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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Psalms, Book of
one of the most important of the Biblical components, standing in the English Scriptures at the beginning of the practical or experimental books, and in the Hebrew Bible of the Kethubim, or Hagiographa. In the following accounts we follow the general line of the works on Biblical interpretation; bunt we have thrown some new light, we trust, especially upon the difficult questions colnnected with the titles of the several Psalms. (See BIBLE).
I. General Title of the Book. — This collection of sacred poetry received its English name, Psalms, from the Greek of the Septuagint, ψαλμοί, in consequence of the lyrical character of the pieces of which it consists, as intended to be sung to stringed and other instruments of music. The word (from ψάλλω , to touch or strike a chord) is aptly defined by Gregory of Nyssa (Tract. ii, in Psalmos, c. 3) as melody produced by a musical instrument. Another name, Psalter, was given to this book from the Greek ψαλτήριον, the stringed instrument to which its contents were originally sung. (See PSALTERY).
It does not appear how the Psalms were, as a whole, anciently designated. Their present Hebrew appellation is תְּהַלּים, Tehillim, elsewhere rendered "Praises." But in the actual superscriptions of the psalms the word תְּהַלָּה, is applied only to one, Psalms 145, which is indeed emphatically a praise-hymn. The Sept. (as above noted) entitled them Ψαλμοί, or "Psalms," using the word ψαλμός at the same time as the translation of מַזְמוֹר , mizmor, which signifies strictly a rhythmical composition (Lowth, Prcelect. 3), and which was probably applied in practice to any poem specially intended, by reason of its rhythm, for musical performance with instrumental accompaniment. But the Hebrew word is, in the Old Test., never used elsewhere in the plural; and in the superscriptions of even the Davidic psalms it is applied only to some, not to all; probably to those which had been composed most expressly for the harp. The Hebrew title, תְּהַלַּים (Rabbinic form,with ה elided, תלים or תלין, tillim or tilbin), signifies hymns or praises, and was probably adopted on account of the use made of the collection in divine service, though only a part can be strictly called songs of praise, not a few being lamentations and prayers. There is evidently no proper correspondence between the titles in the two languages, though each is suitable. The word answering to תהלים is ὕμνοι, and not ψαλμοί , which rather (as above noted) corresponds to
מַזְמוֹרַים , m? izmorilm, lyrical odes — a name which, though so plainly appropriate, does not appear to have been generally given to the book, at least so far as the Hebrew usage can now be ascertained. This is the more singular, inasmuch as no fewer than sixty-five of the songs distinctly bear the title of מַזְמוֹר, while only one (Psalms 145:1) is styled תהלה . That the name מזמורים did, however, obtain in ancient times, rather than the present title, תהלים, may be presumed from the use of ψαλμοί in the Sept. and the New Test., and of mizmera in the Peshito. (See PRAISE).
In Psalms 72:20 we find all the preceding compositions (1-72) styled Prayers of David, because many of them are strictly prayers, and all are pervaded by the spirit and tone of supplication. This notice has suggested that the Psalms may in the earliest times have been known as תְּפַלּוֹת, tephill th, "Prayers;" and, in fact, "Prayer" is the title prefixed to the most ancient of all the psalms, that of Moses (Psalms 90). But the same designation is in the superscriptions applied to only three besides, Psalms 17, 86, 102; nor have all the psalms the character of prayers. (See PRAYER).
The other special designations applied to particular psalms are the following: שַׁיר, Shir, "Song," the outpouring of the soul in thanksgiving, used in the first instance of a hymn of private gratitude (Psalms 30), afterwards of hymns of great national thanksgiving (Psalms 46, 48, 65, etc.); מִשְׂכַּיל, alskil, "Instruction" or "Homily" (Psalms 32, 42, 44 etc.; comp. the!צשכיל, "I will instruct thee," in Psalms 32:8); מַכְתָּם, Mliktim, "Private Memorial," if from the root כתם (perhaps also with an anagrammatical allusion to the root תמ, "to support," "maintain;" comp. Psalms 16:5) (Psalm 16:56-59); עֵדוּת, Eduth, "Testimony" (Psalms 60, 80); and שַׁגָּיוֹן, Shiggayon, "Irregular or Dithyrambic Ode" (Psalms 7). The strict meaning of these terms is in general to be gathered from the earlier superscriptions. Once made familiar to the psalmists, they were afterwards employed by them more loosely. (See § 4 below.)
