Book of Psalms

Psalter, Psaltery


General Information

The Book of Psalms, in the Old Testament of the Bible, is the largest collection of Hebrew religious poetry; it consists of 150 pieces divided into 5 sections. Originally spoken or sung in various worship settings, the psalms were composed individually from the 10th through the 4th century BC and compiled in their present form by at least 200 BC. Tradition assigns the psalms to King David, but the titles to particular psalms also name Moses, Solomon, Ethan, Asaph, and the sons of Korah as authors. The psalms are numbered differently in various versions of the Bible.

Like all Hebrew poetry, the psalms are written in parallel lines that balance word masses, images, and thoughts and have the effect of nuancing and emphasizing the sense through a skilled mixture of repetition and variation. The thought in parallel lines may be repeated, contrasted, or extended and qualified. The same literary devices appear also in Canaanite religious poetry from Ugarit in Syria. It is evident that Israel took over these forms and styles along with the Canaanite language. Babylonian, Assyrian, and Egyptian influences are also seen in the psalms.

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Many psalms can be classified into major literary types: Many stock themes and terms, such as the contrast between pious and ungodly and between wise and foolish, indicate that the psalm form opened up to didactic and reflective piety based on wisdom and the Law. Additional psalms appear in the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament, further emphasizing that the Book of Psalms is a selective collection from a far larger body of literary materials.

Norman K Gottwald

A L Ash, Psalms (1980); M E Chase, The Psalms for the Common Reader (1962); L Dunlop, Patterns of Prayer in the Psalms (1982); H H Guthrie, Israel's Sacred Songs (1984); R Knox, The Psalms (1947); H J Kraus, Theology of the Psalms (1986); W M Kroll, Psalms (1987); S O Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship (1962); W O E Oesterley, The Psalms (1939); S L Terrien, The Psalms and Their Meaning for Today (1952); C Westerman, The Psalms (1980).

Book of Psalms

Brief Outline

  1. Psalms 1-41
  2. Psalms 42-72
  3. Psalms 73-89
  4. Psalms 90-106
  5. Psalms 107-150


Advanced Information

The psalms are the production of various authors. "Only a portion of the Book of Psalms claims David as its author. Other inspired poets in successive generations added now one now another contribution to the sacred collection, and thus in the wisdom of Providence it more completely reflects every phase of human emotion and circumstances than it otherwise could." But it is specially to David and his contemporaries that we owe this precious book. In the "titles" of the psalms, the genuineness of which there is no sufficient reason to doubt, 73 are ascribed to David. Peter and John (Acts 4:25) ascribe to him also the second psalm, which is one of the 48 that are anonymous. About two-thirds of the whole collection have been ascribed to David. Psalms 39, 62, and 77 are addressed to Jeduthun, to be sung after his manner or in his choir.

Psalms 50 and 73-83 are addressed to Asaph, as the master of his choir, to be sung in the worship of God. The "sons of Korah," who formed a leading part of the Kohathite singers (2 Chr. 20: 19), were intrusted with the arranging and singing of Ps. 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, and 88. In Luke 24:44 the word "psalms" means the Hagiographa, i.e., the holy writings, one of the sections into which the Jews divided the Old Testament. (See Bible.) None of the psalms can be proved to have been of a later date than the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, hence the whole collection extends over a period of about 1,000 years.

There are in the New Testament 116 direct quotations from the Psalter. The Psalter is divided, after the analogy of the Pentateuch, into five books, each closing with a doxology or benediction:,

Ps. 136 is generally called "the great hallel." But the Talmud includes also Ps. 120-135.

Ps. 113-118, inclusive, constitute the "hallel" recited at the three great feasts, at the new moon, and on the eight days of the feast of dedication. "

It is presumed that these several collections were made at times of high religious life: the first, probably, near the close of David's life; the second in the days of Solomon; the third by the singers of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 20:19); the fourth by the men of Hezekiah (29, 30, 31); and the fifth in the days of Ezra." The Mosaic ritual makes no provision for the service of song in the worship of God.

David first taught the Church to sing the praises of the Lord. He first introduced into the ritual of the tabernacle music and song. Divers names are given to the psalms. (1.) Some bear the Hebrew designation shir (Gr. ode, a song). Thirteen have this title. It means the flow of speech, as it were, in a straight line or in a regular strain. This title includes secular as well as sacred song. (2.) Fifty-eight psalms bear the designation (Heb.) mitsmor (Gr. psalmos, a psalm), a lyric ode, or a song set to music; a sacred song accompanied with a musical instrument. (3.) Ps. 145, and many others, have the designation (Heb.) tehillah (Gr. hymnos, a hymn), meaning a song of praise; a song the prominent thought of which is the praise of God. (4.) Six psalms (16, 56-60) have the title (Heb.) michtam (q.v.). (5.) Ps. 7 and Hab. 3 bear the title (Heb.) shiggaion (q.v.).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

(We have included Psalms 1 - 37)

Their Authors

The Book of Psalms has sometimes been classified according to authors. For example, the titles indicate that seventy-three were written by David; fifty are anonymous; twelve have the name of Asaph, and ten that of Korah, or the sons of Korah; two are associated with Solomon and one each with Moses, Heman and Ethan. A comparison of Acts 4:25 and Hebrews 4:7 shows that Psalms 2 and 95 respectively, were also written by David, though not ascribed to him in the book, and the question arises whether he may not have been the author of a still larger number of the anonymous Psalms. As some with the name of the sons of Korah were evidently written for them, may he have been their author as well? The same query arises about the 72d Psalm, one of the two to which Solomon's name is attached. It might be added here that the titles of the Psalms are regarded by many as of equal authority with the text, and hence if we can ascertain what the title means, we may venture to build conclusions upon it.

Their Subjects

The book again, has been classified according to subjects. Angus, in his Bible Handbook, has a convenient classification, giving the subject, and in each case the numbers of a few Psalms illustrating it. For example, there are Psalms of Instruction, like 1, 19, 39. Praise, 8, 29, 93, 100. Thanksgiving, 30, 65, 103, 107, 116. Penitence, 6, 32, 38, 51, 143. Trust, 3, 27, 31, 46, 56, 62, 86. Distress and Sorrow, 4, 13, 55, 64, 88. Aspiration, 42, 63, 80, 84, 137. History, 78, 105, 106. Prophecy (Messianic), 2, 16, 22, 24, 40, 45, 68, 69, 72, 97, 110, 118.

Their Books

It may seem strange to speak of the "Books" of the Psalms, but that expresses another kind of classification. The whole book has been divided into five books, each ending with a similar doxology, as follows: Book I, Psalms 1-41. Book II, Psalms 42-72. Book III, Psalms 73-89. Book IV, Psalms 90-106. Book V, Psalms 107-150. Notice the close of each of these books for the doxology. There are those who question the value of this division, however, on the ground, first, that the title of the book itself in the Hebrew, (Sepher Tehillim), is singular rather than plural. It is not the "books" but the book of Psalms. Second, the numbers of the Psalms continue unbroken from the beginning to the end of the book. Third, there are other doxologies than those especially referred to, e. g., Psalms 117 and 134.

Their Unity

The view of others, therefore, is that the Psalms comprise but one book with an order and unity throughout, the key to which is found in its final application to the millennial age and establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth. According to these, this explains what are known as the imprecatory or cursing Psalms. These have puzzled many, but when we consider them as terminating on that period when the era of mercy for the Gentile nations closes, and the time of their judgment begins, it lightens their problem very much. In the same connection we should remember that the author is speaking in the prophetic spirit, and that the enemies are enemies of God whose permanent rejection of Him is implied.

This view, moreover, explains those like the 91st Psalm which promise exemption from such things as pestilence and war. This Psalm was written doubtless on the occasion of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, but its language seems to indicate that it is a type of their greater and permanent deliverance in the time to come. This is strengthened if we conceive of the preceding Psalm as a picture of Israel to-day. The opinion which sees the key to the Psalms in their millennial application also furnishes an explanation of the frequent references to Christ found in the Psalms. Urquhart, who maintains the above view, regards the whole book as formed of a combination of twelve sections.

Each of these contains a continuous recurring story of the establishment of God's kingdom on earth, in which Psalms of complaint and pleading on Israel's part are followed by those of jubilation for deliverance. In some of these jubliations the whole earth is seen to join. These twelve sections are indicated to him by the following jubilant Psalms: 10, 18, 24, 30, 48, 68, 76, 85, 100, 118, 136, 150. "In the first cycle of ten there is progress from the announcement of judgment (1), and manifestation of Christ (2), through His rejection (3-7), suffering and ascension (8), the waiting and persecution of His people (9), to the consummation of all things (10)." This analysis will not commend itself to all, but it is interesting and may lead to further thought.

Psalm 1

True happiness is the theme of this Psalm, whose author is unnamed. The negative side of true happiness is stated (v. 1), and then the positive (v. 2). Its reward follows (v. 3). Its nature and value are emphasized by a sharp contrast. Such a man is godly, his opposite ungodly (v. 4). The first is marked by stability, the second by instability (v. 4). The first has endless fruitfuless and blessing, the second has nothing and worse than nothing (v. 5), for he can not be acquitted at the judgment day. The secret of it all is found in Jehovah (v. 6). The Psalm is a summary of the whole book, and is appropriately placed at the beginning as a sort of preface.

Psalm 2

Is prophetic and Messianic in one (see introductory lesson). It had a partial fulfilment at the first advent of Christ (Acts 4:25; 13:33), but a complete one is to follow at the second advent, as will be seen in the study of the prophets. The nations will rage and the kings of the earth again set themselves against Jehovah and His Christ under the lead of the Antichrist (vv. 1-3), but they will be regarded with contempt and terrified, by divine judgments (vv. 4, 5). God's purpose will not be altered, which is to establish His Son upon His kingdom in the earth at Jerusalem (v. 6). The Son Himself speaks at verse seven, the last clause of which refers to His inauguration as Mediatorial King, and does not in any way impugn His Deity. The Gentile nations are to be His in that day (v. 8), and although it will be the millennial day, yet its peace and righteousness will be secured through judgments and by the firmness of its Holy Ruler (v. 9). Kings and princes are warned to prepare themselves for its coming (vv. 10-12). "Kiss the Son" means submit to His authority, "lest He be angry and ye perish in the way, for His wrath will soon be kindled" (R. V.).

Psalm 3

As its title indicates, should be read in connection with 2 Samuel 15. In his distress to whom does David appeal (v. 1)? Not only had men turned their backs upon him but it was charged that God had done so. Remember the possible reason for this suspicion in David's sin with Bathsheba, preceding this rebellion of Absalom. Does David still retain his faith in God's promises notwithstanding (v. 3)? What is the ground of his confidence (v. 4)? And its expression (vv. 5, 6)? What is the nature of his further appeal (v. 7)? "Cheek-bone" and "teeth" represent his enemies as wild beasts ready to devour him. By faith he already sees these enemies overcome, and praises God as his deliverer (v. 8). The word "Selah" at the close of verse two is obscure, and may denote a pause or rest, in the singing, or an emphasis to be laid on the particular sentiment expressed.

Psalm 4

A cry of distress is this, composed by David, it may have been, on the same occasion as the last. He is not trusting in his own righteousness, but God's righteousness (v. 1). The doctrine of imputed righteousness was apprehended by the spiritually enlightened in Old Testament, as well as in New Testament times. For a further illustration of this in David compare the opening verses of Psalm 32, with Paul's application of them in Romans 4. David is encouraged to utter this cry by past mercies, "Thou hast enlarged me," and I trust Thee again. Verse 2 shows the source of his trouble. His "glory" may refer to his kingly dignity now dishonored by exile. But the schemes of his enemies were "vanity," and brought about by lying "leasing"). His confidence was in the divine purpose towards him (v. 3), and they who are against him are cautioned to repent and turn to the Lord (vv. 4, 5). In the midst of his afflictions he values the divine favor (v. 6), which brings more experimental joy to him than the husbandman knows at harvest time (vv. 7, 8). "To the chief musician on Neginoth," indicates the purpose for which it was set apart as a musical composition "Neginoth" were the stringed instruments used in the Levitical service, and the "chief musician" was the leader of that part of the choir.

Psalm 5

Is a morning prayer (v. 3). The words, "look up" are rendered "keep watch" in the Revised Version. The psalmist would keep watch on himself, that his life and conduct might be such as to insure the answer to his prayer (v. 4-7). The need of the prayer is indicated in verse eight. The enemies referred to are then described (v. 9), and their judgment committed into God's hands who defends the righteous (vv. 11, 12). "Nehiloth," meants flutes or wind instruments.

