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
198 Ruth Fidler
To summarize, the â€˜ritualâ€™ approach can provide more satisfactory
explanations for the position and context of v. 6 and for the special
emphasis on the awakening (I and III above), and it offers interesting,
though not absolutely essential, explanations for the supposed break in
v. 8 (V above), but it cannot prove the poetâ€™s presence in the temple
from the language of v. 5. The â€˜spiritualâ€™ approach is less satisfactory
in the former respects (especially I and III), but it can more easily
avoid reading into the text elements that are difficult to prove.
In such circumstances it is natural to look for a middle course that
would benefit from the advantages of each approach and avoid its
weaknesses. Such a middle course may relate v. 6 to a dream oracle,
still regarding it as a special â€˜turning pointâ€™ encounter with the divine
(as the ritual approach), but eliminate the temple setting and the notion
of incubation (as the spiritual approach) (24). The dream is a general
type of revelation that can occur anywhere and does not require a visit
to a temple. This definition is conducive to a more personal rendering
of the psalmistâ€™s experience, releasing it from the cultic framework
imposed by proponents of the ritual approach. So for instance the
break in v. 8, rather than be filled with hypothetical oracles or rituals,
can be given a personal explanation: The psalmist appeals to Yahweh
to bring about (v. 8a) the triumph that he has already glimpsed in his
dream (v. 8b) and naturally took for some form of reality (25).
It now remains to be seen whether the notion of Psalm 3 as a
reflection of a theophanic dream is indeed more convincing or accurate
than the hypotheses it is meant to replace, such as the incubation ritual.
2. Dream Terminology and â€˜Liminal (Dream?) Reportsâ€™
One peculiarity for which the dream hypothesis has to account in
Psalm 3 (or, for that matter, in any other text with similar features) (26)
is the absence of explicit, basic terms for dreams and dreaming (Âµwlj,
Âµlj). An unequivocal dream statement that uses at least one such term
is integral to many dream reports in the Bible (e.g. Gen 20,3; 28,12;
31,10.11.24; 37,5.6.9; 40,126.96.36.199; 41,188.8.131.52.22; 1Kgs 3,5; Judg
biblical ms [â€¦]. While it tells us something about reception history, it tells us
nothing about original text, whether Hebrew or Greekâ€.
(24) SCHROEDER, â€œPsalm 3â€, 245-251.
(25) Ibid., 248-249.
(26) I.e. reports of encounters with the divine during sleep and/or at night that
do not use dream terms, e.g. Num 22,20; 1 Sam 3. See below.