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Rhetoric of Praise

Rhetoric of Praise

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The Psalter has been chanted, sung, and prayed by Jews and Christians for millennia. Its theology and imagery has shaped the imagination and piety of generations of the faithful. The Psalms grew out of the cultic and religious practices of ancient Israel and early Judaism. Its language, imagery, and theology would have been one of the primary means by which Israel understood the nature of God and their relationship to him. Yet, the question of how the Psalms achieved this function of shaping the belief and piety of ancient Israel is one that has not often been addressed directly. This study investigates the persuasive power of the praise Psalms. It argues that rhetorical analysis will foster a clearer understanding of how the praise Psalms functioned to shape the beliefs and piety of ancient Israel so that the reader will better appreciate the social, psychological, and theological contribution of the praise Psalms to Israel's religious life. Situating rhetorical criticism within the neo-Aristotelian tradition, Cook proposes a rhetorical approach that includes determining the rhetorical unit and describing the internal world of the Psalm and its internal argument. This involves discerning the implied/textual author, implied audience, and the rhetorical function of the text within the world of the Psalm itself as well as determining the possible rhetorical situation(s) and analyzing the external argument of the Psalm. With this foundation in place, Cook systematically analyzes four representative praise Psalms (19, 103, 46, and 116). The most salient results are then collected and discussed in a concluding chapter where Cook argues that the praise Psalms function in ways analogous to epideictic rhetoric and thus played an important role in shaping ancient Israel’s understanding of Yhwh and their own experiences. Additionally, Cook clarifies the function of the internal and external worlds of the praise Psalms while also proposing that a focus on the ‘kairos’ of the praise Psalms can clarify some of the debates concerning their settings.


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