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Maintaining Innocence Before a Divine Hearer

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Deliberative Rhetoric in Psalm 22, Psalm 17, 
and Psalm 7

image of Biblical Interpretation

Interpreters of the individual psalms of lament have long been intrigued and even baffled by these psalms’ apparent shifts in mood. For those seeing the psalms as therapeutic, the laments record moment-by-moment turns in emotion; a despairing individual is eventually enabled to affirm faith in God. From a rhetorical perspective, however, the shifts can be seen as parts of a connected line of argument aimed at persuading God to uphold cultural values and intervene in the life of the speaker. After outlining the major concerns of contemporary rhetorical theory, I offer readings of three innocence psalms, Psalm 22, Psalm 17, and Psalm 7, showing that their speakers start from different standpoints relative to God and aim for distinct goals. The speaker in Psalm 22 makes an elaborate case to re-establish innocence and become God’s public champion, the speaker in Psalm 17 uses claims of innocence to seek apotheosis, and the speaker in Psalm 7 accepts a dare. These readings indicate that psalms are far more than expressions of yearning or trust. Performance of public argument influences, underscores, and maintains loyalty to the cultural values of justice and faithfulness that God represents.

Affiliations: 1: University of Texas at Austin, USA


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