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How to Read the Psalms (How to Read Series) Paperback – August 20, 1988
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About the Author
Tremper Longman III (PhD, Yale University) is Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is also visiting professor of Old Testament at Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and adjunct of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He lectures regularly at Regent College in Vancouver and the Canadian Theological Seminary in Calgary. Longman is the author or coauthor of over twenty books, including How to Read Genesis, How to Read the Psalms, How to Read Proverbs, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, Old Testament Essentials and coeditor of A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible. He and Dan Allender have coauthored Bold Love, Cry of the Soul, Intimate Allies, The Intimate Mystery and the Intimate Marriage Bible studies.
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Since then I have taught the Psalms many times and in many locations. I've yet to find a better English-language introduction for the serious reader of the Psalms that this work.
The strength of HOW TO READ THE PSALMS, in my view, is the careful attention to the various genres or sub-genres of the psalms. It gives readers a doorway into an otherwise confusing morass of 150 poems. It draws on the best technical Psalms scholarship but it comes across to the reader as a helpful mentor rather than a technical geek. Longman also gives carefully selected and therefore helpfully illuminating examples from the Psalms themselves.
In my experience and that of many students, one comes away from reading the Psalms both more intelligent as a reader of the psalms and more worshipful as a co-prayer with the authors of the psalms.
Though a bit long in the tooth, Tremper Longman's introduction to reading the psalms has endured and, even better, stayed perennially fresh.
In this book, author Tremper Longman III explores how Christians should read the Psalms, especially focusing on how the coming of Christ affects our understanding of these hymns and laments. Specifically, he shows us how the Psalms anticipated Jesus and his work, suffering on the cross and divine glory.
While parts of this book are truly fascinating and helped me understand more of the "why" behind the psalms, much of it is like reading a graduate-level paper for an English class--analyzing the psalms like one would a poem. Longman examines genre, imagery, similes and parallelism.
This is a solid academic introduction to the Psalms for the curious biblical student.
Part one of the book focuses on "The Psalms Then and Now." The first chapter discusses the genres of the Psalms, dividing the psalms into seven types: the hymn, the lament, thanksgiving psalms, psalms of confidence, psalms of remembrance, wisdom psalms, and kingship (or royal) psalms. Chapter two examines the origin, development and use of the Psalms, including some helpful reflection on the titles, authorship, and historical events behind some of the psalms. Chapter three investigates key Old Testament themes (covenant, law, kingship, blessing and curse, forgiveness etc.) with the assertion that the Psalms are "the heart of the Old Testament," a "microcosm" of the Old Testament's message and theology. Chapter four, on the other hand, focuses on "a Christian reading of the Psalms," thoughtfully exploring how the Psalms relate to Jesus. Longman concludes, that "two errors need to be avoided. The first is that we neglect a psalm's original setting . . . the second . . . is to miss the anticipation, the expectation of the Psalms." The fifth chapter is my favorite: "The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul." In this chapter, Longman discusses how the Psalms function in our lives to inform our intellect, arouse our emotions, and direct our wills.
The second part of the book is about "The Art of the Psalms." These chapters discuss literary issues, such as the characteristics of Old Testament poetry (chapter six), how to understand Hebrew parallelism in the Psalms (chapter seven), and imagery in the Psalms (chapter eight). These are valuable chapters, though a bit more technical than the first five. Part three of the book applies the methodology outlined in the first eight chapters to the study of three psalms - Psalms 98 (chapter nine), 69 (chapter ten), and 30 (chapter eleven).
This is a very good book that will help anyone in their reading and study of the Psalms. Longman is a good teacher and writes well. His book is oriented to the thoughtful layperson rather than the academic professional, though the author's knowledge and expertise in the Psalms are apparent. But the feel of the book is instructive and devotional, rather than dry and technical. In the epilogue, Longman gives this final exhortation, "Go to the Psalms when you are happy and everything seems right with you. Sing laments to God when your life seems to crumble. When God hears your prayer, don't forget to thank him for his kindness. When you are frightened, be encouraged by the psalms of confidence. Heed the psalms of wisdom. Above all, go to the psalms to be honest with God." Wise words, and typical of this helpful book. If you want to grow in your understanding of this crucial genre of Scripture, or more importantly, go deeper in your personal relationship with the Lord through praying the psalms, How to Read the Psalms is a great place to start. I highly recommend it.