Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review
Human, Dirk J. and Gert J. Steyn (eds.), Psalms and Hebrews: Studies in Reception (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, 527; New York: T & T Clark, 2010). Pp. xx + 299. Paperback. £27.99. ISBN 978-0-567-19884-6.

New Testament writers quote and allude to the Psalms disproportionately more than the other texts of the Septuagint. This pattern is especially prevalent in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which contains more references to the Psalms than any other New Testament work, accounting for approximately half of the book's quotations. The study of the Psalms in Hebrews, therefore, provides an important test case for understanding interpretive strategies among emergent Jesus followers in the first century, including continuities, discontinuities, reorientations, and re-appropriations of earlier traditions.

This volume consists of papers originally delivered at an eponymously entitled seminar at the University of Pretoria in 2007. The editors' preface quickly encapsulates the volume's significance in one sentence: “By focusing especially on the Psalms quotations … in Hebrews, the current collection depicts both the nature of the Psalm texts that were used … and the manner in which a particular early Christian writer … utilized and interpreted the Psalms within his argument” (vii). With no attempt to situate this collection in the scholarly conversation of the Psalms in Hebrews or the New Testament, it is difficult, however, to gauge what novel contribution the editors believe this volume makes.

The book has three parts: part one has three general discussions; part two contains ten essays on individual Psalms in Hebrews; part three is an essay on how new translations of the Psalms have controversially impacted contemporary Afrikaans communities.

Commencing part one, Eckart Otto provides an overview not of the Psalms in Hebrews, but of Old Testament theology ending with Brueggemann, with whose concept of the New Testament interpretation of the Hebrew Bible as “productive misunderstanding” he will oppose using Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2. While he accepts that there are multiple theologies in the two Testaments and multiple meanings produced by different passages, he argues that the intention behind Psalm 8—democratizing Egyptian royal ideology into everyone's dignity, leaving only God as receiving absolute loyalty—and the intention behind Hebrews 2's usage of Psalm 8—interpreting the “man” and “son of man” as Christ, but to reinforce general humanity—coincide. He then distinguishes between “misinterpretation,” or “illegitimate reception,” and “legitimate reception” of the Old Testament in the New. He determines “legitimate” reception if the New Testament author honored the intentions of the Old Testament authors. To do this, he looks at the function of each text, though this reader thought this confused two issues: function may not align with intention. He ultimately argues that the history of religion approaches will and should support biblical theology.

Unlike Otto who seeks to establish a truth claim (e.g., that the intention of Hebrews aligns with the intention of the Psalm), Jaco W. Gericke complicates the question. In his philosophical chapter, Gericke asks the question “is it true,” and proceeds not to provide an answer, but to unpack the question's assumptions, which are the operating assumptions for most Bible scholars. He works through different types of truth claims, including the methods used to reach them, and shows many of them to be problematic, but without concluding that there is no truth. After surveying the term “truth” in Hebrew and Greek, he provides an overview of philosophical perspectives of truth claims. Specifically, he discusses substantive theories (correspondence theories, coherence theories, pragmatic theories) and, to a lesser extent, deflationary theories (redundancy theory, performative theory, prosentential theory, and minimalist theory). He directly contravenes Otto's thesis, noting that often Hebrews includes material that Psalmist(s) would not agree with—and also directly refers to the “intentional fallacy” that Otto relies upon (p. 38). Moreover, he includes a useful chart of all clear references to Psalms in Hebrews.

Alphonso Groenewald, using the concept of ḥesed mostly in the Pentateuch and Psalms, discusses how Hebrews appropriates the Old Testament for background, but “also extends to fundamental Old Testament ways of thinking which are constantly presupposed and which underlie all passages in the book” (p. 54). While he spends much time on the Old Testament, Hebrews receives only a paragraph outside of the introduction and conclusion, as does the Greek Psalter. On the other hand, his is the first introduction to discuss multiple Psalms.

The next section examines individual Psalms in Hebrews, with four essays on Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2, one on Psalm 39 in Hebrews 10, three on Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3–4, and two on Psalm 110 throughout Hebrews.

