Originally published in A.J.A. Quarterly, 5:1 (1959), pp. 38-9.
Reflections on the Psalms. By C. S. Lewis. Geoffrey Bles. 12s. 6d.
There are fine things in this book, the chapter on praising God, for instance—“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. . . . In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him”. The Jewish reader, however, will find Lewis’s Christological approach irritating. The Psalmists are not allowed to speak for themselves but as, in the author’s view, harbingers of Christian doctrine.
The result is a completely unhistorical appreciation. The author disarms criticism by his frank statement that he is no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. But is it possible to really understand what the Psalmists were about while side-stepping the scholarly disciples? Lewis tells us that he can even use the passage in Psalm 135 about dashing the stone for his edification: “I know things in the inner world which are like babies; the infantile beginnings of small indulgences, small resentments, which may one day become dipsomania or settled hatred, but which woo us and wheedle us with special pleadings and seem so tiny, so helpless that in resisting them we feel that we are cruel to animals. They begin whimpering to us: ‘I don’t ask much, but’, or ‘I had at least hoped’, or ‘you owe yourself some consideration’. Against all such pretty infants (the dears have such winning ways) the advice of the Psalm is the best. Knock the little bastards’ brains out. And ‘blessed’ he who can, for it’s easier said than done.” A nice, modern Midrash, but Jewish tradition insists that the derash must not obscure the peshat, the plain meaning of the text. That the plain meaning presents difficulties in texts like the above is obvious. Jews, too, stand in need of a sound Biblical Theology to map out the teachings of Scripture for the man and woman of today. But this will not be achieved by talking what has aptly been called “holy nonsense”.