Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Snearly, Michael K., The Return of the King: Messianic Expectation in Book V of the Psalter (LHBOTS, 624; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016). Pp. xii + 236. Hardcover. US$112.00. ISBN 978-0-56766-433-4.

The monograph under review is the published version of Michael Snearly's doctoral dissertation completed at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary under the supervision of David M. Howard, Jr., wherein he uses technological developments in Bible software to refine his supervisor's methods in editorial criticism and apply them to a much larger unit in the Psalter (Book V, Pss 107–150). The result is not only a significant contribution to our understanding of Book V but a laudable methodological refinement that points a way forward in editorial criticism for anyone working in biblical studies and related fields. In addition to its importance for scholars of the Hebrew Psalter and those working in editorial criticism, however, several features of the volume also make it particularly useful for graduate and seminary students, pastors, and interested lay persons with some background in biblical studies and Hebrew.

Twelve chapters are grouped into four sections, with chapter one serving as an uncommonly articulate introduction. These are followed by an appendix discussing Pss 114–15 as a single psalm, a bibliography, and a single index covering topics, authors, and some scripture references (Hebrew words are not indexed, a particularly unfortunate oversight given the extensive treatment of key-word links). Together the four sections offer significant background discussion of editorial criticism, a survey of recent research on Book V of the Psalter, the research analysis proper, and a brief conclusion that discusses messianic hope in Book V vis-à-vis other Jewish literature such as Chronicles, 4 Ezra, texts from Qumran, and the New Testament.

Snearly's research is driven by two dissatisfactions. On the one hand, editorial criticism (especially of the Psalter) stands in need of clear, quantifiable methodological controls. On the other hand, research on the shape of the Psalter and David's place in it has paid inadequate attention to the role filled by a Davidic figure in Book V. In answer to the first dissatisfaction, Snearly proposes and employs five explicit criteria for determining links between psalms and characteristics of unified groupings: “(a) key-word links; (b) distant parallelism (e.g. dis legomena, parallelism of syntactical constructions, inclusio); (c) common superscriptions; (d) common theme; (e) structural parallels” (p. 39). The methodology and procedure are laid out most clearly in ch. 4 (p. 39–53), and include the use of Bible software to produce a complete concordance of Book V to allow for close investigation of possible links between psalms. Key word links are further qualified as “a word or phrase for which at least half of all occurrences in Book V are in one psalm group and/or at least 20 percent of all occurrences in the Psalter are in one psalm group” (p. 39 note 1). Possible key-word links which fall short of this criterion are identified and discussed with some sensitivity to the benefits that further methodological refinement may bring (e.g., ימין and ראשׁ in Pss 107–118; cf. p. 118).

Snearly's application of this refined method to Book V clarifies the constituent groups of Book V and allows him to present a compelling case for the importance of a royal Davidic figure in this last book of the Psalter. Snearly argues for grouping psalms in Book V as follows: Pss 107–118, with a focus on Yahweh's covenant loyalty; Ps 119, which has an explicit royal emphasis; Pss 120–137 (including but extending beyond the Psalms of Ascents), which evince a particular concern for Zion as the “locus of messianic rule”; Pss 138–145, wherein Davidic superscriptions reappear, and which contain deliberate connections back to Books I–III; and Pss 146–150, which present the Psalter's conclusion. Differing proposals for groupings and themes are discussed at length, and the five criteria are treated in detail for each section. Snearly's discussion of Pss 138–145 (comprising ch. 10) provides perhaps his strongest challenge to the reigning consensus that the Davidic covenant is tabled at Ps 89. “Readings of the Psalter that postulate a caesura in the storyline at Ps 89 do not take the evidence of Pss 138–145 (and Pss 110 and 132) seriously enough—evidence that should be given more weight because these psalms conclude the storyline of Book V” (p. 164).

In his thoughtful refinement of the method and procedures of editorial criticism, and in his careful investigation of Pss 107–150, Snearly has made a significant and lasting contribution to biblical studies. Snearly's achievements with this monograph, however, extend well beyond these contributions, for at every turn he presents a model of scholarly hospitality. This hospitality is carried out on several levels simultaneously, and permeates the volume. In the first place, Snearly is thorough in his engagement. In surveying previous research he ranges far and wide and engages much scholarship that is not accessible in English. He is fully aware that the viability of canonical and editorial-critical readings does not command a universal consensus, and directly engages the critiques of Whybray, Gerstenberger, and Goldingay, among others. Throughout his surveys, engagements, and critiques he maintains an irenic tone, and concedes where critics of editorial criticism have flagged significant flaws in earlier studies. In the midst of these discussions he is also hospitable to a wide range of readers, providing detailed summaries and translated quotations of works in German, French, Italian, and other languages. It is here in particular that his work is of significant value to the non-specialist who does not have access to the original research.

There is a great deal of skepticism in the academy about editorial criticism, not least in psalms scholarship. That skepticism cannot credibly continue without seriously engaging the refined methodology articulated and applied in Snearly's monograph. There is also a great deal of skepticism about the continuing relevance of biblical studies outside of the guild; Snearly's hospitality toward those who are without as well as within the field shows that this need not be so. This volume is highly recommended for anyone in biblical studies for its methodological refinement and defense of editorial criticism. This volume is required reading for everyone directly engaged in work on the book of Psalms, both those who assent to a canonical shape and those who demur. And this volume is also warmly commended to the student or general reader of Scripture who wants a window into or a chance to catch up on the last 30 years of work on the Psalter, get a sense of where things are heading, or reckon with why such things should affect how we read the psalms.

With all of this said, there is one more item that must be discussed. It is unfortunate to see that Bloomsbury T&T Clark is continuing its trend with respect to typesetting and proofing. Typographical errors abound throughout the work, marring no less than 45 pages from the list of tables (p. x) to the index (p. 229), and in only two instances that I found did these errors affect anything other than Hebrew text (one of these two instances was in transliteration). These errors range from printing of Hebrew text left-to-right to misplaced line breaks and misaligned vowels, and can hardly be laid at the foot of the author. They present an unfortunate and persistent distraction in an otherwise commendable monograph.

Anthony R. Pyles, The Academy of Classical Christian Studies