II. Numeration of the Psalms. — The Christian Church obviously received the Psalter from the Jews not only as a constituent portion of the sacred volume of Holy Scripture, but also as the liturgical hymn-book which the Jewish Church had regularly used in the Temple. The number of separate psalms contained in it is, by the concordant testimony of all ancient authorities, one hundred and fifty; the avowedly "supernumerary" psalm which appears at the end of the Greek and Syriac Psalters, "on David's victory over Goliath," being manifestly apocryphal. This total number commends itself by its internal probability as having proceeded from the last sacred collector and editor of the Psalter. In the details, however, of the numbering, both the Greek and Svriac Psalters differ from the Hebrew. The Greek translators joined together Psalms 9:10 and Psalms 114, 115, and then divided Psalms 116 and Psalms 147; this was perpetuated in the versions derived from the Greek, and among others in the Latin Vulgate. The Syriac so far followed the Greek as to join together Psalms 114, 115, and to divide Psalms 147. Of the three divergent systems of numbering, the Hebrew (as followed in our A.V.) is, even on internal grounds, to be preferred. It is decisive against the Greek numbering that Psalms 116, being symmetrical in its construction, will not bear to be divided; and against the Syriac that it destroys the outward correspondence in numerical place between the three great triumphal psalms, Psalms 18, 68, 118, as also between the two psalms containing the praise of the Law, Psalms 19, 119. That Psalms 42, 43 were originally one is evident from the continuation of the refrain. There are also some discrepancies in the versual numberings. That of our A.V. frequently differs from that of the Hebrew in consequence of the Jewish practice of reckoning the superscription as the first verse. (See VERSE).
III. Ancient Collection and Division. — When the Psalms, as a whole, were collected, and by whom, are questions that cannot be confidently answered. The Talmudists most absurdly considered David the collector of them all (Berakoth, i, 9). It is certain that the book, as it now stands, could not have been formed before the building of the second Temple, for Psalms 126 was evidently composed at that period. In all probability it was formed by Ezra and his contemporaries, about B.C. 450 (Ewald, Poet. Bucher, ii, 205).
But in the arrangement of the book there is manifest proof of its gradual formation out of several smaller collections, each ending with a peculiar formula. The Psalter is divided in the Hebrew into five books (detailed below) and also in the Sept. version, which proves the division to be older than B.C. 200. Some have fancied that this fivefold division did not originally exist, but that it arose simply from a desire to have as many parts in the Psalms as there are in the law of Moses. But strong reasons demand the rejection of such a fancy. Why should this conformity to the Pentateuch be desired and effected in the Psalms, and not also in Proverbs or in the Prophets? The five books bear decided marks, both from tradition and internal evidence, of being not arbitrary divisions, but distinct and independent collections by various hands.
The first book (1-41) consists wholly of David's songs (see Vriemoet, Nomenclator Davidis ad solos Psalmos pertinet [Rost. 1628), his name being prefixed to all except 1, 2, 10, and 33; nor do we find in it a trace of any but David's authorship. No such trace exists in the mention of the "Temple" (5:7), for that word is even in 1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:3 applied to the Tabernacle; nor yet in the phrase "bringeth back the captivity" (14:7), which is elsewhere used, idiomatically, with great latitude of meaning (Job 42:10; Hosea 6:11; Ezra 16:53); nor yet in the acrosticism of Psalms 25 etc., for that all acrostic psalms are of late date is a purely gratuitous assumption, and some even of the most sceptical critics admit the Davidic authorship of the partially acrostic Psalms 9:10. All the psalms of book 1 being thus Davidic, we may well believe that the compilation of the book was also David's work. In favor of this is the circumstance that it does not comprise all David's psalms, nor his latest, which yet would have been all included in it by any subsequent collector; also the circumstance that its two prefatory psalms, although not superscribed, are yet shown by internal evidence to have proceeded from David himself; and furthermore, that of the two recensions of the same hymn (Psalm 14:53), it prefers that which seems to have been more specially adapted by its royal author to the Temple service. Others with less reason assign this division to the time of Hezekiah, who is known to have ordered a collection of Solomon's proverbs (Proverbs 25:1), and to have comlmanded the Levites to sing the words of David (2 Chronicles 29:30).
The second book (42-72) consists mainly of pieces by the sons of Korah (42-49), and by David (51-65), which may have been separate minor collections. At the end of this book is found the notice, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended;" and hence some have thought that this was originally the close of a large collection comprising Psalms 1-72 (Carpzov, Introductio, etc., 2, 107). But that the second was originally distinct from the first book is proved by the repetition of one or two pieces; thus Psalms 53 is plainly the same as Psalms 14 with only a notable variation in the divine name, אֶלֹהַים, Elohim, God, being used in the former wherever יְהֹוָה, Jehovah, Lord, is found in the latter. So also Psalms 70 is but a repetition of Psalms 40:13-17, with the same singular variation in the divine name. This division appears by the date of its latest psalm (Psalms 46) to have been compiled in the reign of king Hezekiah. It would naturally comprise, first, several or most of the Levitical psalms anterior to that date, and, secondly, the remainder of the psalms of David previously uncompiled. According to others, this collection was not made till the period of the captivity, on the ground that Psalms 44 refers to the days of Jeremiah.
The third book (73-89) consists chiefly of Asaph's psalms, but comprises apparently two smaller collections — the one Asaphitic (73-83), the other mostly Korahitic (84-89). The collector of this book had no intention to bring together songs written by David, and therefore he put the above notice at the end of the second book (see De Wette, Psalmen, Einleitung, p. 21). This book, the interest of which centres in the times of Hezekiah, stretches out, by its last two psalms, to the reign of Manasseh: it was probably compiled in the reign of Josiah. In the opinion of others, the date of this collection must be as late as the return from Babylon, on the supposition that Psalms 85 implies as much.
