Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
HALLEL (‘praise’).—A technical Hebrew liturgical term, applied in Rabbinical literature to certain Psalms and psalm-pieces of praise, which characteristically have as their keynote the expression Hallelujah (‘Praise ye Jah’). It is more particularly applied to one group of Psalms (113–118) regarded as a liturgical unit (so always in the Synagogue-liturgy).
Psalms 113-118 form ‘the Hallel’ κατʼ ἐξοχήν, as distinguished from the ‘Hallel of Egypt’* [Note: הללא המצדי Ber. 56. See J. Müller, . cit. p. 288. In a (Bab. . 118) Psalms 145-148 are apparently called a ‘Hallel.’] (Psalms 113-114) and the ‘great Hallel’ (הלל הנרול) which is usually understood to mean Psalms 136. In the Talmud and Midrash, however, the Psalms included in the ‘great Hallel’ are variously given, viz.: (1) Psalms 136, (2) Psalms 135:4-21, and (3) Psalms 120-136. The question is discussed in Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Pes. v. 7. See, further, Joel Muller, note to Sopherim xviii. 2 (p. 253). In one passage of the Mishna (Pes. x. 5) the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is designated ‘Hallelujah.’ For ‘half-Hallel’ see below.
1. Origin.—In its present form the Psalm-group (113–118) seems clearly to have been compiled for liturgical purposes at a comparatively late date. The most probable view is that the collection was formed in Maccabaean times for recitation on the Feast of Hănukkâ (Dedication), on the eight days of which it is still chanted in the synagogue.
Psalms 118:24 (‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it’) points to some day of public thanksgiving; Psalms 118:4-24 suggest the Syrian war, and recovery of and entrance into the Temple. At the same time, the collection embodies other elements. Thus Psalms 118:25-29 seems to be an old song of praise for the Feast of Tabernacles. With this agrees the fact that, according to an old tradition preserved in the Jerusalem Talmud (Sukka iv. 5),* [Note: also Bab. Arakhin, 12a.] the Hallel was recited on ‘eighteen days and one night of the year—the eight days of Tabernacles; the eight of Hânukkâ; Pentecost (one day); and the first day of Passover with its (preceding) night.’ It is noticeable that Tabernacles and Hânukkâ are placed first in this list; and it should he remembered that the fatter feast seems originally to have been regarded as a sort of extension or reduplication of the former (cf. 2 Maccabees 1:9); Cheyne (OP [Note: P Origin of the Psalter.] p. 33, note n) remarks: ‘that the recitation of the Hallel on these occasions [Dedication and Tabernacles] goes back to Simon can hardly be doubted.’† [Note: Peritz (Encyc. Bibl. s.v. ‘Hallel’) connects the liturgical recitation of the Hallel with the Passover-meal (he denies that it was sung in the Temple-service), and thinks that it attained its present compass only ‘during the first half of the second century.’ But this is to ignore the data given above, which connect it primarily with Tabernacles and Hănukkâ.] A curious indication of its liturgical use may perhaps be seen in the fact that the Midrash on the Psalms counts only five psalms in the Hallel, Psalms 115 not being regarded. The LXX Septuagint and many Hebrew MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] treat the latter psalm as part of Psalms 114. The reason assigned in one of the smaller Midrâshim is as follows: ‘The Torâ consists of five-fifths; the Psalter of five-fifths; and the Hallel of five-fifths.’
2. Jewish liturgical usage.—As already stated, the Hallel, according to tradition, was regularly recited at the Feasts of Tabernacles, Dedication, Pentecost, and Passover (first day and preceding night).‡ [Note: With the doubling of the initial days of Festivals that takes place ‘in exile,’ the 18 days originally comprised in the above now amount to 21, and 1 night to 2.]
On certain other days of the year it became customary to recite the Hallel, viz.: on the last 6 days of Passover, and on new moons other than the new moon of Tishrî (which introduces the solemn penitential period). But this usage was apparently late and unauthorized. This is shown (a) by the omission on these days of two sections of the complete Hallel, viz.: Psalms 115:1-11; Psalms 116:1-11;§ [Note: Hence the designation ‘half-Hallel’ for this form.] and (b) that both Rashi and Maimonides protested against the use of the regular benediction before ‘half Hallel,’ on the ground that its employment on these days was merely a pious custom without authority.
The recitation of the Hallel is preceded and followed by special blessings.|| [Note: | For these cf. Singer’s Heb.-Eng. Prayer-Book, pp. 219, 224.] Certain parts are also recited with a responsive refrain:
(a) The first four verses of Psalms 118 are said by the Reader, the people responding after each: ‘O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.’ (b) The last nine verses of the same Psalm are also repeated, in part alternately, in part together, by Reader and congregation.
According to the Mishna (Pes. v. 7), which embodies old and (there is every reason to believe) trustworthy traditions as to the Temple-ritual, the complete Hallel was recited by the Levites during the slaughter of the Paschal lambs in the Temple-courts.¶ [Note: For a graphic description of this see Edersheim, The Temple: its Ministry and Services, p. 191 f.] The use of Hallel in the Paschal meal at home, when the lamb was eaten, must be carefully distinguished from the above. Here the data are somewhat conflicting.
According to the Mishna (Pes. x. 6 and 7), the Hallel was here recited in two parts, and this is still the custom at the Jewish Paschal meal. The first part (Psalms 113-114) immediately follows the Haggâdâ proper (the narrative of redemption) and precedes the drinking of the second cup of wine. It is appropriately closed by a special benediction for redemption. The second part (Psalms 115-118, followed by 136 and the ‘Blessing of Song’) follows after the mixing of the fourth cup, when the banquet and grace after meat have been completed. And this arrangement is attested in the Mishna (ib.). The contenta of the first part were, however, a subject in dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, the former concluding it at Psalms 113, the latter at Psalms 114. The wording of the benediction for redemption was also not fully determined (ib.). It looks as though the recitation of the Hallel in the home-service were a reminiscence of the Temple-ritual, the family meal being partaken of between the two parts as a family sacrifice, just as the Passover lamb was sacrificed in the Temple during the singing of the Hallel. The custom, as the Mishna suggests, may quite well have arisen before the destruction of the Temple.
3. Usage in the Gospels.—It is usually assumed that the hymn referred to in Matthew 26:30 | Mark 14:26 (‘when they had sung a hymn’ [ὑμνήσαντες]) was the second part of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118)* [Note: According to the school of Shammai, Psalms 114-118.] sung at the conclusion of the Paschal supper (see above). This is quite possible, in view of the probability that the custom had been established in connexion with the Paschal meal in the time of Christ.
In Delitzsch’s Heb. NT the expression is well paraphrased: ‘After they had completed the Hallel’ (נמר את־ההלל). But there are some indications that the usage was subject to variation in the earlier period. Thus, according to one authority, for the ‘completion’ of the Hallel at the Paschal meal Psalms 25 might suffice (. 118). The expression ὑμνήσαντες certainly suggests a Paschal meal. It is significant, however, that it is absent from the Lukan account.
Literature.—Besides the works cited in the body of the article, the following are important: art. ‘Hallel’ in the Jewish Encyc., with the authorities there enumerated; Delitzsch on Psalms 113; Büchler, ZATW [Note: ATW Zeitschrift für die Alttest. Wissenchaft.] xx.  114–135; Buxtorf, Rabb. Lex. (ed. Fischer) s.v. הלל; Hamburger, RE ii. 353 ff.
G. H. Box.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hallel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/h/hallel.html. 1906-1918.