Psalm 40 and the “New Covenant” of Jeremiah 31?

Contextualizing the Legal Anthropology of a Liturgical Text

In: Vetus Testamentum
Phillip M. Lasater Worcester College, University of Oxford Oxford UK

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This paper discusses how Ps 40 reflects a widely attested and complex discourse on how legalities relate to the human self—a discourse involving matters such as law’s relation to human flourishing and perfectibility (e.g., Deut 30:6–14; Jer 31:31–34; Ps 19; Wis 6 and 9; Philo; for others views of perfectibility, cf. Gen 6:5; 8:21; Qoh 9:3). Psalm 40 combines praise and lament, with divine law as a key factor in this liturgical text’s logic. After clarifying literary-historical and form-critical issues in studies of Ps 40, it will be argued that whether or not there is a literary relationship to Jer 31, these texts display divergent logic on law’s relationship to human flourishing. The paper contributes to scholarly understanding of legal discourse and lament in Jewish antiquity.

Legalities in Jewish antiquity recurringly had their place in considerations of moral selfhood, the self’s formation, and the extent to which the self is perfectible. One finds affirmations of law’s role in perfecting the self, as well as reserved or critical stances on the matter. Both, however, presuppose the same sort of question, namely, What does law promise the self?

Psalm 40 is best understood in this intellectual context, but some priorities in form-critical scholarship have made the point unnecessarily hard to see. Ill-conceived, or sometimes ideological, premises concerning form have encouraged scholars to presume that the text is incoherent and in need of repair, as well as that the text has little or nothing to say about how law relates to selfhood. This paper challenges scholarship’s division of Ps 40. It is a single text of two parts that fit together: one part praise, one part lament. Dividing it has tended to be based on problematic assumptions, which have fostered competing recreations of its original shape. In this liturgical text, praise and lament work together theoretically, literarily, and theologically. Psalm 40 portrays deliverance being followed by a crisis. It has a cluster of linguistic and conceptual resemblances to other texts; resemblances include writing on the heart; subject formation; perfection; and law. Psalm 40 is a critical or reserved voice in a discussion of how legalities relate to the self. It invites comparison with texts in the book of Jeremiah about law as a way to perfect the self (esp. Jer 30–33). Writing has permanent effects in Jer 31, but not in Ps 40. Whether or not there is a direct literary link between these two texts, they display divergent logic on law’s relation to human flourishing, which helps us differentiate between viewpoints in antiquity. After situating these issues of law and self within an ancient, multifaceted discourse (section 1), I turn to a study of Ps 40 (sections 2 and 3). It is an important text for understanding not only how lament worked on behalf of the self, but also for understanding a range of viewpoints on what law offers the self.

1 Specifying the Concept of Law: Issues of Perfection and Perfectibility

Law can and often does work as a conduit of power, especially in a state framework. But neither a state, nor the workings of power, nor texts are essential to law.1 Legalities can be about aspiration, promise, and meaning; they can enable what it means to fulfill a certain kind of role or what it means to be a certain kind of being (i.e., law and nature).2 Being perfected means that x, given the kind of thing x is, fulfills what is involved in being x. Hence, perfection is about positively being this or that.3 Such aspects of law are pertinent in ancient depictions of what law offers the moral self.

It helps at this point to have a sense of the bigger picture. That picture comes into focus by contextualizing Psalm 40 in relation to conceptions of law and expectations surrounding law in Jewish antiquity.

1.1 Texts Linking Law to Moral Selves, Their Capacities, and Those Capacities’ Right Formation

Law in Jewish antiquity was related to notions of forming the self and considering its capacity for perfection, which law may help bring about. Law’s role in properly forming the self is attested in a range of texts from the Roman and Hellenistic periods and earlier; we ought not assume that this mode of legal reflection is a particularly “Greek” mode (e.g., Philo’s Abr, 2–5, 276; Mos 1.162; 1QS;4 OG Ben Sira 21:3; Ps 19; 86:11; Deut 30:6–14). Space constraints limit us to one example for now.

1.2 Wisdom of Solomon

It seems that scholarship has neglected5 the book of Wisdom’s legal interests, a topic that deserves fuller study in its own right.6 Wisdom of Solomon 6:15–20 thematizes law’s relation to self-formation and -perfection (τελειότης, 6:15).7 The figure of Solomon speaks of φρόνησις (“rationality”) ethically becoming what it needs to be, which entails an intellectual and practical process (v. 15, ἐνθυμέω, “to reflect”) that involves tutoring one’s desire (ἡ ἐπιθυμία, vv. 17, 20) by orienting desire toward wisdom. Solomon identifies “love” not only as “care for paideia,” but also as “the keeping of [wisdom’s] laws” (τήρησις νόμων αὐτῆς). Legal observance correlates with a divinizing of the self: “engaging laws is confirmation of immortality,” which “makes” one “near God” (vv. 18–19, ἀφθαρσία δὲ ἐγγὺς εἶναι ποιεῖ θεοῦ).8 Self-formation and -perfection are included in law’s poetics, i.e., its generative capacity to make things one way rather than another.

A similar idea is in Wis 9:4–6, where at least part of Solomon’s rationale in asking for divine wisdom seems to be its capacity to elevate his “understanding” (σύνεσις) of “judgment and laws” (κρίσεως καὶ νόμων; see v. 5). Legalities are involved in bringing the soul to work as it ought to work (see also v. 3, ἐν εὐθύτητι ψυχῆς κρίσιν κρίνῃ; and note the pre-Sinai focus of 10:1–14; cf. Philo).9 Put differently, the self’s formation is conceptualized legally; also, law’s place amid this formation is a reminder that, in the Hellenistic or early-Roman period, law was understood as requiring a process or development rather than a static moment. It is the process of a subject’s becoming more fully what it ought to be.

To be sure, though, not all texts have the same outlook on what law promises the self. Part of what I aim to do in this paper is to highlight a range of perspectives on what was a complex issue.10

2 Psalm 40’s Scribal and Intellectual Context

Psalm 40 is relevant to the wider discourse. Below, I will examine its presentation of law in relation to the self in comparison with Jer 31 (section 3). But there is a prior question of how to read Ps 40. A number of scholars treat it as a composite text whose separate parts are to be read on their own.11 The psalm does not constitute a unit, but multiple units are unrelated to each other in their logic. If we accept this approach, it could render moot the comparison I offer. How plausible are the decisions to decompose the text? They stem from expectations about form—what form is presumed to do and to be. It is thus necessary and not a detour to ask whether we should take seriously the ideas about form that have inspired scholarly decompositions of Ps 40. Doing so establishes that the burden of proof must be shifted to rest on anyone who wishes to say that this text’s sub-units fail to amount to a logically intact, readable literary work.

