Ruth Fidler, «A Touch of Support: Ps 3,6 and the Psalmist’s Experience», Vol. 86 (2005) 192-212
Vv. 5-6 mark a turning point in Psalm 3, both structurally
and thematically, probably reflecting a significant personal experience. Due to
the mention of sleeping and waking (v. 6a) this experience is sometimes
interpreted as a dream in which the psalmist got word of his imminent
deliverance. Recently supported by a Qumran parallel that mentions dreaming
explicitly (11QPsa xxiv 16-17;B. Schroeder,
Biblica 81  243-251), this argument nevertheless
seems questionable, given e.g. the tendency of later Judaism to attribute dreams
also to biblical figures that are not characterized in such terms in the Bible.
The main thrust of this article is to examine the psalm in comparison with
theophanic reports elsewhere in the Bible and in ANE literature. This analysis
shows the language of Psalm 3 to be compatible with an incubatory ritual that
culminates in a real experience of presence with a divine gesture of support.
These findings are related to the proximity to God that finds expression in the
A Touch of Support: Ps 3,6 and the Psalmistâ€™s Experience (*)
A short and apparently â€˜conventionalâ€™ instance of the individual
prayer (1), Psalm 3 presents the reader with an exegetical challenge that
is characteristic of Psalm criticism. This challenge has its focus in v. 6
(â€œI lay down and slept, I awoke for the Lord supports meâ€), but it
affects the interpretation of the whole psalm, as evident from the fact
that it was labeled a â€œmorning hymnâ€ (2) or thought to reflect an
incubation ritual (3). Recently these characterizations have been rejected
in favour of a different interpretation that also takes it cue from v. 6,
namely that Psalm 3 is a hymn of confidence composed when the
psalmist awoke in the middle of the night following a dream oracle in
which he experienced Yahwehâ€™s support (4). As shown below, this
theory has its appeal, but it falters somewhat upon closer examination
of its textual and comparative evidence. Moreover, data gathered from
reports of theophany elsewhere in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern
literature would seem to yield a slightly different impression. Should
the psalmistâ€™s experience be subjected to yet another â€˜restorationâ€™
attempt or would it be more honest to concede that its private (5),
(*) In remembrance of professor Zeev Weisman â€” teacher, colleaque and
friend â€” who sadly passed away on 28 December 2004, after a brave struggle
(1) Cp. K. SEYBOLD, Introducing the Psalms (translated by R. Graeme
Dunphy) (Edinburgh 1990) 64-65: â€œThe language of this simple prayer smacks of
everyday colloquial usage [a style of prayer that] epitomizes the Psalms of the
Individualâ€. According to J.S. KSELMAN, â€œPsalm 3: A Structural and Literary
Studyâ€, CBQ 49 (1987) 572, â€œthe conventionality and familiarity of its language
and motifsâ€ are among the reasons for a scholarly â€œlack of interestâ€ in this psalm.
(2) B. DUHM, Die Psalmen (KHAT 14; Freiburg i.B. 1899) 12; C.A. & E.G.
BRIGGS, The Book of Psalms (ICC 16; New York 1906-1907) I, 24; P.C. CRAIGIE,
Psalms 1â€“50 (WBC 19; Waco, TX 1983) 70, 72, 75; Cp. A. WEISER, The Psalms
(OTL; Philadelphia 1962) 116, 118.
(3) S. MOWINCKEL, Psalmenstudien (Kristiania 1921-1924; repr. Amsterdam
1966) I, 156-157. See below, note 13 for more detail.
(4) C. SCHROEDER, â€œPsalm 3 und das Traumorakel des von Feinden bedrÃ¤ngten
Betersâ€, Bib 81 (2000) 243-251, esp. 245-246, 249. Contrary to the impression
given by Schroeder (ibid., n. 2), the definition â€œmorning hymnâ€ (as well as
â€œincubationâ€) was rejected by H. GUNKEL, Die Psalmen (GÃ¶ttingen 51968) 13.
(5) The reference to sleeping and waking suggests a private and individual
experience, even if it were certain that the psalmist was a public figure, as some