Brueggemann’s Typology of Function Paradigm

Walter Brueggemann’s essay Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function [1] initiated nothing less than a new paradigm of psalms interpretation. It has much to commend it. In particular it has been adopted by others because of its strength in bridging the often wide gap between scholarship on the Psalms and their contemporary devotional and liturgical use. What Brueggemann aims to do from the outset is to ask questions about the function of the Psalms. He considers the parallels between their original context in ancient Israel and in faith communities today. Much scholarship from the last century has focused largely on questions of literary form and ancient setting. Brueggemann sees no a priori antagonism between his method and the form-critical and cult-critical approaches, like those of Gunkel and Mowinckel. Rather, he suggests that there is ‘a convergence of a contemporary pastoral agenda with a more historical exegetic interest [original emphasis].’ [2] His guiding assumption is a positivistic hermeneutical one; that anthropologically the differences between humanity, across the ages, are narrowed by the extremes of joy and despair.

Whilst others have gone on to use his approach at a subjective, perhaps almost pre-critical level, e.g. [3], Brueggemann attempts to substantiate his convergence of contemporary and ancient function with reference to the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur argues for ‘the dynamic of life as a movement, dialectic but not regular or patterned, of disorientation and reorientation.’ Brueggemann argues that key form-critical categories of psalms seem to match contexts of disorientation and reorientation. In the case of disorientation most notably we have the categories of personal and communal laments. For reorientation we have songs of thanksgiving and those hymns classified by Westermann as declarative hymns. Brueggemann posits orientation as the place to and from which the dialectic movement of life shifts. Here the hymns, which are termed by Westermann as descriptive praise, are placed in this scheme. Other categories of psalms also fit under these three headings, for example, Brueggemann draws attention to Psalm 1 as a psalm of orientation. This aspect of Psalm 1 is something which will hopefully be explored in a later post.

Brueggemann’s typology of function proposal is undoubtedly highly attractive in that it offers a serious attempt at closing the gap between scholarly consideration of the Psalms that has centred on form-critical approaches which have a tendency to focus so strongly on the ancient form and Sitz im Leben (situation in life) so as to create a gulf with much historical and contemporary liturgical, pastoral and devotional use of the Psalter. It is also broadly convincing in its analysis of the two poles of disorientation and reorientation (what Ricoeur refers to as “expressions of limit”) in terms of texts which offer a means to respectively a hermeneutic of suspicion and a hermeneutic of recovery.

At one level Brueggemann’s approach legitimises what has been the practice of people of faith since the formation of the Psalter. Having a scholarly approach, that can bridge ancient and modern horizons is a vital complement to some academic approaches which offer no way forward from ancient text to life giving Scripture. This is not to suggest that approaches, such as form-critical approaches are illegitimate, but rather a recognition of what is an obvious limitation to appropriation if the Psalms for the life of faith today. Brueggemann is to be commended for addressing this problem.

Other approaches have challenged the domination of form-critical approaches which had prevailed into less than 30 years ago. In particular recent scholarship has drawn attention to the purposeful editing of the Psalter. When such editing is taken seriously this has implications for how the Psalms are read. The Psalter functions as a whole. Such a view not only complements form-critical approaches and their fragmentation of the book of Psalms into individual psalms, but it also complements Brueggemann’s approach too, which also has the potential to break-up the Psalter into a collection from which psalms are selected in a consumerist manner to address an identified need.

A future post, or two, will in due course carry forward this consideration of the strengths and limitations of Brueggemann’s exciting approach to the Psalms.

1. Brueggemann, W., ‘Psalms and the Life of Faith: A Suggested Typology of Function’ in P. D. Miller (ed.), The Psalms and the Life of Faith, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, 3-32.
2. Page 6 of 1.
3. Firth, D. G., Hear, O Lord: A Spirituality of the Psalms, Calvert, Derbyshire: Cliff College Publishing, 2005.