The fourth book (90-106), containing the remainder of the psalms up to the date of the captivity; and the fifth (107-150), comprising the psalms of the return, are made up chiefly of anonymous liturgic pieces, many of which were composed for the service of the second Temple. In the last book we have the Songs of Degrees (120-134), which seem to have been originally a separate collection. There is nothing to distinguish these two books from each other in respect of outward decoration or arrangement, and they may have been compiled together in the days of Nehemiah.
The five books may, with some propriety, be thus distinguished: the first Davidic, the second Korahitic, the third Asaphitic, and the two remaining liturgic. (Comp. § v, below.)
The ancient Jewish tradition as to this division is preserved to us by the abundant testimonies of the Christian fathers. Of the indications which the sacred text itself contains of this division the most obvious are the doxologies which we find at the end of Psalms 41, 72, 89, 106, and which, having for the most part no special connection with the psalms to which they are attached, mark the several ends of the first four of the five books. It suggests itself at once that these books must have been originally formed at different periods.
This conclusion is by various further considerations rendered all but certain, while the few difficulties which stand in the way of admitting it vanish when closely examined. Thus there is a remarkable difference between the several books in their use of the divine names Jehovah and Elohim to designate Almighty God. In book 1 the former name prevails: it is found 272 times, while Elohim occurs but fifteen times. (We here take no account of the superscriptions or doxology, nor yet of the occurrences of Elohim when inflected with a possessive suffix.) On the other hand, in book 2 Elohimn is found more than five times as often as Jehovah. In book 3 the preponderance of Elohim in the earlier is balanced by that of Jehovah in the later psalms of the book. In book 4 the name Jehovah is exclusively employed; and so also, virtually, in book 5, Elohim being there found only in two passages incorporated from earlier psalms. Those who maintain, therefore, that the psalms were all collected and arranged at once, contend that the collector distributed the Psalms according to the divine names which they severally exhibited. But to this theory the existence of book 3, in which the preferential use of the Elohim gradually yields to that of the Jehovah, is fatal. The large appearance, in fact, of the name Elohim in books 2 and 3 depends in great measure on the period to which many of the psalms of those books belong — the period from the reign of Solomon to that of Hezekiah, when through certain causes the name Jehovah was exceptionally disused. The preference for the name Elohim in most of the Davidic psalms which are included in book 2 is closely allied with that character of those psalms which induced David himself to exclude them from his own collection, book 1; while, lastly, the sparing use of the Jehovah in Psalms 68, and the three introductory psalms which precede it, is designed to cause the name, when it occurs, and above all Jah, which is emphatic for Jehovah, to shine out with greater force and splendor.
IV. Superscriptions. — All the Psalms, except thirty-four, bear superscriptions. According to some, there are only twenty-five exceptions, as they reckon הִלְלוּיָה, hallelujah, a title in all the Psalms which commence with it. To each of these exceptions the Talmud (Babyl. Cod. Aboda Sarah, fol. 24, Colossians 2) gives the name מזמורא יתומא, Orphan Psalm. It is confessedly very difficult, if not impossible, to explain all the terms employed in the inscriptions; and hence critics have differed exceedingly in their conjectures. The difficulty, arising no doubt from ignorance of the Temple music, was felt, it would seem, as early as the age of the Sept.; and it was felt so much by the translators of our A.V. that they generally retained the Hebrew words, even though Luther had set the example of translating them to the best of his ability. It is worth observing that the difficulty appears to have determined Coverdale (1535) to omit nearly all except names of authors; thus in Psalms 60, which is 59 in his version, he gives only a Psalme of David.
The authority of the titles is a matter of doubt. By most of the ancient critics they were considered genuine and of equal authority with the Psalms themselves, while most of the moderns reject them wholly or in part. They were wholly rejected at the close of the 4th century by Theodore of Mopsuestia, one of the ablest and most judicious of ancient interpreters (Rosenmü ller, Hist. Interpretationis Librorum Sacrorum 3, 256). On the other hand, it deserves to be noticed that they are received by Tholuck and Hengstenberg in their works on the Psalms. Of the antiquity of the inscriptions there can be no question, for they are found in the Sept. They are supposed to be even much older than this version, since they were no longer intelligible to the translator, who often makes no sense of them. Their obscurity might, however, have been owing not so much to their antiquity as to the translator's residence in Egypt, and consequent ignorance of the psalmody of the Temple service in Jerusalem. At any rate, the appearance of the titles in the Sept. can only prove them to be about as ancient as the days of Ezra. Then it is argued by many that they must be as old as the Psalms themselves, since it is customary for Oriental poets to prefix titles to their songs. Instances are found in Arabic poems, but these are very unlike the Hebrew inscriptions. Much more important traces of the custom appear in Isaiah 38:9, in Habakkuk 3:1, and in 2 Samuel 1:17-18 (Tholuck, Psalmen, p. 24). The other instances commonly appealed to in Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:30; Judges 5:1; 2 Samuel 22:1, furnish no evidence, since they are not proper titles of the songs so much as brief statements connecting them with the narrative. But in 2 Samuel 23:1 and Numbers 24:3 there is strong proof of the usage, if, with Tholuck, we take the verses as inscriptions, and not as integral parts of the songs, which most hold them justly to be from their poetical form.
