The work of Hermann Gunkel16 was (and remains) of pivotal significance for Psalm study. With his thesis that psalm poetry was originally cultic, sociological- institutional concerns were destined to be raised. These new questions were finally to undermine all attempts to reconstruct some historical occasion in the life of a psalmist which evoked a psalm. The task became the attempt to discern the cultic occasion for which a psalm was com- posed and, more importantly, performed.
This attempt led to the recognition (so obvious today) that compositions were socially customary and appropriate to certain situations in life and out of place in others. If the various kinds ("forms" or "Gattungen") of psalms were recognized, then their social settings could be determined. The dominant questions concerned what was typical of various situations and their correlative literature rather than what unique, irrepeatable situation must be presupposed in order
Die Psalmen (Leipzig und Tabingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1899); but S. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Meridian Books, (1957), pp. 387-389; and A. Kirkpatrick, The Psalms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902) took a more moderate view, even allowing for some psalms of Davidic authorship.
16 H. Gunkel, Die Psalmen Ubersetzt und Erklart (5 Aufl., Gottingen: Vendenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1968, 1 Aufl., 1926); H. Gunkel und J. Begrich, Einleitung in die Psalmen: Die Gattungen der religiosen Lyrik Israels (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1933); henceforth, Die Psalmen and Einleitung respectively.