Review: ‘Finding God in the Psalms: Sing, pray, live’

Wright, Tom, Finding God in the Psalms: Sing, pray, live, London: SPCK Publishing, 2014.

This review is a copy of the one I posted on the same book under its US title of The Case for the Psalms: Why they are essential

Tom Wright is well known as a prolific author of Christian books. For example, he is working on a massive scholarly project, of which three volumes are in print and a fourth is imminent, on nothing less than the whole of the New Testament and its implications for Christian doctrine. Thus his academic expertise includes first-century Jewish history, the Gospels, the Pauline corpus and biblical hermeneutics. So some might be surprised that a New Testament scholar should publish a book on the Psalms.

The book is not meant to be a piece of Psalms’ scholarship, although Wright is clearly informed regarding diverse recent work on the Psalms. Rather this book is aimed at a popular audience. For this we should be grateful, because Wright’s central plea is a correct one. He argues, as the title indicates most clearly, that much of contemporary Christianity has, to its detriment, neglected the Psalms. I found the book to be both convincing and compelling. His thesis needs to be heard by the Christian community and there is a real need for Christians to champion the Psalms in their local Church setting.

The sheer clarity of the title might seem to indicate that the book’s argument be too clear cut, either in attacking the contemporary Christian songwriting ‘industry’ or promoting a monolithic approach to singing and using the Psalms. I am delighted to say that any such claims are groundless. For sure, Wright has some concerns (in my view entirely legitimate) about today’s Christian songwriting, however, Wright warmly acknowledges the genuine life and vitality in this movement and hopes that there is potential therein to champion the Psalms. Wright’s biographical material, which is presented as a helpful Afterword, recognises the traditional Anglican experience of the Psalms that Wright has enjoyed for his whole life. Having experienced this only to a very limited extent myself, I found this intriguing. I was also pleased to see Wright’s openness to, and recognition of, diverse ways in which the Psalms can be imbibed by the individual and the worshipping community.

If you’ve read this far you can tell I am rather appreciative of this book. The best, however, is yet to come. I expected to find myself broadly in agreement with Wright’s agenda – of, putting it bluntly, promoting the use of the Psalms. What I had not expected was the insightful way in which Wright made his case for what the Psalms contain and teach. I have read a lot about the Psalms over the last few years and have found them rewarding on a daily basis, as a central part of my personal devotions during this period. I have not previously met such a concise yet helpful overarching statement of the Psalter’s content which does justice to both their Jewish origin and use by followers of the risen Jesus Christ.

The heart of Wright’s book are three chapters, which account for around two-thirds of the content, the rest being essentially introductory and concluding material. Don’t get me wrong these parts are helpful, and indeed necessary, too. Yet it’s the three key chapters, and their overall thesis, that make this book not only compelling in its claim but an ideal way into understanding the Psalms. It’s helpful to outline the argument of these three chapters:

At the Threshold of God’s Time
Wright opens with the claim that the ‘Psalms invite us, first, to stand at the intersection of the different layers of time’. He reflects on how our mortality compares rather starkly with Yahweh’s time, and how this connects with the Psalter’s strong eschatological flavour. This is then developed into another key concern found throughout the Psalter: the kingship of God. This theme in turn explains the present context of the reader/singer of the Psalms in terms of the past, and God’s people Israel, and the future restoration of creation. This is what makes the Psalms such a powerful resource. They remind us that whatever is going on here-and-now, Yahweh is a faithful God who started a restorative work long ago in ancient Israel and will bring that work to fruition in the future restoration of all things. Or, as Wright says: ‘Past, present, and future belong to him. We are called to live joyfully and painfully, in the story that is both his and ours’.

