Discuss the contribution of Hermann Gunkel and Sigmund Mowinckel to the study of the Psalms.

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Q: Discuss the contribution of Hermann Gunkel and Sigmund Mowinckel to the study of the Psalms.

The Psalms are a unique collection of writings which emerge from times in the Old Testament. The insightful analysis of Hermann Gunkel and the controversial theory of Sigmund Mowinckel have sparked much discussion in a previously stagnant area of theology. It is their contributions which we will look at in the coming paragraphs.


To understand the impact Gunkel and Mowinckel had on the study of the Psalms, we need to be aware of the factors leading up to their contribution.

Concerted understanding of the Psalms was sparked during the enlightenment period of the 18th Century. Prior to this, the Psalms were considered primarily a collection of poems/prayers born from the emotions of holy individuals.

In 1811, De Wette formalised and gave a framework to the understanding of the Psalms. He grouped the Psalms by literary types, for example thanksgiving or petitionary.

More significantly he set fellow scholars down the path of understanding Psalms through historical criticism. Muilenberg defines this as 'a critical anaylsis of there composition, authorship, date, provenience, purpose and sources.' (La Sor, 1987:512)

Buttenweiser followed this method of analysis closely and worked on the assumption that the Psalms were an invaluable source of historical data. As a result of this study, the Psalms were popularly dated as a post-exilic work.

The challenge facing those using historical criticism as a tool, is that many Psalms proved difficult to date and understand historically due to their generality. Enemies, whilst vividly portrayed, are not fleshed out in enough detail to reliably define when and who they were. A new approach was needed.


Gunkel (1862-1932) made his impact on the theological community in his book The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction in...