2.1 The Shape of Psalm 40 (MT): a Hint at Its Composite Nature?

In the wake of form-criticism, Ps 40 has challenged scholars. Interpreters struggle with how to read it: is it really two or more separate compositions, or is it readable as one coherent text?12 As is well known, Ps 70 is very similar to Ps 40:14–18. According to Hans-Joachim Kraus, this fact means that “We have to begin with the assumption” that Ps 40 is comprised of two separate psalms that should be read separately; he goes so far as saying, “there is no inducement for joining the two entities.”13 Kraus’s verdict is striking. By saying there is “no inducement” for joining the “two entities” of Ps 40, his position is basically an assertion that it should not exist. But the psalm does exist, and it exists as a so-called “mixed” form in both MT and OG. Our evidence from ancient Jewish scribal contexts suggests that text production involved reusing, repurposing, and rewriting pieces of tradition in the making of new texts. Accordingly, if an ancient text might contain diverse components, a more historically grounded starting point is to try accepting the text as it stands in order to discern its internal logic rather than dismissing its existence.

Evaluations of Ps 40 such as Kraus’s are understandable in relation to operative, scholarly conceptions of form—conceptions that have been taken to warrant reconstructing texts to reflect their prior or original shape. To consider these conceptions requires a critique of scholarship.

2.1.1 Literary Form Corresponds to Action

One conception of psalmic form is that it points to concrete socio-historical scenarios with attendant practices or modes of action (“Sitz im Leben”).14 From this angle, it can make sense to suppose that, like practices, forms are and must be clearly differentiated from one another (e.g., a practice like sharpening a pencil is different from selecting a piece of paper, and both are different from, say, driving a car). Working from this perspective, Hermann Gunkel posited in 1933 that psalmic forms were originally “fully pure and simple” (“völlig rein und einfach”), marked by the conventional or traditional (“herkömmlich”) domain of ritual practices.15 This description of origins was part of an evolutionary theory. A later stage involved freer composition that dovetailed with a shift away from ritual and toward an individualizing of religion with a more prophetic, “spiritual poetry”—the “real treasure of the Psalter,” according to Gunkel (“die ‘geistliche Dichtung’, der eigentliche Schatz des Psalters”).16 As he saw Ps 40, it consists of three separable forms for distinct activities: vv. 1–12 are a thanksgiving song of the individual; v. 13 is a fragment of an individual’s lament against illness; and vv. 14–18 are another, secondary lament.17

Nearly twenty years later, Sigmund Mowinckel rejected Gunkel’s evolutionary theory about liberation from ritual while maintaining a view that form corresponds concretely to cultic practices.18 Seeing Ps 40 as a mixture, he too reconstructed the earlier pieces within it and arrived at a result different from Gunkel’s. In his view, it has two separable components. The first is a thanksgiving psalm of the individual with testimony about past experience; the second deals with a current state of distress.19 He assessed the mixed text as follows: “we have now no idea how these two parts were presented within the framework of the ritual, whether they correspond to different liturgical parts accompanied by specific actions, for instance different parts of the sacrificial ritual, and we have no clue to justify any definite guess about it.”20

Seeing mixtures of things that could more practically be kept separate proved puzzling for this approach to literary form. The reason is that this conception of form is, ultimately, about workability. How can lament and praise be intertwined in practice to this degree? If texts fail to show themselves workable, so the reasoning goes, it may well warrant reconstructing the text so that it is more doable. Without denying that psalmic texts may indeed point to certain practices, it is not clear that we should link practices with form per se.

2.1.2 Literary Form Corresponds to Thought

Looking back on this debate about individualism and the cult, Claus Westermann in 1977 sensed that basic assumptions about form were ill grounded. Granting Gunkel and Mowinckel’s claim that psalmic texts can have backgrounds in practice, Westermann said that, even if that had been the case, the psalms have been detached from, and preserved without, whatever concrete scenarios and practices originally generated them. His point was that this fact needs to impact how we understand form and formal diversity. He concluded that psalmic forms are theological categories.21 Furthermore, he suggests earlier scholars’ assumption of a tight link to practice is part of what lay behind an artificially large number of postulated, fine-grained forms that, supposedly, could really be implemented. For Westermann, there are two forms. There is praise, and there is lament, the two of which are, in the end, inseparable. Even in Ps 88, an aspiration to “praise” (ידה) is in view (v. 11, אִם־רְפָאִים יָקוּמוּ יוֹדוּךָ). Forms are elastic, liturgical emphases differentiated and conceptualized.

Compatible with this approach is the work of Terence Cave, a scholar of French literature who holds that form is a matter of perception and cognition. Specifically, he calls it an “affordance,” which is a term taken from cognitive science and refined in philosophy. It indicates ways that an environment furnishes possibilities for the living things within it, including possibilities of adaptation and knowledge.22 As such, one could say that form is related to the capacity to recognize, understand, and differentiate (i.e., grasping something as a form of x but not y); form is integral to the fit between human minds and the world.23 This less practice-oriented notion of form calls to mind the work of literary critic Caroline Levine. Conversant with Michel Foucault, whose notion of power is “productive” or practical, Levine holds that Foucault “was wrong to imagine that … forms converge in massive regimes of coordinated power.”24 Allowing clearer differentiation between forms and practices, she describes form as “the orders that we ourselves impose,” which can be spatial, temporal, and more, expanding it into varieties of experience given a shape and configuration.25 Forms, moreover, can “overlap and intersect”—something that the practice-oriented conception of form struggled to imagine.26

By using the history of research as a lens for seeing how scholars have portrayed the nature of form, we have reason to resist the proclivity to reconstruct Ps 40. Questionable assumptions about form have driven the impetus to reconstruct this text, where, to borrow Levine’s words, we have forms overlapping and intersecting in a sophisticated way.

2.2 4Q160 as a Case of Rewriting Which Presupposes the Unity of Psalm 40?

