Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review: The Complete Psalms by Pamela Greenberg

My bookshelves are filled with all types of books: fiction and non-fiction, hardcover and paperback, history, literature, culture, and art. Because I am both a pastor and an instructor in Scripture I have several shelves reserved for theological tomes, especially different translations of the Bible. I generally use the Revised Standard Version for daily devotion and sermon preparation, it is a translation that I grew up with and also used in seminary and in graduate school. However I also have other translations which I consult frequently: The Message, New Jerusalem Bible, as well as the New International Version and sometimes the King James Bible. I always encourage my students to use a variety of Bibles when reading and studying Scripture since they will most certainly find different nuances of words, concepts, and sentences. Every year publishers release new Bible translations and hosts of "Study Bibles." Among the latest publications dealing with an entire book of the Bible is Pamela Greenberg's The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation published by Bloomsbury.

This fine hardcover edition is beautiful. The cover reminds me of my grandmother's old leather bound King James Bibles that she used often. The book also includes a red ribbon which serves as ready made book mark. This volume is one which readers will turn to again and again as they read and re-read the Book of Psalms.

Why a new translation? After all there are hundreds of Bible translations available in local bookstores and online. However Ms. Greenberg reminds her readers that the Psalms were written in Hebrew and very often the translations can be wooden and life-less, others perhaps less so. Mary Karr, the famous memoirist and poetry teacher at Syracuse University, says that Greenberg, "has lifted the old language from spider webs and mothballs, breathing new air into the songs." (from the front cover). I agree. Greenberg provides readers with a fresh translations, offering a new and refreshing insight into these ancient words.

When I read the Psalms I generally use the RSV translation, a translation which I am very familiar. The problem however is that since I know many of the Psalms already I tend to read very quickly, skipping over words or rushing through them. However, when reading Greenberg's new translation I caught myself reading slowly, meandering through the Psalms of David line by line taking in each and every word. I could not skip lines or read fast, this translation makes you savor each word as it should be savored. After all, the Psalms have been called the Prayerbook of the Church and for centuries both Christians and Jews have used the Psalms in their daily and weekly prayers.

Greenberg must be thanked for her hard work and dedication trying to capture the beauty of a very old language. I used The Complete Psalms for my lectio divina and I encourage you to do the same.