Published on March 27, 2015 by Todd Scacewater

SBL Press, 2014 | 284 pages

Reviewed by Wyatt Graham

Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s purpose in The Shape and Shaping of the Book of Psalms, which comprises sixteen articles from different authors, is to explore the current state of canonical scholarship on the Psalms. Specifically, this work discusses the new direction Psalms scholarship has taken since Gerald Wilson published The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter in 1985. Wilson’s publication signaled a new era in Psalms research, in which scholars began to focus on the structure of the book as whole in order to understand how the redactor(s) shaped the final form of the Psalter.

Most of the articles originate from the 2011 sections of the Society of Biblical Literature on the shape and shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (ix). Six articles were written solely for publication in this volume. These essays fit into four groups: articles on canonical scholarship, articles on the canonical shape as a whole, articles on the significance of certain Psalms, and articles on miscellaneous issues. In the following, we will look at all four.

Articles on Canonical Scholarship

Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford introduces readers to the last twenty-five years of scholarship on the Psalms, providing a bird’s eye view of the field. Harry Nasuti clarifies Gerald Wilson’s intention when he wrote his seminal work, highlighting how Wilson actually used a form of redaction criticism to grasp the editor’s intent. J. Clinton McCann Jr. assesses the monumental impact of Wilson’s work on current scholarship.

Finally, Rolf A. Jacobson tries to imagine what the future of Psalm studies might look like, suggesting that, to some degree, researchers will need to turn to cross-disciplinary study in order to move the field forward. These essays successfully introduce and summarize critical scholarship on the book of the Psalms, accomplishing, in part, the goal of this volume.

Articles on Canonical Shape

Sampson S. Ndoga revisits the theological agenda of book IV, affirming the kingship of God within this section. W. Dennis Tucker Jr. reflects on Book V of the Psalter’s role within the entire collection, suggesting an anti-imperial emphasis courses through book V. Robert E. Wallace proposes that even though book V focuses on God’s kingship, the Davidic king does not disappear from view.

Since these articles focus on the last two books of the Psalter, they show that books IV–V of the Psalter require further research to understand more fully their shape and significance.

Articles on Significance

A number of articles touch on the meaning or significance of themes, concepts and microstructures within the Psalter. Derek Wittman describes the negative portrayal of the nations in Psalms 2 and 149, showing how they both emphasize God’s kingship. Christine Jones argues that the Asaphite collection (Pss. 73–83) was selected and arranged to encourage Israel during a national crisis. Catherine Petrany explores how certain Psalms mix wisdom and other genres together, illustrating how wisdom elements integrate with the genres of trust (Ps. 62), thanksgiving (Ps. 92), and lament (Ps. 94).

Phil Botha suggests that the alphabet Psalms (e.g., Ps. 112) provide direction to understand the Psalms as a whole (106). One way in which these Psalms contribute to understanding the whole Psalter is through embedding wisdom elements into these poems. Karl Jacobson reflects on the experience of YHWH sleeping in the Psalms, and the concept of awaking YHWH from his slumber. Lastly, Jonathan Magonet argues that Psalms 96–99 form a liturgical unit of hymns and kingship Psalms.

While these articles argue for disparate topics, each asks a question about the shape of the Psalter and comes to conclusions based upon that structure. For readers interested in how the shaping of the Psalter creates meaning, these articles provide immense help.

Articles on Miscellaneous Issues

Three articles raise questions about miscellaneous issues, which do not directly relate to the shape and shaping of the book of the Psalms. For example, Erhard Gerstenberger discusses praise, poetry and politics of the Ancient Near East, which relates to the Psalms in general, but the topic does not directly concern the canonical shape of the Psalter. Jaco Gericke proposes that religious diversity constitutes an “emergent property” to the redaction or composition of the Psalter. In practice, Gericke addresses meta-issues concerning religious plurality behind the final redaction of the Psalter, not the actual shape of the Psalter.

Finally, Peter Flint writes on Gerard Wilson’s contribution to understanding the book of the Psalms in light of the Psalms Scrolls found in the Judean Desert. The article relates directly to textual criticism, but it also exposes how the shape of actual scrolls can and should contribute to the study of the final shape of the Psalms. 


Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford’s edited work largely succeeds in updating its audience on the shape of canonical Psalms scholarship. Nevertheless, a couple of critical observations may be made. First, since this work largely used articles that authors presented at a conference, it seems somewhat disjointed. Some articles seem to overlap in topic, especially those on Wilson’s accomplishments, while others seemed so disparate as to be unrelated to each other. For example, Botha’s article concerns alphabetic Psalms, while Gericke addresses the role of religious plurality in the redaction of the Psalter. Nevertheless, in a work of collected essays, some disconnect between the articles must be expected.

Second, a few articles did not seem to relate to the shape and shaping of the Psalms. For example, Gerstenberger wrote on praise, poetry and politics of the Ancient Near East. For a book whose purpose is to inform readers on the current state of canonical Psalms scholarship, an article such as Gerstenberger’s seems like a distraction from the main purpose.

These minor quibbles with The Shape and Shaping of the Book of Psalms do not, however, devalue the work as a whole. Indeed, for anyone desiring to understand the field of canonical scholarship on the Psalms, and specifically the way in which the editor(s) shaped the Psalms, The Shape and Shaping of the Book of the Psalms provides a wealth of helpful information. Pastors and casual readers may want to avoid this volume due to its technical nature.  

Wyatt Graham is a PhD student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

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The Shape And Shaping Of The Book Of Psalms: The Current State Of Scholarship

SBL Press, 2014 | 284 pages

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