Psalm 6

Represents David in deeper distress of soul than we have found him hitherto. Conviction of sin is upon him. Those who have studied 2 Samuel will not need to be reminded of occasions for this experience, though the connection with Bathsheba will first suggest itself. He feels the justness of the divine rebuke (v. 1), but pleads for mercy (v. 2). The time of spiritual darkness has been long extended (vv. 3, 4). Will it end in death (v. 5)? He is heartbroken (vv. 6, 7). Enemies are rejoicing in his sorrow, but their glee is short-lived (vv. 7, 8). Light breaks, the morning dawn, tears are wiped away, for the Lord hath heard him! Begone, mine enemies, be ashamed and turn back (vv. 9, 10)! Verse five need not be interpreted as expressing doubt of a future state, but may be simply a contrast between this scene of life and the unseen world of the dead symbolized by the "grave" (Heb. "sheol"). "Sheminith" means the "eighth," and perhaps this was a Psalm for the eighth key, or the bass of the stringed instruments. Questions 1. Memorize Psalm 1. 2. What is an appropriate theme for it? 3. State the two-fold application of Psalm 2. 4. Will the millennium represent only peace and cheerful obedience to God and His Son? 5. Did you re-read 2 Samuel 15? 6. On what ground might God have forsaken David according to Psalm 3? 7. What may "Selah" mean? 8. What great Gospel doctrine finds illustration in the Psalms of David? 9. Define "Neginoth" and "Nehiloth." 10. What is the Hebrew for "grave"?

Psalms 7-10

The length of our lessons in this book are determined rather arbitrarily by the length of the different Psalms, or the special interest found in them. We have in mind weekly classes wishing to study the whole Bible in a connected way, and yet avoid tediousness in the process. The six Psalms included in the last lesson might easily be read by the class in a week; and on the Lord's Day, the teacher with the assistance of the questions, would have little difficulty in fastening the facts and their application on their minds in a way both interesting and profitable. At the same time the average person, independent of any class preparation, reading a Psalm a day for private meditation, will probably find the brief comments and questions upon it as much as he will be able to assimilate.

Psalm 7

We commence this new lesson with this Psalm because it offers a point of beginning in the title. This, however, is rather obscure since it is not clear who may be meant by "Cush." The margin of the King James Version identifies him with "Shimei" of 2 Samuel 16:5-14, which story it would be well to peruse again, although there are several incidents in Saul's persecution of David which would fit about as well. The word "Shiggaion" in the title means "a plaintive song or elegy." David is persecuted (vv. 1, 2), and charged with wrong-doing to one at peace with him (vv. 3, 4). The charge is so false that he can safely offer the challenge in verse five. Jehovah is appealed to, and asked to sit in judgment on this matter: "Return, Thou on high" (v. 7). "My righteousness" (vv. 8-10) means his innocence of this particular charge. A warning is uttered against the wicked (vv. 11-13), whose folly is described in serious wit (vv. 14-16). David's experience illustrates these concluding verses more than once.

Psalm 8

If the whole book of Psalms be considered a mountain range of poetic prophecy, then this is one of the highest peaks. Observe in the margin how frequently it is quoted in the New Testament, and applied to Jesus Christ. Read Hebrews 2:5-9 especially. "O LORD, our Lord," gves better sense as "O Jehovah, our Lord." His glory is in the Heavens as we see in verse three, and yet it is "above the heavens," both in kind and in degree. So great is His glory that He uses "the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." (Compare v. 2 with Matt. 11:25; 21:15, 16, and 1 Cor. 1:27). Verses 4-8 find a partial fulfilment in man as created in the first Adam, but their complete fulfilment is seen only in redeemed and regenerated man in the Second Adam. The passage in Hebrews shows this, and particularly alongside of 1 Corinthians 15:22-28. "Upon Gittith" is "set to the Gittith" (R. V.), which, some think, means a tune of a joyous character.

Psalm 9

Is one of the cursing or imprecatory Psalms which, as stated in the introductory lesson, find their key in the millennial age and the events introductory thereto. It opens with rejoicing (vv. 1, 2). This rejoicing is for victory over enemies (v. 3), but they are God's enemies rather than the psalmist's. It is His coming (presence) that has overcome them. Moreover, they are nations rather than individuals. ("Heathen" in verse five, is "nations" in the R. V.) Their cities are destroyed (v. 6). At the same time the Lord is seen sitting as King (v. 7, R. V.), judging the world in righteousness, comforting the oppressed, dwelling in Zion (vv. 9-12). All these are millennial figures. Israel is lifted from the gates of death (v. 13), and the great tribulation is over. She is praising God in Zion for the deliverance from the Gentile nations which are sunk in the pit they had digged for her (vv. 13-16). And so on the end of the Psalm. "Muth-labben" may refer like "Gittith" to the name or character of the tune.

Psalm 10

Seems allied in thought with that preceding, and the two may have been one, originally. The psalmist is not referring to personal experiences, but to those which are more general. It seems as though the poor and oppressed of the nation and the whole world were uttering their complaint through him. Because God seems far away, the wicked are flourishing (vv. 1, 2). It would not be out of place to conceive of the wicked in this Psalm as personified in the Antichrist at the end of this age, when, as we shall learn later, he will be persecuting Israel as God's witness in the earth. This is not to say that, in no sense, the Psalm is applicable to an earlier period in the history of that people, but that in its fuller sense, it is for the time to come. The wicked one is described as boastful, covetous, proud, atheistic, self-opinionated, bold, deceitful, oppressive, and cunning (vv. 3-11, R. V.). The "poor" means, as is customary in the Psalms, "the poor in spirit," described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. They are sad and sorrowful sufferers for righteousness' sake, even through they may be rich in this world's goods. "Meek" would be a better word to describe them than "poor." The description of the wicked oppressor is followed by the usual appeal to God (vv. 12-15), who is represented as reigning over the millennial earth, punishing the wicked, establishing the meek, and judging the oppressed against "the man of the earth" who, as has been said, may well be taken for the Antichrist. Questions i. What is the title or inscription of Psalm 7? 2. What is the meaning of "Shiggaion" and "Gittith"? 3. Have you read 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 and Hebrews 2:5-9? 4. What is the key to the imprecatory Psalms? 5. To what period does Psalm 10 seem to apply? 6. Who are usually meant by the "poor" in these Psalms? 7. What title is given to the wicked one in Psalm 10?

Psalm 11

A song of trust. The declaration of verse one, "In the Lord put I my trust," is buttressed by the reason in verse seven, while all between is descriptive of the condition in which David finds himself. Urged to flee from his enemies (v. 1), he shows the futility of the attempt (v. 2). The moral foundations are being undermined (v. 3), and only Jehovah is able to discriminate and judge (vv. 4-6).

Psalm 12

The evil speaker. The close relation between this and the preceding Psalm is easily discovered. David's enemy is the deceitful flatterer (vv. 1, 2). But his judgment is of the Lord (vv. 3-5), the sincerity of whose utterances are in contrast with those of the enemy (vv. 6-8).

Psalm 13

Sorrow. The Lord seems long in coming to His servant's relief from the slanderers in the Psalms preceding (vv. 1, 2). Will He never come (vv. 3, 4)? Yea, He cometh soon, and faith and hope rejoice (vv. 5, 6).

Psalm 14

The whole world corrupt. All sinners are fools (v. 1) because they think and act contrary to right reason First, they think wrong ("in his heart," Gen. 6:12), and then soon they act wrong (Prov. 23:7). This is true of the world generally (vv. 2-4). "Eat up My People" is a phrase denoting the "beastly fury" of the Gentile enemies of Israel. Verses 5 and 6 show their indifference rather than their ignorance of God. If the closing verse seems to refer to the period of the Babylonian captivity and therefore raises a question as to the Davidic authorship (see title), we should remember that the language is typical of any great evil, and that David may be speaking as in other instances, in the prophetic sense. In that case the Psalm takes on a millennial aspect.

Psalm 15

Holiness and its reward. Here a question is asked, verse one, which finds its answer in the verses following, the whole dialogue being summed up in the last sentence. To abide in God's tabernacle, etc., is to hold fellowship with God and enjoy the blessings incident thereto. These are for the man whose conduct is right, who is truthful, sincere, separate from the ungodly, and uninfluenced by covetousness and bribery.

Psalm 16

Sometimes called "The Psalm of the Resurrection," is one of the great Messianic Psalms (see introductory lesson). While it is interesting to consider David as uttering the prayer, for it is a prayer, how much more so to think of Christ! On some mountain side, in the night's darkness, He may have poured out these petitions and praises. (For its Messianic application compare verses 8-11 with Acts 2:25-31, and 13:35). Observe the spirit of confidence (v. 1), loyalty to God (v. 2), love toward the saints (v. 3), separation from the world (v. 4), contentment (vv. 5, 6), obedience (vv. 7, 8), hope (vv. 9, 10), expectation (v. 11). The Revised Version throws light on the text. "Michtam" means "A Golden Psalm" (see margin) and such it is in its preciousness even above others.

Psalm 17

Is a prayer in which vindication is desired. It makes such great claims that one thinks of it as Messianic also (vv. 1-4), and yet like Psalm 7, the writer may have some specific transaction in mind as to which his hands are clean. Note the testimony to the power of God's word (v. 4). What is asked is guidance (vv. 5, 6), and preservation (vv. 7, 8). The latter is desired from the wicked whose description follows as proud (vv. 9, 10), treacherous (vv. 11, 12), and yet prosperous in worldly things (v. 14). This prosperity is transient in comparison with his own expectation (v. 15). Have the Revised Version convenient in reading these Psalms, for the interpretation it casts on some obscure passages. Questions 1. What is the leading thought of Psalm 11? 2. Against what class of enemies are the psalmist's words frequently directed? 3. Why are sinners called "fools"? 4. Which of the Psalms of this lesson are millennial and messianic? 5. Have you compared the passages in Acts? 6. What does "Michtam" mean?

Psalm 18

A song of victory. It opens with ejaculatory expressions of triumph for deliverance. All nature is described as convulsed when the Almighty presses to the rescue. The next division is meditation on the principles involved, the whole closing with a further outburst of triumph and confidence. 2 Samuel 22 is a copy of this ode saving a few variations, and the student is referred to our treatment of it at that place.

Psalm 19

God's revelation in the world and in the Word. We have a contrast between these two in this Psalm. In verses one to six there is the general revelation of the heavens, "wordless but extending their sphere over the whole earth," which then specializes to the sun as the chief figure of it all. But in 7-14, the law is celebrated, whose function is to warn against sin, and by conformity to which only can our thought and conduct become acceptable to God. Observe the literary beauty as well as the spiritual teaching in the description of the law, six names, six epithets and six effects. The clearer our apprehension of the law, so the Psalm teaches, the clearer is our view of sin, and the more evident that grace only can cleanse and keep us from it.

Psalms 20 and 21

Are coupled in The Modern Reader's Bible, and called "An Antiphonal War Anthem." The first gives the prayers of the king and the people before the battle, and the second the thanksgiving after the victory. As to the first, we hear the people (vv. 1-5), the king (v. 6), and then the people to the end. As to the second, the king is first (vv. 1-7), and then the people to the end. While this may be the historical setting of these Psalms, yet we are at liberty to apply their utterances in the spiritual scene to the experiences of believers in the Christian Church.

Psalm 22

The Psalm of the Cross. Is this one of the great Messianic Psalms? Christ uttered the first verse on the cross (Matt. 27:46), and there is reason to think the words of the last were also heard. "He hath done it" (R. V.), in the Hebrew, corresponds closely to, "It is finished" (John 19:30). If this were so, may we suppose that the whole Psalm was the language of the divine sufferer as He bare our sins on the cross? There are three strophes, or great poetical divisions, each associated with the phrase, "Far from me." The first covers verses 1 to 10, the second 11 to 18, the third 19 to 31. In the first, we have a cry of distress (vv. 1, 2), an expression of confidence (vv. 3-5), a description of the enemies (vv. 6-8), and a second expression of confidence (vv. 9-10). In the second, we have two descriptions, the surrounding enemies (vv. 11-13), and the sufferer's experiences (vv. 14-18). In the third the whole tone is changed to a note of victory (vv. 19-21), a testimony of praise (vv. 22-26), and a prophecy of resurrection glory (vv. 27-31). The Psalm gives a graphic picture of death by crucifixion with circumstances precisely fulfilled at Calvary. As that form of death penalty was Roman rather than Jewish, we agree with the Scofield Reference Bible that the "proof of inspiration is irrestible." At verse 22 the Psalm breaks from crucifixion to resurrection (compare John 20:17).

Psalm 23

The Shepherd Psalm is such a favorite with all as to make an attempted exposition almost an offence. Did David compose it as a youth tending his father's sheep? If not, it must have been when occupied in reminiscences of those early days. Note the possessive, "my shepherd," and the future, "shall not want." Because the Lord is my Shepherd I am Feeding on the Word, "pastures" Fellowshipping the Spirit, "waters" Being renewed, "restoreth" Surrendered in will, "leadeth" Trusting the promises, "fear no evil" Enjoying security, "a table" Doing service, "runneth over" Possessing hope, "forever."

