Ambiguity and Poetry: Psalm 62 as Witness

Ambiguity is native to poetry. From metaphor to meaning, from the flow of lines to the structure of the poem as a whole, poetry welcomes equivocality. Modern biblical studies aims at explanation and elaboration. Precision and accuracy are doggedly sought, and rightly so. However, such scientific attempts are met with resistance in the poetry of the Hebrew Bible. This reality is not news (Knight). Scripture’s poetry is filled with ambiguity (Miller-Naudé). This is so especially for Psalms (Santrac; Hildebrandt). The text’s opacity is both intentional on the part of the psalmists and inherent to the form. Psalmists deliberately leverage language for polysemy and multi-signification (Raabe). The form itself—its paratactic and terse shape—demonstrates the ambiguous nature of biblical poetry (P. Miller). Yet more clarity can be brought to ambiguity and its function in Psalms poetry (cf. Firth).

This paper explores how biblical poetry is ambiguous and why it matters, both for the interpreter and the interpretation. Psalm 62 serves as the key example. The paper demonstrates with this psalm the role and purpose of ambiguity. As such, the modern notion of precision in understanding is sobered to the realities of biblical poetry, and ambiguity is more readily appreciated.

4 thoughts on “Ambiguity and Poetry: Psalm 62 as Witness”

  1. Another intriguing paper
    Ethan read as one of our invited speakers last year, so it probably is too soon to include him again. However, his sensitivity to the poetic features of the psalms provides an important voice in our field, and I hope he will be selected for the general program, so that we can hear him there.

  2. Good on topic; thesis and relevance of Ps. 62 not revealed
    Good awareness of scholarly discussion of the topic. But unnecessary to dichotomize between precision/accuracy and ambiguity. Presumably we do want to be precise and accurate about the poetry’s literary use of ambiguity.


Leave a Comment