Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Janse, Sam “You are My Son”: The Reception History of Psalm 2 in Early Judaism and the Early Church (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 51; Leuven: Peeters, 2009). Pp. xxi + 189. Paperback. €45.00. ISBN 978-90-429-2127-6.

This work originated as a submission for an essay competition sponsored by Teylers Godgeleerd Genootschap in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Janse, a minister of the Protestantse Kerk in Nederland, was awarded the gold medal of honor in 2007 for his contribution, of which this monograph is a revision.

As the title intimates, Janse focuses on the reception of Ps 2:7–8 in early Judaism and Christianity, and especially on verse 7. The monograph is divided into seven chapters of variable length, moving from the text and ancient Near Eastern Umwelt of Ps 2 through interpretations down to approximately 150 c.e. Three key concepts are important to Janse's investigation of the reception history of Ps 2: eschatological tendencies, messianic tendencies, and sapiential tendencies in interpretation.

Chapter 1, entitled “Exegetical Explorations of Psalm 2,” deals with the classic historical-critical questions surrounding the psalm. Janse is open to the possibility that the psalm reflects extra-Israelite influences from several directions, and he suggests that it may have had its roots in a preexilic enthronement ritual for Judahite kings. He downplays a cultic interpretation of the poem in its current form, however, since he dates it to the postexilic period. This dating rests in no small part on his interpretation of נשׁקו־בר, which he views as a late (Aramaic) addition by a glossator who wanted to strengthen messianic expectation by referring to the anointed king once again at the end of the poem. He suggests that the present form of the text arose out of a flaring up of messianic hope due to circumstances like those described in Hag 2:20–23, and perhaps connected to Zerubbabel himself. Psalm 2 has been influenced by Isa 49:1–6 and especially by Ps 1, which, according to Janse, was composed before Ps 2 and has contributed to its “sapiential focus.” Despite some iconography related to the “smiting king” topos from the ancient Near East, which he includes in the front of the volume (pp. xx–xxi), Janse downplays the violence of v 9 and focuses more on the call to wisdom in vv 10–12. The most problematic aspect of this chapter, to my mind, is that Janse perpetuates the misinterpretation of the birth metaphor in v 7 as an adoption metaphor (pp. 6 n. 19, 12, 20–21, 124).[1]

Chapter 2 focuses on Ps 2 in the ancient versions, excluding the Vulgate and the Peshitta, since they lie outside of the time frame set for the study (i.e., after ca. 150 c.e.). Janse attempts to determine the extent of theological exegesis and messianic interpretation in these sources. He concludes that there is no messianic tendency in LXX version of Ps 2, but that there is a strong eschatological tendency, as well as a “sapiential trend.” He believes that the interpretation of the Targum reflects apprehensions about messianic interpretation, due to the fact that it translates v 7 as “You are as dear to me as a son to a father.” Additionally, it is anti-anthropomorphic in its translation, with מימרא being used as a hypostasis of God. Janse detects the same “sapiential trend ” in the Targum that governs the LXX of Ps 2, and he believes that their convergence—especially on v 7—suggests that LXX and Targum are independent interpretations of a common Vorlage that deviates from MT.

Chapter 3 examines the literature of Qumran, the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and the rabbinic writings. Of the relevant literature at Qumran, 4Q174 is by far the most important. 4Q174 I.10ff. quotes a combination of OT texts: Ps 2, 2 Sam 7, and Ps 89. According to Janse, Ps 2:1–2 is here interpreted “non-messianically,” since the anointed one is interpreted as the elect of Israel (in the plural). The nations are thus set against the remnant at Qumran. I wonder here whether Janse has drawn too sharp a line between individual and corporate identity in calling the interpretation of 4Q174 “de-messianizing ” (p. 54). Unsurprisingly, this interpretation is not only communal, but also eschatological, as is so typical of Qumran exegesis. Janse suggests that such interpretation is a forerunner of the communal and eschatological interpretation of Ps 2:1–2 in Acts 4:24–30. In contrast, the focus of Psalms of Solomon 17 is more individual and messianic, and Janse speaks of it as “the chief witness for a Messianic interpretation of Ps. 2 in Early Judaism ” (p. 67). Psalms of Solomon 17:21–32 speaks of a future son of David who will reign as messianic king, “smash[ing] the arrogance of sinners like a potter's jar … shatter[ing] all their substance with an iron rod.” (Psalms of Solomon 17:23–24; trans. R. B. Wright, “Psalms of Solomon,” OTP 2:667). Janse also detects strong sapiential features in Psalms of Solomon 17. Much of the rest of the literature in this chapter bears less fruit. It is not until the rabbinic midrashim that one finds significant use of Ps 2 in messianic interpretation (Ps 2 is important in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, but not in this connection). In its interpretation of Ps 2:7, the Midrash on the Psalms is in the tradition of the Targum.