Where God Dwells
In this chapter Wright reminds us that all too often we avoid the strangeness of the claims that the Psalms make about where God resides. Many of the Psalms quite unashamedly, without any care for our modern baggage, look to Jerusalem and what might be termed the Temple Mount as the dwelling place for the creator of the space-time universe. To pretend they claim anything else would be dishonest. It is this claim that is so central to other key themes in the Psalter. The nations are referred to many times, from 2:1 through to 149:7, in such a way that only makes sense with reference to Yahweh dwelling in Zion, i.e. Jerusalem (cf. 2:6 and 149:2). Yet despite this central, and vital claim, God can be found in other places too. The same psalms look to heaven as Yahweh’s dwelling place, e.g. 2:4. It is this claim that makes sense of the former. For the story is rich and complex, involving an ‘anointed one’ who is a steward over God’s people (2:6), the departure of God’s presence at the exile and the eschatological hope of his return. It is within this understanding of the divine presence that the frequently misunderstood Jewish understanding of Torah took shape. As Wright puts it: ‘By prayerful and obedient study of the Torah, the blessings that one might have had through the “sacred space” of the Temple could be obtained anywhere by all’. There can be little doubt of this theme in the Psalter when one notes the introductory psalm 1 and the entity that is psalm 119 (see previous blog entries).

All the Trees of the Forest Sing for Joy
In this chapter Wright builds on concerns he has discussed at length elsewhere about Western modernity’s inability to see the physical universe as a creation in which the Creator is living and active. As Wright argues this means that Christians too can miss the biblical affirmation of the essential ‘goodness’ of matter. Despite this chapter’s focus on a key concern for Wright as a theologian and interpreter, there is nothing forced in his claim that the Psalms celebrate creation. Indeed he shows, with ample reference to the Psalms themselves, the beautiful and rich ways in which the Psalter reflects on creation and thereby speaks of the Creator.

Wright’s three-fold use of time, space (place) and matter as a framework for unpacking the Psalms is commendably straightforward and yet doesn’t straight-jacket the Psalter’s rich diversity of form and content. For this insightful approach, as well as the timely message of our need to recover the Psalms, I hope many in the contemporary church will be truly grateful.

An Acrostic of Psalms Books

A number of the Psalms take the form of acrostics, in other words they make use of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, one by one, to begin a verse or series of verses (see earlier article on acrostics). This poetic device raises complications for the poet. This post uses this device to identify 26 psalm books (well 22 thanks to the letters I, U, X and Y!). Of course the constraint is perhaps to constraining for some letters of the English alphabet! If you disagree with a particular letter, feel free to lament to MarkWhiting@psaltermark for some dialogue. Please note that the individual choices contribute to the whole in an attempt to provide a miniature rounded Psalms library.

Alter, R., The Book of Psalms: A translation with commentary, New York: Norton, 2007.
Where else can we begin, but with the Psalms themselves? This translation is both thought provoking and beautiful in equal measure.

Brueggemann, W., The Psalms and the Life of Faith, P. D. Miller (Ed.), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.
The first article in this collection bridges the Then and Now in a way which will change your use of the Psalms for ever.

Craigie, P. C., Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, Waco: Word Publishing, 1983.
A commentary by a master of exposition, but only one third of the Psalter is covered by Allen.

Day, J., Psalms, Old Testament Guides, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992.
A helpful concise introduction to the Psalms. It majors on genre and does this well.

Eaton, J. H., The Psalms: A historical and spiritual commentary with an introduction and new translation, London: T & T Clark International, 2007.
A wonderful example of how academic rigour and spiritual devotion can come together as a powerful whole.

Futato, M. D., Interpreting the Psalms: An exegetical handbook, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007.
A serious engagement with the Hebrew text for the novice.

Goldingay, J., Psalms, Three volumes, Grand Rapids:Baker Books, 2006.
These three volumes are arguably the best evangelical commentary on the Psalter by a single author.

Holladay, W. L., The Psalms Through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a cloud of witnesses, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.
There is no other book quite like this tour de force through the history of the Psalms.

I

Johnston, P. S. and Firth, D., Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and approaches, Nottingham: Apollos, 2006.
This is a great introduction to the diverse ways that Psalms can and have been interpreted.

