Curc Diinit (1991-92), pp. 47-63 (47). 5) W. Brueggemann, “A Fissure Alas Uncontained,” in . Linaelt (ed.), Strange Fire: Reading te Bible Afer te Holocaust  (Ne York: Ne York Universit, 2000), p. 67. 6) Zub, “God as te Object o Anger in te Psalms,” p. 57. 7) Frank S. Custer studies te role o Psalm 88 in te Roman and Bzantine liturgies o teCurc, and e fnds tat in te Latin liturgies te psalm’s gloominess is mitigated breading it in terms o Crist’s passion, and in te Bzantine liturgies it is placed in alarger complaint structure ic modifes its morbid tone (“Poetics and Context: Psalm88 in te Roman and Bzantine Liturgies,”  Diakonia 21 [1987], pp. 23-37). 8) For example, Pilip Graber takes a linguistic approac to argue tat te entiret o te psalm sould be understood as a conession o trust in te Lord (“A extlinguisticApproac to Understanding Psalm 88,” Occasional Papers in ranslation and ext-linguistics 4 [1990], pp. 322-39). And Marvin ate, ile acknoledging tat tegloominess o te poem sould not be ignored, claims tat it sould not be read inisolation and tat praise is never ar rom its cr o despair. Furtermore, te psalm isappropriatel read as a model o Crist’s suering, ic sould provide comort toCristians experiencing similar tribulations (“Psalm 88,”  Reie and Expositor  87[1990], pp. 91-95). . Linaelt’s caracterization o te trend o interpretation o te bi_14-48_CS2.indd 5 bi_14-48_CS2.indd 5 22-12-2006 9:32:28 22-12-2006 9:32:28
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