Chapter 4 treats the literature of the New Testament. Janse helpfully begins the chapter by defining what he means by “quotations,” “allusions,” and “reminiscences,” and this discussion is followed by a chart of the various quotations of, allusions to, and reminiscences of Ps 2 in the NT (p. 80). Psalm 2 is quoted four times (Acts 4:25b–26; 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). Additionally, Janse believes that there are sixteen likely allusions (especially in the Synoptics, Acts, Heb, and Rev), with seven others being questionable. It is remarkable, as he notes, that Ps 2 is almost totally absent in John and Paul. In light of the fact that Ps 2 is often quoted in combination with Ps 89 and 2 Sam 7, he reviews the theory of fixed testimonia collections and concludes that the combining of such texts was dynamic, not static. He then moves through each of the NT texts, evaluating the importance of Ps 2 in each case. I focus in what follows on the direct quotations of Ps 2 in the NT, as well as Janse's analysis of its importance for the structure and theology of the NT Gospels, especially Mark. In Acts 4:25b–26, Ps 2:1–2 is cited in toto from the LXX. Remarkably, Luke says in vv 27–28, that not only Herod, Pilate, and the Gentiles, but also the people of Israel played the role of the the ἔθνη and the λαοί in Ps 2 by opposing Jesus. The disciples, however, belong to the community of this anointed Messiah and are protected and empowered by him (vv 29–31). Janse suggests that Luke here gives a “pesher” for his own day (p. 94), modifying the “Palestinian matrix” evident, for example, in 4Q174 (p. 95). Psalm 2:7 is cited in Acts 13:33 to prove that God has fulfilled his promises to the forebears of Israel during the time of Jesus Christ. In this context, Luke connects the resurrection of Jesus with the divine sonship spoken of in Ps 2:7. In Heb 1:5, Ps 2:7 is again quoted in connection with 2 Sam 7:14, here to prove Jesus' superiority to angels—none of whom have ever been called God's son. In Heb 5:5, Ps 2:7 is cited in combination with Ps 110:4. Here the focus is more on the divine voice that spoke from heaven, rather than on the title, “son.” Jesus' role as high priest was not a result of self-exaltation. Janse explains of the combination of Pss 2 and 110 in this text: “If the king is a priest, the ‘royal text’ of Ps 2:7 can be applied in a ‘priestly’ way” (p. 125). Finally, Janse states that Ps 2:7 is the background of the title “son (of God)” in the baptism (Matt 3:17//Mark 4:11//Luke 3:22//John 1:34), temptation (Matt 4:3, 6//Luke 4:3, 9), and transfiguration texts (Matt 17:5//Mark 9:7//Luke 9:35) in the Gospels. Mark, however, has formed his entire gospel around this psalm, and his work uses well-known ancient Near Eastern coronation motifs. Three main points of Jesus' life structure his gospel: Jesus' baptism, transfiguration, and resurrection. As opposed to the tradition in Acts 13:33, which connects Jesus' sonship with his resurrection, Mark moves Ps 2 forward in the life of Christ, “show[ing] that, already at the beginning of Jesus' appearance, human resistance and divine legitimation are present” (p. 116).

Chapter 5 focuses on the use of Ps 2 in the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Both of these Jewish-Christian gospels survive only in fragments, but they both cite the synoptic tradition of Jesus' baptism, in which Ps 2:7 is quoted. Janse concludes that this tradition was used in the Gospel of the Ebionites as a proof for an adoptionistic Christology (i.e., only after Jesus' baptism was he adopted as God's son). It is possible that the same is true for the Gospel of the Hebrews, but this is uncertain.

Chapter 6 investigates the use of Ps 2 in patristic literature up to the time of Justin Martyr. Of the three corpora studied, only Justin uses Ps 2 in any significant way. In First Apology 40, Justin cites Pss 1–2 as a unit, and in the vein of Acts 4, he reads Ps 2 as a prediction of the collaboration of Herod and Pilate against Jesus. In his Dialogue with Trypho, he refers to Ps 2 five times (61, 88, 103, 122, and 126). In Dialogue 88, 103, he connects Ps 2:7 with Jesus' baptism, and in Dialogue 122 he quotes Ps 2:7–8 in connection with Isa 49:8, stating that Christ has received the nations as his inheritance since the gospel of Christ has been preached to the heathen world.

Chapter 7 succinctly summarizes the findings of the study.

Janse has concisely synthesized an enormous amount of information, and he regularly interacts with secondary literature in German, French, English, and Dutch, in addition to primary sources in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. He does not linger overly much on each point, but, rather, lays out the evidence, makes his judgment, and provides a succinct summary at the end of each chapter. I found this to be helpful and refreshing. The book, however, could have benefitted from further editing by a native English speaker. There are several malapropisms throughout the work that are no doubt linked to similar words in German, French, or Latin, such as “motive” for “motif,” “enthronisation” for “enthronement,” and “secundary literature” for “secondary literature.” Nevertheless, these do not obscure the sense of Janse's arguments. On the merits of the careful efficiency with which Janse treats the subject alone, this book is well worth reading. It is a helpful contribution to the burgeoning fields of the history of interpretation and reception history of the Bible. In the case of Ps 2 in particular, such studies show no signs of abating.[2]

Scott C. Jones, Covenant College

[1] For a critique of this interpretation, see especially J. J. M. Roberts, “Whose Child is This? Reflections on the Speaking Voice in Isaiah 9:5,” HTR 90 (1997), 115–29. reference

[2] See, for example, the recent study of G. Sujin Pak, The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth Century Debates Over the Messianic Psalms (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), in which she treats Luther, Bucer, and Calvin and eight “messianic psalms,” including Ps 2; also Allan K. Jenkins, “Erasmus' Commentary on Psalm 2,” JHS 3 (2000), article 3 (available online at Furthermore, the 2011 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, CA, features two full sessions on Nov 19, 2011 devoted to interpretations of Ps 2 before the modern period. The theme of the first session is “Interpretations of Psalm 2 in Early Christianity and the Reformation.” The theme of the second session is “Interpretations of Psalm 2 in the Middle Ages and Beyond.” reference