Gerda de Villiers literally translates Psalm 8 to illustrate its opposition to the creation theology of Babylonia and royal theology of Egypt, particularly its portrayal of humans (rather than gods as in Mesopotamia or divine-like humans as in Egypt) as the privileged rulers over earth and YHWH as the sole, yet benign, creator. In short, Psalm 8 MT transformed Egyptian and Mesopotamian royal theology of a divine representative into an “anthropological” Psalm, which heightens the role of humanity while limiting divine status to one figure. From here de Villiers turns to a substantive discussion of the LXX, where the Greek translation later lent itself to a Messianic interpretation due to the translation of the words for “man” alongside the shift from “god/s” to “angels.” In turn, Hebrews picked up on the messianic potential for this psalm and provided (or increased) its eschatological edge. De Villiers further comments on the greater role of angels in the first century than when the Psalm MT was originally produced, which the LXX translation lends itself to. Hebrews, though, takes this “anthropological” Psalm and makes it Christocentric, referring not to humanity as a whole, but to Christ, using the Psalm to indicate Christ's humiliation as temporary until the coming eschaton. Whereas Otto claims that Hebrews 2 and Psalm 8 align, de Villiers concludes that they diverge.

Sebastian Fuhrmann's chapter is the first to make Hebrews primary rather than the Psalms. His argument operates at three methodological levels: semiotics/semantics, linguistic/grammatical analysis, and Traditionsgeschichte. Through these methods he reconstructs what the author intended the first hearers to understand and what the first hearers would have assumed (e.g., the sessio ad dexteram in Hebrews 1). He argues that Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2 clarifies the relationship between Christ and the angels not as Christ's exaltation over the angels, but his temporary humiliation below the angels. That is, given the enthronement in Hebrews 1, exaltation is assumed; therefore, his humiliation needs to be explained. He also notes that one must bring in Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX) since they appear together here and in many other NT passages. He compares and contrasts this passage with 1 Cor 15 and Eph 1–2, which also include the solidarity of Christ and believers, in order to argue that Hebrews's presentation would have contradicted the everyday experiences of the addressees, who experienced disempowerment and humiliation. There is little analysis of the Psalm itself.

The next two articles form a unit, Leonard P. Maré covering Psalm 8:4–6 and Chris L. De Wet, Hebrews 2:6–9. Maré discusses the structure, genre, setting, and date of the Psalm, finishing with a close reading of the Psalm. He navigates between two views: that the New Testament interpretation of the Psalm is irrelevant to understanding the Psalm in its original context; and that the Psalm was meant to foreshadow Christ. His analysis stands out for its attention to detail in the MT, attending to assonance, alliteration, and rhyme. He especially investigates the question—“what is man?”—noting not only its anthropological and potential Christological implications, but also its theological importance; in a hymn mostly directed towards the Creator, the question of “man” inquires into the nature of God, since God is known through the relationship between the divine and human. The chapter takes a different turn than others when considering the reign of humans in the Psalm. Since the Creator has given creation to humans to rule, Maré turns to the importance of responsible care, striking an ecological note. As a transition to the next chapter and tacking between the two views, he writes, “The author of Hebrews adapts the text to suit his own purpose, which makes the messianic interpretation possible” (p. 112).

De Wet's part of the analysis focuses on Hebrews, using textual criticism and semantic arguments with a topical focus of “theomorphic and anthropomorphic attributes of the Messiah” (p. 113). He notes the added warning in the interpretation not to fall away with an increased eschatological edge. He closely discusses the introduction, contents of the Psalm (in Greek and how it relates to LXX), and the “midrash” after it in Hebrews 2. The theomorphic parts come from Heb 1:1–4, focusing on the title of “Son” that he alone attains, whereas the anthropomorphic elements come from Psalm 8 itself. While “man” and “son of man” are applied to Jesus—and not to all humanity—the “midrash” does not make much of this. He argues these titles do not appear to be Messianic, but make Jesus representative of humanity as a whole. The problem posed is that the original Psalm says humanity will rule, but the experience of the audience of Hebrews is one of brokenness. While the Son is exalted, he is also currently humiliated in his death and suffering. Reapplying from humanity to the Son, Hebrews resolves this problem. Psalm 8 as originally understood could no longer fit within the reader / hearer experience; Psalm 8 recontextualized in Jesus' humiliation and exaltation provides hope for a future (rather than current) reign of humanity over creation that the Psalm originally promised, escahatologically crowning humans with honor and glory.

