The wisdom of prayer: Didactic discourse in the book of Psalms

Catherine Eileen Petrany, Fordham University


This dissertation argues that the presence of biblical wisdom motifs in the book of Psalms integrally contributes to the unique instructional capacity of individual psalms and the Psalter as a whole. Modern scholarship has often characterized sapiential discourse in the Psalter as a late, non-cultic importation by wisdom circles who edited the collection in the post-exilic era of Israel's history. In contrast, this dissertation argues that, from a canonical perspective, this emphasis on the historical indebtedness of psalmic instruction to the wisdom tradition has obscured the meaningful literary and theological interaction between sapiential and liturgical impulses within individual psalms and the Psalter as a whole. This study provides a comparison between the pedagogical strategies found in the biblical Wisdom books with those found in the book of Psalms at three interpretive levels: individual mixed-type psalms with wisdom elements, "wisdom psalms" within their immediate literary context, and the Psalter as a whole. This study concludes that, while sapiential moments in the psalms and Psalter may display formal, terminological, and thematic continuities with the biblical wisdom corpus, they function in a fundamentally different way due to the unique communicative environment which contextualizes them within the Psalter. At all three levels of interpretation, the constant shifts in the direction of the psalmist's speech among human and divine audiences govern the substance of the "lesson" which arises in relation to wisdom-like passages. A flexible but identifiable pattern of instruction emerges whereby wisdom in the psalms and Psalter points beyond its own human parameters and calls the student-hearer to become a student-speaker, that is, to verbally address the deity and vocally engage the faithful community with the words of praise. In the book of Psalms, the reflectively geared "wisdom" lesson directed toward the human student and the liturgical performance directed towards the divine mutually create a dynamic integration of instruction and worship, an expression of life with the divine pedagogue unique to the Psalter.

Subject Area

Biblical studies

Recommended Citation

Petrany, Catherine Eileen, "The wisdom of prayer: Didactic discourse in the book of Psalms" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3643080.