The following considerations seem to militate against the authority of the titles:
(1.) The analogy between them and the subscriptions to the apostolical epistles. The latter are now universally rejected: why not the former?
(2.) The Greek and Syriac versions exhibit them with great and numerous variations, often altering the Hebrew (as in Psalms 27), and sometimes giving a heading where the Hebrew has none (as in Psalms 93-97). Would the ancient translators have taken such liberties, or could such variations have arisen, if the titles had been considered sacred like the Psalms themselves? At any rate, the existence of these glaring variations is sufficient to induce a distrust of the titles in their present form, even though they had been once sanctioned by inspired authority. If ever Ezra settled them, the variations in versions and manuscripts (Eichhorn, Einleitung, iii, 490, 495) have tended since to make them doubtful.
(3.) The inscriptions are occasionally thought to be at variance with the contents of the Psalms. Sometimes the author is believed to be incorrectly given, as when David is named over psalms referring to the captivity, as in Psalms 14:7; Psalms 25:22; Psalms 69:36. It is not unlikely, however, as Tholuck thinks, that these references to the exile were added during that period to the genuine text of the royal singer. Others, as Calvin and Hengstenberg, with far less probability, take these passages in a figurative or spiritual sense. Also Psalms 139, it is supposed, cannot well be David's, for its style is not free from Chaldaisms. Then sometimes the occasion is incorrectly specified, as in Psalms 30, unless, indeed, this refers to the dedication of the site of the Temple (1 Chronicles 22:1), as Rosenmü ller, Tholuck, and Hengstenberg think after Venema. The real solution of the controversy lies in the answer to this question: Do they, when individually sifted, approve themselves as so generally correct, and as so free from any single fatal objection to their credit, as to claim our universal confidence? This cannot be fully discussed here, although intimations are given below calculated to confirm the accuracy of the titles as found in the Hebrew and English Bible, especially as to authorship and occasion. We must simply avow our conviction, founded on thorough examination, that they are, when rightly interpreted, fully trustworthy, and that every separate objection that has been made to the correctness of any one of them can be fairly met. Moreover, some of the arguments of their assailants obviously recoil upon themselves. Thus when it is alleged that the contents of Psalms 34 have no connection with the occasion indicated in the superscription, we reply that the fact of the connection not being readily apparent renders it improbable that the superscription should have been prefixed by any but David himself.
Of the terms left untranslated or obscure in our Bible, it may be well to offer some explanation in this place, referring to them in alphabetical order for a fuller elucidation. On this subject most commentators offer instruction, but the reader may especially consult Rosenmü ller, Scholia in Comp. Redacta, iii, 14-22; De Wette, Commentar uber die Psalmen, p. 27-37; Ewald, Poet. Bucher, i, 169-180, 195. The following summary exhibits the literary and musical systems of notation found in the individual titles to the Psalms at one view, classified under the several terms and particles used to point out their bearing and significance:
I. With the prefix לְ , le- (to or by):
a. The author: namely,
1. David: 3-8, 11-32, 34-41, 51, 53-65, 68-70, 86, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-144.
(1.) Korahites only: 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87.
(2.) Asaph[ites] specially, as a branch of the Korahites: 50, 73-83.
(3.) Heman the [Ezraite, i.e.] Korahite individually: 88.
(4.) Ethan the [Ezraite, i.e.] Korahite individually: 89.
3. Moses: 90.
4. Solomon: 72, 127.
5. General terms:
(1) "Man of God," 90:
(2) "Jehovah's servant," 18, 36;
(3) "an afflicted one," 102.
b. The person to whom the poem was dedicated, or by whom it was set to music, or under whose direction it was to be rendered:
1. הִמְנִצֵּחִ, ham-menatstseach (A.V. "the chief musician"), the musical precentor of the Temple for the time being: 4-6, 8, 11-14, 18-22, 31, 36, 39-42, 44-47, 49, 51-62, 64-70, 75-77, 80, 84, 85, 88, 109, 139, 140.
2. Jedithian in patrticular: 39.
c. The object or special purpose of the writer:
1. הִזְכַּיר, hazkLr (to remind, A.V. "to bring to remembrance"), as a memento of some special deliverance, etc.: 38, 70.
2. לִמֵּד, lammed ("to teach"), perhaps to be publicly pronounced memoriter: 60.
3. עִנּוֹת, annoth (to reply, A.V. "Leannoth," q.v.), responsive, perhaps a note of the style of recitation: 88.
4. תּוֹדָה, todah (confession, A.V. "to praise"), in acknowledgment, i.e. of God's mercy: 101.
5. Commemorative of the Sabbath-day: 92.
II. With the prefix בְּ , be- (with):
a. To designuate the orchestral accompaniment: only נְגַינוֹת, neginuth (q.v.), or stringed instruments in general: 4, 6, 54, 55, 68, 76.
b. To designate the occasion of composition: 3, 34, 51, 52, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142. The occasion is sometimes otherwise stated: vii, xviii, xxx.
