Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Krüger, Anette, Das Lob des Schöpfers: Studien zu Sprache, Motivik und Theologie von Psalm 104 (WMANT, 124; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener 2010). Pp. xii+502. Hardcover. € 177.00, ISBN 978-3-7887-2379-8.

The book under review is a slightly shortened and revised version of the dissertation by Annette Krüger (K.), submitted at Tübingen University in 2008.

It examines the large psalm of creation, Ps 104. The author presents precise analysis of the motifs (Motivik) and theology, and in so doing succeeds in illuminating the religious- and theological-historical intricacies of the Psalm in a manner displaying a level of differentiation and accuracy unequalled by past research. The author's approach approximates a number of methodologically similar investigations written during the past years in Tübingen under the direction of Bernd Janowski that represent an important body of the recent German-speaking research on the Psalms.

The Introduction (12) outlines the question: Since the publication of the great hymn to the Aten of Amenhotep IV at the beginning of the 20th century, the discussion about its relationship to Ps 104 has stood in the foreground of scholarly analysis (4ff.). In addition to the postulation of genetic dependence of Ps 104, esp. in the relevant verses 19–30 (so in recent time esp. Frank Crüsemann and Jan Assmann),[1] many have argued for a looser tradition-historical connection, which, due to the temporal distance and the material differences, frequently assumes “kanaanäisch-phönizische Zwischenträger der Überlieferung” (6); on the contrary, e.g. Christoph Uehlinger suggests exclusive reliance on Phoenician traditions. Finally, esp. for the first sections of the Psalm, Ugaritic (Mitchell Dahood) and Mesopotamian (e.g. Paul E. Dion) background has been posited. Anticipating the following material investigations, K. convincingly argues against the exclusive “Alternative ägyptische versus phönizische Beeinflussung (20); rather, she traces a multilayered knowledge transfer (Wissenstransfer). Following David W. Jamieson-Drake, this can plausibly be placed in the social context of an official school (Beamtenschule) at the Jerusalem court and temple.

The basis for tradition-historical investigation of the motifs and theology of Ps 104 begins with linguistic and poetic as well as form-historical analysis, which are carried out in the first and second sections.

Part One (23–67): The author's work begins from the masoretic version, which is discussed and moderately changed in a few places. (Remarkably, nepeš and těhôm are not translated [pp. 28 note 8; 37]). Analyzing the psalm sections V.1aα/35bα,1aβ–2a, 2b–18, 19–23, 24,25–30, 31–35a, 35bβ, K. focuses on grammatical and poetic structures, whereby in particular the use of the tenses receives careful consideration, which should be noted as a noteworthy accomplishment. In so doing, the author is able to incorporate the well-known structures of the Psalm for her argument (64ff.).

The author goes on to touch the question of the redaction history of Ps 104; however, apart from the framing praise (V.1aα/35bα) and the final Hallelujah, K. sees no indications of a longer compositional history of the text. Although the models of Hermann Spieckermann and Matthias Köckert are discussed (pp. 14ff., 62ff.), they are only mentioned in passing, and their stylistic, religious-historical and conceptual reasoning are not really accorded serious examination.[2] In my view, this constitutes the most serious deficit of the work because a well-argued redaction history, especially concerning the stages of growth of the older individual psalm, would have been very promising with regard to the religious- and theological-historical appreciation of the different motifs. As a result, the third main part basically is limited to the final text level, which is placed historically into the postexilic time between Gen 1 (P) and Job (esp. the speeches of Elihu and God) (pp. 442–43, 447–48).

Part Two (68–86) offers a history of research and a discussion of the problem of the genre of hymns, which the reviewer finds well worth reading. Against the background of ancient Near Eastern texts, the genre is newly re-defined with the result that Ps 104 can be understood as a literary (creation) hymn (85).

The actual main body of the monograph, Part Three (87–402), follows the motifs of the psalm outlined in the previous sections. Their religious-history and theological development are examined in detail first within the Israelite culture itself and secondly concerning their connections to the neighbouring cultures of Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt.