Kraus, H-J., Theology of the Psalms, translated by Keith Crim, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
This thematic exploration of the Psalms is an enriching and rewarding read from a scholar who you will know has lived in the Psalms.

Lewis, C. S., Reflections on the Psalms, London: Fontana Books, 1976.
A classic book on the Psalms. It’s thought provoking but should not be taken as the last word on the Psalms.

Mays, J. L., Psalms, Interpretation Bible Commentary, Louisville: John Knox Press, 2006.
One of the very best single-volume commentaries on the Psalms.

Nasuti, H. P., Tradition History and the Psalms of Asaph, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988.
OK let’s be honest, I have not read this nor do I own it – it is the best I can do for the letter N!

Oesterley, W. O. E., A Fresh Approach to the Psalms, New York: Scribner, 1937.
This is a space filler in this acrostic, it has some value if you want a snapshot of what Psalms scholarship was like when form criticism was coming to the fore. It is far from fresh now!

Peterson, E., Answering God:The Psalms as tools for prayer, New York: HarperOne, 1991.
Who better than Eugene Peterson to set us up to pray the Psalms so that we might be transformed by these ancient poems.

Quaster, J. and Burghardt, W.-J., St Augustine and the Psalms, Volume One, Mahweh: Paulist Press, 1960.
Augustine was serious about the Psalms. He is the earliest Christian theologian for whom a complete commentary of the Psalms has survived.

Ryrie, A., Deliver us from Evil: Reading the Psalms as poetry, London: Darton Longman & Todd, 2005.
An outstanding reminder of how we need to take the Psalms as poetry without doing violence to their use and meaning.

Spurgeon, C. H., The Treasury of David, Three volumes, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004.
The devotional richness of this work makes it a worthwhile companion to more modern commentaries.

Tate, M. E., Psalms 51-100, Word Bible Commentary, Dallas: Word Books, 1991.
A good solid commentary on the Psalms.

U

VanGemeren, W. A., Psalms: Volume 5 The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.
A commentary which contends with Goldingay head-to-head and comes a very close second (in my view).

Wilson, G. H., The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1986.
A scholarly work which has reset the course of all later Psalms research and has implications for seeing the Psalter as a whole. This is a work only for those of a scholarly persuasion.
X

Y

Zenger, E., A God of Vengeance? Understanding the Psalms of divine wrath, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.
The Psalms provide a wonderful resource for understanding our God. This book helps us use them wisely in this respect.

‘Psalms – New Cambridge Bible Commentary’, by Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr.

Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2014).

Opening Remarks
It has seemed like a long wait for this commentary. Both authors have a strong track record with Psalms scholarship. Walter Brueggemann’s contribution to Psalms scholarship, in particular, is immense. He famously initiated little less than a new interpretive paradigm with his characterisation of psalms into psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation (see the Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed: Patrick D. Miller).

The commentary opens with a concise, but helpful, survey of key background information on the Psalms. The approach of the commentary is also explained, the use of four interpretive frameworks are singled out:

1. An attention to genre, along the lines of Gunkel’s seminal form-critical insights.
2. An awareness of cultic setting, although not with dependence on any overarching festival hypothesis.
3. Consideration of ancient near-eastern societal issues. This includes matters central to some aspects of Brueggemann’s concern with the dynamics of power within society.
4. Exploration of the placement of psalms within the Psalter during its editing.

There is nothing controversial about the choice of these four areas. They do however, indicate that the commentary’s strength will lie with its exploration of the ancient context rather than the modern use of the psalms. That this is the case is also flagged in a two sentence conclusion on page 8.

I want to confess that I have not read the whole commentary. What I have done is read the sections on specific psalms that (i) interest me, (ii) I know well and (iii) I judge to be especially important. Below I have summarised the findings of some of these forays into the main body of the commentary.