Psalm 24

Is frequently defined as the Ascension Psalm. The Scofield Bible speaks of these last three Psalms, however, 22 23 and 24, as a trilogy. In the first, the good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11), in the second, the great Shepherd "brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant," tenderly cares for His sheep (Heb. 13:20), and in the last, the chief Shepherd appears as king of glory to own and reward the sheep (I Pet. 5:4). From this point of view the order is: (a), the declaration of title, "The earth is the Lord's" (vv. I, 2); (b), the challenge (vv. 3-6), it is a question of worthiness and no one is worthy but the Lamb (compare Dan. 7:13, 14; Rev. 5:3-10); (c), the king takes the throne (vv. 7-10), (compare Matt. 25: 31). Questions 7. Where have we met earlier with the contents of Psalm 18? I. What theme would you assign to Psalm 19? 2. Give the names, epithets and effects of the law. 3. What is the historical setting of Psalms 20 and 21? 4. How does John 19:30 suggest the last verse of Psalm 22? 5. Of what is this Psalm a picture? 6. What proof of inspiration does it contain? 7. By what name has Psalm 24 been called? 8. How may the last three Psalms be classified? 9. Amplify this last idea. 10. From this point of view, what is the order of Psalm 24? 11. What may have been the historical origin of the Psalm last named?

Psalm 25

In the Hebrew this prayer is arranged as an acrostic, i. e., the first word of each verse begins with a letter in alphabetical order from A to Z. Hereafter we shall not give as much attention to every Psalm as we have thus far, but trust the reader to do the analyzing after the examples given. The purpose of the Commentary is not so much textual explanation as a stimulus to Bible study in a broader sense, and it is assumed that the reader has been studying the Bible side by side with the Commentary from the beginning. The more difficult Psalms, some of the more familiar and popular, and those distinctively Messianic and millennial may be treated more at length, but others must be passed over. In the present instance the prayer is for defence (vv. 1-3), guidance (vv. 4, 5), forgiveness (vv. 6-11), etc., intermingled with testimony to the divine goodness (vv. 12-15).

Psalm 26

Is another appeal to God on the basis of avowed integrity and innocence of the charges of enemies. Note the features of righteous character of which the psalmist speaks, as well as the description of his enemies. The Modern Reader's Bible names this Psalm, "Searchings of heart before worship."

Psalm 27

Is called by the volume named above "An Anthem of Deliverance," and throughout it exhibits confidence, hope and joy, in God's worship, with prayer for help and guidance in danger. The secret of the psalmist's confidence is given in verse four as his delight in divine fellowship expressed in worshiping in God's tabernacle. God will protect and deliver him (vv. 5, 6). He will be more to him than earthly parents (v. 10). All he craves is guidance (v. 11). He concludes with counsel to others in a like case (vv. 13, 14).

Psalm 29

"The Song of the Thunderstorm," encourages confidence in God by the celebration of His power in His dominion over the natural world. "Discovereth the forests" (v. 9) means "stripping them bare." In the midst of this sublimity God's worshipers cry, "Glory!" (R. V.)

Psalm 30

States its occasion in the title, the reference being to David's own house or palace (compare Deut. 20:5); 2 Sam. 5:11; 7:2).

Psalm 31

Is a cry of one in distress, which some have referred to as the period of David's persecution by Saul at Keilah. Read 1 Samuel 23:1-15, and then note in the Psalm, verses 4, 8, 10-15, 20-22.

Psalm 32

Reads like "David's Spiritual Biography." It is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11, 12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (Psalm 51), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it. It opens with a general declaration of his blessedness and why (vv. I, 2). This is followed by his experience before forgiveness and when he was undergoing conviction of sin (vv. 3, 4). Confession brought forgiveness (v. 5). Let others act similarly in the same circumstances (v. 6). See what God is to him now (v. 7). The Psalm takes the form of a dialogue at this point, and God speaks at verses eight and nine, which should be read in the Revised Version. The whole concludes with a warning and exhortation (vv. 10, 11).

Psalm 33

Is one of praise. It opens with a general chorus (vv. 1-3). This is followed by a semi-chorus (vv. 4-11), a second semi-chorus (vv. 12-19), and a final chorus (vv. 20-22). To follow this division suggested by the Modern Reader's Bible, is to obtain a good idea of the several subjects.

Psalm 34

Has its occasion indicated in the title which refers to I Samuel 21:13. The name there is Achish, but some think Abimelech was the general name given the sovereigns of Gath at that time (Gen. 20:2). This is also an acrostic, and from a musical point of view consists of an introduction (vv. I, 2), solos and choruses. For one solo, see verses 3-6, and for another 11-14.

Psalm 35

May be read in connection with I Samuel 24, which some regard as its occasion. A comparison of that chapter will throw light on the meaning of several of its expressions.

Psalm 37

Is one of the most popular of the Psalms of trust and confidence, whose contents are illustrated in David's personal history. It is an acrostic, which requires little in the way of explanation to any heart who really knows God through Jesus Christ. The theme is the prosperity of the wicked with counsel as to how the child of God should act in regard to it. Questions I. What is an acrostic Psalm? 2. What earlier Psalm is suggested by the theme of Psalm 26? 3. Point out the poetic descriptions of a thunder-storm in Psalm 29. 4. What experience is Psalm 31 thought to describe? 5. Have you again read 1 Samuel 23:1-15? 6. Give a title of Psalm 32, and a reason for it. 7. What idea is conveyed by "semichorus"? 8. Memorize Psalm 37:1-9.

(NOTE: Gray's Commentary continues throughout the remainder of the Psalms)


Catholic Information

The Psalter, or Book of Psalms, is the first book of the "Writings" (Kethubhim or Hagiographa), i.e. of the third section of the printed Hebrew Bible of today. In this section of the Hebrew Bible the canonical order of books has varied greatly; whereas in the first and second sections, that is, in the Law and the Prophets, the books have always been in pretty much the same order. The Talmudic list (Baba Bathra 14 b) gives Ruth precedence to Psalms. St. Jerome heads the "Writings" with Psalms, in his "Epistola ad Paulinum" (P.L., XXII, 547); with Job in his "Prologus Galeatus" (P.L., XXVIII, 555). Many Masoretic manuscripts, especially Spanish, begin the "Writings" with Paralipomena or Chronicles. German Masoretic manuscripts have led to the order of book in the Kethubhim of the modern Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint puts Psalms first among the Sapiential Books. These latter books, in "Cod. Alexandrinus", belong to the third section and follow the Prophets. The Clementine Vulgate has Psalms and the Sapiential Books in the second section, and after Job. This article will treat the name of the Psalter, its contents, the authors of the Psalms, their canonicity, text, versions, poetic form, poetic beauty, theological value, and liturgical use.

I. Name

The Book of Psalms has various names in the Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate texts.

A. The Hebrew name is , "praises" (from , "to praise"); or , "book of praises". This latter name was known to Hippolytus, who wrote Hebraioi periegrapsanten biblon Sephra theleim (ed. Lagarde, 188). There is some doubt in regard to the authenticity of this fragment. There can be no doubt, however, in regard to the transliteration Spharthelleim by Origen (P.G., XII, 1084); and "sephar tallim, quod interpretatur volumen hymnorum" by St. Jerome (P.L., XXVIII, 1124). The name "praises" does not indicate the contents of all the Psalms. Only Ps. cxliv (cxlv) is entitled "praise" (). A synonymous name hallel was, in later Jewish ritual, given to four groups of songs of praise, Pss. civ-cvii, cxi-cxvii, cxxxv-cxxxvi, cxlvi-cl (Vulgate, ciii-cvi, cx-cxvi, cxxxvi-cxxxviii, cxlv-cl). Not only these songs of praise, but the entire collection of psalms made up a manual for temple service -- a service chiefly of praise; hence the name "Praises" was given to the manual itself.

B. The Septuagint manuscripts of the Book of Psalms read either psalmoi, psalms, or psalterion, psalter. The word psalmos is a translation of , which occurs in the titles of fifty-seven psalms. Psalmos in classical Greek meant the twang of the strings of a musical instrument; its Hebrew equivalent (from , "to trim") means a poem of "trimmed" and measured form. The two words show us that a psalm was a poem of set structure to be sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. The New Testament text uses the names psalmoi (Luke 24:44), biblos psalmon (Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20), and Daveid (Hebrews 4:7).

C. The Vulgate follows the Greek text and translates psalmi, liber psalmorum.

The Syriac Bible in like manner names the collection Mazmore.

II. Contents

The Book of Psalms contains 150 psalms, divided into five books, together with four doxologies and the titles of most of the psalms.

A. Number

The printed Hebrew Bible lists 150 psalms. Fewer are given by some Masoretic manuscripts. The older Septuagint manuscripts (Codd. Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus) give 151, but expressly state that the last psalm is not canonical: "This psalm was written by David with his own hand and is outside the number", exothen tou arithmou. The Vulgate follows the numeration of the Septuagint but omits Ps. cli. The differences in the numerations of the Hebrew and Vulgate texts may be seen in the following scheme:

Hebrew 1-8 = Septuagint/Vulgate 1-8

Hebrew 9 = Septuagint/Vulgate 9-10

Hebrew 10-112 = Septuagint/Vulgate 11-113

Hebrew 113 = Septuagint/Vulgate 114-115

Hebrew 114-115 = Septuagint/Vulgate 116

Hebrew 116-145 = Septuagint/Vulgate 117-146

Hebrew 146-147 = Septuagint/Vulgate 147

Hebrew 148-150 = Septuagint/Vulgate 148-150

In the course of this article, we shall follow the Hebrew numeration and bracket that of the Septuagint and Vulgate. Each numeration has its defects; neither is preferable to the other. The variance between Massorah and Septuagint texts in this numeration is likely enough due to a gradual neglect of the original poetic form of the Psalms; such neglect was occasioned by liturgical uses and carelessness of copyists. It is admitted by all that Pss. ix and x were originally a single acrostic poem; they have been wrongly separated by Massorah, rightly united by the Septuagint and Vulgate. On the other hand Ps. cxliv (cxlv) is made up of two songs -- verses 1-11 and 12-15. Pss. xlii and xliii (xli and xlii) are shown by identity of subject (yearning for the house of Jahweh), of metrical structure and of refrain (cf. Heb. Ps. xlii, 6, 12; xliii, 5), to be three strophes of one and the same poem. The Hebrew text is correct in counting as one Ps. cxvi (cxiv + cxv) and Ps. cxlvii (cxlvi + cxlviii). Later liturgical usage would seem to have split up these and not a few other psalms. Zenner ("Die Chorgesange im Buche der Psalmen", II, Freiburg im Br., 1896) ingeniously combines into what he deems were the original choral odes: Pss. i, ii, iii, iv; vi + xiii (vi + xii); ix + x (ix); xix, xx, xxi (xx, xxi, xxii); xlvi + xlvii (xlvii + xlviii); lxix + lxx (lxx + lxxi); cxiv + cxv (cxiii); cxlviii, cxlix, cl. A choral ode would seem to have been the original form of Pss. xiv + lxx (xiii + lxix). The two strophes and the epode are Ps. xiv; the two antistrophes are Ps. lxx (cf. Zenner-Wiesmann, "Die Psalmen nach dem Urtext", Munster, 1906, 305). It is noteworthy that, on the breaking up of the original ode, each portion crept twice into the Psalter: Ps. xiv = liii, Ps. lxxx = xl, 14-18. Other such duplicated psalms are Ps. cviii, 2-6 (cvii) = Ps. lvii, 8-12 (lvi); Ps. cviii, 7-14 (cvii) = Ps. lx, 7-14 (lix); Ps. lxxi, 1-3 (lxx) = Ps. xxxi, 2-4 (xxx). This loss of the original form of some of the psalms is allowed by the Biblical Commission (1 May, 1910) to have been due to liturgical uses, neglect of copyists, or other causes.

B. Division

The Psalter is divided into five books. Each book, save the last, ends with a doxology. These liturgical forms differ slightly. All agree that the doxologies at the end of the first three books have nothing to do with the original songs to which they have been appended. Some consider that the fourth doxology was always a part of Ps. cvi (cv) (cf. Kirkpatrick, "Psalms", IV and V, p. 6343). We prefer, with Zenner-Wiesmann (op. cit., 76) to rate it as a doxology pure and simple. The fifth book has no need of an appended doxology. Ps. cl, whether composed as such or not, serves the purpose of a grand doxology which fittingly brings the whole Psalter to its close.

The five books of the Psalter are made up as follows:

Bk. I: Pss. i-xli (i-xl); doxology, Ps. xli, 14.

Bk. II: Pss. xlii-lxxii (xli-lxxi); doxology, Ps. lxxii, 18-20.

Bk. III: Pss. lxxiii-lxxxix (lxxii-lxxxviii); doxology, Ps. lxxxix, 53.

Bk. IV: Pss. xc-cvi (lxxxix-cv); doxology, Ps. cvi, 48.

Bk. V: Pss. cvii-cl (cvi-cl); no doxology.

In the Masoretic text, the doxology is immediately followed by an ordinal adjective indicating the number of the succeeding book; not so in the Septuagint and Vulgate. This division of the Psalter into five parts belongs to early Jewish tradition. The Midrash on Ps. i tells us that David gave to the Jews five books of psalms to correspond to the five books of the Law given them by Moses. This tradition was accepted by the early Fathers. Hippolytus, in the doubtful fragment already referred to, calls the Psalter and its five books a second Pentateuch (ed. Lagarde, 193). St. Jerome defends the division in his important "Prologus Galeatus" (P.L., XXVIII, 553) and in Ep. cxl (P.L., XXII, 11, 68). Writing to Marcella (P.L., XXIII, 431), he says: "In quinque siquidem volumina psalterium apud Hebraeos divisum est". He, however, contradicts this statement in his letter to Sophronius (P.L., XXVIII, 1123): "Nos Hebraeorum auctoritatem secute et maxime apostolorum, qui sempter in Novo Testamento psalmorum librum nominant, unum volumen asserimus".

