David L. is currently working on his dissertion at University of St. Andrews in Biblical Studies under the direction of Dr. James Davila. David graciously agreed to be interviewed about his dissertation research.
David and I recently had a great exchange on how to interpret ancient biblical temple practices in relation to modern LDS temple rites. That exchange stands independent from some of the research that David is pursuing here and we thought our readers would like to learn more about it.
TT: David, I understand that you are working on Kingship and the Psalms. Tell us a little about the Psalms and what they have do with kingship? In short, what are you arguing for in your research?
David: Thank you, TT, for this opportunity to discuss my research on FPR. You are correct that my research involves the Psalms and themes pertaining to Israel’s royal cult. It also involves looking at similar themes in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, the idea for my research objective began with my study of apocalyptic/mystical texts (which often depict “heavenly ascents” and enthronement in heaven) and my exposure to a growing body of research that tries to analyze these texts in the context of actual religious experience. To be short, a number of scholars believe that behind certain written texts we can sometimes perceive connections or allusions to actual religious practices — rituals, liturgies, ecstatic visions, etc. This was an intriguing idea to me and I eventually decided to study some of the Dead Sea Scrolls that are described as being particularly “liturgical” in nature, such as the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns) or the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (a series of hymns to be sung on successive Sabbaths that basically describe a tour of the heavenly temple) in light of this type of theory. Along the way, I came across the idea that the biblical Psalms had for a long time been studied following a “cult-functional” approach — that attempts had been made to connect them to rituals performed in/around the Jerusalem Temple. I decided that this topic warranted further investigation.
To provide a bit of background for this approach to the Psalms, I would note that Hermann Gunkel, in his groundbreaking research in the early 20th century, developed a methodology for looking at the biblical texts called “form criticism.” Many of you are likely familiar with this approach, but to sum up, Gunkel believed that the biblical text could be analyzed according to identifiable literary types or “forms.” In his research on the Psalms, he divided the Psalter up into a number of different literary forms that he identified using set criteria. Among the Psalms were some that didn’t fit into any of the other categories, but were grouped together because they all involved, or made mention of, the Israelite king. Another similar category involved psalms that made reference to the enthronement of Yahweh as king. Gunkel theorized that these types of psalms were most likely used in ritual/liturgical settings in the Jerusalem cult. Later scholars would further speculate on how these psalms may have been used liturgically and how they related to the kingship ideology of ancient Israel.
To pick a couple of straightforward examples, Gunkel believed that the most likely “life setting” for Psalm 2 was “an enthronement festival of the Davidic king” (Gunkel and Begrich, Introduction to the Psalms, 102). Gunkel argued that the speaker in the psalm was most likely the king himself throughout, referring to himself in both the third and first persons. Therefore, we can imagine (at least Gunkel does) that the psalm would have been sung by the king at his own enthronement. The king announces that God has set him up as ruler and has given him a decree declaring him to be God’s son (Psalm 2:6-7). Psalm 110, according to Gunkel, arguably shares a similar enthronement setting. Gunkel saw a situation “when the poet proclaims the divine selection of the ruler and the ruler’s priesthood” (Ibid.). We get in both of these psalms references to actual physical (ritual?) acts, such as anointing (Psalm 2:2, reference to God’s “anointed”), kissing the ruler’s feet (Ps. 2:12, RSV) and drinking from the spring (Ps. 110:7). There are several other psalms that were identified as referring to kingship and Gunkel and subsequent scholars have speculated on how these may have been used in a liturgical setting.
In my studies of the more liturgical Qumran texts and the biblical “royal/enthronement” psalms, I have noticed some surprising parallels between them that are impossible to ignore. The core themes that are repeated in many of these psalms are also found in the Qumran texts. Not that these texts are simply citing the psalms, nor are they obviously making interpretive commentary on them, but they seem to be re-using the theological themes for their own purposes. While the biblical psalms were arguably used in a liturgical setting that involved kingship or enthronement, the Qumran texts must have been used in some other setting, although it is clear that many were used liturgically as can be understood from the liturgical instructions given in the texts themselves. The Qumran community didn’t have kings, so why were they using kingship-related material liturgically? This question is among many that I am trying to answer in my research.
TT: David, this research sounds fascinating. I have already lots of questions! First, can you provide a list of the “enthronement psalms” for those who might want to read some of them?
David: Hermann Gunkel highlighted the following as “royal” and “enthronement” psalms, although subsequent scholars would later expand on these lists to varying degrees.
Royal: Psalms 2; 18; 20; 21; 45; 72; 101; 110; 132; 144:1-11; possibly 89:47-52
Enthronement: Pss. 47, 93, 95-99
TT: Second, I think that your guiding question about how the Qumran community is interpreting the Psalms sounds very interesting and I’d like to get more thoughts on the liturgical uses in a moment. For now, I’m thinking of the obvious uses of the Psalms in the NT as speaking prophetically about Jesus as how the interpretive tradition of the Psalms is developing in the Greek and Roman periods. Are there comparable non-liturgical uses of the Psalms at Qumran? How else are they being read by those at Qumran?
