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Potentials of Identification in the Psalms: On the Effect on Contemporary Readers of Emotions, Metaphors and Textual Dynamics in the Psalms 30, 64, 90 and 147.

Sigrid Eder, Habilitation at the Faculty of Theology, 2016.

How is it possible that readers plunge into literary texts and experience them at first hand?

Departing from this question, the “habilitation” explores the characteristics of the psalms. The immediate impact of the psalms of the Hebrew Bible is a phenomenon that has been frequently mentioned across all periods of scholarly psalm research but has never been operationalised with adequate methods nor analysed systematically. This desideratum in current psalm research and the fact that the psalms have touched people throughout the centuries, thus bridging more than 2000 years of time as well as space and different cultures, marks the starting point for the research project.

Immediacy is based on the fact that readers can identify with the situations, experiences, emotions, characters and movements expressed in the texts. Therefore, the project aimed to find answers to the following research questions: Which aspects of identification can be found in the psalms of the Hebrew Bible, and how do they function? Thus the aim of this project was to analyse strategies of the texts which enable readers to identify with the situations, characters, experiences, thoughts and emotions described in the psalms.

For the analysis of the text-based potential of identification, an innovative methodological approach has been developed, based on the definition of the term “identification”. In literary studies “identification” with narrative texts means the active adoption of certain perspectives constructed in the text. This assumption of a specific perspective will be the more successful (1) the more specific and more “interesting” the world of the text is represented, (2) the better one can follow the text emotionally, and (3) the better one can follow the dynamics of the text. Thus the text was analysed along the three analytical categories of (1) context or text-world, (2) emotions, including both emotions mentioned in the text and emotions triggered by the text, and (3) the dynamics of the text.

The selection of the psalms was based on the formal criterion of the dominant perspective narrated in the text, and after the text analysis, the study was able to show theological as well as interdisciplinary benefits: an innovative procedure of using narrative methods for the interpretation of poetic texts in order to enrich their analysis; an extended understanding of verbal images in general and metaphors in particular because of their high potential for identification; a new contribution to the analysis of emotion in biblical texts through the study of explicit and implicit emotions, the depiction of emotion fields in the selected psalms and the elaboration of the phenomenon called “double emotionality” in the chosen psalms and finally, through the depiction of the identification process with literary texts, a broader theological understanding of the psalms and a deeper understanding of their impact for contemporary readers.