C. Titles

In the Hebrew Psalter, all the psalms, save thirty-four, have either simple or rather complex titles. The Septuagint and Vulgate supply titles to most of the thirty-four psalms that lack Hebrew titles. These latter, called "orphan psalms" by Jewish tradition, are thus distributed in the five books of the Psalter:

Bk. I has 4 -- Pss. I, iii, x, xxxiii [i, iii, ix (b), xxxii]. Of these, Ps. x is broken from Ps. ix; Ps. xxxiii has a title in the Septuagint and Vulgate.

Bk. II has 2 -- Pss. xliii, lxxi (xlii, lxx). Of these, Ps. xliii is broken from Ps. xlii.

Bk. III has none.

Bk. IV has 10 -- Pss. xci, xciii-xcvii, xcix, xiv-cvi (xc, xcii-xcvi, xcviii, ciii-cv). Of these, all have titles in the Septuagint and Vulgate.

Bk. V has 18 -- Pss. cvii, cxi-cxix, cxxxv-cxxxvii, cxlvi-cl (cvi, cx-cxviii, cxxxiv, cxlv-cl). Of these, Ps. cxii has a title in the Vulgate, Ps. cxxxvii in the Septuagint and Vulgate; the quasi-title hallelu yah precedes nine (cxi-cxiii, cxxxv, cxlvi-cl); the Greek equivalent Allelouia precedes seven others (cvii, cxiv, cxvi-cxix, cxxxvi). Only Ps. cxv [cxiii (b)] has no title either in the Hebrew or the Septuagint.

(1) Meaning of Titles

These titles tell us one or more of five things about the psalms: (a) the author, or, perhaps, collection; (b) the historical occasion of the song; (c) its poetic characteristics; (d) its musical setting; (e) its liturgical use.

(a) Titles indicating the author

Bk. I has four anonymous psalms out of the forty-one (Pss. i, ii, x, xxxiii). The other thirty-seven are Davidic. Ps. x is part of ix; Ps. xxxiii is Davidic in the Septuagint; and Pss. I and ii are prefatory to the entire collection. -- Bk. II has three anonymous psalms out of the thirty-one (Pss. xliii, lxvi, lxxi). Of these, eight Pss., xlii-xlix (xli-xlviii) are "of the sons of Korah" (libne qorah); Ps. 1 is "of Asaph"; Pss. li-lxxii "of the Director" (lamenaççeah) and Ps. lxxii "of Solomon". Ps. xliii (xlii) is part of xlii (xli); Pss. lxvi and lxvii (lxv and lxvi) and Davidic in the Septuagint and Vulgate. -- Bk. III has one Davidic psalm, lxxxvi (lxxxv); eleven "of Asaph", lxxiii-lxxxiii (lxxii-lxxxii); four "of the sons of Korah", lxxxiv, lxxxv, lxxxvii, lxxxviii (lxxxiii, lxxxiv, lxxxvi, lxxxvii); and one "of Ethan", lxxxix (lxxxviii). Ps. lxxxviii is likewise assigned to Heman the Ezrahite. -- Bk. IV has two Davidic psalms, ci and ciii (c and cii), and one "of Moses". Moreover, the Septuagint assigns to David eight others, Pss. xci, xciii-xcvii, xciv, civ (xc, xcii-xcvi, xcviii, ciii). The remainder are anonymous. -- Bk. V has twenty-seven anonymous psalms out of forty-four. Pss. cviii-cx, cxxii, cxxiv, cxxxi, cxxxiii, cxxxviii-cxlv (cvii-cix, cxxi, cxxiii, cxxx, cxxxii, cxxxvii-cxlv) are Davidic. Ps. cxxvii is "of Solomon". The Septuagint and Vulgate assign Ps. cxxxvii (cxxxvi) David, Pss. cxlvi-cxlviii (cxlv-cxlviii) to Aggeus and Zacharias. Besides these title-names of authors and collections which are clear, there are several such names which are doubtful. -- Lamenaççeah (; Septuagint, eis to telos; Vulg., in finem; Douai, "unto the end"; Aquila, to nikopoio, "for the victor"; St. Jerome, victori; Symmachus, epinikios, "a song of victory"; Theodotion, eis to nikos, "for the victory") now generally interpreted "of the Director". The Pi'el of the root means, in I Par., xv, 22, "to be leader" over the basses in liturgical service of song (cf. Oxford Hebrew Dictionary, 664). The title "of the Director" is probably analogous to "of David", "of Asaph", etc., and indicates a "Director's Collection" of Psalms. This collection would seem to have contained 55 of our canonical psalms, whereof 39 were Davidic, 9 Korahite, 5 Asaphic, and 2 anonymous. Al-Yeduthun, in Pss. lxii and lxxvii (lxi and lxxvi), where the preposition al might lead one to interpret Yeduthun as a musical instrument or a tune. In the title to Ps. xxxix (xxxviii), "of the Director, of Yeduthun, a song of David", Yeduthun is without al and seems to be the Director (Menaççeah) just spoken of. That David had such a director is clear from I Par., xvi, 41.

(b) Titles indicating the historical occasion of the song

Thirteen Davidic psalms have such titles. Pss. vii, xviii, xxxiv, lii, liv, lvi, lvii, lix, cxlii (vii, xvii, xxxiii, li, liii, lv, lvi, lviii, cxli) are referred to the time of David's persecution by Saul; Ps. lx (lix) to that of the victories in Mesopotamia and Syria; Ps. li(l) to his sin; Pss. iii and lxiii (lxii) to his flight from Absalom.

(c) Titles indicating poetic characteristics of the psalm

Mizmor (; Septuagint, psalmos; Vulg., psalmus; a psalm), a technical word not used outside the titles of the Psalter; meaning a song set to stringed accompaniment. There are 57 psalms, most of them Davidic, with the title Mizmor.

Shir (; Septuagint, ode; Vulg., Canticum; a song), a generic term used 30 times in the titles (12 times together with Mizmor), and often in the text of the Psalms and of other books. In the Psalms (xlii, 9; lxix, 31; xxviii, 7) the song is generally sacred; elsewhere it is a lyric lay (Genesis 31:27; Isaiah 30:29), a love poem (Cant., i, 1.1), or a bacchanalian ballad (Isaiah 24:9; Ecclesiastes 7:5).

Maskil (; Septuagint, synedeos, or eis synesin; Vulgate intellectus or ad intellectum), an obscure form found in the titles of 13 psalms (xxxii, xlii, xliv, xlv, lii, lv, lxxiv, lxxviii, lxxxviii, lxxxix, cxliv). (a) Gesenius and others explain "a didactic poem", from Hiph'il of (cf. Psalm 32:8; 1 Chronicles 28:19); but only Pss. xxxii and lxxviii are didactic Maskilim. (b) Ewald, Riehm and others suggest "a skilful artistic song", from other uses of the cognate verb (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:22; Psalm 47:7); Kirkpatrick things "a cunning psalm" will do. It is difficult to see that the Maskil is either more artistic or more cunning than the Mizmor. (c) Delitzch and others interpret "a contemplative poem"; Briggs, "a meditation". This interpretation is warranted by the usage of the cognate verb (cf. Isaiah 41:20; Job 34:27), and is the only one that suits all Maskilim.

Tephillah (); Septuagint, proseuche; Vulg., oratio; a prayer), the title to five psalms, xvii, lxxxvi, xc, cii, cxlii (xvi, lxxv, lxxxix, ci, cxli). The same word occurs in the conclusion to Bk. II (cf. Ps. lxxii, 20), "The prayers of David son of Yishai have been ended". Here the Septuagint hymnoi (Vulgate, laudes) points to a better reading, , "praise".

Tehillah (; Septuagint, ainesis; Vulg., laudatio; "a song of praise"), is the title only of Psalm 145.

Mikhtam (; Septuagint, stelographia or eis stelographian; Vulg., tituli inscriptio or in tituli inscriptionem), an obscure term in the title of six psalms, xvi, lvi-lx (xv, lv-lix), always to "of David". Briggs ("Psalms", I, lx; New York, 1906) with the Rabbis derives this title from , "gold". The Mikhtamim are golden songs, "artistic in form and choice in contents". Shiggayon (; Septuagint merely psalmos; Vulg., psalmus; Aquila, agnonma; Symmachus and Theodotion, hyper agnoias; St. Jerome, ignoratio or pro ignoratione), occurs only in the title to Ps. vii. The root of the word means "to wander", "to reel", hence, according to Ewald, Delitzch, and others, the title means a wild dithyrambic ode with a reeling, wandering rhythm.

(d) Titles indicating the musical setting of a psalm (a specially obscure set)

Eight titles may indicate the melody of the psalm by citing the opening words of some well-known song:

Nehiloth (; Septuagint and Theodotion, hyper tes kleronomouses; Aquila, apo klerodosion; Symmachus, hyper klerouchion; St. Jerome, super haereditatibus; Vulg., pro ea quae haereditatem consequitur), occurs only in Ps. v. The ancient versions rightly derive the title from , "to inherit"; Baethgen ("Die Psalmen", 3rd ed., 1904, p. xxxv) thinks Nehiloth was the first word of some ancient song; most critics translate "with wind instruments" wrong assuming that Nehiloth means flutes (, cf. Is. xxx, 29).

Al-tashheth [; Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus, peri aphtharsias, except Ps. lxxv, Symmachus, peri aphtharsias; St. Jerome, ut non disperdas (David humilem et simplicem); Vulg., ne disperdas or ne corrumpas], in Pss. lvii-lix, lxxv (lvi-lviii, lxxiv), meaning "destroy not", may be the beginning of a vintage song referred to in Is., lxv, 8. Symmachus gives, in title to Ps. lvii, peri tou me diaphtheires; and in this wise suggests that originally preceded . Al-Muth-Labben (; Septuagint, hyper ton kyphion tou yiou; Vulg., pro occultis filii, "concerning the secret sins of the son"; Aquila, hyper akmes tou hiou, "of the youth of the son"; Theodotion, hyper akmes tou hyiou, "concerning the maturity of the son") in Ps. ix, probably means "set to the tune 'Death Whitens'".

Al-ayyeleth hasshahar (; Septuagint, hyper tes antilepseos tes heothines; Vulg., pro susceptione matutina, "for the morning offering"; Aquila, hyper tes elaphou tes orthines; Symmachus, hyper tes boetheias tes orthines, "the help of the morning"; St. Jerome, pro cervo matutino), in Ps. xxii (xxi, very likely means "set to the tune 'The Hind of the Morning'". Al Shoshannim in Pss. xlv and lxix (xliv and lxviii), Shushan-eduth in Ps. lx (lix), Shoshannim-eduth in Ps. lxxx (lxxix) seem to refer to the opening of the same song, "Lilies" or "Lilies of testimony". The preposition is al or el. The Septuagint translates the consonants hyper ton Alloiothesomenon; Vulg., pro iis qui commutabuntur, "for those who shall be changed". Al Yonath elem rehoqim, in Ps. lvi (lv) means "set to 'The dove of the distant terebinth'", or, according to the vowels of Massorah, "set to 'The silent dove of them that are afar'". The Septuagint renders it hyper tou laou tou apo ton hagion memakrymmenou; Vulg., pro populo qui a sanctis longe factus est, "for the folk that are afar from the sanctuary". Baethgen (op. cit., p. xli) explains that the Septuagint understands Israel to be the dove; reads elim for elem, and interprets the word to mean gods or sanctuary. 'Al Mahalath (Ps. liii), Mahalath leannoth (Ps. lxxxviii) is transliterated by the Septuagint Maeleth; by Vulg., pro Maeleth. Aquila renders epi choreia, "for the dance"; the same idea is conveyed by Symmachus, Theodotion, Quinta, and St. Jerome (pro choro). The word 'Al is proof that the following words indicate some well-known song to the melody of which Pss. liii and lxxxviii (lii and lxxxvii) were sung.

'Al-Haggittith, in titles to Pss. viii, lxxxi, lxxxiv (vii, lxxx, lxxxiii). The Septuagint and Symmachus, hyper ton lenon; Vulg., and St. Jerome, pro torcularibus, "for the wine-presses". They read gittoth, pl. of gath. The title may mean that these psalms were to be sung to some vintage-melody. The Masoretic title may mean a Gittite instrument (Targ., "the harp brought by David from Gath"), or a Gittite melody. Aquila and Theodotion follow the reading of Masorah and, in Ps. viii, translate the title hyper tes getthitidos; yet this same reading is said by Bellarmine ("Explanatio in Psalmos", Paris, 1889), I, 43) to be meaningless.

