The Psalmist in the Psalm: a persona-critical reading of Book IV of the Psalter.
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Maxwell, Nathan Dean.
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This dissertation offers a literary and theological reading of Book IV of the Psalter, a reading that is informed by the theory of the literary persona, as well as canonical-critical approaches to the Book of Psalms. This project argues that the speaker or speakers in a psalm are properly identified as literary personae, and should not be equated with the psalm's historical author. This distinction is hermeneutically significant insofar as the psalm's speaker is therefore oriented to the world of the poem rather than the reader’s knowledge of or access to the historical author. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that individual psalms may be read canonically, that is, interpreted in relation to one another and as a whole. Therefore, the literary personae of individual psalms may also be interpreted in this manner. According to a persona-critical reading of Book IV of the Psalter, readers encounter in these psalms many personae that, in their present literary context, collectively imagine a reoriented identity under the kingship of Yahweh. After identifying the utility of persona criticism for the interpretation of the Psalter in chapter one, the second chapter of this dissertation surveys the history and theory of persona. Chapter two essentially characterizes persona as a highly variable but inherent phenomenon of poetry that is distinct from the historical author and hermeneutically oriented to the world of the poem. Chapter three situates the persona theory within the context of ancient poetry. A brief survey of ancient Near Eastern texts demonstrates that persona criticism is indeed applicable to ancient poetry. The Psalter in particular is well suited to persona-critical analyses, though such an approach has not generally been emphasized by interpreters. The fourth chapter is an exegetical reading of Psalms 90-106. Collectively and in their present literary context, the personae of Book IV imagine and bespeak a reoriented identity under the kingship of Yahweh. These poetic personae, however, demonstrate a striking variety of characteristics that contribute to the overall theological thrust of Book IV. These characteristics are summarized, along with the overall results of the project, in chapter five.