When you think of scripture, what do you think of? Salvation? Classical literature? The possible nuances that were lost in translation? The history behind scripture is shrouded in age-old controversies, the spoils and suffering of war, and literary beauty. Critics and analysts have spent centuries writing on these complicated scriptures. Perhaps one of the most poetic and most analyzed books of scripture is the Psalms.
According to Rachel Sutphin, Psalm 136 is uniquely composed within the psalter. She asserts that this particular psalm reflects the poeticism of the psalmists and works to enhance their theological volumes. Sutphin’s article “The Star of the Psalms: The Geometric Structure of Psalm 136” is the culmination of more than half a semester of research and takes an in-depth look at a piece of religious scripture and its thematic and stylistic structures. Sutphin’s article takes a detailed and organized approach toward analyzing Psalm 136. She makes a section-by-section and line-by- line analysis that truly brings a strong argument to the realm of theological criticism. Her article is easy to follow (for the casual theologian) and eloquently written for a clear analysis.
Always attracted to the Psalms for their poetic expression of “raw emotions such of belief and disbelief, pain and joy,” Sutphin admired the psalmists’ devotion to their faith “despite the fluctuations of emotions and historical circumstances.” However, she specifcally chose Psalm 136 for its relationship to the hesed covenant, a subject of much discussion in her work. Sutphin refutes past claims and works to prove her geometric theory through careful assertions.
Another critic, Dr. Jacob Bazak, outlines a four-part geometric structure for Psalm 136 in an article from 1985. Not only does Sutphin explain how Bazak manipulates the language and structure, her research displays a clear alternative. Her research considers Psalm 136 in five sections and denotes how the subjects and themes of each section can be arranged in a geometric pattern that makes a five-point star. Sutphin’s proposed geometric structure calls new attention to more intricate details within the psalm’s poetics and argues that the psalmists made these rhetorical choices more deliberately than others have considered in similar research.
At the heart of her research, she strives to prove her theorized structure with a format that she believes “respectfully represents the Psalm.” In her opinion, her proposed structure and its new method of analysis make the reader more aware of the purpose of the psalmist. She hopes and believes that her article will bring “a heightened appreciation for the psalm and its place within the Judeo-Christian history and faith.” It is up to her reader to judge whether she accomplished this goal. A modern take on a piece of religious writing, Sutphin’s research shows an intricate consideration of Psalm 136, and offers new and useful insight into theological criticism.