One title probably means the kind of musical instrument to be used. Neginoth (; Septuagint, en psalmois, in Ps. iv, en hymnois elsewhere; Vulg., in carminibus; Symmachus, dia psalterion; St. Jerome, in psalmis) occurs in Pss. iv, vi, liv, lxvii, lxxvi (iv, vi, liii, liv, lxvi, lxxv). The root of the word means "to play on stringed instruments" (1 Samuel 16:16-18, 23). The title probably means that these psalms were to be accompanied in cantilation exclusively "with stringed instruments". Ps. lxi (lx) has Al Neginath in its title, and was perhaps to be sung with one stringed instrument only.

Two titles seem to refer to pitch. Al-Alamoth (Psalm 46), "set to maidens", i.e., to be sung with a soprano or falsetto voice. The Septuagint renders hyper ton kryphion; Vulg., pro occultis, "for the hidden"; Symmachus, hyper ton aionion, "for the everlasting"; Aquila, epi neanioteton; St. Jerome, pro juventutibus, "for youth".

Al-Hassheminith (Pss. vi and xii), "set to the eighth"; Septuagint, hyper tes ogdoes; Vulg., pro octava. It has been conjectured that "the eighth" means an octave lower, the lower or bass register, in contrast with the upper or soprano register. In I Pr., xv, 20-21, Levites are assigned some "with psalteries set to 'Alamoth'" (the upper register), others "with harps set to Sheminith" (the lower register).

(e) Titles indicating the liturgical use of a psalm

Hamma'aloth, in title of Pss. cxx-cxxxiv (cxix-cxxxiii); Septuagint, ode ton anabathmon; St. Jerome, canticum graduum, "the song of the steps". The word is used in Ex., xx, 26 to denote the steps leading up from the women's to the men's court of the Temple plot. There were fifteen such steps. Some Jewish commentators and Fathers of the Church have taken it that, on each of the fifteen steps, one of these fifteen Gradual Psalms was chanted. Such a theory does not fit in with the content of these psalms; they are not temple-psalms. Another theory, proposed by Gesenius, Delitzsch, and others, refers "the steps" to the stair-like parallelism of the Gradual Psalms. This stair-like parallelism is not found in all the Gradual Psalms; nor is it distinctive of any of them. A third theory is the most probable. Aquila and Symmachus read eis tas anabaseis, "for the goings up"; Theodotion has asma to nanabaseon. These are a Pilgrim Psalter, a collection of pilgrim-songs of those "going up to Jerusalem for the festivals" (1 Samuel 1:3). Issias tells us the pilgrims went up singing (xxx, 29). The psalms in question would be well suited for pilgrim-song. The phrase "to go up" to Jerusalem (anabainein) seems to refer specially to the pilgrim goings-up (Mark 10:33; Luke 2:42, etc.). This theory is now commonly received. A less likely explanation is that the Gradual Psalms were sung by those "going up" from the Babylonian exile (Ezra 7:9).

Other liturgical titles are: "For the thank-offering", in Ps. c (xcix); "To bring remembrance", in Pss. xxxviii and lxx (xxxvii and lxix); "To teach", in Ps. xl (xxxix); "For the last day or the Feast of Tabernacles", in the Septuagint of Ps. xxix (xxviii), exodiou skenes; Vulg., in consummatione tabernaculi. Psalm xxx (xxix) is entitled "A Song at the Dedication of the House". The psalm may have been used at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, the Encaenia (John 10:22). This feast was instituted by Judas Machabeus (1 Maccabees 4:59) to commemorate the rededication of the temple after its desecration by Antiochus. Its title shows us that Ps. xcii (xci) was to be sung on the Sabbath. The Septuagint entitles Ps. xxiv (xxiii) tes mias sabbaton, "for the first day of the week"; Ps. xlviii (xlvii) deutera sabbatou, "for the second day of the week"; Ps. xciv (xciii), tetradi sabbaton, "for the fourth day of the week"; Ps. xciii (xcii) eis ten hemeran, "for the day before the Sabbath". The Old Latin entitles Ps. lxxxi (lxxx) quinta sabbati, "the fifth day of the week". The Mishna (Tamid, VII, 13) assigns the same psalms for the daily Temple service and tells us that Ps. lxxxii (lxxxi) was for the morning sacrifice of the third day (cf. James Wm. Thirtle, "The Titles of the Psalms, Their Nature and Meaning Explained", New York, 1905).

(2) Value of the Titles

Many of the critics have branded these titles as spurious and rejected them as not pertaining to Holy Writ; such critics are de Wette, Cheyne, Olshausen, and Vogel. More recent critical Protestant scholars, such as Briggs, Baethgen, Kirkpatrick, and Fullerton, have followed up the lines of Ewald, Delitzsch, Gesenius, and Koster, and have made much of the titles, so as thereby to learn more and more about the authors, collections, occasions, musical settings, and liturgical purposes of the Psalms.

Catholic scholars, while not insisting that the author of the Psalms superscribed the titles thereof, have always considered these titles as an integral part of Holy Writ. St. Thomas (in Ps. vi) assigns the titles to Esdras: "Sciendum est quod tituli ab Esdra facti sunt partim secundum ea quae tune agebantur, et partim secundum ea quae contigerunt." So comprehensive a statement of the case is scarcely to the point; most modern scholars give to the titles a more varied history. Almost all, however, are at one in considering as canonical these at times obscured directions. In this unanimity Catholics carry out Jewish tradition. Pre-Masoretic tradition preserved the titles as Scripture, but lost much of the liturgical and musical meaning, very likely because of changes in the liturgical cantilation of the Psalms. Masoretic tradition has kept carefully whatsoever of the titles it received. It makes the titles to be part of Sacred Scripture, preserving their consonants, vowel-points, and accents with the very same care which is given to the rest of the Jewish Canon. The Fathers give to the titles that respect and authority which they give to the rest of Scripture. True, the obscurity of the titles often leads the Fathers to mystical and highly fanciful interpretations. St. John Chrysostom ("De Compunctione", II, 4; P.G., XLVII, 415) interprets hyper tes ogdoes, "for the eighth day", "the day of rest", "the day of eternity". St. Ambrose (In Lucam, V, 6) sees in this title the same mystical number which he notes in the Eight Beatitudes of St. Matthew, in the eighth day as a fulfilment of our hope, and in eight as a sum of all virtues: "pro octava enim multi inscribuntur psalmi". In this matter of mystical interpretations of the titles, St. Augustine is in advance of the generally literal and matter-of-fact Sts. Ambrose and John Chrysostom. Yet when treating the worth and the genuiness of the titles, no Father is more decided and pointed than is the great Bishop of Hippo. To him the titles are inspired Scripture. Commenting on the title to Ps. li, "of David, when Nathan the Prophet came to him, what time he had gone into Bethsabee", St. Augustine (P.L., XXXVI, 586) says it is an inspired as is the story of David's fall, told in the Second Book of Kings (xi, 1-6); "Utraque Scriptura canonica est, utrique sine ulla dubitatione a Christianis fides adhibenda est". Some recent Catholic scholars who are of St. Augustine's mind in this matter are: Cornely, "Specialis Introduction in libros V. T.", II, 85; Zschokke, "Hist. Sacr. V. T.", 206; Thalhofer, "Erklärung der Psalmen", 7th ed., 1904, 8; Patrizi, "Cento Salmi", Rome, 1875, 32; Danko, "Historia V. T.", 276; Hoberg, "Die Psalmen der Vulgata", 1892, p. xii. Only a very few Catholic scholars have denied that the titles are an integral art of Holy Writ. Gigot, in "Special Introductions to the Old Testament" (New York, 1906), II, 75, cites with approval this denial by Lesêtre, "Le Livre des Psaumes" (Paris, 1883), p. 1. Barry, in "Tradition of Scripture" (New York, 1906), 102, says: "It is plausible to maintain that inscriptions to which the Massorah, LXX, and Vulgate bear witness cannot be rejected. But to look on them, under all circumstances, as portions of Scripture would be to strain the Tridentine Decrees". Because of the danger that, without grave reason, these time-honoured parts of the Bible may be rated as extra-canonical, the Biblical Commission has recently (1 May, 1910) laid special stress on the value of the titles. From the agreement we have noted between the titles of Massorah and those of the Septuagint, Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, St. Jerome, etc., the Commission has decided that the titles are older than the Septuagint and have come down to us, if not from the authors of the Psalms, at least from ancient Jewish tradition, and that, on this account, they may not be called into doubt, unless there be some serious reason against their genuineness. Indeed, the very disagreements which we have noted led us to the same conclusion. By the time the Septuagint was written, the titles must have been exceedingly old; for the tradition of their vocalization was already very much obscured.

III. Authors of the Psalms

A. Witness of Tradition

(1) Jewish tradition is uncertain as to the authors of the Psalms. Baba Bathra (14 f) mentions ten; Pesachim (10) attributes all the Psalms to David.

(2) Christian tradition is alike uncertain. St. Ambrose, "In Ps. xliii and xlvii" (P.L., XIV, 923), makes David to be the sole author. St. Augustine, in "De Civitate Dei", XVII, 14 (P.L., XLI, 547), thinks that all the Psalms are Davidic and that the names of Aggeus and Zacharias were superscribed by the poet in prophetic spirit. St. Philastrius, Haer. 130 (P.L., XII, 1259), brands the opposite opinion as heretical. On the other hand, plurality of authorship was defended by Origen, "In Ps." (P.G., XII, 1066); St. Hilary, "In Ps. Procem. 2) (P.L., IX, 233); Eusebius, "In Ps. Procem. In Pss. 41, 72" (P.G., XXIII, 74, 368); and many others. St. Jerome, "Ad Cyprianum, Epist. 140, 4 (P.L., XXII, 1169), says that "they err who deem all the psalms are David's and not the work of those whose names are superscribed".

(3) This disagreement, in matter of authorship of the Psalms, is carried from the Fathers to the theologians. Davidic authorship is defended by St. Thomas, the converted Jew Archbishop Paul of Burgos, Bellarmine, Salmeron, S, Mariana; multiple authorship is defended by Nicholas of Lyra, Cajetan, Sixtus Senensis, Bonfrere, and Menochio.

(4) The Church has come to no decision in this matter. The Council of Trent (Sess. IV, 8 April, 1546), in its decrees on Sacred Scripture, includes "Psalterium Davidicum, 150 Psalmorum" among the Canonical Books. This phrase does not define Davidic authorship any more than the number 150, but only designates the book, which is defined to be canonical (cf. Pallavicino, "Istoria del Concilio di Trento", l. VI, 1591. Naples, 1853, I, 376). In the preliminary vota, fifteen Fathers were for the name "Psalmi David"; six for "Psalterium Davidicum"; nine for "Libri Psalmorum"; two for "Libri 150 Psalmorum"; sixteen for the name adopted, "Psalterium Davidicum 150 Psalmorum"; and two had no concern which of these names was chosen (cf. Theiner, "Acta Authentica Councilii Tridentini", I, 72 sq.). From the various vota it is clear that the Council had no intention whatsoever of defining Davidic authorship.

(5) The recent Decree of the Biblical Commission (1 May, 1910) decides the following points:

Neither the wording of the decrees of the councils nor the opinions of certain Fathers have such weight as to determine that David is sole author of the whole Psalter.

It cannot be prudently denied that David is the chief author of the songs of the Psalter.

Especially can it not be denied that David is the author of those psalms which, either in the Old or in the New Testament, are clearly cited under the name of David, for instance ii, xvi, xviii, xxxii, lxix, cx (ii, xv, xvii, xxxi, lxviii, cix).

B. Witness of Old Testament

In the above decision the Biblical Commission has followed not only Jewish and Christian tradition, but Jewish and Christian Scripture as well. The Old Testament witness to the authorship of the Psalms is chiefly the titles. These seem to attribute various psalms, especially of Books I-III, to David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Moses, and others.

