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"Text-based Potentials of Identification in the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible": Project Summary

The immediacy of the psalms of the Hebrew Bible is a phenomenon frequently mentioned during all periods of scientific 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 kept touching 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 aims 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? The aim of this project is it to analyse strategies of the texts, which enable readers to identify with the situations, characters, experiences, thoughts and emotions described in the psalms. Another aim is to develop an adequate methodology and a set of methods for achieving the purpose of the study.

The identification-process is a complex reading-phenomenon depending on three factors: (1) reader, (2) context and (3) text. For the analysis of text-based potentials of identification an innovative methodological approach is developed. Combining various definitions of identification we can say that identification with literary texts means the active adoption of certain perspectives constructed in the text. This perspective-taking will be the more successful
1 the more specific (but not in detail) and more “interesting” the text-world is presented (analytical category: text-world – “stage” of the text: who, where, when etc.)
2 the better you can follow the text emotionally (analytical category: emotions – textual manifestations of emotions; emotional effects of the text, especially emotional effects on the reader produced by metaphorical language)
3 the better you can follow the dynamics of the text (analytical categories: text-dynamics, perspectives – dynamics in time and space; time you need for reading and imagining the possible world you read)

After a well-grounded selection of the psalms using the formal criterion of the dominant perspective and after the text-analysis, theological as well as interdisciplinary benefits can be expected: an innovative procedure of adopting narrative methods for the interpretation of lyric texts in order to enrich the analysis of poetry; an extended understanding of metaphors in biblical scriptures because of their identification-potentials; a broader knowledge concerning emotions in biblical texts, as identification has very much to do with emotions evoked by the text and expressed in the text, and – finally – a broader theological understanding of the psalms and a deeper understanding of their immediacy.

This project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (Elise Richter-Programme; starting 03/2013)