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MENSAH Michael Kodzo

«Converti pedes meos ad testimonia tua» (Ps 119,59)
Torah in the Fifth Book of the Psalter

Mod.: R.D. Gianguerrino BARBIERO

Notwithstanding recent interest in the theme of Torah at the opening of the MT Psalter, not much currently exists, by way of publications, on the said theme especially with reference to the end of the Psalter. While some scholarship has been dedicated to Ps 119, the question of the thematic significance of this psalm for the reading of the Fifth Book as a whole, remains largely unexamined, probably due to the charge that the psalm is “a nonsensical composition”, lacking both coherence and a theme. Undoubtedly, without a clear vision of the message of Ps 119, the question of the theme of Torah at the end of the Psalter remains at best uncertain. This dissertation thus sets out to resolve the problem of the structural and the thematic coherence of Ps 119 as a means of arriving at some definite response to the question of the Torah theme in the Fifth Book of the MT Psalter. The study moreover considers, in addition to Ps 119, other psalms, which show interest in the theme of Torah, namely Pss 111; 147, as a means of examining the wider context of the said theme in this last Book.

A number of affirmations are thus put forward by the study. Firstly, Psalms, 111 and 147, show marked interest in the theme of Torah. Ps 111 develops the idea of Torah as related to YHWH’s self-revelation to Israel (Ps 111,4; Ex 34,6). This finds expression both in YHWH’s covenant works and in the command to obey his Torah. In Ps 147 however, the idea of Torah extends beyond the revelation of Torah to Israel. Torah is also revealed in nature, widely accessible to all, and yet rejected by the nations. In either of the above Psalms, the theme of Torah, following a lectio continua, is developed further in the adjoining psalms, such that Torah includes the consideration of the poor and the chastisement of the wicked in Ps 112, while the two dimensions of Torah, in creation and in history are equally illustrated across the Psalm group 146–150.

In the case of Ps 119, the psalm’s twenty-two strophes reveal a six-canto thematic structure. The introduction (vv. 1-16) presents the problem of the “two ways”, a problem also present in Ps 1. In Canto 2 (vv. 17-48), the poem deals with the question of the choice (v. 30) between these two ways. The Psalmist is however only capable of the right choice if he receives YHWH’s instruction, which is Torah. In Canto 3 (vv. 49-88), the core message of the psalm is reached. The psalmist reflects on his way and admits his personal error (v. 67). He is however ready to accept YHWH’s chastisement as a pedagogical tool (vv. 71.75). In Canto 4 (Ps 119,89-128) the Psalmist’s return to YHWH’s statutes, reiterated by a solemn oath (v. 106). The process of return complete, the psalmist now prays that his verbal sacrifice may be acceptable to YHWH (v. 108). Canto 5 (vv. 129-160) constitutes the final part of the main body of the Psalm, where the Psalmist confesses that the quintessence of Torah is YHWH’s covenant love and faithfulness (v. 160). The conclusion of the Psalm is Canto 6 (vv. 161-176). If the psalm began with the ideal of the blessedness of the perfect (v. 1), it equally acknowledges the reality of the Psalmist who strays like a lost sheep (v. 176).

The above leads us to re-affirm a concentric organisation of the Fifth Book similar to the First Book, in which a Torah psalm (Pss 19; 119) is collocated at the centre of a group of psalms with a liturgical frame (Pss 15–24; 113–118; 120–134). The return to YHWH’s statutes (Ps 119,59) would then constitute the thematic key at the heart of the Fifth Book of the Psalter. Moreover, Ps 119 becomes the focus to which the lectio continua at the beginning of the Psalter returns. If Torah is the key to the opening of the Psalter, it is also the key to its closing.