In the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, the reception and transmission of liturgical texts suggests an unbounded, multi-punctual, even supra- textual understanding of psalms.27 A hint that the understanding could be supra-textual is that “prophecy” (נבואה) as such indicated nothing about textuality or even speech, and 11QPsa roots תהלים (“praises, psalms”) and שיר (“song”) in נבואה (“prophecy”; 27.2–11, here l. 11; and see, e.g., 1 Sam 10:1–6, where prophecy is a wordless activity that consists of contact with divine רוח and the use of musical instruments). David’s activity of inscribing (כתב) things like תהלים and שירים hardly means they were thought to be intrinsically textual; to the contrary, David is celebrated for his skill (חכם) and prolificness in giving such things written form. At the same time, the Scrolls show that written form could be provisional. Texts were rethought and rewritten. This rethinking and rewriting may have happened because what was written sometimes needed to be updated to connect with more immediate concerns and/or refined in order more fully to capture what was understood to be beyond this or that text with this or that assemblage of inscribed words.28

2.2.1 Evidence of Texts’ Provisional Standing in the Second Temple Period

An example of such scribal practice is the so-called Samuel Apocryphon (4Q160; 8 fragments), dated paleographically to the 2nd century BCE. Alex Jassen argues that 4Q160 is the work of a scribe whose base texts included something like MT’s Ps 40, with praise and lament fused.29 Like Ps 40, 4Q160 describes as problematic the prospect that someone would “hide” (כחד, frag. 1, ll. 5–6) from others what pertains to God (Ps 40:11, לא כחדתי חסדך ואמתך לקהל רב). And it uses distinctive phrasing documented otherwise only in Ps 40 (fr. 4, line 3, מטיט יון. cf. MT’s מטיט היון),30 alongside talk of being positioned on a סלע, “rock” (cf. 40:3). This literary overlap involves similar ideas, unusual phrasing, and a wider cluster of terms evincing lexical and conceptual continuity. However, there is also scribal creativity. 4Q160 is best described as a rewriting of received text (≠ rewritten Bible; also different from “exegesis”). Nonetheless, the way this scribe rewrote the psalm might imply something about the psalmic version which he knew. Fragment 4, ll. 2–3, are notable in this respect.

First, these lines take up what in Ps 40 is a 1st person singular perspective and remake it into a 3rd person plural perspective.31 Importantly, the mode of speech in 4Q160 is petition; at this point in MT Ps 40, it is praise. Second, at the damaged spot preceding the opening word of line 2, Florentino Martínez, Eibert Tigchelaar, and Jassen agree on restoring a yod-prefix, which yields a 3rd person plural niphal verb יִקָּווּ. The scribe here engaged in semantic transformation while preserving, where possible, the consonants in the text of Ps 40:2 (I קוה, “to hope” has become II קוה, “to assemble”; cf. Jer 3:17, with II קוה + שררות לבם הרע).32 The psalm’s opening, indicative verb (קוה קויתי, “I really hoped”) is rendered anew as a volitionally charged yiqtol, “may they be gathered.” Third, what had been the psalmist’s description of his own hope thus becomes a petition for others to be assembled. God is told to bring up (hiphil עלה; also Ps 40:3) these others out of “miry mud” (מטיט יון) and give them access to a “rock” (hiphil עמד < hiphil קום in Ps 40:3). Additionally, God is petitioned to be “help” (l. 2, עזרה) for these unnamed, afflicted others, which ostensibly repurposes, and fronts, the motif of divine “help” for the psalmist from the complaint section of Ps 40 (vv. 14, 18, עזרה).33

These terminological and motivic observations in the early lines of 4Q160 could suggest that the scribe knew a version of Ps 40 consisting of praise and lament sections, with the lament mode fronted in this scribe’s rewriting. If that is true, our earliest evidence of reception calls into question confident, reconstructive efforts to de-compose Ps 40 into a praise and a lament that have nothing to do with each other. Conversely, there is no evidence for thinking that Ps 40 is a composite of praise and lament texts unrelated in their logic. The basis for dividing it tends to be little more than readers’ own disappointed expectations around form.

2.2.2 Psalm 40’s Structure and Logic

Apparently, our earliest manuscript evidence in the Scrolls points to a version of Ps 40 already containing two modes of prayer. Here is my proposal: The idea that the two modes must be divided and read as separate texts is not compelling. Whatever prehistory one surmises the psalm to have had, 4Q160 and MT support understanding what we have as a narrative of praise with lament (i.e., an account whose arch has a before and after).34 It has two main parts.

The first part (vv. 2–11) is praise from a largely retrospective viewpoint. A past crisis, with its resolution, is in view (vv. 2–3). In liturgical texts and beyond, the recurring use of בור, “pit,” as a domain removed from the living, or from God as the principle of life, invites us to understand vv. 2–3 as celebrating a rescue from death.35 The rescue is framed as exhibiting divine “inclination” (נטה) and “thought” (חשׁב) toward the psalmist, a motif that brackets the psalm in a contrasting way (see vv. 2, 6, 18). Divine attentiveness is intact at first, but lacking at the end. Initially, the intactness of divine attention involves divinely rooted procedures and elements applied to the psalmist’s body: the “feet” (v. 3); the “mouth” (v. 4; also “lips,” v. 10); the “ears” (v. 7); and the “innards, guts” (v. 9, *מֵעַיִם).36 In particular, the לב, “heart” is part of this innards motif and appears in both praise and lament portions (vv. 11, 13). It is a symbolic conception of the body; words for body parts are not mainly about body parts as body parts.37 They indicate affective, volitional, and intellectual faculties or capacities, often subject to normative evaluations.38 This point helps explain why corporeal terms were presented as a domain of law (v. 9). Furthermore, like the idea of divine attentiveness, the innards are portrayed in contrasting ways: first in a state of wellbeing and second as the agent in forsaking the psalmist. In this way, Ps 40 reflects questions about perfection and the self’s perfectibility.

The second part (vv. 12–18) corresponds to what precedes it, but shifts into lament and petition. It looks back on the scenario of the first half that had warranted praise, but responds to a disconnect from it, introduced with, “As for you, O Yhwh” (v. 12, אתה יהוה). Wellbeing gave way to trouble. The divine “compassion” and faithfulness (חסד) that had enabled deliverance from death are now lacking. Continuing the corporeal motifs, the psalmist is suddenly unable to “see” (v. 13); his לב forsook him (v. 13, ולבי עזבני); enemies target his נפש (v. 15); and his concluding self-assessment is a state of impoverishment (v. 18, ואני עני ואביון). As a central term in notions of selfhood and moral formation, the same לב whose usage in v. 11 communicated cohesion between the psalmist and Yhwh comes to communicate a sort of alienation wrought by the לב itself.39 The psalmist’s moral equipment “broke bad,” so to speak. The story-like dimension thematized in the psalm is the context for understanding its outlook on the self and its relation to divine law. We read of perfection and its loss. A correspondence of wellbeing and a lack thereof is part of this psalm’s conceptual, organizing principle in two parts which, I would add, showcases the dynamics of parallelism beyond individual lines.40

