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Alfred the Great on the Psalms

The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the GreatAnother striking thing from Ben Merkle’s book, The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great, was the value he saw in the Psalms. Well before Wycliffe, Alfred, King of Wessex, was translating the Psalms for his people as part of his “essential books everyone should read” project.
“The translation of the Psalms was Alfred’s last project, being only one-third complete at the king’s death. These psalms, primarily the songs of King David composed throughout the king of Israel’s tumultuous reign, had always had a special place in Alfred’s heart. Having memorized many of the psalms in his youth, Alfred had used these sacred words throughout his life to embolden himself in battle, encourage himself in despondency, humble himself in his sins, and comfort himself in his forgiveness. The entire spectrum of Alfred’s personal trials and triumphs seemed to have been lived out already by the shepherd king of Israel. More than any other text, the book of Psalms had become the poetry of Alfred’s life.

Thus, it is no surprise that when searching for the ‘books most necessary for all men to know,’ Alfred’s thoughts turned to the book of Psalms. This was fit reading material for the king and for the peasant, for the warrior and for the clergyman, for the novice and for the sage. Interestingly, of all the texts Alfred translated, the king’s rendering of the Psalms remained the most consistently literal throughout, with very little of the king’s own explanatory additions to the text. Alfred felt this was a book that needed little assistance in speaking to the Anglo-Saxon heart.” (191)

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