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Reading Psalm 126 in the Background of the Feast of Booths

  • Korean Journal of Old Testament Studies
  • Abbr : KJOTS
  • 2019, 25(1), pp.151-182
  • DOI : 10.24333/jkots.2019.25.1.151
  • Publisher : Korean Society of Old Testament Studies
  • Research Area : Humanities > Christian Theology
  • Received : November 2, 2018
  • Accepted : February 3, 2019

Ki-Min Bang 1

1Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to introduce a reading of Psalm 126 as a prayer of the Feast of Booths a fall festival in the ancient Near East, that petitions God for rain and an abundant harvest. Because the Feast of Booths takes place between the dry and rainy seasons, it is probable that the ancient Israelites offered this prayer on this holiday as a way of bidding for a smooth transition between the seasons. For the purpose, this paper (1) explores the history of the interpretation of Psalm 126, and offers a conventional translation and a reading of the Psalm, (2) discusses several characteristic features of the collection of the Songs of Ascent (Pss 120-134), (3) examines its association with pilgrimage and autumn, or the beginning of the rainy season. Finally, based on the preceding analysis, this paper attempts a reading of Psalm 126 as a song for the Feast of Booths liturgy. The collection of the Songs of Ascent has philological, formulaic, and thematic evidence for its designation as Pilgrim Songs composed during the Persian period, and some scholars find additional allusions to the Feast of Booths within the collection. The seasonal and climatic pattern of the Levant was vital to the agriculture and religion of the eastern Mediterranean region (e.g., the Demeter myth and the Ba’alu cycle). Psalm 126 offers a number of images that are related to the climatic and agricultural pattern of the region. These images include: the invocation of Negev wadi’s flowing waters (vs. 4), the farmers’ sowing seeds in expectation of an abundant harvest (vss. 5-6), and, less directly, God’s restoration of fortunes (or seasons) (vss. 1, 4) and the feast of joy and gladness (vss. 2-3) that recalls the observance of the Feast of Booths in Nehemiah 8, and so on. The reading suggested here has many advantages over the translations and readings that have previously been suggested. First, this reading explains the trajectory of the textual changes of Psalm 126 through time. Second, this reading can explain the complexity of the verbal usages in verses 1-4. Third, this reading enables the reader to understand how the Israelites used Biblical texts to engage in the climatic pattern of the ancient Israel.

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