Psalms 1 and 2
Both of these psalms are flagged as being part of an introduction to the Psalter. This is a consensus of modern Psalms scholarship. What is highly puzzling, however, is that essentially nothing is done to explore the consequences of this, except for a short comment on page 34 (see below for more on the nature of this comment). Surely if something functions as an introduction, to a larger whole, care needs to be given in establishing the implications of this for the entire work?

Psalm 1 is ascribed a strong legal function in order to explain the ‘two ways’ described in the psalm. In this way the authors argue that the ‘wicked’, who are said to perish in the psalm, are in fact those in the community that have no place to stand in legal decisions. Such a reading, whilst not unheard of, does not seem convincing. As a poetic device, surely being blown away as chaff and perishing can’t just mean being on the wrong side of communal decisions? A lot of commentators do of course shy away from the traditional connotation of judgement. Yet, however uncomfortable such a topic is, the late date of psalm 1 and the poetic references to the harvest elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Jeremiah 51:33, Joel 3:13) make it difficult to defend anything other than the a reference to much starker judgement.

The exploration of psalm 2 in its cultic setting is very helpful for appreciating its origin and significance. I was however disappointed that the only mention of its Christian re-reading in Christological terms is a passing mention of seven New Testament passages which refer to this psalm. This, I guess, reflects an editorial decision regarding the New Cambridge Bible Commentary to ‘elucidate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures’. Such a choice means that the commentary needs to serve both confessions, but surely the use of the NRSV means that the volumes will be largely used by Christians, many of whom would expect a little more on how we are to use the psalms today. Enriching though it is to see psalm 2 as a coronation ritual, this will not be how it is used in devotion or liturgy by Christians, nor, of course, will it be used in this way by worshipping Jews. The ‘Bridging Horizons’ section singularly fails to bridge horizons as it points singularly points to psalms 1 and 2 as an exhortation to instruction. Many readers will be puzzled by the claim that these two psalms, and indeed the whole Psalter, are primarily a means of instruction. This is indeed one role of the Psalms, but this requires careful explanation, as well as complementing with other dynamics.

Psalms 22-24
The reservations expressed above do not apply to these three psalms. Each of these psalms is explored with verve and conviction in its ancient context and there are some helpful explorations of later Christian theology. For example:

A. Moltmann’s Crucified God is introduced along with the theme of the suffering of the righteous to round off the coverage of psalm 22.
B. Jesus as shepherd is explained in terms of a biblical trajectory.
C. The use of psalm 24 in celebrating the Triumphal Entry and the Ascension is mentioned.

The only disappointment with the treatment of these three psalms is that little is made of the relationship between the three them indicated on page 8.

The Psalms of Ascents (120-134)
The coverage of these fifteen psalms was a delight to read. Each of these songs is unpacked with clarity, and a care to see them in their societal context. This latter point is important for as is pointed out at the outset, these psalms of pilgrimage are, perhaps surprisingly, deeply concerned with community life. Not only are these psalms put into their original context eloquently, but attention is given to just how these songs address the societal challenges of Western culture imposed on those journeying on the Life of Faith. In this way there is helpful insight into topics such as:

Psalm 120 – homelessness (both literal and figurative),
Psalm 122 – a critique of ‘self-centred images of tribal and ideological futures.’,
Psalm 127 – a challenge to the culture of success.
Psalm 134 – carrying the ‘renewing power of the encounter with God in sanctuary worship into the rest of life’.

Conclusion
In summary this commentary has much to commend it. As a single volume manageable and affordable book it successfully covers the ancient context of the psalms with conviction, clarity and insight. In much of its coverage, within the limits of the series, it makes helpful connections with today.

However, I found it a little uneven in how well it re-read the psalms from an Easter perspective – in places this is handled well and in others there seems to be a little reticence to make such a re-reading. In particular I found coverage of a specifically Christian re-reading of the Royal Psalms disappointing, especially as Brueggemann’s previous commentary (The Message of the Psalms) on some fifty psalms did not include any Royal Psalms in it. In my view the issues of the microstructure of the Psalter, mentioned in the introduction to the commentary, is simple not considered fully enough.

