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 197
Ps 4,9 (19). This comparison is not entirely satisfactory, though.
Whereas in Ps 4,9 the poetâ€™s peaceful sleep, attributed to divine
protection, brings the psalm to its serene close, the sleep in Ps 3,6 is
not qualified as peaceful, nor does it strike a concluding note. Rather,
it builds up towards the awakening (III above), which goes
unmentioned in Psalm 4. Finally, this interpretation leaves Ps 3,6
somewhat isolated in its context of crisis: Why would the psalmist,
hard pressed by his enemies, single out his sleep and awakening as a
token of divine grace? What would this have to do with the
immediately preceding report that he cried to YHWH and was
answered â€œfrom his holy mountainâ€ (v. 5)?
There is, to be sure, one reading of Psalm 3 which brings it
somewhat closer to Psalm 4 and its presentation of the psalmistâ€™s
peaceful sleep as the ultimate expression of divine protection. This is
Pap. Ryl. 461 (Rahlfs 2057), a 6th century Greek parchment of
unknown provenance containing parts of Ps 3,220.127.116.11.6 followed by Ps
62,2.4.5 (20). In this text v. 6 is placed at the end of Psalm 3, after v. 9.
Although perhaps not fully intentional (21) the misplacement seems to
fit in with the characterization of the text as a protective amulet (22).
Text-critically, however, the uniqueness of this arrangement of v. 6
coupled with other features of Ryl. 461 which indicate that it is
not a proper Psalter manuscript, renders its testimony practically
(19) GUNKEL, Die Psalmen, 13; DUHM, Die Psalmen, 11-12; BRIGGS, Psalms,
25; Cp. WEISER, The Psalms, 118. According to BUTTENWEISER, The Psalms, 398-
399, 402, 404 the parallel in Ps 4,9 has â€œmore weight, since Psalm 4 is a
companion piece to Psalm 3â€ from the hand of the same author. Cp. DUHM.
(20) Text: Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands
Library Manchester III: Theological and Literary Texts (Nos. 457-551) (ed. C.H.
ROBERTS) (Manchester 1938) 13-15; Rahlfs number and description: Two
Manuscripts of the Greek Psalter in the Chester Beatty Library Dublin (ed. A.
PIETERSMA) (Analecta biblica 77; Rome 1978) 7. I am grateful to Prof. Albert
Pietersma for his patient guidance in the readings and import of this text as well
as for his permission to quote from our correspondence (notes 22, 23 below), and
to Prof. Emanuel Tov for referring me to Prof. Pietersma.
(21) According to ROBERTS, Catalogue, 15, â€œthere is nothing to indicate that
the scribe recognized that this verse was out of placeâ€.
(22) For this characterization see ROBERTS, Catalogue, 13. Pietersma prefers
the definition â€œlectionaryâ€: â€œA brief text with unusual psalm order and without
title may be a lectionary rather than an amuletâ€.
(23) The other indicators as to the nature of Ryl. 461, according to Pietersma,
are: (a) the sequence of Psalms 3 + 62 and (b) the omission of the superscription
of Psalm 62. Together they â€œpoint in a single direction: that Ryl. 461 is not a