Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pondering the psalms

The psalms are the largest book in the Bible. Only 150 hymns, I once thought. I grew up with a hymn book that had over 800 hymns and though I don't use that book any more (more's the pity) I can still identify its shape and many hymns both number and words from memory. 800 hymns and their content was memorable - even though some were deservedly forgettable.  I knew little then of theological party and even less about theological poetry. One sensed that there were differences in style between 16th century communion hymns and evangelistic mission hymns from the 19th century. And at that innocent time, I did not know what detritus of colonialism and Christendom would fall into my hapless life. (To be fair, there have been some lovely things from Christendom fall my way too.)

The macro-structure of Job
Why are 150 poems so much harder to assimilate than 800? I am 1/3 complete (working on psalm 51 - there are 6,430 words from psalms 1-51 inclusive in the psalter) on a first draft of my planned 'book'. At 19,578 words, the psalms are only 2.5 times longer than Job (8,344 words), the largest single chunk of poetry I have ever taken on. But somehow Job fits into a pattern and the patterns in the psalter are much less easy to see. (Verbal summary from September here. Emerging comments and links to translations under constant refinement here.)
Fathoming the Psalter