3 Selfhood and Perfection in Psalm 40

Psalm 40’s depiction of the self is developed through corporeal terms used symbolically. Such symbolic conceptions of the body are well attested elsewhere. We could, for instance, compare Philo of Alexandria’s 39 uses of καρδία, which are rarely used physiologically (only Leg. 1:59; Prov 2:17). Throughout his corpus, καρδία mostly has to do with the soul and virtue, with other noticeable usages in the context of creation theology.41

Similarly, Ps 40 links the moral self’s condition to considerations of the לב (v. 11; cf. v. 13), as well as the feet (v. 3), eyes (v. 4; cf. v. 13), ears (v. 7), guts (v. 9), and the נפש or “soul” (v. 15). The way this body motif develops points to reflexive consideration about the function of human faculties in the wake of the rescue in v. 3, which also introduces body imagary. What kind of consequences did the rescue have? What did this activity involve (note v. 8–9, מגלת־ספר and תורה)? What might it mean for perfectibility? Particularly interesting is how the psalm’s portrayal of selfhood relates to law. In Philo and elsewhere, alignment with νόμος is a way to perfect the self (cf. also Ps 86:11; Jer 31:31–34; etc.).42 For example, in several places, Philo approaches perfection and dispassion (ἡ ἀπάθεια, i.e., a goal in self formation) as legally framed ideas (Laws 4:83, 93; Alleg. 2:100, 102; 3:131; differently on Jacob and Esau, see The Worse is Wont 46). Although it can be hard to determine whether, apart from death, Philo thinks perfection is attainable or more of an aspiration, its legal connection is clear.43 By comparison, law’s relation to perfection is complicated in Ps 40. It reflects such issues in the way it presents the body as a receptacle of revelation.

3.1 Divine Actions on the Psalmist’s Body

Psalm 40’s structure suggests that divine procedures on the human body endow revelation upon the body, with temporary restorative effects. After establishing the psalmist’s feet on a rock, Yhwh in v. 4 is said to have placed “a new song” into someone’s mouth, equipping the figure to utter a divine or revelatory “song” (ויתן בפי שיר חדש). To my knowledge, no other text says a “new song” is “put” into one figure by some other; elsewhere, the assumption is that a new song is something singers can initiate.44 In Ps 40:4, the gift of שיר חדש seems viewed as though it impacts multiple people’s activity of “seeing, perceiving” (ראה) and “submitting, fearing” (ירא). Maybe it is understood to be oracular. The terminology of these people’s sight is about seeing rightly; later, for the prophet-like figure, seeing rightly is not the case (v. 13).

Whether or not one posits textual dependence, discussions of Ps 40 have identified conceptual and terminological overlap with texts in the Prophetic corpus. I will speak in terms of resemblances between texts. One conceptual resemblance is the imagery of “digging out” ears (v. 7, אזנים כרית לי). Some scholars associate it with Isa 50:4–11, where a servant figure is divinely instructed. This servant says Yhwh “arouses” or activates the servant’s ear so that he “hears” as those who are “taught” (v. 4, יעיר לי אזן). The ear’s arousal is seconded by Yhwh’s “opening” of it (v. 5, פתח לי אזן). A human faculty is thus prepared to receive revelation. Much the same can be said of the phrase גלה אזן in the Scrolls (e.g., CD 2:2–3; 1QHa 9:23, with ואני יצר החמר; cf. 1QM 10:11 where it applies to the angels).45 In Ps 40’s context of restoration, the metaphor of digging ears is a creation of openings that let ears function. Without this activity, they would not function as needed. Something unclear is whether the digging is an unclogging of ears that already exist or a making of new ears (i.e., analogous to forming a clay figurine; cf. 1QHa 9:23). The OG texts go in another direction (very few OG readings of Ps 39:7 have καταρτίζω + οὔς, “to furnish/restore ears” [only Ga and LaG; and miniscules 142, 156]; most readings, including Heb 10:5–7, have καταρτίζω + σῶμα, “to furnish/restore a body”).46 More clear is the function which the ears are supposed to fulfill in MT Ps 40. As in Isa 50, it is about receiving and embodying divine knowledge or instruction.

Another resemblance relevant to this discussion has to do with the figure’s “guts” (v. 9) and “heart” (vv. 11, 13). These terms for body parts, which normally are not visible to the eye,47 have received the most attention due to terminological and conceptual similarities with Jer 31:31–34. It is a text for which there is documented engagement in the Second Temple period; Ps 40, according to some scholars, belongs on a shortlist of documented texts engaging Jer 31.48

3.2 Torah as an Aspect of Selfhood: What Does Law Promise?

Psalm 40 stands among a range of texts that engage questions about moral agents’ capacity to submit to exterior authority, as well as what, if anything, can remedy disorderly inclinations of Judah’s לב. As argued by Thomas Krüger, Marc Brettler, Carol Newsom, and others, תורה in Jer 31 is an interiorized authority presented as that which remedies the impoverishments of human standing; תורה is a perfecting mechanism (cf. Ezek 36:27).49 The logic is that any gap between Judah’s moral selfhood and divine law is erased. I leave aside the debate of whether Jer 31 is compatible with,50 or opposed to,51 deuteronomic legal ideas (e.g., Deut 6:6–9; 11:18–20). My focus is as follows: Ps 40 seems to express uncertainty about law’s perfecting function. After affirming an interiorized תורה, the psalmist goes on to say his לב has forsaken him and concludes that he is impoverished (vv. 9, 18, ואני עני ואביון; cf. Gen 6:5; 8:21; and differently, Deut 30:11–14).

The psalmist’s focus on a specifically divine תורה is clear in v. 9, where תורה is qualified with a second-person suffix denoting Yhwh (v. 9, תורתך, “your תורה”). Here in vv. 8–9, Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger,52 as well as Konrad Schmid53 and Johannes Bremer,54 read Ps 40 as showing familiarity with the ברית חדשׁה-oracle in Jer 31, particularly its talk of תורה being engraved (כתב) into the moral self’s innards. Analogous as it is to something like “ensouled law” in Philo or Wisdom of Solomon, this metaphorical formulation about writing was rare. For this reason, it can be instructive for juxtaposing texts (cf. Jer 8:8; and 17:1, where Judah’s “sin” is כתוב, “engraved” and חרש, “inscribed” על לוח לבם). In its content, Ps 40:8–9 presents something along the lines of what Jer 31:31 calls a future “new covenant” for Israel and Judah (v. 31, “the days are coming”). Psalm 40 appears to individualize it. To be sure, the psalm does not use the descriptor ברית חדשה or διαθήκη καινή like one finds in CD 6:19; 8:21; and 20:12; Heb 8:8–12; 9:15; 12:24, and possibly 1QPHab 2:3. But the psalm does use a rare metaphor drawn from scribal practices where the human self is the medium of divine writing; in v. 9b, that writing is identified as Yhwh’s תורה, inviting us to understand the writer in v. 9a as Yhwh (God’s “writing on the heart” is only in Jer 31:33; cf. Prov 3:3; 7:3, where the subject is human; without the key use of כתב, see Deut 6:6–9; 11:18–20).55

These texts both resemble and differ from one another.