This is not the definitive magnum opus from Brueggemann I was hoping for, but given its size I was always setting the bar rather too high!

‘A Journey of Two Psalms’ by Susan Gillingham

Susan Gillingham, A Journey of Two Psalms: The reception of Psalms 1 & 2 in Jewish & Christian tradition, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2013).

Those who follow the more academic literature on the psalms will know that Susan Gillingham has already made some highly significant contributions to psalms scholarship. She is the author of The Poems and the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms Through the Centuries: volume 1. She has also edited Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms, as well as authoring a number of papers on diverse aspects of the psalms.

Her Journey of Two Psalms is important for two major reasons. Firstly, such a thorough attempt at exploring the reception history of biblical material has rarely been attempted. Secondly, Psalms 1 and 2 are increasingly seen as central to the very nature of the Psalter because of the new consensus that they are in some sense a purposeful introduction to the Psalter.

Some people of faith seem wary of reception history because of a largely groundless concern that readers born centuries after the appearance of a text impose an alien interpretation upon the text. Rather, we can turn to reception history as an aid to help prevent us from making precisely this error. By seeing how interpreters have understood and made use of a biblical text we can see what is illuminating and helpful on the one hand and what is perhaps anachronistic on the other. In so doing we can be more alert to our possible misreadings. Reception history also has the wonderful bonus of taking a wider collection of interpretive media than more traditional approaches. In Gillingham’s book, for example, the liturgical use, visual exegesis, musical interpretation and ‘imitation’ of these two psalms is considered. This ensures that a rounded interpretative range, beyond that of just the theological elite is considered. No one, least of all Susan Gillingham, is claiming that reception history replaces more traditional biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, but rather there is much to complement these approaches when we look at the psalms through the centuries.

In the first half of the book, Gillingham looks at the broad sweep of commentary on Psalms 1 and 2. This is broken down into chapters titled: ‘Ancient Judaism’, ‘Early Christianity’, ‘Rabbinic and Medieval Judaism’ and ‘From the Early Middle Ages to the Reformation’. Gillingham examines the evidence for these two psalms being viewed as, in some sense, a pair. She notes that in Jewish works of the earliest periods the two psalms are seen as being united by a concern with the Temple, whilst later they are unified by a concern with Jewish piety and identity against opposition from outside the community. Gillingham helpfully explores how different Christian contexts lead to the use of these two psalms to address the quite different concerns on diverse interpreters.

In the second half, Gillingham notes that psalms 1 and 2 play a very small role in either Jewish or Christian liturgy through the centuries. In visual exegesis, by contrast, these two psalms are prominent. In many cases, so Gillingham argues, the ‘two psalms are often illuminated in a connected, complementary way, with contrasting themes which together open up a visual gateway to the Psalter as a whole’. The selective musical interpretations, examined by Gillingham, almost exclusively focus on these two psalms as individual entities. As Gillingham notes, however, this probably has more to do with the nature of musical composition than a necessary disconnection between these two psalms. To a large extent the paraphrases and translations of these two psalms also tend to see them in their individual light, rather than making much of the literary or potential thematic links between them.

Gillingham’s conclusions are in three areas. The first concerns the importance of the theme of the Temple in Psalms 1 and 2. There are grounds for seeing this theme as important in both psalms, as well as the Psalter as a whole. Interestingly, reception history does not reveal as strong a role for this theme as I expected (and one wonders whether this might have taken Gillingham by surprise too). The second topic coheres with the first – how the theme of the Temple is handled might be perceived as a divisive issue for Christian and Jewish hermeneutics. This has indeed been the case for nineteen hundred years, but more recently there has been a more nuanced and constructive dialogue of this theme. Thirdly, and for this reader most interestingly, is the contribution to the debate over the possibility that Psalms 1 and 2 are a deliberate entrance to the Psalter. This possibility has reemerged over the last thirty years because of the emergence of a canonical hermeneutic to psalms interpretation which has seriously challenged the hegemony of the form-critical approach.

