Singing songs and telling tales : the function of story in the book of Psalms.
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Hays, Rebecca Whitten Poe, 1987-
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This dissertation explores the presence and function of stories in the Hebrew Psalter. Pushing against a general scholarly trend to focus on the non-narrative aspect of Hebrew poetry, I demonstrate that the book of Psalms does contain stories and that the inclusion of these stories in ancient Israel’s worship texts contributes to the rhetorical power of the psalms in a way that is distinct from other poetic devices such as parallelism and imagery. I begin by building on literary theory and biblical studies of narrative to establish a clear definition of a “story” as a text that includes three or more moments (descriptions of single actions or states in clauses governed by a single verb) linked together in ways that clearly communicates sequence and causation. Using this definition to identify the story portions of psalms, I divide these stories into three major categories: retellings of history, testimonies, and paradigm stories. In the main chapters of the dissertation, I explore each category with a discussion of the category’s general characteristics, a close reading of representative texts (Pss 78, 136, and 107 for retellings of history; Pss 30, 73, and 81 for testimonies; and Pss 80, 20, and 7 for paradigms), and an assessment of distinctive ways each type of story functions in the Hebrew psalms. These poetic, psalmic stories have the rhetorical power to draw readers into narrative worlds and inspire empathy, to guide readers into particular understandings of history and teach them inductively, and to concretize the abstract and so shape the beliefs and behaviors of the communities who regard them as sacred texts.