First, one might ask how the Jeremiah oracle’s internalized instruction compares to the “writing” of Ps 40:8. Could these metaphorical texts be about entirely different things, so that comparing the psalm’s content with Jer 31 is unwarranted?56 After all, מגלת ספר is not used in the new covenant oracle. Maybe מגלת ספר is not part of the psalmist’s self at all. Instead, maybe במגלת ספר כתוב עלי reflects a practice where someone brought to the temple a material text about themselves as a substitute for sacrifice (cf. the preposition in OG Ps 39:8, ἐν κεφαλίδι βιβλίου γέγραπται περὶ ἐμοῦ).57 This explanation has been influential. Manfred Oeming translates MT 40:8 as, “Siehe, ich komme mit einer Buchrolle, geschrieben über mich.”58 Working with the assumption discussed earlier that form corresponds to modes of action, Klaus Seybold in 2011 declared it “obvious” that Ps 40 consists of three, previously independent texts rooted in the actual practices of the psalmist, whose “scrolls” concerning himself include the thanksgiving of vv. 6–12 and an earlier lament of vv. 14–18 (cf. Ps 70).59 Those, in Seybold’s view, were his temple scrolls.60 This reading of Ps 40:8 is chiefly indebted to Hans-Jürgen Hermisson’s 1965 book Sprache und Ritus im altisraelitischen Kult, where he proposes it based on alleged parallels in inscriptions from Asia Minor. Yet he specifies no parallel. He shares in a footnote that he learned of this interpretive option from New Testament scholar Günther Bornkamm, whose paper had appeared in a 1964 Festschrift.61 In similar fashion, Bornkamm himself specified no inscriptions.62 But he did cite Ps 40:8 alongside a 1913 dissertation about “Volksreligion” in Lydia, Phrygia, and Knidos during the Roman imperial period—i.e., a study not about psalms at all.63 Kraus’s commentary approvingly cites Hermisson, likewise claiming but not specifying any particular parallel in Asia Minor.64 Furthermore, a 2014 Psalms commentary cites only Kraus on this point, while enlarging the claim, so that the purported parallels are said to cover “the ancient Near East and Asia Minor”; fitting the pattern, no parallels are specified.65 This pattern on its own is reason to question Bornkamm and Hermisson’s reading of Ps 40:8. The theory seems free of exactly the sort of facts it would rely on for garnering analytical seriousness, leaving it instead with a semblance of seriousness. And soberingly, its semblance of seriousness has been a basis for decomposing the actual text, with the result that rival, hypothetical versions of Ps 40 which exist strictly in individual scholars’ minds became the focus in historical- critical research.

But this reading faces other difficulties too, such as the meaning of the preposition על (“on; about, concerning”). For the phrase כתב על (≈ passive כתוב על), Bornkamm and Hermisson depend on על meaning “about, concerning,” so that the preposition introduces the subject matter of a text that is extrinsic to the psalmist. While syntactically possible, this usage is uncommon for the widely distributed formulation כתב על. Within the Hebrew Bible’s usage, על usually introduces not a text’s subject matter, but the textual medium itself (i.e., tablets; stones; scrolls; doorposts; Israel and Judah’s לב; etc.; of some 97 usages, 3 times על means “about, concerning”).66 The Dead Sea Scrolls also contain both usages of כתב על, but again what predominates is על introducing a textual medium (ca. 23 of 34 cases).67 And nowhere in the Hebrew Bible or the Scrolls does כתב על line up with the sort of temple practice that scholars have postulated as the socio-historical background to Ps 40:8. Here in the phrase כתוב עלי, על most plausibly means “on,” with the 1st person suffix marking the psalmist himself as the medium of writing.

Second, of hermeneutical import is the scroll inscribed on the psalmist, who is its copy. Only two other texts use the construct מְגִלַּת־סֵפֶר (notably, Jer 36:2, 4; also Ezek 2:9; but see 3:1); and מגלה on its own is heavily concentrated in Jeremiah.68 It never pertains to a temple practice where someone presents a psalm to a deity. In fact, מגלת ספר seems only to indicate divinely grounded writings presented to human beings, which, in Ezek 2:9, is consumed by Ezekiel and becomes part of the prophet’s very self (cf. Zech 5:1–2, מגלה עפה, “flying scroll”). Comparatively, then, the nature of מגלת ספר in Jeremiah and Ezekiel invites us to read our psalm’s passive clause במגלת ספר כתוב עלי as pointing to divine scribal activity on a human self akin to Jer 31:31–34. Where each text uses כתב על to articulate a distinct conception of תורה, a general term for “innards” (respectively, קרב in Jer 31:33; *מֵעַיִם in Ps 40:9) precedes and is conceptually continuous with לב (see לב, Jer 31:33 and Ps 40:11, 13). Since the addressee in Ps 40:8 is Yhwh, the motif of a divine scribe is all the more likely. The psalmist presents himself as the textual medium for divine writing. Metaphorically, it is like an individualized counterpart to the new covenant oracle in Jer 31.69

Third, the effect of writing differs between these texts. The oracle of Jer 31 promises that divine תורה will be engraved on, or fused with, Israel and Judah’s volitional and intellectual faculties. An outcome is that teaching and learning תורה are no longer needed insofar as human nature and divine law will have been unified (v. 34; within the book of Jeremiah, notable uses of למד are also in Jer 2:33; 9:46; 13:23; 17:1).70 Law ends the ability to sin. It perfects the moral self and, consequently, renders the practice of forgiveness obsolete: in the state of affairs envisioned by the oracle, nothing that requires forgiveness would, or even could, happen any longer (v. 34).71 By the same token, pedagogical activities of teaching and learning are likewise obsolete, since by definition they aim to remedy a lack of knowledge; once divine instruction is an aspect of Israel and Judah’s nature, it is impossible for them not to know Yhwh. This vision of legally perfected nature is articulated in terms of divine procedures on body parts, namely, the “heart” (לב) or “entrails, guts” (קרב). The text seems to say that Yhwh’s remaking of human innards would generate a state of affairs that is permanent (cf. also Jer 32:40, ברית עולם, “everlasting covenant”). However, in the Masoretic version of Ps 40, the psalmist’s internalization of divine instruction does not generate a permanent state of affairs. The inscribed “guts” which house Yhwh’s תורה in v. 9, or the לב which evinces Yhwh’s צדקה in v. 11 (see also צדק, v. 10), are the same innards or לב that inexplicably “forsake” (עזב, v. 13) the psalmist amidst “evils” (רעות) and his own “iniquities” (עונתי). This kind of problem, according to Jer 31, is what internalized תורה precludes. If the psalmist had been legally perfected, the implication is that the perfection was transitory.