David: Unfortunately, I have not yet reached the point in my research in which I am seriously considering how the Psalms themselves were interpreted at Qumran in the way that you mention. We know that they had a significant interest in the Psalms — nearly 40 manuscripts containing Psalters/psalms. Interestingly, the Qumran Psalters (collections of psalms), vary significantly regarding which psalms they contain and in what order. While we can’t know for sure why these differences exist, the reason why I mention it is because some have speculated that at Qumran they deliberately ordered the Psalms differently from the Jerusalem mainstream in order to emphasize their differences in belief. There is a Pesher Psalms Scroll (4Q471) that interprets the psalms following an unorthodox order, but I have not yet had the opportunity to study much about it.
The above ideas demonstrate that, at least for the Qumran community (and perhaps for larger bodies of Jews), the canonical Psalter had not yet been completely fixed. The Qumran collections also include a number of psalms and other compositions that are not a part of our canon. One interesting piece that is added to some of the collections is called “David’s Compositions”, which tells about how King David composed over 4000 psalms to be used in Israel’s worship, and that these were all composed through prophecy, revealed by the Most High.
From what I’ve been able to understand, the Qumran community seemed very adept at taking themes in the Psalms and combining them into new compositions that applied more specifically to themselves. For example, in the Hodayot, as I’ve mentioned, there are many themes that most likely originally were associated with a royal figure (and that Christians would see as Messianic) in the Psalms, but in the Hodayot seem to be applied to a leader of the Qumran community. We can see that in some of the original psalm compositions that appear in Qumran Psalters (e.g. Tehillah of the Man of God, 4Q381), they seem to deliberately remove royal references when they utilize some of the different “royal” psalms. Of course, by this time the Davidic dynasty was long gone and the Priesthood had provided the principal leadership for the people.
As far as speculation regarding the Messiah, the topic seems to be a bit messy at Qumran. There are a number of different figures that we would likely see as “Messianic” described in different texts. As with the figure of Jesus, at Qumran these figures go far beyond simply the notion of an anointed king or priest — there are divine mediator figures, principal angels who fight in the eschatological battle, etc. Melchizedek is among these — It is hard to tell if they are working solely with the couple of biblical references we have (including Ps. 110) or if they had other sources, but the Melchizedek texts found at Qumran seem to consider Melchizedek to have been a human who was made divine, similar to Jesus. Various Qumran texts indicate a belief in two Messiahs — either one of Davidic and one of priestly origin, or sometimes one of Aaron and one of Israel (the latter pair may refer to the same as the former). Where there are both kingly and priestly Messiahs described, sometimes the priestly Messiah seems to be more highly esteemed than the kingly. I think this reflects sentiments in Judaism at the time, where the role of king had been diminished and the role of the High Priest exalted.
Overall, I think that we can see a pattern of the Qumran community taking the Psalms and applying them (even creating new Psalms) to their own exclusive community, and that their interpretation reflects both their beliefs as a sect and what was going on at the time in the broader Judahite community.
TT: What are some of the ritual or liturgical uses of the Psalms by the Qumran community? It sounds like they were reading and interpreting the Psalms in lots of different ways.
David: Most of the material we have seems to indicate that the liturgical practices at Qumran were generally the same as those commonly known for Judaism at the time. They focus on prayers at specific times, ritual purifications, covenant making and renewal, etc. They were likely using the Psalms in ways similar to other “Jews” at the time. However, what my research currently focuses on is liturgical texts that use themes from the Psalms, as I’ve described above. We don’t know exactly how some of these texts were used liturgically, but there are occasional ritual instructions given to the leader or to the congregation. For example, in Column V of 1QHa (Hodayot), we get the following directions: “Chant for the Instructor to fall down before God” in the context of passages that describe viewing God’s creation, joining the heavenly hosts, and being in the “assembly of the holy ones.” Although such instructions are few and brief, we get the idea that at some point these texts were used liturgically. Likewise, the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice are meant to be recited/performed on successive Sabbath commemorations, yet they describe a journey through the various regions of heaven, ascending to the throne of God. How were these things performed liturgically? Were they simply read? Were they acted out in some way? We don’t know. However, it is apparent, in my view, that they had this material that basically described (among other things) an ascent to heaven and enthronement there, and they were using it for ritual performances.
TT: You mentioned that some are actually removing or editing the “royal Psalms,” but also noted earlier that other texts indicate that the Qumran community was using these texts in rituals. How do you interpret these conflicts over these Psalms, or perhaps the “royal Psalms” specifically, and what do you make of the meaning of the ritual adaptations of them in a community that lacked a temple?
David: Yes, apparently there was some motivation to remove the “royal” references from the Psalms in some cases. When they use the themes from the royal psalms in other texts, references to the king are likewise absent. Contexts that were originally applied to the king are now apparently democratized to fit the Qumran community. It is not the king that (ritually) suffers pain and humiliation — now it is the leader of the sectarian community. It is not the king who is enthroned, it is the priestly instructor of the sect. I see these adaptations as comparable to what others were doing at the time, although perhaps more especially to be expected by a group which has separated itself from its peers in Jerusalem. Judah had lost its monarchy long before and their society now depended on the priesthood for leadership. Those reading and interpreting texts that contained royal references would understandably feel the need to move beyond the royal application and relate the message to their own situation. The lack of a physical temple didn’t seem to be much of a problem, as focus shifted to the paradigm of the spiritual/celestial temple, which was the ideal.