III. With the preposition עִל, al (upon), to denote the musical style of performance, as indicated by:
a. The instrument employed by the leader:
1. הִשֹּׁשִׁנַּים, hash-shoshannim (the lilies, i.e. lily-shaped, A.V. "Shoshannim," q.v.), straight trumpets: 45, 69 [שׁוֹשִׁנַּים ], 60 [שׁוּשִׁן, sing.].
2. מִחֲלִת, machaleth (the smooth-toned, A.V. "Mahalath," q.v.), probably a lute or light stringed instrument: 53, 88.
3. נְגַינִת, neginzth, a stringed instrument in general: 61. (See NEGINOTH).
4. הִגַּתַּית, hag-gittith, the Gittitish, probably a peculiar form of lyre: 8; or perhaps on an eight-stringed lyre. (See GITTITE)
b. The pitch of the singing:
1. הִשְּׁמַינַית, hash-sheninith (the eighth), the octave, i.e. in a "tenor" voice: 6, 12. (See SHEMINITH).
2. עֲלָמוֹת, alamoth (q.v.), (virgins), in a female key, i.e. "soprano" 46.
c. After the style of some noted performer: only Juduthun: 62, 77.
d. The tune or melody to be imitated:
1. מוּת לִבֵּן, muth lab-ben (q.v.) (death to the son), i.e. a ditty so beginning or thus entitled: 9, and end of 48
2. אִיֶּלֶת השִּׁהִר, ayylieth hash-shahar (q.v.), (hind of the dawn), a popular song so called: 22.
3. יוֹנִת אֵלֶם רְחֹקַים, yonath elem rechokim (q.v.) (dove of silence of distant ones), an emblematic title of some well-known air: 56.
4. ( עִל omitted on account of the alliteration with אִל ) אִלאּתִּשְׁחַית [or אּחֵת ], al-tashchith [or- chth] (q.v.) (thou mayest not desntroy), the symbolical designation of some familiar measure: 57-59, 75, 81, 84.
IV. With the preposition אֵל (el, towards); in imitation of (French a la) some peculiar "quality" of tone (as we say, the stop of the organ):
1. הִנְּחַילוֹת, han-nechildth (q.v.) (the contracted), the flute or continuous sound: 5.
2. שֹׁשִׁנַּים , shoshaznnim (q.v.) (lilies), the trumpet blast: 80.
V. The species of poetical composition:
1. שַׁיר, shir (song), simply an ode or lyrical piece: 46, 48, 65-68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 88, 108. In some of these instances it is joined with the term following. In a certain series it is coupled with the expression הִמִּעֲלוֹת, ham-maaloth (the steps, A.V. "degrees," q.v.), i.e. climactic in construction of phrases: 120-134. In one case it is joined with the term יְדַידוֹת, yedidoth (i.e. "loves"), i.e. an epithalamium: 45.
2. מַּזְמוֹר, mizmor (playing on an instrument), simply a hymn, to be sung with nmusical accompanimennt: 3-6, 8, 12, 13, 15, 19-24, 29-31, 38-41, 48, 62-68, 73, 75-77, 79, 80, 82-85, 87, 88, 98, 100, 101, 108-110, 139- 141, 143.
3. מַכְתָּם, miktAm (written, "michtam," q.v.), perhaps i.q. a "set piece" or "mottet:" 16, 56-60.
4. תְּפַלָּה, tephaillah, a "prayer:" 17, 86, 90, 102, 142.
5. תְּהַלָּה, tehillah, a "psalm'" simply: 145.
6. מִשְׂכַּיל, maskil (instructive, "maschil," q.v.), a didactic poem: 22, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142.
7. עֵדוּת, edith (precept, "eduth," q.v.), an ethical poem: 60, 80.
8.שַׁגָּיוֹן, shiggayon (sighing, "shiggaion," q.v.), an elegiac or plaintive song: 7.
V. Original Authorship of the Psalms. — Many of the ancients, both Jews and Christians, maintained that all the Psalms were written by David, which is one of the most striking proofs of their uncritical judgment. So the Talmudists (Cod. Pesachim, 10:117); Augustine, who is never a good critic (De Civ. Dei, 17:14); and Chrysostom (Prol. ad Psalmos). But Jerome, as might be expected, held the opinion which now universally prevails (Epist. ad Sophronium). The titles and the contents of the Psalms most clearly show that they were composed at different and remote periods by several poets, of whom David was only the largest and most eminent contrib.ltor.
1. David, "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Samuel 23:1). To him are ascribed seventy-three psalms in the Hebrew text (not seventy-four, as De Wette and Tholuck state; nor seventy-one, as most others have counted), and at least eleven others in the Sept. — namely, 33, 43, 91, 94-99, 104, 137; to which may be added Psalms 10 as it forms part of Psalms 9 in that version.
