David Emanuel’s An Intertextual Commentary to the Psalter: Juxtaposition and Allusion in Book I is a reliable and thorough guide to instances of interconnectedness (juxtaposition) and reuse of scripture (allusion) in Psalms 1–41.

This is one of those books that has a clear goal and sticks to it. You will not find most of the features of a commentary, but that is a strength here. Emanuel simply and concisely walks through Psalms 1–41, noting two kinds of literary connections.

The first kind of literary connections are “juxtaposed compositions” (ix), that is, links across adjacent psalms. Emanuel believes that the Psalter is not haphazardly arranged but carefully ordered. One of the evidences of this is repeated words or themes, especially when otherwise uncommon, across two adjacent psalms. For example, the first few psalms uniquely share day/night and sleep/waking themes (e.g. Ps 3:5 and Ps 4:8). In contrast with others, Emanuel does not claim to reveal a broad structure or narrative across collections or books of the Psalter (e.g. Robertson’s Flow of the Psalms) but focuses on adjacent psalms. Emanuel also notes when no clear instances of juxtaposition can be found, preventing the reader from becoming oversaturated with “junk data” that veils clear and meaningful juxtapositions.

The second kind of literary connections are “biblical allusions” (ix), that is, associations with other psalms or Old Testament texts. For example, Psalm 1:1–4 is strikingly similar to Jer 17:5–8 and Psalm 15 with Isa 33:14–16. Where possible, Emanuel attempts to trace the direction of borrowing (e.g. which text came first?) but wisely doesn’t press the issue, as it is often impossible to be certain.

Emanuel identifies three reasons why psalmists might connect to other texts. I summarize them here:

  1. Rhetoric, adding meaning or emotional weight to the psalm. Here the psalmist is adding resonance rather than interpreting the earlier text.
  2. Authority, adding precedent or clout to the psalm. Here the psalmist alludes to the authoritative text to support the psalm in some way.
  3. Interpretation, adding insight to the earlier text. Here the psalmist focuses on the earlier text, developing or correcting a misunderstanding of it.

Emanuel primarily connects two texts. But some texts are part of a “network” (Schnittjer) or “nexus” (Chen), or there is a “text in the middle” (Shepherd). In other words, there may be multiple relevant texts to consider. Psalm 2:9, for example, shares only one Hebrew word—translated “rod/scepter”—with Gen 49:10. That may not seem like much of a connection. But both texts are part of a constellation of related texts. This increases the chance that the two are connected, even when there is only one shared word. Similarly, blessing in the Son (Ps 2:12) is not obviously connected to the Abrahamic blessing (Gen 12:1–3), but the strong connections between Ps 2 and Ps 72, and the obvious connection between Ps 72:17b and Gen 12:1–3, seem (to this reviewer!) to reveal a connection between the three texts. I say this not to critique Emanuel’s work but to note its scope. Emanuel’s goal is clear, and this topic becomes much more complex and subjective once the scope is broadened. Doing so would result in a different book.

Some of the connections will be familiar for those familiar with psalms scholarship. But a vast majority will likely be new. Emanuel’s book is invaluable for those who want an accessible and thorough collection of intertexts with commentary on them. To this end, a table after each psalm or at the end of the book—listing the proposed juxtapositions and allusions along with shared vocabulary—would be useful for the reader.

I hope that An Intertextual Commentary to the Psalter: Juxtaposition and Allusion in Book I is only the start! I want to encourage Emanuel to continue his study through the five books of the Psalter, as this book identifies and fills an important need.

A review copy of this book was provided for free but I was not required to give a positive review. All purchases from the links in this post support My Digital Seminary.