Cast them out for their many crimes: reading the violent psalmist as part of Ancient Near Eastern legal culture

Van De Wiele, Tarah (2016) Cast them out for their many crimes: reading the violent psalmist as part of Ancient Near Eastern legal culture. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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The question this study has asked is, How does the psalmist craft the images of his enemies in the terms of law? In the process of answering, I address three major theses. The first thesis revolves around the observation that the lamenting psalmist tends to follow up his descriptions of the enemies’ wrongs with specific punishments. As this study argues, the psalmist’s muse for that wrong/punishment exchange is his own legal culture. The second thesis is that the psalmist’s calls for violent punishments of his enemies reflect legal norms in his external reality. This is proposed in direct response to the persistent scholarly assumption that the punishments invoked in these psalms are internally born of the psalmists’ fantasies, as well as being confined to that realm. I argue that the psalmist not only draws on legal-cultural punishment norms but in fact depends on their normative status in order to convey to his readers the nature of his enemies’ crimes. The third thesis is that the external reality in question is the ancient Near Eastern legal milieu of which biblical law is a part.

Chapter Three shows how the psalmist’s use of talionic language with reference to his enemies happens only when their behaviour is consistent with crimes punished in the “like for like” pattern elsewhere throughout ancient Near Eastern legal history. Chapter Four demonstrates that the psalmist’s description of his enemies as slanderers and as “those who reproach” is framed in a legal-cultural understanding of shame as a sanctioned — and necessary — form of punishment for these crimes. After establishing the primacy of orality in contract procedure, Chapter Five shows how the psalmist’s mouth-focussed punishments assume the nature of contract-making and breaking in ancient Near Eastern law.

Underlying these three theses is a theoretical critique of approaches to law in the psalms thus far, which have consistently assumed a definition of law that coheres with a contemporary Western understanding of law but diverges from that of the psalmist. I propose (in Chapter Two) that a definition of law guided by functional criteria, technical meaning, and the observation of norms, is the most fitting for an encounter with the psalmist’s own legal understanding. Taking this approach then allows this study to present the lamenting psalmist as a participant in a legal culture that extends far beyond the confines of the Pentateuch.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Crouch, C.L.
Keywords: Psalms, Hebrew Bible, Law, Crime, Punishment, Talion, Shame, Honour, Retribution, Theology, Law and Literature
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 37432
Depositing User: Van De Wiele, Tarah
Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2017 10:40
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2017 10:45

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