Review of Ricks, Stephen D. “Psalm 105: Chiasmus, Credo, Covenant, and Temple.”

Ricks, Stephen D.  “Psalm 105: Chiasmus, Credo, Covenant, and Temple.”  In Temple Insights: Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion” 22 September 2012, edited by William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely, 157-69.  Temple on Mount Zion Series 2.  Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation / Eborn Books, 2014. [Israel/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship/Covenant]

This is a puzzling and enigmatic essay by one of BYU’s longstanding and reputed Biblical scholars.  His argument begins with the premise that important literary and theological themes such as chiasmus, the historical credo and the covenant dominate Psalm 105, and the temple looms in the background.  Ricks says in the first paragraph of this essay that he is going to discuss each of the elements but will “focus on the covenant in this psalm.” 

He begins with a discussion of chiasmas as found in Near Eastern literature and in the Book of Mormon, then in Psalm 105.  This discussion occupies 2.5-3 pages of the text and there is almost nothing explicit said about either the covenant or the temple.  Next he turns to the “Historical Credo” as found in Deuteronomy, Psalm 105, and the Book of Mormon.  This occupies a little more than a page, but again the only relationship to either the temple or the covenant is the mention of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Psalm 105, but Ricks offers nothing additional to the quotation of the JPS version of Ps. 105:7-13.

The bulk of the essay concerns Psalm 105 as a covenant text.  The Hebrew term berit, translated “covenant,” is analyzed etymologically.  Ricks next outlines the traditional six steps of the Israelite covenant making process.  This is not new.  He has treated it several times previously.  He then turns to show these steps in the book of Exodus regarding the covenant at Sinai.  Following that he discusses these steps in the speech of King Benjamin in the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon.  This discussion occupies 4.5 pages, followed by less than a half of a page regarding the covenant in Psalm 105, and he concludes with another 3/4 of a page on the covenant pattern in the sacrament prayers.  So, of the 5.5 pages devoted to the covenant theme, less than one-half of a page deals with Psalm 105 and at least half of that is another quotation from the JPS translation of Ps. 5:76-11 with the briefest of commentary, the best of which says: “But we need to understand the covenant passage in Psalm 105 in light of the much richer covenant tradition; the covenant tradition and covenant pattern are intrinsic parts of the life and history of ancient Israel.”  That is it!

But I have a bigger problems than the limited way Ps 105 is used in this essay.  That is, there are many different views and interpretations of the concept of covenant in the Bible and Ricks does not take the reader into anything beyond his six-step taxonomy.  For example, many years ago David Noel Freedman, one of the grand dons of Biblical scholarship, wrote an essay about covenant in the Old Testament wherein he argued there were basically two types of covenants portrayed.  The first was the “unconditional” type such as that which God made with Abraham in which no stipulations were made on Abraham.  Rather the promises to him were unconditional.  The second type of covenant is the “conditional” covenant best illustrated by the Sinai Covenant with Moses.  There the Lord imposed conditions upon the reception of the promises he made to Israel.  These conditions included the Ten Commandments, among others things.  Freedman and David Miano published an essay in a 2003 publication where this same thesis was expounded.  Although I have some problems with the narrow view of Freedman-Miano, the general notion of the difference between the two types of covenants creates a problem for brother Ricks.  The taxonomy which he describes as pertaining to covenants made with Israel refer to the “conditional” covenants found in the Bible–the Sinai Covenants.  However, Psalm 105 refers to the Abrahamic Covenant which Freedman says is representative of the unconditional covenants.  If Freedman and Miano are correct in their analysis this would negate the relevance of these steps to Psalm 105.  If they are not correct in their analysis, brother Ricks seems at least obligated to show how the six steps apply to both the Sinai and Abrahamic Covenant.  Virtually all of the information about the covenant, and chiasmas as found in the Book of Mormon are repetitions of things which have been published before.

The fact that this essay offers little new in the way of understanding Israelite covenants and the effort to show how the various literary elements of Psalm 105 show up in the Book of Mormon,  make this piece for this reader seem somewhat disconnected, lacking focus beyond the larger theme of covenant, but without understanding the issue in Psalm 105 in any significant way.  That leads me to suspect that professor Ricks may have constructed this paper rather quickly for the symposium, and did not devote time for original research on Psalm 105 which could have made a significant contribution.  Certainly not like the essays of Mack Sterling before him and Mark Alan Wright, Don Parry and others following.  He doesn’t show well in this company.  This essay’s superficiality, repetition of things already in print and lack of insight proved disappointing.

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