(1) David

The titles of seventy-three psalms in the Masoretic Text and of many more in the Septuagint seem to single out David as author: cf. Pss. iii-xli (iii-xl), i.e. all of Bk. I save only x and xxxiii; Pss. li-lxx (l-lxix), except lxvi and lxvii, in Bk. II; Ps. lxxxvi (lxxxv) of Bk. III; Ps. ciii (cii) in Bk. IV; Pss. cviii-cx, cxxii, cxxiv, cxxxi, cxxxiii, cxxxv-cxlv (cvii-cix, cxxi, cxxiii, cxxx, cxxxiv-cxliv) of Bk. V. The Hebrew title is . It is now generally held that, in this Hebrew, the preposition le has the force of a genitive, and that the Septuagint tou David "of David", is a better translation than the Vulgate ipsi David, "unto David himself". Does this preposition mean authorship? No in every title; else both David and the Director are the authors of Ps. xix (xviii), and all the sons of Korah, together with the Director, are joint authors of the psalms attributed to them. In the case of such composite titles as "of the Director, a psalm of David" (Ps. xix), or "of the Director, of the sons of Korah, a psalm" (Ps. xlviii), we probably have indications not of authorship but of various collections of psalms -- the collections entitled "David", "the Director", "the sons of Korah". Just as the New Testament, the Council of Trent, and many Fathers of the Church speak of "David", "the Psalter of David", "the Psalms of David", not in truth to infer that all the psalms are David's, but because he was the psalmist par excellence, so the titles of many psalms assign them not so much to their authors as to their collectors or to the chief author of the collection to which they pertain. On the other hand, some of the longer titles go to show that "of David" may means authorship. Take an instance: "Of the Director, to the tune 'Destroy not', of David, a chosen piece (Mikhtam), when he fled from the face of Saul into the cave" (Ps. lvii). The historical occasion of the Davidic composition of the song, the lyric quality of the song, its inclusion in the early collection "of David" and later in the Director's hymnbook, the tune to which the psalm was either written by David or set by the Director -- all these things seem to be indicated by the very composite title under consideration. Of a sort with the Davidic titles is the ending subscribed to the first two books of the Psalms: "Amen, Amen; ended are the phrases of David, son of Yishai" (Ps. lxxii, 20). This subscription is more ancient than the Septuagint; it would be altogether out of place were not David the chief author of the psalms of the two books whereto it is appended. Further Old-Testament evidence of Davidic authorship of the Psalms, as suggested by the Biblical Commission's recent Decree, are David's natural poetic talent, shown in his song and dirges of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, together with the fact that it was he who instituted the solemn levitical cantilation of psalms in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chronicles 16:23-25). The songs and dirges attributed to David are significantly alike to the Davidic psalms in spirit and style and wording. Let us examine the opening line of 2 Samuel 22:

"And David spoke to Jahweh the words of this song in the day that Jahweh saved him from the grasp of his foes and out of the hands of Saul, and he said: 2. Jahweh is my Cliff, my Fortress, my Way of Escape, 3. My God, my Rock to Whom I betake me, My Shield, the Horn of my salvation, my Tower. My Refuge, my Saviour, from wrong dost Thou save me. 4. Shouting praise, I cry to Jahweh, And from my foe I get salvation".

The two songs are clearly identical, the slight differences being probably due in the main to different liturgical redactions of the Psalter. In the end the writer of 2 Samuel gives "the last words of David" (xxiii, 1) -- to wit, a short psalm in the Davidic style wherein David speaks of himself as "Israel's sweet singer of songs", "egregius psaltes Israel" (2 Samuel 23:2). In like manner the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 16:8-36) quotes as Davidic a song made up of Ps. cv, 1-13, Ps. xcvi, and a small portion of Ps. cvi. Finally, the Prophet Amos addresses the Samarians: "Ye that sing to the sound of the psaltery; they have thought themselves to have instruments of music like David" (vi, 5). The poetic power of David stands out as a characteristic of the Shepherd King. His elegiac plaints at the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27) reveal some power, but not that of the Davidic psalms. The above reasons for Davidic authorship are impugned by many who insist on the late redaction of 2 Samuel 21-24 and upon the discrepancies between the passages we have paralleled. The question of late redaction of the Davidic songs in 2 Samuel is not within our scope; nor does such late redaction destroy the force of our appeal to the Old Testament, since that appeal is to the Word of God. In regard to the discrepancies, we have already said that they are explainable by the admission that our Psalter is the result of various liturgical redactions, and does not present all the psalms in the precise form in which they proceeded from their original writers.

(2) Asaph

Asaph is accredited, by the titles, with twelve psalms, l, lxxiii-lxxxiii (xlix, lxxii-lxxxii). These psalms are all national in character and pertain to widely-separated periods of Jewish history. Ps. lxxxiii (lxxxii), although assigned by Briggs ("Psalms", New York, 1906, p. lxvii) to the early Persian period, seems to have been written at the time of the havoc wrought by the Assyrian invasion of Tiglath-pileser III in 737 B.C. Ps. lxxiv (lxxiii) was probably written, as Briggs surmises, during the Babylonian Exile, after 586 B.C. Asaph was a Levite, the son of Barachias (1 Chronicles 6:39), and one of the three chiefs of the Levitical choir (1 Chronicles 15:17). The "sons of Asaph" were set aside "to prophesy with harps and with psalteries and with cymbals" (1 Chronicles 25:1). It is probable that members of this family composed the psalms which later were collected into an Asaph psalter. The features of these Asaph psalms are uniform: frequent allusions to the history of Israel with a didactic purpose; sublimity and vehemence of style; vivid description; an exalted conception of the deity.

(3) The Sons of Korah

The Sons of Korah are named in the titles of eleven psalms -- xlii-xlix, lxxxiv, lxxxv, lxxxvii, lxxxviii (xli-xlviii, lxxxiii, lxxxiv, lxxxvi, lxxxvii). The Korahim were a family of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). It can scarcely be that each psalm of this group was jointly composed by all the sons of Korah; each was rather composed by some member of the guild of Korah; or, perhaps, all were gathered from the various sources into one liturgical hymnal by the guild of the sons of Korah. At all events, there is a oneness of style to these hymns which is indicative of oneness of Levitical spirit. The features of the Korahite psalms are; a great love for the Holy City; a yearning for the public worship of Israel; a supreme trust in Jahweh; and a poetic form which is simple, elegant, artistic, and well-balanced. From their Messianic ideas and historical allusions, these psalms seem to have been composed between the days of Isaias and the return from exile.

(4) Moses

Moses is in the title of Ps. xc (lxxxix). St. Augustine (P.L., XXXVII, 1141) does not admit Mosaic authorship; St. Jerome (P.L., XXII, 1167) does. The author imitates the songs of Moses in Deut., xxxii and xxxiii; this imitation may be the reason of the title.

(5) Solomon

Solomon is in the titles to Pss. lxxii and cxxvii (lxxi and cxxvi), probably for a similar reason.

(6) Ethan

Ethan, in the title of Psalm 89, should probably be Idithun. The Psalter of Idithun, of Yeduthun, contained also Psalms 39, 62 and 77.

C. Witness of the New Testament

To Catholics, believing as they do fully in the Divinity of Christ and inerrancy of Holy Writ, New Testament citations render Pss. ii, xvi, xxxii, xxxv, lxix, cix, cx (ii, xv, xxxi, xxxiv, lxviii, cviii, cix) Davidic without the shadow of a doubt. When the Pharisees said that the Christ was the Son of David, Jesus put them the question: "How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord" (cf. Matthew 22:43-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Psalm 110:1). There can be here no question of the name of a collection "of David". Nor is there question of a collection when St. Peter, on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, says: "For David ascended not into heaven; but he himself said: The Lord said to my Lord etc." (Acts 2:34). Davidic authorship is meant by Peter, when he cites Pss. lxix (lxviii), 26, cix (cviii), 8, and ii, 1-2 as "from the mouth of David" (Acts 1:16; 4:25). And when the chief Apostle has quoted Ps. xvi (xv), 8-11, as the words of David, he explains how these words were intended by the dead patriarch as a prophecy of centuries to come (Acts 2:25-32). St. Paul's testimony is conclusive, when he (Romans 4:6; 11:9) assigns to David parts of Pss. xxxii, xxxv, and lxix ( xxxi, xxxiv, lxviii). A non-Catholic might object that St. Paul refers to a collection called "David", especially as such a collection seems clearly meant by "in David", en Daveid of Heb., iv, 7. We answer, that this is an evasion: had St. Paul meant a collection, he would have dictated en Daveid in the letter to the Romans.

D. The Critics incline to do away with all question of Davidic authorship. Briggs says: "It is evident from the internal character of these psalms, with a few possible exceptions, that David could not have written them" (Psalms, p. lxi). Ewald allows that this internal evidence shows David to have written Pss. iii, iv, vii, xi, xv, xviii, first part of xix, xxiv, xxix, xxxii, ci (iii, iv, vii, xi, xiv, xvii, xxiii, xxviii, xxxi, c).

IV. Canonicity

Christian canon

A. The Christian Canon of the Psalms presents no difficulty; all Christians admit into their canon the 150 psalms of the Canon of Trent; all reject Ps. cli of the Septuagint, probably a Machabean addition to the canon.

Jewish canon

B. The Jewish Canon presents a vexing problem. How has the Psalter been evolved? The traditional Jewish opinion, generally defended by Catholic scholars, is that not only the Jewish Canon of the Psalms but the entire Palestinian Canon of the Old Testament was practically closed during the time of Esdras (see CANON). This traditional opinion is probable; for the arguments in its favour, cf. Cornely, "Introductio Generalis in N. T. Libros", I (Paris, 1894), 42.

(1) The Critical View

These arguments are not all admitted by the critics. Says Driver: "For the opinion that the Canon of the Old Testament was closed by Ezra, or his associates, there is no foundation in antiquity whatever" ("Introducton to the Literature of the Old Testament", New York, 1892, p. x). In regard to the Psalms Wellhausen says: "Since the Psalter is the hymn-book of the congregation of the Second Temple, the question is not whether it contains any post-exilic psalms, but whether it contains any pre-exilic psalms" (Bleek's "Introduction", ed. 1876, 507). Hitzig ("Begriff der Kritik", 1831) deems that Books III-V are entirely Machabean (168-135 B.C.). Olshausen ("Die Psalmen", 1853) brings some of these psalms down to the Hasmonaean dynasty, and the reign of John Hyrcanus (135-105 B.C.). Duhm ("Die Psalmen", 1899, p. xxi) allows very few pre-Machabean psalms, and assigns Pss. ii, xx, xxi, lxi, lxiii, lxxii, lxxxiv (b),cxxxii [ii, xix, lx, lxii, lxxi, lxxxiii (b), cxxxi] to the reigns of Aristobulus I (105-104 B.C.) and his brother Alexander Jannaus (104-79 B.C.); so that the Canon of the Psalter was not closed till 70 B.C. (p. xxiii). Such extreme views are not due to arguments of worth. So long as one refuses to accept the force of the traditional argument in favour of the Esdras Canon, one must at all events admit that the Jewish Canon of the Psalms was undoubtedly closed before the date of the Septuagint translation. This date is 285 B.C., if we accept the authority of the Letter of Aristeas (see SEPTUAGINT); or, at the very latest 132 B.C., the period at which Ben Sirach wrote, in the prologue to Ecclesiasticus, that "the law itself and the prophets and the rest of the books [i.e. the Hagiograha, of which were the Psalms] had been translated into Greek". This is the opinion of Briggs (p. xii), who sets the final redaction of the Psalter in the middle of the second century B.C.

The gradual evolution of the Book of Psalms is now quite generally taken by the critics as a matter of course. Their application of the principles of higher criticism does not result in any uniformity of opinion in regard to the various strata of the Psalter. We shall present these strata as they are indicated by Prof. Briggs, probably the least rash of those who have lately published what are called "critical editions" of the Psalms. His method of criticism is the usual one; by a rather subjective standard of internal evidence, he carves up some psalms, patches up others, throws out portions of others, and "edits" all. He assigns seven psalms to the early Hebrew monarchy; seven to the middle monarchy; thirteen to the late monarchy; thirteen to the time of exile; thirty-three to the early Persian period; sixteen to the middle Persian period (the times of Nehemias); eleven to the late Persian period; "the great royal advent psalm" (Psalms 93, 96-100) together with eight others to the early Greek period (beginning with Alexander's conquest); forty-two to the late Greek period, and to the Machabean period Pss. xxxiii, cii (b), cix (b), cxviii, cxxxix (c), cxxix of the Pilgrim Psalter and cxlvii, cxlix of the Hallels. Of these psalms and portions of psalms, according to Briggs, thirty-one are "psalms apart", that is, never were incorporated into a Psalter before the present canonical redaction was issued. The rest were edited in two or more of the twelve Psalters which mark the evolution of the Book of Psalms. The earliest collection of psalms was made up of seven Mikhtamim, "golden pieces", of the middle Persian period. In the late Persian period thirteen Maskilim were put together as a collection of meditations. At the same time, seventy-two psalms were edited, as a prayer-book for use in the synagogue, under the name of "David"; of these thirteen have in their titles references to David's life, and are thought to have formed a previous collection by themselves. In the early Greek period in Palestine, eleven psalms were gathered into the minor psalter entitled the "Sons of Korah".

About the same time in Babylonia, twelve psalms were made into a Psalter entitled "Asaph". Not long thereafter, in the same period, the exilic Ps. lxxxviii, together with two orphan Pss. lxvi and lxvii, were edited along with selections from "David," "Sons of Korah", and "Asaph", for public worship of song in the synagogue; the name of this psalter was "Mizmorim". A major psalter, the Elohist, Pss. xlii-lxxxiii (xli-lxxxii), is supposed to have been made up, in Babylonia, during the middle Greek period, of selections from "David", "Korah", "Asaph" and "Mizmorim"; the name is due to the use of Elohim and avoidance of Jahweh in these psalms. About the same time, in Palestine, a prayer-book was made up of 54 from "Mizmorim, 16 psalms from "David", 4 from "Korah", and 1 from "Asaph"; this major psalter bore the name of the "Director". The Hallels, or Alleluiatic songs of praise, were made up into a psalter for temple service in the Greek period. These psalms have halleluyah (Praise ye Yah) either at the beginning (Pss. cxi, cxii), or at the close (Pss. civ, cv, cxv, cxvii), or at both the beginning and close (Pss. cvi, cxiii, cxxxv, cxlvi-cl). The Septuagint gives Allelouia also the beginning of Pss. cv, cvii, cxiv, cxvi, cxix, cxxxvi. Briggs includes as Hallels all these except cxviii and cxix, "the former being a triumphal Machabean song, the latter the great alphabetic praise of the law". A like minor psalter of the Greek period was the "Pilgrim Psalter" (Pss. cxx-cxxxiv), a collection of "Songs of Pilgrimage", the "Songs of Ascents", or "Gradual Psalms", which the pilgrims chanted while going up to Jerusalem for the three great feasts.