Martin Karrer supplies the lone essay on Psalm 39:7 (LXX) in Hebrews 10:5–7. He focuses on the peculiarity that Jesus speaks the words of scripture in Hebrews, and these logia are not recorded in any of the gospels. Karrer discusses the Psalms as Jesus' speech to God concerning his preexistence, the place of this Psalm within Hebrews as a whole, and the use of Hebrews for textual criticism of the LXX. Textual critics typically view Hebrews as freely changing the text and, therefore, as not reliable for reconstructing the LXX. In this case, he looks at “body” versus “ears” in Ps 39:7 against Heb 10:5b–7. Ralphs believes that Hebrews created the variant “body” that shows up in all LXX manuscripts as a facilitating reading for “ears,” while there are daughter Latin translations and non-LXX parallel Greek translations that use “ears.” Karrer proposes that “body” (soma) was original to LXX, Hebrews, and earliest Church Fathers, while later Greek translations kept “ears” from the Hebrew and this translation spread; therefore, “ears” belong to the more recent developments of the texts rather than the older versions. Interestingly, Hebrews outside of this quotation avoids “body” (soma) and prefers “flesh” (sarx) to refer to Jesus' earthly life (though see Heb 13:11–12). If the author had emended the Psalm, he would have likely shifted it to sarx rather than soma; therefore, Karrer argues, Hebrews likely preserves the earlier reading.

Dirk J. Human offers Psalm 95 as a voice for Africa, noting the Psalm's combination of festive praise and stern warning. The essay works mostly on the MT Psalm, its place in the Old Testament with a brief nod to Hebrews, which uses the Psalm as a prophetic admonition to his own time, and then to Human's African context. While recognizing that the LXX text that Hebrews uses differs from the MT, Human never explains how. The majority of the contribution is an in-depth line-by-line poetic and textual analysis of the Psalm.

Christian Frevel's essay brings together a couple of issues: one is a focus on interreligious relations; the other is the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament as evidence for biblical “coherence” among the “diversity” within scripture. These interlocking issues are especially acute with Hebrews since it has often been interpreted with an anti-Jewish edge. Frevel's essay considers MT, LXX, and Hebrews 3–4, looking for both continuities and discontinuities, with an eye for how Hebrews “updates” the Psalm. Frevel first seeks to understand Psalm 95 on its own terms within the context of the MT Psalter as a whole, considering the emphasis on Moses in the fourth book of the Psalter, which already is updating the older stories of Moses in light of a temple festival—the temple provides rest. In context, only the wilderness generation did not enter rest—any alternative view must remove vv. 8–11 from 1–7. The direct addressee of the Psalm has come into his rest (temple/land) whereas the wilderness generation did not. Frevel has a detailed discussion of how the LXX changes the MT, which lessened the place of the temple and lent itself to an eschatological interpretation. Moreover, the LXX adds a superscription ascribing the Psalm to David. The LXX generally evidences a “Davidization” of the fourth book of Psalms. The Davidic aspect alongside an increased emphasis on or connection with the Sabbath in the LXX becomes central for Hebrews 3–4; the shift from land to Sabbath rest is important for the heightened eschatology of Hebrews' interpretation. The land's rest becomes protological, eschatological, and theological (“God's rest”) in the hands of Hebrews. Nonetheless, Hebrews must omit vv. 1–6 of the Psalm for the interpretation to work, that Joshua's generation failed to give the rest, contradicting the sense of the Psalm itself. Frevel argues that Hebrews leaves no place for Israel within God's eschatological rest. He suggests modern interpreters must resist Hebrews's tendencies, to avoid its “disinheritance” and anti-Judaism.

