Conveying Psalm Commentary?

Ok, y’all—I need your help…

As I’ve been saying, I’m working on this book on the Psalm commentary of Cassiodorus. Right now I’m wrestling with how to present the way that he structures his commentary and give readers a sense of the experience of reading his commentary. He goes about things in a very novel way (especially for an early medieval exegete!) in that he has a four-part structure that he always uses: an introduction that discusses the superscription, then a breakdown of the psalm into its divisions (often grouped by speaker), then a phrase-by-phrase analysis (which is all that most typical patristic/early medieval exegetes do), then a summary that often underscores a moral or doctrinal point.

In particular, I want to make sure that readers get a flavor of the phrase-by-phrase process, but—honestly—I think people are only going to want a limited taste of this stuff. I’m intending to do a fairly close reading/exposition of five or six psalms to convey a complete sense of what he’s doing. Right now I’m trying to gauge how in-depth to go on each one.

So, I could do this a couple of ways. The one I’m leaning towards is to take a “representative” psalm and do a really thorough breakdown of it in excruciating detail to give my readers a sense of how he does what he does. Then, when I discuss other psalms just do a summary of the main points. However, another option would be to do something like that but also to include a chart on the 5-6 psalms that show what he’s doing with each phrase and then the narrative summary.

What do you think—do the extra psalm structure charts/outlines sound like overkill or a helpful way to grasp this rather alien reading strategy to modern lay readers?

8 Replies to “Conveying Psalm Commentary?”

  1. I would say the chart will allow people who learn differently to absorb your points in a way they may not catch from the text.

  2. What may appeal to the scholar may not appeal to the average reader. Perhaps you might want to look at your audience. To balance between the two groups why not give a sample, as you suggest, and then the chart. Although the chart might be a bit much for the average reader.

  3. And that’s exactly why I’m asking my readers! I am working up a chart as an example…

  4. Do the chart, but put it in an appendix. Just one possibility, but I think it might work.

  5. Weighing in some days after you originally posed the question, I think your chart idea is an excellent way to provide more detail to the intrigued without overwhelming those of more restrained appetite. And producing the additional information in a different format has additional value. I have a story for you from my companion at lunch today that illustrates to me how much folks are still steeped in psalmody. My friend told me that she had always disliked her middle name of Florence until as she was reading Psalm 92 recently her eye was caught by verse 11 “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,” and she realized her name was related etymologically to flowering and flourishing. The verse, she went on, is an echo of Psalm 1. Actually, it isn’t quite, but the assertion that those who love the Law are “like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season” is certainly an idea along the same lines. One Psalm speaks to another. We sat in silence for a moment, eager to be among those who flower and flourish.

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