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
204 Ruth Fidler
Psalm 155 (Syriac Psalm III) was described as â€œquite biblical in
form and expression, being an individual Danklied-Klagelied
combinationâ€ (43) and â€œas biblical as a nonbiblical psalm can getâ€ (44).
Understandably then, this parallel is cited as the ultimate proof that Ps
3,6 refers likewise to a dream (45). But such a conclusion does not
necessarily follow from the evidence. Post-biblical authors, lacking the
special sensitivity of their biblical predecessors regarding dreams,
were inclined to introduce dream terms into their accounts of
theophanies and prophetic messages that do not have such definitions
in the Bible (46). Therefore it is equally feasible to argue that Psalm
155,18-19 in Syriac and in Qumran bears no greater testimony to the
original meaning of Ps 3,6 than does Pap. Ryl. 461 to the original
position of this verse. Both have their contribution to the history of
exegesis, but this should not be confused with exegesis itself.
A combination of the phenomenological line (2) with the traditio-
historical one (3) therefore seems more promising. Psalmists, not
unlike biblical prophets, generally steer clear of dream terminology
when reporting their own encounters with the divine. A sense of
special closeness to God echoes also through the Psalms, although its
roots are somewhat different: as regards prophets this sense has to do
with their personal charismatic status, whereas psalmists often express
their proximity to God is terms that are more spatial or cultic. â€œHe who
dwells in the shelter of Elyon, who abides in the shadow of the
Almightyâ€ (Ps 91,1), who is â€œplanted in the house of YHWHâ€ (92,14)
or hides in the shadow of his wings (17,8) may also be inclined to a
more direct concept of communication with God than attainable
(43) J.A. SANDERS, The Psalms Scroll of QumrÃ¢n Cave 11 (11QPsa) (DJD 4;
Oxford 1965) 76.
(44) SANDERS, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, 112. Sanders found it impossible
to date this psalm. See however A. HURVITZ, â€œObservations on the Language of
the Third Apocryphal Psalm from Qumranâ€, RevQ 5 (1964) 225-232. Hurvitz
pointed to an accumulation of â€œlinguistic idioms which are peculiar to late biblical
or even post-biblical Hebrewâ€, concluding that the psalm could not be earlier than
the Persian era (ibid., 231). Cp. also VAN ROOY, â€œPsalm 155â€, 110-111.
(45) SCHROEDER, â€œPsalm 3â€, 247-248.
(46) J. BARTON, Oracles of God. Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel
After the Exile (New York â€“ Oxford 1986) 118-122, 127; R.K. GNUSE, Dreams
and Dream Reports in the Writings of Josephus. A Traditio-Historical Analysis
(Leiden 1996) 12, 161-162, 173-174, 176-177. Gnuseâ€™s review shows that
Josephus introduced dream terms when he paraphrased Gen 46,5; 2 Sam 12,1; 1