(2) The Catholic View

So extensive an application of divisive criticism to the Psalter does not meet the approval of Catholic exegetes. Successive redaction of the Psalms they readily admit, provided the doctrine of the inspiration of Holy Writ be not impugned. The doctrine of inspiration has regard to the Psalms as they now stand in the canon, and does not impede a Catholic from admitting various redactions of the Psalter previous to our present redaction; in fact, even uninspired liturgical redaction of the inspired Psalms would not be contrary to what the Church teaches in the matter of inspiration, so long as the redactor had preserved intact and absolutely unaltered the inspired meaning of the Sacred Text. The Biblical Commission (1 May, 1910) will not allow that our present redaction contains many Machabean psalms; nor will Drive, Delitzsch, Perowne, Renan, and many other critical scholars. "Had so many psalms dated from this age, it is difficult not to think that they would have borne more prominent marks of it in their diction and style" (Driver, "Introduction to their Literature of the Old Testament", New York, 1892, 365). Pss. xliv, lxxiv, lxxix, and lxxxiii, which Delitzsch and Perowne on historical grounds admit to be Machabean, occasion to Davison (Hastings, "Dict. of the Bible", IV, 152) "unquestionable difficulties arising from their place in the second and third books". There are no certain proofs that these or any psalms are Machabean. The Biblical Commission does not, on this account, deny any of the psalms are Machabean; it leaves that question still open. In the matter of redaction, it allows that "for liturgical or musical or other unknown reasons, psalms may have been split up or joined together" in course of time; and that "there are other psalms, like the Miserere mei, Deus [Ps. li], which, in order that they might be better fitted to the historical circumstances and the solemnities of the Jewish people, were slightly re-edited and changed by the omission or addition of a verse or two, so long as the inspiration of the entire text remains intact". That is the important thing; the doctrine of the inspiration of Holy Writ must not suffer in the least. How, then, is the doctrine of the inspiration of the entire text kept intact? Were the previous redactors inspired? Nothing has been determined by any authority of the Church in these matters. We incline to the opinion that God inspired the meanings of the Psalms as originally written, and in like manner inspired every redactor who gathered and edited these songs of Israel until the last inspired redactor set them together in their present form.

V. Text

The Psalms were originally written in Hebrew letters, such as we see only on coins and in a few lapidary inscriptions; the text has come down to us in square Aramaic letters. Only the versions give us any idea of the pre-Masoretic text. Thus far no pre-Masoretic manuscript of the Psalms has been discovered. The Masoretic text has been preserved in more than 3400 manuscripts, of which none is earlier than the ninth century and only nine or ten are earlier than the twelfth (see MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE). These Masoretic manuscripts represent two slightly variant families of one tradition -- the texts of Ben Asher and of Ben Naftali. Their variations are of little moment in the interpretation of the Psalms. The study of the rhythmic structure of the Psalms, together with the variations between Massorah and the versions, have made it clear that our Hebrew text is far from perfect, and that its points are often wrong. The efforts of critics to perfect the text are at times due to no more than a shrewd surmise. The metrical mould is chosen; then the psalm is forcibly adapted to it. It were better to leave the text in its imperfect condition than to render it worse by guess-work. The decree of the Biblical Commission is aimed at those to whom the imperfections in the Masoretic Text are an occasion, though no excuse, for countless conjectural emendations, at times wild and fanciful, which nowadays pass current as critical exegesis of the Psalms.

VI. Versions

A. Greek

The chief version of the Psalms is the Septuagint. It is preserved to us in Cod. U, Brit. Mus. Pap. 37, seventh century, containing Pss. x-xxxiii; Leipzig Pap., fourth century, containing Pss. xxix-liv; , Cod. Sinaiticus, fourth century, complete; B. Cod. Vaticanus, fourth century, complete, except, Pss. cv, 27-cxxxvii, 6; A, Cod. Alexandrinus, fifth century, complete except Pss. xlix, 19-lxxvi, 10; I, Cod. Bodleianus, ninth century, complete; and in many other later manuscripts The Septuagint Version is of great value in the exegesis of the Psalms. It provides pre-Masoretic readings which are clearly preferable to those of the Massoretes. It brings us back to a text at least of the second century B.C. In spite of a seeming servility to words and to Hebrew constructions, a servility that probably existed in the Alexandrian Greek of the Jews of the period, the Septuagint translator of psalms shows an excellent knowledge of Hebrew, and fears not to depart from the letter and to give the meaning of his original. The second-century A.D. Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion are extant in only a few fragments; these fragments are witnesses to a text pretty much the same as our Masoretic.

B. Latin

About the middle of the second century the Septuagint Psalter was translated into Latin. Of this Old Latin, or Itala, Version we have only a few manuscripts and the citations by the early Latin Fathers. At the request of Pope St. Damasus I, A.D. 383, St. Jerome revised the Itala and brought it back closer to the Septuagint. His revision was soon so distorted that he complained, "plus antiquum errorem quam novam emendationem valere" (P.L., XXIX, 117). This is St. Jerome's "Roman Psalter"; it is used in the recitation of the Office in St. Peter's, Rome, and in the Missal. The corruption of his first translation led St. Jerome to undertake an entirely new translation of the Hexapla edition of the Septuagint. He worked with great care, in Bethlehem, some time before A.D. 392. He indicated by asterisks the parts of the Hebrew text which had been omitted by the Septuagint and were borrowed by him from Theodotion; he marked with the obelus () the parts of the Septuagint which were not in the Hebrew. These critical marks came in course of time to be utterly neglected. This translation is the "Gallican Psalter"; it is part of the Vulgate. A third Latin translation of the Psalms, made from the Hebrew Text, with Origen's Hexapla and the other ancient versions in view, was completed by St. Jerome about the end of the fourth century at Bethlehem. This version is of great worth in the study of the Psalter. Dr. Briggs says: "Where it differs from H. and G., its evidence is especially valuable as giving the opinion of the best Biblical scholar of ancient times as to the original text, based on the use of a wealth of critical material vastly greater than that in the possession of any other critic, earlier or later" (p. xxxii).

Other Versions

For other translations, see VERSIONS OF THE BIBLE; RHYMED BIBLES.

VII. Poetic Form

A. Parallelism

Parallelism (q.v.) is the principle of balance which is admitted by all to be the most characteristic and essential feature of the poetic form of the Psalms. By synonymous, synthetic, antithetic, emblematic, stair-like, or introverted parallelism, thought is balanced with thought, line with line, couplet with couplet, strophe with antistrophe, in the lyric upbuilding of the poetic picture or imprecation or exhortation.

B. Metre

Is there metre in the Psalms? The Jews of the first century A.D. thought so. Flavius Josephus speaks of the hexameters of Moses (Antiq., II, xvi, 4; IV, viii, 44) and the trimeters and tetrameters and manifold meters of the odes and hymns of David (Antiq., VII, xii, 3). Philo says that Moses had learned the "theory of rhythm and harmony" (De vita Mosis, I, 5). Early Christian writers voice the same opinion. Origen (d. 254) says the Psalms are in trimeters and tetrameters (In Ps. cxviii; cf. Card. Pitra, "Analecta Sacra", II, 341); and Eusebius (d. 340), in his "De Praeparatione evangelica", XI, 5 (P.G., XXI, 852), speaks of the same metres of David. St. Jerome (420), in "Praef. ad Eusebii chronicon" (P.L., XXVII, 36), finds iambics, Alcaics, and Sapphics in the psalter; and, writing to Paula (P.L., XXII, 442), he explains that the acrostic Pss. cxi and cxii (cx and cxi) are made up of iambic trimeters, whereas the acrostic Pss. cxix and cxlv (cxviii and cxliv) are iambic tetrameters. Modern exegetes do not agree in this matter. For a time many would admit no metre at all in the Psalms. Davison (Hast., "Dict. of the Bible", s. v.) writes: "though metre is not discernible in the Psalms, it does not follow that rhythm is excluded". This rhythm, however, "defies analysis and systematization". Driver ("Introd. to Lit. of O. T.", New York, 1892, 339) admits in Hebrew poetry "no metre in the strict sense of the term". Exegetes who find metre in the Psalms are of four schools, according as they explain Hebrew metre by quantity, by the number of syllables, by accent, or by both quantity and accent.

(1) Defenders of the Latin and Greek metrical standard of quantity as applied to Hebrew poetry are Francis Gomarus, in "Davidis lyra", II (Lyons, 1637), 313; Mark Meibom, in "Davidis psalmi X" (Amsterdam, 1690) and in two other works, who claim to have learned his system of Hebrew metre by Divine revelation; William Jones, "Poeseos Asiaticae commentariorum" (Leipzig, 1777), who tried to force Hebrew words into Arabic metres.

(2) The number of syllables was taken as the standard of metre by Hare, "Psalmorum liber in versiculos metrice divisus" (London, 1736); he made all feet dissyllabic, the metre trochaic in a line of an even number of syllables, iambic in a line of an odd number of syllables. The Masoretic system was rejected, the Syriac put in its stead. The opinion found chief defence in the writings of the learned Innsbruck Professor Gustav; and in Bickell's "Metrices biblicae" (Innsbruck, 1879), "Suplementum ad Metr. Bibl." (Innsbruck), "Carimina veteris testamenti metrice" (1882), "Dichtungen der Hebraer" (1882-84). Gerard Gietmann, S.J., "De re mentrica Hebraeorum" (Freiburg im Br., 1880); A. Rohling, "Das Solomonische Spruchbuch" (Mainz, 1879); H. Lesetre, "Le livre des psaumes" (Paris, 1883); J. Knabenbauer, S.J., in "Job" (Paris, 1885), p. 18; F. Vigouroux, "Manuel biblique", II, 203, have all followed in Bickell's footsteps more or less closely. Against this system some patent facts. The quantity of a word is made to vary arbitrarily. Hebrew is treated as Syriac, a late dialect of Aramaic -- which it is not; in fact, even early Syriac poetry did not measure its lines by the number of syllables. Lastly the Massorah noted metrical structure by accents; at least soph pasuk and athnah indicate comlete lines or two hemistichs.

(3) Accent is the determining principle of Hebrew metre according to C. A. Anton, "Conjectura de metro Hebraeorum" (Leipzig, 1770), "Vindiciae disput. de metr. Hebr." (Leipzig, 1771), "Specimen editionis psalmorum" (Vitebsk, 1780); Leutwein, "Versuch einer richtigen Theorie von der biblischen Verkunst" (1775); Ernst Meier, "Die Form der hebraischen Poesie nachgewiesen" (Tübingen, 1853); Julius Ley, "Die Metrischen Formen der hebraischen Poesie" (Leipzig, 1886); "Ueber die Alliteration im Hebraischen" in "Zeitsch. d. Deutsch. Morgenlandisch. Ges.", XX, 180; J. K. Zenner, S.J., "Die Chorgesange im Buche der Psalmen" (Freiburg im Br., 1896), and in many contributions to "Zeitsch. fur kathol. Theol.", 1891, 690; 1895, 373; 1896, 168, 369, 378, 571, 754; Hontheim, S.J., in "Zeitsch. fur kathol. Theol.", 1897, 338, 560, 738; 1898, 172, 404, 749; 1899, 167; Dr. C. A. Briggs, in "The Book of Psalms", in "International Critical Commentary" (New York, 1906), p. xxxix, and in many other publications therein enumerated; Francis Brown, "Measures of Hebrew Poetry: in "Journal of Biblical Literature", IX, 91; C. H. Toy, "Proverbs" in "Internat. Crit. Comm." (1899); W. R. Harper, "Amos and Hosea" in "Internat. Crit. Comm." (1905); Cheyne, "Psalms" (New York), 1892; Duhm, "Die Psalmen" (Freiburg im Br., 1899), p. xxx. This theory is the best working hypothesis together with the all-essential principle of parallelism; it does far less violence to the Masoretic Text than either of the foregoing theories. It does not force the Masoretic syllables into grooves that are Latin, Greek, Arabic, or Aramaic. It is independent of the shifting of accent; and postulates just one thing, a fixed and harmonious number of accents to the line, regardless of the number of syllables therein. This theory of a tonic and not a syllabic metre has this, too, in its favour that accent is the determining principle in ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian poetry.

(4) Of recent years the pendulum of Hebrew metrical theories has swung back upon quantity; the syllabic must not be utterly neglected. Hubert Grimme, in "Grundzuge der Hebraischen Akzent und Volkallehre", Freiburg, 1896, and "Psalmenprobleme" (1902), builds up the metre chiefly upon the tonic principle, at the same time taking into account the morae or pauses due to quantity. Schlogl, "De re metrica veterum Hebraeorum" (Vienna, 1899), defends Grimme's theory. Sievers, "Metrische Studien" (1901), also takes in the unaccented syllables for metrical consideration; so does Baethgen, "Die Psalmen" (Gottingen, 1904), p. xxvii.

