Bernard P. Robinson, «Form and Meaning in Psalm 131», Vol. 79 (1998) 180-197
Psalm 131 displays a subtle play on words. The psalmist has silenced and calmed down his soul/breast (he has put an end to its loud complaints). The two verbs used express or suggest the idea of assimilation (I have transformed it into something silent and something calm), which leads up to the material image which follows. In 2b gamul means a child that has been weaned or is happy (and has stopped crying loudly); instead of kaggamul one should read tiggmol, you have been nice to me. Although the psalm has an unusual form, it has the same structure as Psalm 130. It probably constitutes a literary unit. It may by royal psalm.
Which should come first, form-critical analysis or exegesis? Many commentators first attempt to establish the literary form of a text, and then interpret it accordingly. On the face of it, this is the common-sensicaI thing to do: until we know what sort of literature we are dealing with, how can we analyse its meaning? The trouble with doing this with ancient biblical literature is that the genres are not easy to establish. All too often, a scholar decides that a text belongs to a particular genre and then has to rewrite it because some parts sit rather uneasily with what the characteristics of the genre are supposed to be. Thus, with our present Psalm, one recent commentator decides that because, as it stands, it begins with an address to God but lacks a petition, it must be incomplete, "a fragment" 1. There are no ancient handbooks of Hebrew rhetoric to tell us what the genres actually were. We have to deduce them from the text, and then read the text in the light of the hypothetical genres; a somewhat precariously circular procedure. For this reason, I shall begin with an attempt to expound the text of our Psalm, and defer a verdict on the Form (and related matters, such as dating) for the time being. For the moment I shall simply observe that this short Psalm "surely one of the most beautiful prayers in the psalter" 2 is usually styled a Psalm of Confidence, like Psalms 16, 23 and 62 3. Mowinckel thought it a national Psalm of Lamentation, uttered by an individual on behalf of all 4. There are those who take the