Why Do the Nations Rage? A Muslim Rewriting of Psalm 2

This article examines an intriguing Muslim version of Psalm 2, and concludes that although it may have been written in response to the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem, it is not so much anti-Christian polemic as an internal polemic against worldly Muslims. It stems from a paper titled “A Muslim Rewriting of Psalm 2: Interreligious Resistance and Intrareligious Critique,” which I presented at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego in 2007, as part of a memorable panel on “Muslim Biblical Studies.” Most of the papers from that panel were published in a thematic issue of Comparative Islamic Studies. The published article is:

David R. Vishanoff. “Why Do the Nations Rage? Boundaries of Canon and Community in a Muslim’s Rewriting of Psalm 2.” Comparative Islamic Studies 6 (2010 [2012]): 151–179.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record): DOI 10.1558/cis.v6i1-2.151

For those without access to the journal, here is the pre-press Accepted Manuscript as a pdf.

And here is the abstract:

Numerous Arabic manuscripts of the “Psalms of David” contain not the Biblical Psalms but Muslim compositions in the form of exhortations addressed by God to David. One rewritten version of Psalm 2 manipulates the form and content of the Biblical Psalms so as to highlight a conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities, and the incompatibility of their scriptural canons. Yet it also embraces the imagined idea of the Psalms of David, and incorporates elements of the Quran, ḥadīth, Islamic sermons, and Tales of the Prophets so as to highlight a division that cuts through both the Muslim and Christian communities, separating worldly believers from those who, like the shared figure of David, repent and pursue a life of otherworldly piety. This illustrates how sacred texts can serve as symbols of religious communities, especially in situations of conflict, and how apparently interreligious arguments can turn out to be intrareligious disputes. It shows how the content, form, and imagined identity of someone else’s sacred text can be used to manipulate the boundaries of textual canons and religious communities, and it demonstrates the need for both interreligious and intrareligious frames of reference in the comparative enterprise.

2 thoughts on “Why Do the Nations Rage? A Muslim Rewriting of Psalm 2”

  1. As i sit in the IST lobby i can find no commentary on Psalm 2 nor can i bring up your paper on my phone. Would you please what is a Muslim to do with verse 7? The Psalm and gospel of John uses the phrase “son of God” but the Exegesis by Kathir denies that the phrase can be used at all and the teachers here get very emotional about it. Would you help me understand?

    1. Dear Daoud,
      I’m sorry you weren’t able to open my article; I have sent you the pre-publication version as a pdf by email.
      As you will see from the article, the Muslim author discussed in this paper simply dropped Psalms 2:7 when he rewrote Psalm 2. As the paper mentions on p. 20, Christians have long interpreted 2:7 as a reference to Jesus being the son of God. Jews have rejected that interpretation. Other Muslim authors, in other versions of the Islamic psalms (Zabur), likewise rejected the Christian interpretation. In my own Christian tradition it makes sense to think that 2:7 refers initially to King David but that David himself can be taken as a foreshadowing or “type” of Jesus. There are lots of interpretive options, depending on one’s point of view.
      I wish you enjoyment and insight in your study.

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