—Published in Fides et Humilitas, no. 3 (2016): 111–113

The Harp of Prophecy spawned in October 1998 at the University of Notre Dame when a number of scholars assembled to discuss the Early Christian study of the Psalter. The group wrote and revised essays on the Psalms, whereas other scholars later joined the group. Finally, Notre Dame’s brain-trust deposited its knowledge in The Harp of Prophecy , which thus represents a carefully thought-out discussion of the Early Church’s interface with the Psalter.

After Paul Kolbert introduces the volume, twelve essays furnish the remainder of The Harp of Prophecy . First, Brain Daley surveys Early Christian interpretation of the Psalter, highlighting the aims and strategies of such interpretation. Next, Gary Anderson shows how pre-modern readers use and embrace imprecatory Psalms. Ronald Heine, afterwards, reconstructs Origen’s introduction to his Caesarian Psalter commentary. Paul Kolbert then presents Athanasius’s letter to Marcellinus as an exercise in “the reformation of the self” (p.75). Luke Dysinger discusses Evagrius Ponticus’s use of the Psalter as a handbook for contemplative Christians.

Chapters six through eight focus on Psalm 45. Using the imagery of bride and groom, Nonna Verna Harrison discusses Basil of Caesarea’s gender focused allegories in Psalm 45. David Hunter explores how Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine use the language of virgin, bride, and church for a social and political purpose, providing historical insight into these three interpreters. Ronald Cox compares Cyril of Alexandria’s reading of the Psalm with Theodore of Mopsuestia’s reading of Psalm 45, demonstrating the similarities of the Alexandrian and Antiochene exegetes. John J. O’Keefe explicitly argues for what Cox exemplified: The Antiochene School does not embrace a pure historical reading in contrast to the Alexandrian allegorizers, which he proves by testifying to Theodoret’s embrace of his Antiochene roots alongside a respect for Alexandrian influences.

The next two chapters highlight Augustine. Michael Cameron explicates the idea of totus Christus as the hermeneutical center of Augustine’s interpretation of the Psalms, underscoring the tool of prosopological exegesis. Michael McCarthy applies uox totius Christi as a means to envelop Augustine’s congregation into the Psalter, a Psalter that testifies to an ecclesiology of groaning.

Paul Blowers finishes the sequence of essays with a discussion of Maximus the Confessors’ commentary on Psalm 59 before providing a translation of that commentary at the end of his essay.

While each essay argues its thesis well, The Harp of Prophecy as a volume unsuccessfully articulates its purpose in writing. Kolbert’s introduction states that each essay relates to prayer and meditation (p.2), and he also indicates the volume provides research into the area of virtue-formation/Christian psalmody (p.3). These stated goals fail to cover the broad scope of the articles found in subsequent chapters.

If the work’s subtitle, Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms , provides the stated purpose in writing then it allows for a very broad goal but one that the work accomplishes. In any case, the essays found within excellently argue their theses, but one could wish for a clearer purpose in writing such a volume.

On the positive side, The Harp of Prophecy exhibits clear organization, chronologically and topically, making the volume feel coherent. After Daley provides an overview of the field, the rest of the essays progress from a focus on pre-modern views of David to an essay on Maximus the Confessor (AD 7th cent.). In terms of topical organization, three essays, for example, focus on Psalm 45 from different angles (chs. 6–8); the last essay (ch. 8) relates closely to the content of chapter 9, both of which highlight the interaction between the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of thought. Whereas multi-author volumes can feel disjointed, the The Harp Prophecy feels like a united work.

Additionally, in a field where resources often hide in obscure volumes, The Harp of Prophecy’s bibliography provides a beneficial repository of primary and secondary sources. While students of Early Christian studies will appreciate knowing the location of primary sources, they will equally benefit from a learned repository of secondary literature.

The Harp of Prophecy contains a wonderful collection of essays that will both introduce novices to the field while also challenging veterans to think more deeply about their field of study. Anyone interested in Early Christian studies and the Psalms should read The Harp of Prophecy .

Bibliographical Information

Brian E. Daley, S.J., and Paul R. Kolbet, eds. The Harp of Prophecy: Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms . Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 332. ISBN: 978-0268026196. $39.00 [Paperback].
About the Author:
Wyatt A. Graham

Wyatt A. Graham is a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Seminary and currently serves as Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Canada.