Jun 23, 2014

Weeping in the Psalms

David Bosworth had an interesting article in a recent issue of Vetus Testamentum related to weeping the Psalms. I have included his conclusions below.

"Within the Psalter, weeping is most often mentioned to accentuate the pain and misery of the speaker. Even in the psalms of praise, weeping underscores the speaker’s prior pain in contrast to present joy. Writers employ the motif of weeping to enlist the innate power of this non-verbal behavior within verbalized prayers. However, this motif is not commonly employed. Of forty-two psalms that may be categorized as individual petitions, weeping appears in only six of them (14%). Of sixteen communal petitions, weeping appears in only in three (19%). Taking all sixty-two petitions together, 14% include a reference to weeping. If weeping is a powerful attachment behavior that elicits empathy, why is it not verbalized in more psalms of petition? There are at least two possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive. First, poets may have preferred not to overuse the motif lest it lose its power by constant application. Second, because weeping is a powerful attachment behavior and tears can be faked, humans have ways of defending themselves from being easily manipulated or investing too deeply in caring for the weeper. If all the petitions included weeping, then they might provoke a negative reaction from their divine or human audiences.

"Although weeping may be used in a psalm to elicit sympathy, it may also be used to contrast past distress with present happiness in psalms of thanksgiving. Weeping appears in two of fifteen psalms of thanksgiving (13%). The motif also appears in Psalm 78 and 119, which are not categorized as petitions or thanksgivings. However the motif appears primarily in contexts of petition, and the immediate contexts of Pss 78:64; 119:28, 136 involve petition. Of the thirteen psalms that employ the motif of weeping, six (47%) occur in individual petitions, three (23%)in communal petitions, two in thanksgiving (15%) and two (15%) in psalms that are not characterized as petitions or thanksgivings (Psalm 78 and 119)."

David A. Bosworth, “Weeping in the Psalms,” Vetus Testamentum 62 (2013): 45–46

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