To these psalms the collector, after properly appending the single psalm of Solomon, has affixed the notice that "the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended" (Psalms 72:20); evidently implying, at least on the prima facie view, that no more compositions of the royal psalmist remained. How, then, do we find in the later books — 3, 4, 5, — further psalms yet marked with David's name? Some have sought to answer this question by a reference to the authorship assigned in the superscriptions of other psalms. If (as we shall presently see) in the times posterior to those of David the Levitical choirs prefixed to the psalms which they composed the names of Asaph, Heman, and Ethan, out of a feeling of veneration for their memories, howv much more might the name of David be prefixed to the utterances of those who were not merely his descendants, but also the representatives for the time being, and so in some sort the pledges of the perpetual royalty of his lineage! The name David is used to denote, in other parts of Scripture, after the original David's death, the then head of the Davidic family; and so, in prophecy, the Messiah of the seed of David, who was to sit on David's throne (1 Kings 12:16; Hosea 3:5; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezra 34:23, 24). Thus some seek to explain the meaning of the later Davidic superscriptions in the Psalter. The psalms to which they belong are thought to have been written by Hezekiah, by Josiah, by Zerubbabel, or others of David's posterity.
This view is supposed to be confirmed by various considerations. In the later books, and even in book v taken alone, the psalms marked with David's name are not grouped all together. In some instances there is internal evidence of occasion: thus Psalms 101 can ill be reconciled with the historical circumstances of any period of David's life, but suits exactly with those of the opening of the reign of Josiah. Some of these psalms — Psalms 86, 108, 144 — are compacted of passages from previous psalms of David. Lastly, the Hebrew text of many (see, above all, Psalms 139) is marked by grammatical Chaldaisms, which are entirely unparalleled in Psalms 1-72, and which thus afford strong evidence of a comparatively recent date. They cannot, therefore, it is claimed, be David's own; yet it is held that the superscriptions are not on that account to be rejected as false, but must rather be properly interpreted, on the ground of the improbability that any would, carelessly or presumptuously, have prefixed David's name to various psalms scattered through a collection, while yet leaving the rest — at least in books 4, 5, — altogether unsuperscribed. Ingenious as is this explanation, we prefer to adhere to the simple and obvious meaning of the titles as ascribing the psalms in question to David himself, and we do not feel constrained to seek other authors by the nature of the contents.
When we consider David's eminence as a poet, and the delight he took in sacred song, we cannot wonder that he should be the author of so many of the Psalms — no fewer, in all likelihood, than half the collection: the wonder rather should be that we do not find more of his fine odes, for it is certain he wrote some which are not in this book; see in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 his lament over Saul and Jonathan, and in 23:1-7 his last inspired effusion. His character and merit as the father of Hebrew melody and music — for it was in his hands and under his auspices that these flourished most — are thus set forth by the son of Sirach (47:8-10), "In all his work he gave thanks. To the Holy and Most High he sang songs with all his heart in words of praise (ῥήματι δόξης ), and he loved his Maker. He set singers also before the altar, and from their music (ἤχου ) sweet melody resounded. He gave splendor to the feasts, and adorned the solemn times unto perfection (μέχρι συντελείας ), in that they praised his holy name, and the sanctuary pealed with music from early morn."
David's compositions are generally distinguished by sweetness, softness, and grace, but sometimes, as in Psalms 18 they exhibit the sublime. His prevailing strain is plaintive, owing to his multiplied and sore trials, both before and after his occupation of the throne. How often was he beset with dangers, harassed by foes, and chastised of God! Under these circumstances, how was his spirit bowed down, and gave vent to its plaints and sorrows on the saddened chords of the lyre! But in the midst of all he generally found relief, and his sorrow gave place to calm confidence and joy in God. What wonder that a soul so susceptible and devout as his should manifest emotions so strong, so changeful, and so various, seeing that he passed through the greatest vicissitudes of life? God took him from the sheepfolds to feed Jacob his people and Israel his inheritance (Psalms 78:70-71). See Herder, Geist der ebr. Poesie, ii, 297-301; and especially Tholuck (Psalmen, Einleitung, § 3), who gives a most admirable exhibition of the psalmist's history and services. (See DAVID). The example and countenance of the king naturally led others to cultivate poetry and music. It appears from Amos 6:5 that lovers of pleasure took David's compositions as a model for their worldly songs: how much more would the lovers of piety be induced to follow him by producing sacred songs and hymns! The fine psalm in Habakkuk 3 is an exact imitation of his style as seen in Psalms 18. The celebrated singers of his day were men, like himself, moved by the divine afflatus not only to excel in music, but also to indite hallowed poetry. Of these psalmists the names of several are preserved in the titles.
