Week 02: Psalms

February 6-12: Psalms of Complaint, or "Lament Psalms"

Psalms! The Book of Psalms. Complaint psalms and other genres. Institutional settings and functions of psalms in history. Hebrew poetry and its forms.

This is our first of three weeks on "The Writings" in the Hebrew Bible. Here is a list of the "enduring understandings and essential questions" that motivated the instructor when creating this Unit.



Read Bandstra’s Prologue to the Writings, and his chapter Psalms: Complaint and Thanksgiving. Or, in Stanley or your Introduction of choice, read on the Writings, the Psalms, and on Biblical Hebrew poetry. Regarding Complaint Psalms, please also consult this handout.

Recommended readings:


View or listen to the two-part lecture, “Psalms”:

“Make” of the Week

Pick one (1) of the following options for this week’s “make,” sharing it on your blog (remembering to tag your post with our label/tag, “ootle17”). Garrett students: Remember you must comment, thoughtfully and subsantively, to at least three (3) other OOTLE17-ers by Sunday evening, to a post on their blog that is less than one week old at the time of your comment.

Option 1:

Read Psalm 44, using the NRSV or CEB translations. Referring above to “How to Read a Poem” in this week’s readings, see the questions listed in the section, “Talking Back to a Poem.” In a blog post (or a YouTube video, or mp3 recording to which you link in a blog post), bring each of the listed questions to Psalm 44. Write the answers that Psalm 44 seems to provide. As always, be specific, and cite your evidence from Psalm 44. In a follow-up paragraph or two, write in such a way as to round out the elements of our course rubric.

Option 2:

Using the readings and handout offered above, study the formal features of the genre “Complaint Psalm” (often also called a “Lament Psalm”). Then, write your own Complaint Psalm. Some suggestions:

  • Notice how the Psalms do not specify their situation too closely: the idea is that generations of readers should be able to speak your complaint psalm in their own circumstances. At the same time, don’t make it too broad (or else we would only ever need one!).
  • Use the formal features, or else it isn’t a complaint psalm. At the same time, play against the form: what happens if you emphasize some of the formal elements while minimizing others? What happens when you break one formal element into parts, allowing it to surface and re-surface throughout the psalm?
  • Don’t look only for “pious” situations. Anything that causes pain is fair fodder for complaint: illness, death, unemployment, racism, underemployment, theft, sexism, betrayal, heroes who prove to have clay feet, hetero- or cis-normativity, banks that charge you $3 to access your own damned money, children who heart-breakingly refuse to learn lessons that would make them happier, getting your car keyed…use anything! Just be sure that the end result plays broadly enough that other readers can “feel it” in their own similar (but not identical) circumstances.
  • As necessary, in a follow-up paragraph or two, write in such a way as to round out the required elements of our course rubric.

Option 3:

Write any poem using Biblical-Hebrew poetic parallelism. The Bandstra reading above includes a section on parallelism, and this article shows how grammatical parts of speech can be your friend in generating parallels. Use as many kinds of poetic parallelism as you can.

  • Couplets are your friends!
  • Again, don’t feel compelled to select only “pious” or religiously-themed topics (though you certainly can use these). In fact, you might find a more "secular" topic easier for breaking out of habitual associations. Write want you want, and see what’s possible with parallelism. Let the poem surprise you by telling you what it wants to say. Brainstorm, draft, and revise, while listening to what the poem wants to become.
  • As necessary, in a follow-up paragraph or two, write in such a way as to round out the required elements of our course rubric.

Activity of the Week: Tweet Workshop

Tuesday through Wednesday (Correction: Monday and Tuesday), each of us will draft a Tweet that relates to this week’s topic. On Thursday through Friday (Correction: Wednesday-Thursday), each of us will offer suggestions for improvement to at least three (3) of our classmates. On Saturday through Monday morning (Correction: Friday through Monday morning), each of us will launch our Tweets into Twitter.

Here is the Google Doc where we will do our work, and where instructions are written.

Note again that there are "staged deadlines" for this Activity. That is, there is a stage to be done on Monday-Tuesday, a stage to be done Wednesday-Thursday, and a stage to be done Friday-Sunday.

Most of you will not yet have many Followers on Twitter. If you DO have followers, help your fellow OOTLE17-ers get things rolling by re-tweeting their tweets!

Fireside Chat

I will begin scheduling Chats according to your responses to our poll (Week 01). Stay tuned!