3.3 Lamenting Perfection’s Loss

Let us sum up the poetic logic in the sub-unit of Ps 40:8–9 (A, and what’s more, B).72 In v. 8a, the speaker recounts presenting himself to Yhwh: הנה באתי (cf. הִנֵּנִי). The following line defines his condition when he presented himself. He had come “with the scroll inscribed on me” (v. 8b, במגלת ספר כתוב עלי). Verse 9a advances this idea by unpacking what was involved in his faculties’ being divinely “inscribed”: desiring to do God’s will. Conceptually and phonetically reminiscent of the nine-syllable statement of v. 8b, v. 9b rounds out the sub-unit by saying in nine syllables that his condition had to do with the divine תורה in his innards (v. 9b, ותורתך בתוך מעי).

The ensuing remarks in vv. 10–11 elaborate on a seamlessness between, on the one hand, the psalmist’s activities as just (v. 10, צדק) and, on the other, Yhwh’s own צדקה, אמונה, תשועה, and חסד (v. 11). The continuity between the divine and the human in these verses is how the psalm articulates the concept of perfection (i.e., words like תמים need not appear). The psalmist had come to be what he needed to be: a human image of the divine. The Psalm’s depiction of a legally perfected moral self reads like an individual counterpart to Jeremiah’s communal “new covenant” oracle. The intellectual and affective capacities of human agents become unified with divine law.

In Ps 40, though, the situation of legal perfection does not last. Without explaining when things changed, v. 12 begins an “I-lament,” a complaint oriented toward himself. The psalmist complains of being surrounded by “evils” (רעות), which include his own “iniquities” (עונתי, v. 13a). Contrasting v. 4, he turns out not, or just no longer, to be among those who “see” (v. 13b). His innumerable iniquities indicate that his לב, the core of his selfhood that was divinely inscribed, has in the meantime “forsaken” him (עזב, v. 13b). Jeremiah 30–33 conveys that the ברית חדשה, which perfects the לב through תורה, is ברית עולם (Jer 32:40). Depending on how we understand Ps 40 in relation to Jer 31, the psalm may be read on its own as saying that internalized divine law did not finally perfect the psalmist, or against the background of Jer 31 as saying that, despite what law promised there, the perfection of this arrangement was limited and ended in disappointment—a perfection secured and then lost. The texts seem to differ in their outlook on what law accomplishes for the self. With perfection’s loss, though, lament functions as a ground of hope for the psalmist’s transition back toward flourishing. Psalm 40 ends by prioritizing lament as a mode that works on behalf of the self’s good, with the self implicitly being a phenomenon that is impacted and formed and, it seems, has the potential to be re-perfected.

4 Summary

Psalm 40 is a single text with resemblances to, and differences from, other writings. The state of affairs which Jer 32:40 calls ברית עולם appears circumscribed in Ps 40; for the psalmist, the covenant was not everlasting. According to Jer 31, that same covenant was enabled legally—a divine act of ensuring perfect obedience. If Jer 31 had a critical or reserved view of the human self without תורה inscribed within it, then Ps 40 may have not only a critical or reserved view of the human self, but also of law as a means of indelibly perfecting the self.73


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Pirie, “Law Before Government,” 207–228.


Pirie, Anthropology of Law; see also Najman, “Imitatio Dei,” 309–323.


Cf. a more negative conception of perfection, where perfection means to be without flaw. This distinguishable conception need not concern us.


Lasater, “Heart of Self Formation,” 367–395.


Winston, Wisdom of Solomon, has no index entry for “law,” only for “Torah,” which does not feature prominently (“natural principles of justice” and “the Torah itself as an expression of natural law,” here 153; see also 311). Winston’s introduction has a discussion entitled “Torah and Sophia,” which, consistent with the index, is really not a discussion of Torah but of personified Wisdom. For more recent publications, see especially Mazzinghi, “Law of Nature,” 37–59. More canon-focused is Schaper, “Νόμος and Νόμοι,” 293–306.


E.g., τό ἀνόμημα, “illegality, illegal act” (1:9; 3:14; 4:20); ἡ ἀνομία, “illegality, absence of law” (5:7, 23); ὁ νόμος (2:11, 12; 6:4, 18 [x2]; 9:5; 14:16; 16:6; 18:4, 9); ἡ ἐντολή, “injunction, order, prescription, commandment” (9:9; 16:6); παράνομος, “illegal, transgressive” (3:16); also notable at times is ἡ κρίσις, “judgment” (8:11; 9:3, 5).


For a recent scholarly edition of Wisdom, see Niebuhr, Sapientia Salomonis.


Mazzinghi, “Law of Nature,” 41. See also Najman, “A Written Copy,” 107–118.


It seems to me that a hermeneutical question in Wisdom of Solomon is the degree to which wisdom encompasses rationality and law. See Mazzinghi, “Law of Nature,” 47, 55–56, who concludes that “the Law of Moses is not identified with the law of nature, but nor is there a radical exclusion of a mutual relationship between the two” (ibid., 59). Mazzinghi’s claim that, in Wisdom of Solomon, the law of Moses is not explicitly identified with the law of nature shows an openness to their in fact being identified.


One can do so while also resisting the thesis of Enochic Judaism, which, according to John Collins, is “based on several assumptions about the Essenes and ‘the Qumran community’” that are “seriously flawed.” The flaws are due to treatments of “hypotheses advanced in earlier discussion that have gradually, and mistakenly, been treated as established facts.” See Collins, “Enochic Judaism,” 150–163 (quotes ibid., 151, 157); cf. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 50.


See below for discussion.


Gillingham, Psalms Through the Centuries, suggests both are true when she writes of the “two parts (verses 1–10, 11–17)” that they “seem to be two separate psalms, but with shared linguistic correspondences … they now cohere as one unit” (ibid., 242).


Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 423 (my italics).


E.g., Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 38–39.


Gunkel, Einleitung, 28.


Gunkel, Einleitung, 29–30.


Gunkel, Einleitung, 192, 265 n. 2, 275.


Mowinckel, Psalms, 1, 8, 15, 17.


Mowinckel, Psalms, 31, 33. Mowinckel’s chronological observation seems apt, though, for understanding the logic of MT’s text.


Mowinckel, Psalms, 77.


Westermann, Lob und Klage.


Cave, Thinking With Literature, 47–61.


Cave, Thinking With Literature, 48.


Levine, Forms, xiii.


Levine, Forms, xii, 2–3.


Levine, Forms, 4.


Mroczek, Literary Imagination.


Zahn, Genres of Rewriting, 219–221.


Jassen, “Literary and Historical Studies,” 22 n. 5 and 31; idem, “Intertextual Readings,” 403–430.


In the phrase מטיט היון (“from the miry mud”), both טיט, “mud; clay” and יון “mud” are uncommon. First, the noun טיט occurs 13 times in the Hebrew Bible (2 Sam 22:43; Isa 41:25; 57:20; Jer 38:6; Mic 7:10; Nah 3:14; Zech 9:3; 10:5; Ps 18:42; 40:2; 69:14; Job 41:30), with ca. 7 usages in the “non-biblical” Dead Sea Scrolls. Second, the noun יָוֵן only occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible, with similar, metaphorical usages of someone trapped or sinking alongside references to some place to stand (Ps 40:3; 69:3, טבעתי ביון מצולה ואין מעמד, “I am sinking in the miry deep, there is no foothold”). Similarly in the “non-biblical” Scrolls, יָוֵן occurs only in 4Q160 fr. 4א l. 3, just before a comment about establishing “for them” להמה a “rock” סלע (cf. Ps 40:3, which is in the first person singular).


Cf. the opposite transformation in Ps 86:11, which reframes an oracle in the 3rd pers. plur. as a 1st pers. sing. perspective, discussed in Lasater, “Law for What Ails,” 652–668.


Jassen, “Intertextual Readings,” 419, thinks that what may have motivated this root change is MT Jer 3:17. If this suggestion is accurate, it is certainly notable that Ps 40, like Jer 3:17, contains a motif of the human heart’s problematic nature.


Jassen, “Intertextual Readings,” 420.


To be clear, the argument here is not that 4Q160’s handling of Ps 40 somehow proves that the psalm has only ever existed as it appears in the received MT and OG versions (i.e., a narrative of praise and lament). Establishing an Urtext is not my main concern, but rather deflating scholarly assumptions about Ps 40. The argument in short is: (1) we have evidence from antiquity that Ps 40 was understood as a unity; (2) we have no evidence that it had not been, or not understood as, a unity; and (3) it is entirely plausible that a scribe could write a work like Ps 40 at once. Therefore, the burden of proof rests squarely on anyone wishing to decompose Ps 40. If we compare it to a work like the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy), which was likewise read in antiquity as a unity, point 3 would not apply, which is a significant difference that marks comparative limits between such works. On a “long” text being approximate to one biblical “chapter,” see Richelle, “Elusive Scrolls,” 1–39, 28; and for a reading leaning toward the unity of an even larger body of texts (the so-called “Succession Narrative”), see Sergi, “United Monarchy,” 329–353.


See Gen 37:20, 22, 24; Exod 12:29; 21:33; Lev 11:36; Isa 14:15, 19; 38:18; Jer 37:16; 38:6, 7, 9; Ezek 26:20; 31:14, 16; 32:18, 23; Ps 7:16; 28:1; 30:4; 40:3; 88:5, 7; 143:7; also Prov 1:12; Lam 3:53, 55. On the fluid line between “life” and “death” discernible in the anthropology of the Psalms and related literature, see Levenson, Resurrection, 38–39; and Janowski, Konfliktgespräche, 52.


On translation options for *מֵעַיִם (sing., *מֵעֶה), see HALOT 2:609–610; and also in KAHAL 311. The Ugaritic cognate mmʿ denotes anatomical elements (i.e., “guts”) that exit the body when it suffers injury (see KTU 1.18 I 12 and KTU 1.3 II 14, 35), but this precise meaning seems doubtful in Ps 40. A symbolic conception of the body is again in play: *מֵעַיִם is here the domain of תורה. For more discussion on the translation of *מֵעַיִם, see Smith, “Heart and Innards,” 427 n. 1.


Lasater, “Wisdom Through Symbolic Objects,” 199–232.


For the intellectual-historical problems involved in applying the category of “the emotions” to ancient Near Eastern texts, see Lasater, Facets of Fear; idem, “Emotions,” 520–540. See further Mirguet, “Emotions,” 557–603.


To my knowledge, in no other text is the “heart” the subject of עזב. But there are usages of עזב with abstractions as the subject in close proximity to the “heart” (e.g., Prov 3:3, with a compound subject חסד ואמת). Perhaps more to the point, when the Damascus Document speaks of משפט הזה (“this mishpat”) and flouting divine commandments, the “heart” is used in an adverbial phrase that expounds on what is involved in people’s “forsaking and turning” (CD 8:19; 19:33) in the “firmness” or “stubbornness” of their “heart” (ויעזבם ויפנו בשרירות לבם). Hence, while the exact phrase in Ps 40:13b appears not to be duplicated elsewhere, it is conceptually relatable to other texts addressing the unreliability of human faculties. Psalm 40:13 seems to say that it remains fallible even after having divine law inscribed within it (cf. Jer 31). If that is the case, then the implication would be that divinely established legal perfection can be lost.


Adele Berlin, Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, 6, discusses how parallelism “constructs relationships between its parts such that the final product is unified,” with “parts” in Berlin’s description meaning text portions greater than individual lines (my italics).


For a breakdown of his usages, see Lasater, “Wisdom Through Symbolic Objects,” 219–220.


Najman, “Quest for Perfection,” 220; for a case study in Ps 86 where law perfects or unifies the self, see Lasater, “Law for What Ails.”


Najman, “Quest for Perfection,” 222–228.


Apart from a single case in the book of Isaiah, all references to שיר חדש are in the Psalter. See Isa 42:10; Ps 33:3; 40:4; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1.


Thomas, “Hearing the Vision,” 64–74.


On middle-voiced usage of the verb, see Art. καταρτίζω in Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, 1078. See further Bergh, “A Textual Comparison,” 353–382.