2. Asaph is named as the author of twelve psalms — viz. 50, 73-83. He was one of David's chief musicians. All the poems bearing his name cannot be his, for in Psalms 74, 79,, 80 there are manifest allusions to very late events in the history of Israel. Either, then, the titles of these three psalms must he wholly rejected, or the name must be here taken for the "sons of Asaph;" which is not improbable, as the family continued for many generations in the choral service of the Temple. Asaph appears from Psalms 50, 73, 78 to have been the greatest master of didactic poetry, excelling alike in sentiment and in diction. No critic whatever contends that all these eleven belong to the age of David, and, in real truth, internal evidence is in every single instance in favor of a later origin. They were composed, then, by the "sons of Asaph" (2 Chronicles 29:13; 2 Chronicles 25:15, etc.), the members, by hereditary descent, of the choir which Asaph founded. It was to be expected that these psalmists would, in superscribing their psalms, prefer honoring and perpetuating the memory of their ancestor to obtruding their own personal names on the Church — a consideration which both explains the present superscriptions and also renders it improbable that the person intended in them could, according to a frequent but now waning hypothesis, be any second Asaph of younger generation and of inferior fame. (See ASAPH).
3. The sons of Korah were another family of choristers, to whom eleven of the most beautiful psalms are ascribed. The authorship is assigned to the Korahites in general, not because many of them could have been engaged in composing one and the same song, but because the name of the particular writer was unknown or omitted. (See KORAH). However, in Psalms 88 we find, besides the family designation, the name of the individual who wrote it — viz.:
4. Heman was another of David's chief singers (1 Chronicles 15:19): he is called the Ezraite, as being descended from some Ezra, who appears to have been a descendant of Korah; at least Heman is reckoned a Kohathite (1 Chronicles 6:33-38), and was therefore, probably a Korahite, for the Kohathites were continued and counted in the line of Korah; see 1 Chronicles 6:22; 1 Chronicles 6:37-38. Thus Heman was both an Ezraite and of the sons of Korah. That Psalms 88 was written by him is not unlikely, though many question it, regarding this term likewise as a mere patronymic. (See HEMAN)
5. Ethan is reputed the author of Psalms 89. He also is called the Ezraite, but this is either a mistake, or he as well as Heman had an ancestor named Ezra, of whom nothing is known. The Ethan intended in the title is doubtless the Levite of Merari's family whom David made chief musician along with Asaph and Heman (1 Chronicles 6:44; 1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:6). (See ETHAN).
6. Solomon is given as the author of Psalms 72, 127, and there is no decided internal evidence to the contrary, though most consider him to be the subject, and not the author, of Psalms 72. (See SOLOMON).
7. Moses is reputed the writer of Psalms 90, and there is no strong reason to doubt the tradition; but the Talmudists, whom Origen, and even Jerome, follow, ascribe to him also the ten succeeding psalms (91-100), on the principle that the anonymous productions belonged to the last-named author. This principle is manifestly false, since in several of these psalms we find evidence that Moses was not the author. In Psalms 95 the forty years' wandering in the wilderness is referred to as past; in Psalms 97:8 mention is made of Zion and Judah, which proves that it cannot be dated earlier than the time of David; and in Psalms 99:6 the prophet Samuel is named, which also proves that Moses could not be the writer. (See MOSES)
Jeduthun is sometimes, without just ground, held to be named as the author of Psalms 39; the ascription there being merely a dedication to the leader of the Levitical orchestra. In the view of others, this, like the superscriptions of Psalms 88, 89, "Maschil of Heman," "Maschil of Ethan," have simply a conventional purport — the one psalm having been written, as, in fact, the rest of its superscription states, by the sons of Korah, the choir of which Heman was the founder; and the other correspondingly proceeding from the third Levitical choir, which owed its origin to Ethan or Jeduthun. (See JEDUTHUN).
Many conjectures have been formed respecting other writers, especially of the anonymous psalms. The Sept. seemingly gives, as authors, Jeremiah (Psalms 137), and Haggai and Zechariah (Psalms 138). But these conjectures are too uncertain to call for further notice in this place. Hitzig (Comment. uber die Psalmen) ascribes to Jeremiah a large number of the elegiac or plaintive psalms.
More particularly, the Psalms may be arranged, according to the intimations of authorship contained in the titles, as follows:
A. Exclusively Davidic.. . ......... 1-41.
(Only Psalms 1, 2, 10, 33 are somewhat doubtful.)
B. Exclusively Levitical —
a. Korahites ................42-49
b. Asaph . ....... 50
C. Chiefly Davidic —
a. David .. ...................51-64 .
b. Uncertain ......... ....... 65-67.
c. David .......... .... 68-70.
d. Uncertain .... ....... 71.
e. David (for Solomon) ......... .. 72.
D. Chiefly Levitical —
a. Asaph. ................ 23 — 83.
b. Korahites. .... ............. 84-85.
c. David . .. ........ 86.
d. Korahites and Heman. .... 87, 88.
e. Ethan ...................... 89.
f. Moses ............ .. .....90.
g. Uncertain ................... 91-100.
h. David ...................... .101.
i. Uncertain .....................101.
j. David ... ...... .............103.
k. Uncertain .....................104-107.
l. David ..................... ..108-110.
m. Uncertain .. ... .......... . ... 111-119.
a. Uncertain ..... ............ 120-121.
b. David ........... 122.
c. Uncertain ........... ...123.
d. David ................... .. .124.
e. Uncertain .... .... ....... 125, 126.
f. Solomon .......... .... ....127.
g. Uncertain ................ 128-130.
h. David .. .............131.
i. Uncertain .....................132.
j. David ............. ...... 133.
k. Uncertain ................... 134.
a. Uncertain ...................... 135-137.
b. David . ... .............. . 138-145.
c. Uncertain. .... ................ 146-159.
