Biblical Archaeology Review 37:5, September/October 2011

Strata: The Bible In the News: Psalm 23: From Funerals to Soccer Fields

By Leonard J. Greenspoon

“The Lord is my shepherd,” the opening words of Psalm 23, have provided a sense of comfort and tranquility to millions over the centuries. In keeping with this, we learn (from The Toronto Star) that this expression is among “the focus words Harvard University’s [cardiologist and mind/body healer] Herbert Benson suggests to elicit the relaxation response” in Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Along these same lines, the entire psalm is often recited or sung at funerals. However, “hymns now make up only 35 percent of funeral music” (as chronicled in the British publication The Express). According to this analysis, mourners are as least as likely to hear “‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra or Shirley Bassey, and Bette Midler’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ as they are to send off their beloved to the words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’” An Australian publication (The Daily Mail) puts what I would term a positive spin on these developments: “Pop songs are putting life back into funerals as traditional hymns and requiems are replaced by chart-topping hits.”

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