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Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically

ISBN: 9781441252906



The Psalms are the most-read part of the Old Testament, but their importance for ethics has often been overlooked. However, the Psalms offer some of the most potent ethical instruction in the Bible. In this volume, renowned Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham examines the source of the Psalms’ power, reflects on their main ethical themes, and shows how they function as prayers that change us. Wenham makes an important contribution to biblical scholarship and breaks new ground in discussions of Old Testament ethics, yet he writes accessibly, making this book invaluable for students in Old Testament or ethics courses, scholars, and pastors alike.

The Logos Bible Software edition of Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically is designed to encourage and stimulate your study and understanding of the Bible. Scripture passages link directly to your English translations and original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say about interpreting the Bible.

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Key Features

  • Applies modern insights about the dissemination of sacred texts in antiquity to the Psalter
  • Outlines the ethics implied and taught by the psalms
  • Compares the teaching of the psalms with that of the laws in the Pentateuch


  • Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms
  • Critical Approaches to the Psalms
  • The Psalter as an Anthology to Be Memorized
  • The Unique Claims of Prayed Ethics
  • The Concept of the Law in the Psalms
  • Laws in the Psalter
  • Narrative Law in the Psalter
  • Virtues and Vices in the Psalter
  • Appeals for Divine Intervention
  • The Ethic of the Psalms and the New Testament

Top Highlights

“This division of the Psalter into five books brings to mind the Pentateuch and suggests that the Psalter itself should be seen as a kind of law.” (Page 33)

“As we have already observed, a memorized text has a peculiarly character-forming effect on the memorizer. The text becomes part of his character; he lives in it and lives it out.” (Page 53)

“This pan-Davidic approach was common among Christians as well as Jews for many centuries” (Page 28)

“This dual-track approach needs to be borne in mind as we examine the ethical content of the psalms. Very often the psalmists are speaking of ideals that they know they fall short of, but that does not inhibit them from asserting such ideals. This mixture of idealism and realism pervades the Psalter. The psalmists affirm both their love for God and his law and their hatred of sin. Although this means that the psalmists are righteous in comparison to the wicked, who ignore God and despise his law, it does not mean that the psalmists see themselves as perfect or righteous in an absolute sense.” (Page 95)

“The function of the acrostic in Hebrew poetry has been much discussed. Clearly, it is an aid to memorization, and it also displays the poet’s ingenuity. But it is also helps to underline the message of a poem. By going through the whole alphabet systematically, it conveys the idea of totality or completeness.” (Page 82)

Praise for the Print Edition

In Torah as Story Gordon Wenham showed how biblical narrative texts, little used by ethicists, can inform Christian moral teaching. Here he applies the same idea to the Psalms, equally seldom used in building a biblical ethics. He shows the huge potential of the Psalter to shape our moral insight.

John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture, University of Oxford

Wenham charts a fresh new course in studying the Psalms, asking readers to go beyond simply using them haphazardly in worship contexts as songs. Rather, Wenham urges us to appropriate the Psalms at a deeper level as a means of instruction (Torah), full of doctrine and ethical guidelines for life. This book is a rich delight, and I heartily recommend it to the scholar, pastor, and layperson alike.

David M. Howard Jr., professor of Old Testament, Bethel Seminary

While the Psalms are a regular source of our thinking about theology, prayer, and worship, less attention has been given to what they have to say to guide our ethics. That gap has now been filled by Gordon Wenham’s careful reading of the Psalter to uncover its various moral voices. With particular attention to the way the law is taken up in the Psalms and to the ethics of prayer, Wenham identifies features of the Psalter that have to do with justice, compassion, the poor, violence and retribution, and the capacity for these prayers to commit the one praying to various perspectives and modes of behavior. And major attention is given to how the Psalter’s theology and ethic reverberate throughout the New Testament. An important contribution to both ethics and our insightful reading of the Psalms.

Patrick D. Miller, Charles T. Haley Professor of Old Testament Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

As increasing scholarly attention is given to Old Testament ethics, Gordon Wenham has become one of our most reliable guides. Having already directed attention to the neglected area of narrative texts and their moral significance, he now gives us a detailed treatment of the Psalms and their importance for Old Testament ethics. He makes such a clear case for the ethical centrality of Israel’s Psalter that we wonder how so many before him failed to see the ways in which ethics are shaped by the prayers and liturgies of a worshiping community. We are deeply in his debt.

Bruce C. Birch, emeritus professor of biblical theology, Wesley Theological Seminary

After publications on how to appropriate Old Testament law and narrative for ethics, Wenham turns his attention to the Psalter. He embeds its ethical impact in the liturgy, explores its particular contribution to ethical formation, and connects its views with the rest of the biblical canon. This is a welcome and wonderfully profound and expansive study of a neglected area in the field of Old Testament ethics.

M. Daniel Carroll R., distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

Product Details

  • Title: Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically
  • Author: Gordon J. Wenham
  • Series: Studies in Theological Interpretation
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2012
  • Pages: 256
Gordon J. Wenham

Gordon J. Wenham (1943–) is recognized as an expert on the Pentateuch. He studied theology at Cambridge University and went on to do Old Testament research at King’s College, London. He also spent time at Harvard University and in Jerusalem at the Ecole Biblique and the Hebrew University. Along with currently teaching Old Testament at Trinity College, Wenham leads Trinity’s pilgrimages and study tours to the Holy Land. He has held teaching positions and served as visiting lecturer at several institutions around the world.

From 1995 to 2005, Wenham was Professor of Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire, where he now holds the title Professor Emeritis. Wenham also taught Old Testament at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Some of Wenham’s publications include the volume on Genesis in Word Biblical Commentary, the Numbers volume in the Tyndale Commentaries, the Pentatech volume of Exploring the Old Testament, and the volume on Leviticus in The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament.


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