Gillingham should be commended on the clarity of argument in this work, and the shear volume and diversity of the necessary research. This study is essential reading for anyone who wants to keep abreast of the shifting consensus on interpretive paradigms for reading the Psalter.

Gillingham closes her book with a defence against those who suggest that reception history is ‘Biblical Studies on Holiday’. It seems to me that this study makes the case that the refreshment from such a holiday might well stimulate useful work in the study of the Scriptures shared by Jews and Christians.

Lessons from The Wall and The Psalter

This short post was inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall. You might be wondering, at this point, if you are reading the right blog. Please trust me for just a little longer! The Wall is a concept album that was released in 1979. It is the story of a life, a sad narrative of decline. It deals with an experience of abandonment and loneliness, and in exploring these aspect of Western culture, it asks profound questions about:

1. Life after death. For example, in the song Vera a question is asked:

“Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn? Remember how she said that we would meet again some sunny day?”

The implication is that any hope for a satisfactory conclusion to the pains of life, perhaps more specifically any eschatological hope, is a naive fallacy.

2. Authority. The famous refrain from Another Brick in the Wall part 2: “We don’t need no education”, is just one line, of many, which questions where authority comes from. In this song the inference is that the protagonist, Pink, has experienced an education system in which the figures in authority had sinister motives of their own, that had little to do with the nurture and teaching of those in their charge.

3. The ethics of life. Much of the album questions: ‘Just where are we meant to find direction in this life?’. Various aspects of hedonism, including drug use and extra-marital sex, are explored, but all are found wanting.

4. Judgement. In the penultimate song, The Trial, Pink is subjected to a courtroom trial. It is perhaps meant as a parody of the Last Judgement. In a universe in which there is no God, Pink is charged with “showing feelings . . . of an almost human nature”.

The very title of the album summarises the disturbing premise of the album: some of us go through life, like Pink, in a way that experience after experience builds a barrier between us and others. For Pink these events include the death of his father in the Second World War, a stiflingly protective mother, a failed marriage and the sadistic attention of teachers.

When compared with the concept album that is The Psalter we see that The Wall presents an alternative Way, a rival eschatology and a denial of the possibility of a faithful God. What it gets broadly right is a negative anthropology – as it portrays a convincingly lucid picture of some people’s experience of the human condition.

Likes the Psalter, The Wall, is a holistic whole. It is a work written to be experienced from beginning to end. When The Wall is heard in a single sitting, the power of its claims build-up into a disturbing whole. The Psalter in contrast, in its journey from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, provides a vocabulary and a theology for dealing with the trials of life, such that their power over us is broken. This journey also provides the right vision with which to see the blessings of Yahweh, which abound in His Word, His actions in history and His glorious creation.

We live in an age in which the concept album and the Psalter have both been reduced to a 3 minute quick fix. Both The Wall and The Psalter, when heard/read/experienced add up to much more than their component parts. One of them portrays the dangers of building a wall, from behind which we cannot relate to others or our creator, the other is a lifelong companion of prayer which ensures we can build on the creator’s instruction and wisdom. Rather than building a wall we end up ‘rebuilding’ ourselves as a flourishing tree (Psalm 1:3).

The Wall concludes with Pink’s wall being torn down, though the significance of this is unclear. The faithful reader of the Psalms knows that the wall that separates us from God has been demolished by our Father through His Son, with no need for artistic poignant ambiguity. The Psalter, thus in stark contrast to The Wall, ends with emphatic praise, as will those who travel the Life of Faith with the living God named Yahweh.

In memory of the dearest of friends, Roy Jephson, who ended the Life of Faith 7th March 2014.