In the third chapter of Psalms as Torah, Gordon Wenham argues that the Psalms should be understood as an anthology intended for memorisation. (I note that his point could and should probably be extended to all Scripture.) Drawing on the work of Paul J. Griffiths, Wenham distinguishes a ‘consumerist’ (modern) approach to reading from ‘religious reading.’ In the age of the printed book and of the internet, modern writings whether blogs or learned tomes are ephemeral, read, perhaps noted, and then discarded. They have no particular authority and different readers ascribe different value to them.
Religious reading, on the other hand, is different for the texts are treated with reverence as an ‘infinite resource,’ as a treasure house of wisdom, etc. As such, the words are read and re-read over and over and in time, tend to be committed to memory. “And as a reader memorizes a text, he becomes textualized; that is, he embodies the work that he has committed to memory”:
‘A memorized work (like a lover, a friend, a spouse, a child) has entered into the fabric of its possessor’s intellectual and emotional life in a way that makes deep claims upon that life, claims that can only be ignored with effort and deliberation.’ … A memorized text has a peculiarly character-forming effect on the memorizer. The text becomes part of his character; he lives in it and lives it out (Wenham, Psalms as Torah, 53, citing Paul J. Griffiths, Religious Reading, 46-47).
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” said the apostle (Colossians 3:16). “Your word have I hidden in my heart” said the Psalmist (119:11).So, too, the Sage of Proverbs reminds us to “Give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body” (4:20-22). For “when you walk about, they will guide you; When you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (6:22-23).
Reading, praying, singing, and memorising the words of Scripture are character-forming, life-directing, and transformative. This is a good reminder for me at the start of 2023.
Happy New Year 😊