VI. Dates and Occasions of the Psalms. — The dates of the Psalms, as must be obvious from what has been stated respecting the authors, are very various, ranging from the time of Moses to that of the captivity — a period of nearly 1000 years. In the time of king Jehoshaphat (about B.C. 896) Psalms 83, setting forth the dangers of the nation, as we read in 2 Chronicles 20:1-25, was composed either by himself, as some suppose, or most likely, according to the title, by Jahaziel, "a Levite of the sons of Asaph," who was then an inspired teacher (see 2 Chronicles 20:14). In the days of Hezekiah, who was himself a poet (Isaiah 38:9-20), we may date, with great probability, the Korahitic Psalms 46, 48, which seem to celebrate the deliverance from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35). In the period of the captivity were evidently written such laments as Psalms 44, 79, 102,, 137; and after its close, when the captives returned, we must manifestly date Psalms 85, 126.
Some have maintained that several psalms, especially 74, were written even in the days of the Maccabees; but this is contrary to every probability, for, accorlding to all accounts, the Canon had been closed before that time. (See CANON).
Moreover, the hypothesis of a Maccabaean authorship of any portion of the Psalter can ill be reconciled with the history of the translation of the Septuagint. But the difficulties do not end here. How — for we shall not here discuss the theories of Hitzig and his followers Lengerke and Justus Olshausen, who would represent the greater part of the Psalter as Maccabean — how is it that the psalms which one would most naturally assign to the Maccabaean period meet us not in the close, but in the middle (i.e. in the second and third books) of the Psalter? The three named by De Wette (Einl. in das A. T. § 270) as bearing apparently a Maccabaean impress are Psalms 44, 60, 74; and, in fact, these, together with Psalms 79, are perhaps all that would, when taken alone, seriously suggest the hypothesis of a Maccabaean date. Whence, then, arise the early places in the Psalter which these occupy? But even in the case of these the internal evidence, when more narrowly examined, proves to be in favor of an earlier date. In the first place, the superscription of Psalms 60 cannot possibly have been invented from the historical books, inasmuch as it disagrees with them in its details. Then the mention by name in that psalm of the Israelitish tribes, and of Moab and Philistia, is unsuited to the Maccabaean epoch. In Psalms 44 the complaint is made that the tree of the nation of Israel was no longer spreading over the territory that God had assigned it. Is it conceivable that a Maccabeean psalmist should have held this language without making the slightest allusion to the Babylonian captivity, as if the tree's growth were now first seriously impeded by the wild stocks around, notwithstanding that it had once been entirely transplanted, and that, though restored to its place, it had been weakly ever since? In Psalms 74 it is complained that "there is no more any prophet." Would that be a natural complaint at a time when Jewish prophecy had ceased for more than two centuries? Lastly, in Psalms 79, the mention of "kingdoms" in Psalms 79:6 ill suits the Maccabaean time; while the way in which the psalm is cited by the author of the first book of Maccabees (1 Maccabees 7:16-17), who omits those words which are foreign to his purpose, is such as would have hardly been adopted in reference to a contemporary composition.
The superscriptions, and the places which the psalms themselves severally occupy in the Psalter. are thus the two guiding clews by which, in conjunction with the internal evidence, their various occasions are to be determined. In the critical results obtained on these points by those scholars who have recognised and used these helps there is, not indeed uniformity, but at least a visible tendency towards it. The same cannot be said for the results of the judgments of those, of whatever school, who have neglected or rejected them; nor, indeed, is it easily to be imagined that internal evidence alone should suffice to assign 150 devotional hymns, even approximately, to their several epochs. The table on the following pages exhibits all that can with probability be ascertained on this head as to each psalm.
VII. Canonicity and Use. — The inspiration and canonical authority of the Psalms are established by the most abundant and convincing evidence. They never were, and never can be, rejected, except by impious impugners of all divine revelation. Not to mention other ancient testimonies, (See CANON), we find complete evidence in the N.T., where the book is quoted or referred to as divine by Christ and his apostles at least seventy times. No other writing is so frequently cited, Isaiah, the next in the scale of quotation, being cited only about fifty-five times. Twice (Luke 20:42 and Acts 1:20) we find distinct mention of the Book of Psalms (Βίβλος ψαλμῶν ). Once, however (Luke 24:44), the name Psalms is used, not simply for this book, but for the Hagiographa, or the whole of the third division of the Hebrew Scriptures, (See HAGIOGRAPHA), because in it the Psalms are the first and chief part, or possibly, as Havernick suggests (Einleitung, § 14 p. 78), because the division consists mainly of poetry. It deserves notice that in Hebrews 4:7, where the quotation is taken from the anonymous Psalms 95, the book is indicated by David, most likely because he was the largest and most eminent contributor, and also the patron and model of the other psalmists. For the same reasons many ancient and modern authors o
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Psalms, Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/psalms-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13