Of course, this procedure does not succeed equally convincingly with all motifs: For vv.1aα/35bα e.g., different Egyptian and Mesopotamian prayers obviously provide comparable “Formulierungen des Preisens eines Einzelnen” (96); and whether the formulaic use of brk indeed should be translated with “loben, preisen, grüßen” (89) instead of “segnen” (“to bless”) would have required a more comprehensive discussion.[3] On the other hand, with respect to the phrase “Gründen der Erde” (v. 5; pp. 124ff.), K. shows instructively that the conception of the stable establishment of authority and of country represents a transcultural motif, but that the specific formulation “Gründen der Erde” refers to Egyptian and not to Mesopotamian tradition. Furthermore, the combination of statement of creation and the wavering of the earth expressed in v. 5 is documented in the OT only in a few psalms (93:1; 96:10).

These two examples must suffice in the present framework. The abundance of the material gathered in Part Three and the evaluations which are based on it can in no way be appreciated here in full: They represent a very impressive research achievement. Nevertheless, a stronger diachronic differentiation of the psalm formulations and then of the historical developments of the motifs could have proven quite profitable for the study of Israelite history of religion and theology.

The Fourth Part (403–22) returns—within the context of the previously-addressed intercultural comparison of the motifs of Ps 104—to the controversal relationship of Ps 104 to the great hymn to the Aten. Therefore, some redundancies to part three result, but the relevant motifs from Ps 104:20–30 (Tag und Nacht—Leben und Tod; der Mensch und seine Arbeit; der Bewunderungsruf; Schiffe unter den Fischen; die Versorgung der Geschöpfe; Tod und Leben der Geschöpfe) now receive close attention. By means of detailed comparisons K. displays vividly the correspondences and differences and convincingly concludes, “daß eine literarische Abhängigkeit des Psalms von dem ägyptischen Sonnenhymnus schwerlich anzunehmen ist” (p. 421; ET: “It is difficult to conclude direct literary dependence of the psalm on the Egyptian solar hymn”).

Part Five (423–35) proceeds into the early history of reception of Ps 104: In Qumran the text is positioned differently within the horizon of the psalter; in the LXX it receives eschatological hews; and it also emerges in citations and/or allusions in the NT. These are indeed interesting punctual insights; however, it remains unclear whether—and to what extent—there are significant differences here compared to the first innerbiblical receptions of Ps 104—according to K. in particular in the book of Job—and compared to the reception in Ben Sira.

The Conclusion (436–48) sums up both the multilayered transmission of the motifs and traditions with regard to specific reception from the Mesopotamian, Ugaritic and Egyptian background while also emphasizing the cross-cultural motif constellations common to several streams of tradition. Finally, the same summation is carried out for the range of biblical literature (439ff.).

In sum, this impressive work shows that the value of such investigations of the transmission of motifs is not exhausted in the affirmation or denial of unilinear dependences, but it instead consists in a differentiated appreciation of the similarities and dissimilarities of the various sources; only in this way is it possible to reconstruct an appropriate picture of the religious- and theological-historical developments in ancient Israel in its cultural-historical context within the ancient Near East. As a result of its detailed investigation, K's careful contribution advances research in the field and points to the possibility of more diachronic differentiation in future analyses (in the sense mentioned above).

Martin Leuenberger, University of Münster

[1] Cf. the recent suggestion by Sirje Reichmann, “Psalm 104 und der Große Sonnnenhymnus des Echnaton: Erwägungen zu ihrem literarischen Verhältnis,” in Israel zwischen den Mächten (ed. M. Pietsch and F. Hartenstein; AOAT 364; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2009), 257–88, here 285: “eine literarische Abhägigkeit des Psalms vom Echnatonhymnus in Form einer Übersetzung anzunehmen.”reference

[2] Cf. the recent contributions by Martin Leuenberger, Konzeptionen des Königtums Gottes im Psalter: Untersuchungen zu Komposition und Redaktion der theokratischen Bücher IV–V innerhalb des Psalters (ATANT 83; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2004), 187ff. and Reinhard Müller, Jahwe als Wettergott: Studien zur althebräischen Kultlyrik anhand ausgewählter Psalmen (BZAW 387; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008), xxxff.reference

[3] Cf. James K. Aitken, The Semantics of Blessing and Cursing in Ancient Hebrew (Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement Series 23; Leuven: Peeters, 2007); Martin Leuenberger, Segen und Segenstheologien im alten Israel: Untersuchungen zu ihren religions- und theologiegeschichtlichen Konstellationen und Transformationen (ATANT 90; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2008) .reference