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xii + 156 pp.

£45 / $70 / €55
List Price

£18.50 / $22.50 / €20

Persuading God
Rhetorical Studies of First-Person Psalms
Davida H. Charney

Written by a scholar of rhetoric, Persuading God demonstrates that the first-person psalms that make up over a third of the Book of Psalms were designed not simply to express the feelings of individual Israelites but to persuade God to act.

The book casts a new light on the roles of all the players in the situations in which the psalms were composed and performed: the person represented by the speaker on whose particular troubles the psalm is based, the spectators and opponents who are sometimes addressed directly by the speaker, the poet-musicians who craft the speaker's case and occasionally undermine it, and most of all, God as the direct addressee whose presumed openness to persuasion and willingness to intervene underlie the entire event.

The readings provide new explanations for many long-standing puzzles: how to deal with the long string of imprecations in Psalm 109, whether Psalm 4 is best read as protesting a false accusation or as countering apostasy, why so many verses in Psalm 62 begin with the exclamation ach, and, more generally, why so many first-person psalms seem to swing abruptly between despair and praise.

The book demonstrates the relevance of contemporary rhetorical theory to Hebrew Bible studies, including the work of Chaďm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, Kenneth Burke, and Mikhail Bakhtin. It also illuminates the state of rhetorical practice in the ancient Near East at the same time that rhetorical theories were first being codified and taught in archaic and classical Athens.

Davida Charney is Professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

Series: Hebrew Bible Monographs, 73
978-1-909697-80-5 hardback / 978-1-910928-21-9 paperback
Publication July 2015

Psalms as Arguments in the Israelite Public Sphere
Beyond Psychologizing the Speaker
Beyond Presuming Piety
Distinguishing Rhetorical and Literary Analyses
Ancient and Contemporary Rhetorical Theory
Toward a Rhetorical Theory of the Psalms
Stances toward God
A Note on Translations

Praise as Negotiable Currency
Psalm 71: Extending the Supply of Praise
Praise as a Charged Current
Psalm 16: Balancing with God's Guidance
Psalm 26: Ongoing Refinement
Psalm 131: Bragging on Quietism

Two Pieces of Rhetorical Theory: Amplitude and Identification
Psalm 4: A Seven-Step Recovery Program
Psalm 62: Restoring the Expletive
Psalm 82: Persuading Gods
Conclusion: Bait and Switch?

Psalm 54: Invoking Action
Psalm 13: Questioning Absence
Absence of Amplitude
Address, Problem, Action: Divine and Reciprocal

Psalm 44: God's Breach of Covenant
Psalm 22: From Worm to Champion
Psalm 17: Assertions of Godliness

Psalm 7: Measured Innocence
Psalm 35: Paying Back in Kind
Psalm 109: Returning Curse for Curse

The Discourse of Guilt
Psalm 130: Proclaiming Patience
Psalm 38: Eloquently Inarticulate
Psalm 51: An Action-Oriented Confession

Psalm 77: Reimagining the Past
Psalm 73: Speaking Internally and Externally
Discipline and Persuasion

I commend Charney for this volume, as it makes a serious and persuasive attempt to draw upon the categories of ancient and modern rhetoric, without ever becoming simply an exercise in labeling parts so often found in such biblical studies. She provides some interesting insights into the psalms and their rhetoric. Stanley E. Porter.

Davida Charney … argues that a rhetorical situation adheres when a person is faced with what can be described as “a sense of exigence or urgency that can be addressed productively with language” (2). It is in this situation that a person writes or speaks to persuade his or her audience to help resolve the problem at hand. At the heart of rhetorical studies is a concern for tracing the dynamics of this attempt at persuasion.
      Charney’s study is one that both students and scholars will find to be helpful. She allows the categories of the Greek rhetorical tradition to open up new avenues for approaching debated material in the Psalter without allowing those categories to overwhelm the uniqueness of Israel’s own psalmic traditions. … [A]t every turn Charney shows herself to be a sensitive reader of the biblical text with a keen eye for following the contours of the psalmists’ arguments. Readers more and less familiar with rhetorical studies will benefit from seeing the avenues for psalm interpretation it opens.
Jeffery M. Leonard, Review of Biblical Literature.

[T]here is … much to be commended in this book. Charney offers many thought-provoking points of view that deviate from the usual explanations in commentaries. She would sometimes recount the views offered in the past and then present a completely novel perspective … Scholars who are interested in the meaning of the psalms, especially those discussed in this book, will find it an interesting read that certainly does make a contribution to our increased understanding of the Psalter. Philippus J. Botha, Review of Biblical Literature.