The interpretation of Ps 139 remains a deeply contested matter. In particular, the psalm’s genre and integrity continue to be debated, with the key issues related to the place of vv. 19-22. Do these verses constitute the key to interpretation, or are they a later interpolation? If they are an interpolation, can we trace the psalm’s development back through the material in vv. 1-18 (possibly with some minor expansions), so that vv. 23-24 are seen as a unit displaced from the introduction? Conversely, if vv. 19-22 are original, how do we account for marked change of tone present so that instead of the seemingly bucolic reflections found in vv. 1-18 the text then shifts to an imprecation against the wicked? This paper proposes a unified reading of the psalm which uses ambiguity as a central technique for developing different experiences for those who pray this psalm within the subgroup of the prayers of the accused. It will be argued that ambiguity is an intentional compositional strategy within the psalm, with the effect of the ambiguity different for those who read the poem from the perspective of innocence as opposed to the experience of those who read from the perspective of guilt.
Allen, Leslie C. “Faith on Trial: An Analysis of Psalm 139.” Vox Evangelica 10 (1977): 5-23.
Allen, Leslie C. Psalms 101-150, 2nd. Ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002.
Amzallag, Nissim and Shamir Yona. “The Significance of the Rhetorical Ambiguity in Isaiah 54:16.” OTE 31 (2018): 323-338.
Bellinger, W. H. Jr. Psalms: A Guide to Studying the Psalter, 2nd. Ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.
Boda, Mark J. The Book of Zechariah. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.
Booij, Th. “Psalm CXXXIX: Text, Syntax, Meaning.” VT 55 (2005): 1-19.
Brown, William P. “Psalm 139: The Pathos of Praise.” Interpretation 50 (1996): 280-284.
Broyles, Craig C. The Conflict of Faith and Experience: A Form-Critical and Theological Study. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988.
Brueggemann, Walter and W. H. Bellinger, Jr. Psalms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Buysch, Christoph. Der letze Davidpsalter: Interpretation, Komposition und Funktion der Psalmen gruppe Ps 138-145. Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 2009.
Croft, Steven J. L. The Identity of the Individual in the Psalms. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.
deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf A. Jacobson, Beth LaNeel Tanner. The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.
Eaton, John H. Kingship and the Psalms. London: SCM Press, 1975.
Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity, 3rd. ed. Harmonsdworth: Penguin, 1960.
Firth, David G. “Ambiguity.” Pages 151-186 in Words and the Word: Explorations in Biblical Interpretation and Literary Theory. Edited by David G. Firth and Jamie A. Grant, Nottingham: Apollos, 2008.
Firth, David G. Surrendering Retribution in the Psalms: Responses to Violence in the Individual Complaints. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005.
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150). Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.
Gunkel, Hermann (completed by Joachim Begrich). Introduction to Psalms: The Genres of the Religious Lyric of Israel. Trans. James D. Nogalski. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998.
Harmon, Steven R. “Theology Proper and the Proper Way to Pray: An Exposition of Psalm 139.” Review and Expositor 104 (2007): 777-786.
Harrelson, Walter. “On God’s Knowledge of the Self – Psalm 139.” CurrTM 2 (1975): 261-265.
Hess, Richard S. Song of Songs. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
Holman, Jan. “The Structure of Psalm CXXXIX.” VT 21 (1971): 298-310.
Hossfeld, Frank Lothar and Eric Zenger. Psalms 3: A Commentary on Psalms 101-150. Trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011.
Hutchinson, James Hely. “The Psalms and Praise.” Pages 85-100 in Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches. Edited by Philip S. Johnston and David G. Firth, Leicester: Apollos, 2005.
Jacobson, Rolf A. “’The Faithfulness of the Lord Endures Forever’: The Theological Witness of the Psalter”, Pages 111-138 in Soundings in the Theology of the Psalms: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship. Edited by Rolf A. Jacobson, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011.
Kwakkel, Gert. ‘According to My Righteousness’: Upright Behaviour as Grounds for Deliverance in Psalms 7, 17, 18, 26 and 44. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
Longman, Tremper III. Job. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.
Longman, Tremper III. Psalms. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.
Mazor, Yair. “When Aesthetics is Harnessed to Psychological Characterization: ‘Ars Poetica’ in Psalm 139.” ZAW 109 (1997): 260-271.
Persaud, Aran J. E. Praying the Language of Enmity in the Psalter: A Study of Psalms 110, 119, 129, 137, 139 and 149. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016.
Rice, Gene. “Psalm 139: A Diary of the Inward Odyssey.” Journal of Religious Thought 37 (1980): 63-67.
Ross, Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (Psalms 90-150). Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.
Schüngel-Straumann, Helen. "Zur Gattung und Theologie des 139. Psalms." BZ 17 (1973): 39-51.
Smith, Janet. Dust or Dew: Immortality in the Ancient Near East and in Psalm 49. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2011.
Terrien, Samuel. The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
Vesco, Jean-Luc. Le Psautier de David: Traduit et Commenté. Paris: Cerf, 2006.
Wagner, Andreas. “Permutatio Religionis – Ps. CXXXIX und der Wandel der Israelitischen Religion zur Bekenntnisreligion.” VT 57 (2007): 91-113.
Wallace, Howard Neil. Words to God, Word from God: The Psalms in the Prayer and Preaching of the Church. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.
Weiser, Artur. The Psalms: A Commentary. London: SCM Press, 1962.
Westermann, Claus. The Living Psalms. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989.
Würthwein, Ernst. “Erwägungen zu Psalm CXXXIX.” VT 7 (1957): 165-182.
Young, E. J. “The Background of Psalm 139.” BETS 8 (1965): 101-110.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).