Gert J. Steyn's impressive piece on Ps 95(94):7–11 in Hebrews 3–4, while a bit digressive, offers a cornucopia of exegetical techniques. Steyn acknowledges the role of Psalms in the New Testament as a whole and of a few previous studies on the Psalms in Hebrews. He notes that this Psalm's quotation is the second longest in Hebrews—after Jer 31(38):31–34 in Heb 8:8–12—and the third longest in the New Testament. It is the only place it occurs in the NT and there are no references to it in the church fathers. He schools the reader in tradition history, textual variants of the Psalm in Hebrew and LXX, adaptations of the Psalm in Hebrews, textual variants of the Psalm in Hebrews, contextual analyses, and thematic analyses on particular motifs (house, we/they, rest, Sabbath, and today).

Gert J.C. Jordaan and Pieter Nel write a short essay on Psalm 110 as a structuring element in Hebrews. They argue that Hebrews is an extensive midrash on Ps 110, controlling its overall structure, not just in terms of quoted verses, but thought-structure, the Psalm as a whole providing a model for the organization of Hebrews. They also compare the structure of Ps 110 and Hebrews. The numerous charts throughout this essay are also useful.

While other essays often lack attention to LXX, Evangelia G. Dafni's essay completely focuses on LXX Psalm 109(110), but barely relates it to Hebrews. Dafni focuses on three issues: translation-critical (which includes textual criticism), traditional-historical, and theological approaches, ultimately arguing the Psalm participates in the ancient Chaoskampf Mythos.

The final contribution by Herrie Van Rooy focuses on the theological consequences of updating translations of the Psalter for Afrikaans speakers in South Africa in relationship to traditional Dutch translations. The problem is that newer translations, which are more accurate to the ancient texts, downplay the messianic tendencies found in earlier translations. He focuses on translations of Psalm 110 to illustrate the issue. He notes the tendency to translate Psalm 110 (and others) as explicitly messianic in Lutheran traditions and not in Reformed/Calvinist traditions. He then compares the messianic reception of Psalms in Afrikaans with the messianic reception in Hebrews.

It is impossible to do justice to the individual contributions in such a small space, but there are some general and recurring weaknesses and strengths one can observe. While the volume covers much ground from many different angles, there is no general positioning of its contribution in relationship to previous scholarship on the Psalms in Hebrews or in the New Testament. Individual contributions cite and occasionally engage such scholarship, but there is no such engagement for the entire volume. So, how does this volume as a whole build upon and relate to previous scholarship, providing something new?

With some important exceptions, there is a recurrent neglect of the LXX. While most of the contributions mention that the author of Hebrews interprets the LXX and not the MT, most contributors proceeded to spend the majority of their interpretive energies on the MT, giving scant attention to LXX, before proceeding to Hebrews. Important exceptions to this include de Villiers, de Wet, Karrer, Frevel, Steyn, and especially Dafni.

More problematically, many contributions present Hebrews as little more than an afterthought. Out of the first sixty-five pages of introductory material, for example, discussion of Hebrews occupies six or seven pages. This lack in individual contributions would have been more understandable if one person focused on MT, the next on LXX, and the last on Hebrews for each Psalm in Hebrews, but, excepting Maré and De Wet, such organization was lacking.

While Gericke provides an exception, the general emphasis on authorial intent (explicitly in Otto and Furhmann, but implicitly elsewhere) struck this reader as strange and outdated. Even sidestepping the immense theoretical discussions of the “death of the author,” one must ask: is such intent recoverable? Does any author ever have only one intention? Can one's intent encapsulate all of the possible meanings of a work? Does it always have to be the governing meaning? The answer to all of these questions has largely been found to be “no,” and occasionally “maybe.” So, what significant hermeneutical discoveries can be made outside of the strictures of “authorial intent ?”

More positively, this volume displays a variety of clearly articulated and well followed methods, including biblical theology, philosophy, tradition-history, historical criticism, textual criticism, semiotics/semantics, literary criticism, philolology, translation criticism, and a bit of ecological criticism.

Finally, most of the essays dealt with a recurrent question for scholars of both testaments, but especially New Testament scholars: the relationship between the New Testament and Israel's scriptures. Many of the essays dealt explicitly or implicitly with issues of continuity and discontinuity between testaments, using the Psalms in Hebrews to illustrate this broader issue. While some saw alignment, others saw divergence. Others delineated how, as Frevel argues, Hebrews updated the Psalms to new circumstances. It is here that the volume finds its strongest contribution.

Jared C. Calaway, Illinois College