For מֵעֶה, “guts,” becoming visible, see, e.g., 2 Sam 20:10.


This engagement may already be discernible in the growth of the book of Jeremiah itself. According to Fischer, “Nobody is Like You,” 387–404, based on the sequence in the book of Jeremiah, the “eternal covenant” of Jer 32 qualifies the “new covenant” by explicitly assigning it an eternal duration (ibid., 398). For the argument that Jer 32 is older, with Jer 31 as its rereading, see Schmid, Buchgestalten, 102–103.


Krüger, “Das menschliche Herz,” 128–129; Newsom, “Sin Consciousness,” 230; Newsom, “Models,” 14; Brettler, “Predestination,” 174.


Krause, Die Bedingungen, 181–191.


Schmid, Buchgestalten, 68–69.


Hossfeld and Zenger, Die Psalmen 1, 256.


Schmid, Buchgestalten, 83.


Bremer, Wo Gott, seems to accept that the writer of Ps 40 was familiar with the “new covenant” from Jer 31 (ibid., 362–363). Bremer observes that current scholarship, which emphasizes this text’s unity, has yet to explain the somewhat atypical progression from praise to lament (ibid., 361).


Schmid, “Writing on the Heart,” 458–462.


On the significance of “writing” metaphors, see Najman, “Symbolic Significance,” 3–38.


Note MT’s gender discrepancy between מגלת־ספר and כתוב; nonetheless, it is hard to avoid the sense that the “scroll” is what is “inscribed.”


Oeming, Das Buch der Psalmen, 220.


Seybold, “Psalter as a Book,” 168–169.


At least in the case of Seybold’s reading, it is interesting to note how the text of Ps 40 is presumed to be sufficient as a basis for reconstructing not only the psalm’s prehistory, but also the practices behind it, which then seem reinforced by reading MT Ps 40 as we have it. This assumption is clear already in Bornkamm’s claim about 40:8.


Hermisson, Sprache und Ritus, 45 with n. 4.


Bornkamm, “Lobpreis,” 57–58. He suggests that the referenced “scroll” is the song of the psalmist itself: “Es scheint mir daher eine völlig andere, denkbar einfache Erklärung in Frage zu kommen. Mit der ‘Buchrolle’ ist weder die Tora- noch eine Prophetenschriftrolle gemeint. Vielmehr enthält sie das Danklied des Psalmisten selbst” (ibid., 57).


Steinleitner, Die Beicht.


Kraus, Psalms 1–59, 426.


deClaissé-Walford et al., Psalms, 379.


The expression occurs in Exodus; Numbers; Deuteronomy; Joshua; 2 Samuel; 1 Kings; 2 Kings; Isaiah; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Habakkuk; Psalms; Job; Proverbs; Esther; Ezra; Nehemiah; 1 Chronicles; and 2 Chronicles. Nearly every time, על introduces the textual medium itself, with exceptions being 2 Kgs 22:13 (על, “about”); Job 13:26 (על, “against”); Esth 8:8 (על, “about”); Ezra 4:6 (על, “about”); and 2 Chr 30:1 (על, “to”).


For ca. 11 instances meaning “about, concerning,” see CD 1:13; 5:1; 4Q174 fr. 1; 4Q177 fr. 1; 4Q177 fr. 5; 4Q177 fr. 10; 4Q180 fr. 5; 4Q182 fr. 1; 4Q266 fr. 1; 11Q13 2:19, 23; for ca. 23 instances meaning “on,” see 1QM 3:2, 3–4, 4–5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15; 4:1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13; 5:1; 6:2–3; 9:15; for less clear cases, see 4Q163 fr. 1.4; 4Q180 fr. 5; 4Q266 fr. 11 l. 16 (“according to?”).


מגלה by itself appears 17 times, mainly in Jer 36 (× 14), but also Ezek 2–3 (2:9; 3:1, 2, 3); Zech 5:1, 2; and Ezra 6:2.


For early engagement with Jer 32, see Ps 86 (cf. Lasater, “Law for What Ails,” 652–668).


According to Krause, Die Bedinungen, a takeaway is that Jer 31’s focus on learning and obedience maintains covenantal conditionality, with the shift being “dass Jhwh nun selbst sicherstellt, dass der geforderte Gehorsam auch tatsächlich geleistet wird” (ibid., 190).


Krause, Die Bedingungen, 181–206. Krause differentiates this outcome of sin no longer being possible from the inference in scholarship, commonly made, that Israel had been unable to keep the previous covenant. See also the brief discussion of Hayes, Divine Law, 47–48, who characterizes the idea of Jer 31 as “robo-righteousness,” which she clarifies as “the condition in which sin is simply not an option, and doing the right thing flows automatically and effortlessly from one’s knowledge of the divine instruction. It does not point to an erasure of all agency” (ibid., n. 24).


Kugel, Idea of Biblical Poetry.


Historically, this issue could have implications for understanding and contextualizing Second Temple period texts about how law related to “salvation,” often discussed in Pauline scholarship but with relevance beyond it (e.g., Rom 7:21–23; cf. Ps 40:9); on this talk of “salvation,” see Collins, Invention of Judaism, 159–181. Reserved stances toward what law offers the self are not an aberration of “early Christianity.” Nor does it work to assume that, on issues of moral selfhood, “early Christian” sources necessarily espouse a reserved stance toward law. For instance, as a New Testament composition that one might call “Priestly,” Hebrews affirms that νόμος perfects the self (e.g., Heb 8:10–12; and 10:1, 5–7, 14–17, where talk of “perfection” [τελειόω] leads into the new covenant import of νόμος). Indeed, one wonders whether Hebrews’ talk of priestly succession involves the assumption that legal revision in matters of priesthood and ritual is what helps νόμος become what it ought to be as an enabler of perfection (see Heb 7:11–28, here 19, where νόμος is specifically about priestly succession, the area in which the writer speaks of revision). For an overview of “perfection” in Hebrews, see Attridge, Hebrews, 83–87; on the priestly and ritual interests of Hebrews and its use of νόμος in this vein, see Schmitt, “Law in Hebrews 7:12,” 189–201. Vanhoye’s evaluation is questionable when he writes, “To change the law necessarily means abrogating the existing law and replacing it with another” (A Perfect Priest, 170). Legal development is not intrinsically a competitive or conflict-based phenomenon. It appears to be a tendency intrinsic to “law” as a mode of thought (see the discussion above on “perfection” [τελειότης] and legalities as a process in Wisdom of Solomon). For a discussion of development as compatible with the nature of law, see Vermeule, Common Good Constitutionalism.

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