Three weeks ago I posted about some of my essays that had just been published. One of these was an essay entitled: “A Psalm against David? A Canonical Reading of Psalm 51 as a Critique of David’s Inadequate Repentance in 2 Samuel 12.”
It is published as chapter 2 in Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, ed. by Robbie F. Castleman, Darian R. Lockett, and Stephen O. Presley (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 26–45.
At the time I didn’t have a copy of the published essay to post.
The essay is now ready, and may be downloaded here, for those who are interested.
Below is an explanation of what I was trying to accomplish in the essay, adapted from my previous posts on the subject (including one I wrote when I was about to present it at a conference).
The Argument of the Essay
I’ve always prized Psalm 51 as an amazing articulation of the meaning of repentance; and it is a favorite and valued psalm for many Christians.
Although the superscription links it to David’s confrontation by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 over his adultery with Bathsheba, I had the sense that the traditional reading of this psalm as David’s prayer of confession did not fit the actual story in 2 Samuel. This came from teaching both the psalm and the Samuel narrative over many years (in different courses).
I therefore decided to read Psalm 51 carefully in light of the narrative of David’s sin and confession to see what I could come up with.
Since psalms superscriptions are not original to the psalms, but inserted by later editors (I give evidence for this in the essay), I propose that we take the superscription to Psalm 51 as a (divinely inspired) lectionary suggestion for reading the psalm together with the 2 Samuel narrative.
The result of doing this, I argue, is that the psalm ends up functioning as a critique of David’s superficial “repentance” in 2 Samuel 12.
My essay, therefore, challenges the naive, idealistic reading of the figure of David often found in the evangelical church (but then anyone who reads 1-2 Samuel with their eyes open would be disabused of this ideal picture anyway).
The essay is, most fundamentally, my attempt to take the authority of Scripture seriously (regarding both Psalm 51 and 2 Samuel 12 as divinely inspired), with eyes wide open to the complexity of this divinely inspired Scripture, asking what the implications might be for Christians reading these texts.
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