C. Other Characteristics

Alliteration and assonance are frequent. Acrostic or alphabetic psalms are ix-x, xxv, xxxiv, xxxvii, cxi, cxii, cxix, cxlv (ix, xxiv, xxxiii, xxxvi, cx, cxi, cxviii, cxliv). The letters of the alphabet begin successive lines, couplets, or strophes. In Ps. cxix (cxviii) the same letter begins eight successive lines in each of the twenty-two alphabetic strophes. In Pss. xiii, xxix, lxii, cxlviii, and cl (xii, xxviii, lxi, cxlvii, and cxlix) the same word or words are repeated many times. Rhymes, by repetition of the same suffix, are in Pss. ii, xiii, xxvii, xxx, liv, lv, cxlii, etc. (ii, xii, xxvi, xxix, liii, liv, cxli, etc.); these rhymes occur at the ends of lines and in caesural pauses. Lines were grouped into strophes and antistrophes, commonly in pairs and triplets, rarely in greater multiples; at times an independent strophe, like the epode of the Greek chorus, was used between one or more strophes and the corresponding antistrophes. The word Selah () almost invariably marks the end of a strophe. The meaning of this word and its purpose is still a moot question. We think it was originally (from , "to throw"), and meant "a throwing down", "a prostration". During the antiphonal cantilation of the Psalms, the priests blew their trumpets to mark the end of a strophe, and at the signal the two choirs or the people or both choirs and people prostrated themselves (cf. Haupt, "Expository Times", May, 1911). The principle of parallelism determined these stophic arrangements of the lines. Koster, in "die Psalmen nach ihrer strophischen Anordnung" (1837), distinguishes various kinds of parallelism in lines and half-lines, synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, identical, introverted. Zenner, S.J., in his "Chorgesange im Buche der Psalmen" (Freiburg im Br., 1896) has very cleverly arranged many of the psalms as choral odes, chanted by two or three choirs. Hermann Wiesmann, S.J., in "Die Psalmen nach dem Urtext" (Munster, 1906), has applied the metrical principles of Zenner, and revised and published the latter's translations and studies of the Psalms. This work takes too great liberty with the Sacred Text, and has lately (1911) been put on the Index.

VIII. Poetic Beauty

The extravagant words of Lamartine in "Voyage en Orient" are classic: "Lisez de l'Horace ou du Pindare apres un Psaume! Pour moi, je ne le peux plus". One wonders whether Lamartine ever read a psalm in the original. To criticise the Psalms as literature is very difficult. Their text has reached us with many losses in the matter of poetic form. The authors varied much in style. Their literary beauty should not be judged by comparison with the poetry of Horace and Pindar. It is with the hymns of ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria that we should compare the songs of Israel. Those ancient hymns are crude and rude by the side of the Psalms. Even the imprecatory Pss. xviii, xxxv, lii, lix, lxix, cix, cxxxvii (xvii, xxxiv, li, lviii, lxviii, cviii, cxxxvi), those national anthems so full of love of Israel and almost startling in their hatred of the foes of Jahweh and of Israel, if read from the viewpoint of the writers, are sublime, vivid, glowing, enthusiastic, though exaggerated, poetic outbursts, instances of a "higher seriousness and a higher truthfulness", such as Aristotle never would have found ina song of Babylonia or of Sumeria. Whether their tones are those of praise or blame, of sorrow or of joy, of humiliation or of exaltation, of deep meditation or of didactic dogmatism, ever and everywhere the writers of the Psalms are dignified and grand, true to the ideals of Jahweh's chosen folk, spiritual and devotional. The range of thought is immense. It takes in Jahweh, His temple, cult, priests, creation; man, friend and foe; beasts, birds; all nature, animate and inanimate. The range of emotions is complete; every emotion of man that is pure and noble has been set to words in the Psalms. As an instance of poetic beauty, we subjoin the famous Ps. xxiii (xxii), translated from the Hebrew. The poet first speaks in his own person, then in the guise of the sheep. The repetition of the first couplet as an envoi is suggested by Zenner and many commentators, to complete the envelope-form of the poem, or the introverted parallelism of the strophic structure:

The Poet:

1. Jahweh is my Shepherd;

I have no want,

The Sheep:

2. In pastures of tender grass he setteth me;

Unto still waters he leadeth me;

3. He turneth me back again;

He guideth me along right paths for his

Own name's sake.

4. Yea, though I walk through the vale of

The shadow of death,

I fear no harm;

For thou art with me;

Thy bludgeon and they staff, they stay me.

5. Thou settest food before me,

In the presence of my foes;

Thou has anointed my head with oil;

My trough runneth over.

The Poet:

6. Ah, goodness and mercy have followed me

All the days of my life,

I will go back to the house of Jahweh

Even for the length of my days.

Jahweh is my Shepherd;

I have no want!

IX. Theological Value

The theological ideas of the Psalms are comprehensive; the existence and attributes of God, the soul's yearning for immortality, the economy of grace and the virtues, death, judgement, heaven, hell, hope of resurrection and of glory, fear of punishment -- all the main dogmatic truths of Israel's faith appear again and again in her Psalter. These truths are set down not in dogmatic form, but now in the simple and childlike lyric yearning of the ingenuous soul, again in the loftiest and most vehement outbursts of which man's nature is capable. The Psalms are at once most human and most superhuman; they sink to the lowest depths of the human heart and soar to the topmost heights of Divine contemplation. So very human are the imprecatory psalms as to make some to wonder how they can have been inspired of God. Surely Jahweh cannot have inspired the singer who prayed:

"As for them that plan my soul to destroy, Down to the depths of the earth shall they go; To the grasp of the sword shall they be delivered; A prey to the jackals shall they become". -- Psalm 83:10-11 (82:10-11)

Such an objection is based upon a misunderstanding. The perfection of the counsels of Christ is one thing, the aim of the good Levite is quite another thing. The ideals of the Sermon on the Mount are of higher spirituality than are the ideals of the imprecatory psalm. Yet the ideals of the imprecatory psalm are not bad -- nay, are good, are Divine in their origin and authority. The imprecatory psalms are national anthems; they express a nation's wrath, not an individual's. Humility and meekness and forgiveness of foe are virtues in an individual; not necessarily so of a nation; by no means so of the Chosen Nation of Jahweh, the people who knew by revelation that Jahweh willed they should be a great nation and should put out their enemies from the land which he gave them. Their great national love for their own people postulated a great national love for Jahweh. The love for Jahweh postulated a hatred of the foes of Jahweh, and, in the theocratic economy of the Jewish folk, the foes of Jahweh were the foes of Israel. If we bear this national purpose in mind, and forget not that all poetry, and especially Semitic poetry, is highly coloured and exaggerated, we shall not be shocked at the lack of mercy in the writers of the imprecatory psalms.

The chief theological ideas of the Psalms are those that have regard to the Incarnation. Are there Messianic psalms? Unaided by the authentic interpreting power of the Church and neglectful of the consensus of the Fathers, Protestants have quite generally come to look upon the Psalms as non-Messianic either in literal or in typical meaning; the older Messianic interpretation is discarded as worn-out and threadbare. Delitzsch admits only Ps. cx (cix) to be Messianic in its literal meaning. Cheyne denies both literal and typical Messianic meaning to the Psalms ("Origin of Ps.", 339). Davison (Hast., loc. cit.) says, "it may well be that the Psalter contains hardly a single instance of direct Messianic prophecy". Catholics have ever held that some of the Psalms are Messianic in meaning, either literal or typical. (Cf. articles INCARNATION; JESUS CHRIST; MESSIAS.) The New Testament clearly refers certain psalms to the Messias. The Fathers are unanimous in interpreting many psalms as prophecies of the coming, kingdom, priesthood, passion, death, and resurrection of the Messias. The coming of the Messias is predicted in Pss. xviii, l, lxviii, xcvi-xcviii (xvii, xlix, lxvii, xcv-xcvii). St. Paul (Ephesians 4:8) interprets of Christ's ascent into heaven the words of Ps. lxviii, 18, description of Jahweh's ascent after conquering the world. The kingdom of the Messias is predicted in Pss. ii, xviii, xx, xxi, xlv, lxi, lxxii, lxxxix, cx, cxxxii (ii, xvii, xix, xx, xliv, lx, lxxi, lxxxviii, cix, cxxxi); the priesthood in Ps. cx. The passion and death of the Messias are clear in the sufferings of the Servant of Jahweh of Pss. xxii, xl, lxix (xxi, xxxix, lxviii). Ps. xxii was used in part, perhaps entirely, by Christ on the Cross; the Psalmist describes as his own the emotions and sufferings of the Messias. Hence it is that the Biblical Commission (1 May, 1910) rejects the opinion of those who do away with the Messianic and prophetic character of the Psalms and refer only to the future lot of the Chosen People those words which are prophecies concerning Christ. Cf. Maas, "Christ in Type and Prophecy" (New York, 1893).

X. Liturgical Use

A. Jewish liturgy

The use of the Psalms in Jewish liturgy has been spoken of. Cf. also articles Synagogue; Temple. --

B. Christian liturgy

Christian liturgical use of the Psalter dates from the time of Christ and His Apostles. He recited the Hallels at the last Passover, Pss. cxiii-cxiv before the Last Supper, Pss. cxv-cxviii thereafter; Ps. xxii was His dying words; authoritative citations of other psalms appear in His discourses and those of His Apostles (cf. Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20). The Apostles used the Psalms in worship (cf. Acts 16:25; James 5:14; 1 Corinthians 14:26). The earliest liturgical service was taken from the Psalter. St. Paul represents the Ephesian Christians, to all seeming, psalmodizing, one choir answering the other; "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and psalmodizing [psallontes] in your hearts to the Lord, giving thanks [eucharistountes] always for all things" (Ephesians 5:19). Probably the Eucharistic agape is referred to. A like reference is in Col., iii, 16. St. Basil (P.G., XXXII, 764) speaks of this psalmodizing in two choirs -- antipsallein allelois. The custom of psalmody, or antiphonal singing, is said to have been introduced into the Church of Antioch by St. Ignatius (Socrates, "Hist. Eccl.", VI, viii). From Syria, this custom of the Synagogue would seem to have passed over to Palestine and Egypt, to Asia Minor, Constantinople, and the West. St. Ambrose was the first to inaugurate in the West the chanting of the Psalms by two choirs (cf. Batiffol, "Histoire du breviaire romain", 1893). In the Proprium de tempore of the Roman Rite, all the Psalms are chanted at least once a week, some twice and oftener. In Matins and Lauds, according to the Vulgate's numeration, are Pss. i-cx, excepting a few that are fixed for Prime and other hours; in Vespers are Pss. cxi-cxlvii, excepting a few fixed for other hours. The great alphabetic praise of the Law, Ps. cxviii, is distributed between Prime, Terce, Sext, and None. The Benedictines, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans, who have their own rite, all chant the Psalter once a week; the Jesuits follow the Roman ritual.

In the Latin Rite, Pss. vi, xxxi, xxxvii, l, ci, cxxix, cxlii (Douai) have long been recited, in the above order, as prayers of sorrow for sin; they are lyric cries of the sorrowing soul and have hence been called the "Penitential Psalms". Their recitation during Lent was ordered by Innocent III (1198-1216). Pius V (1566-72) established the custom, now no longer of general obligation, whereby these psalms became a part of the Friday ferial Office of Lent.

The Ambrosian Rite, still used in Milan cathedral, distributes the Psalms over two weeks. The Oriental Rites in union with Rome (Melchite, Maronite, Syriac, Chaldean, Coptic, Æthiopic, etc.), together with the heretical Oriental Churches, all keep up the recitation of the Psalter as their Divine Office.

Publication information Written by Walter Drum. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the memory of Rev. A.J. Maas, S.J. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


The bibliography of the Psalms is naturally enormous and can be given only in small part.

Greek Fathers: ORIGEN, Selecta in Psalmos in P.G., XII. 1043; IDEM, Homiliae in Psalmos in P.G., XII, 1319; IDEM, Originis Hexaplorum quae supersunt, ed. FIELD; EUSEBIUS, Comm. in Psalmos in P.G., XXIII, 65; XXIV, 9; ST. ATHANASIUS, Epist. Ad Marcellinum in P.G., XXVII, 11; IDEM, Exegeses in Psalmos in P.G., XXVII, 55; IDEM, De Titulis Psalmorum in P.G., XXVII, 645; ST. BASIL, Homiliae in Pss. in P.G., XXIX, 209; ST. DIDYMUS OF ALEXANDRIA in P.G., XXIX, 1155; ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA in P.G., XLIV, 431, 608; ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM in P.G., LV, 35, 527; ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA in P.G., LXIX, 699; THEODORETUS in P.G., LXXX, 857. Latin Fathers: ST. AMBROSE, Enarrationes in XII Psalmos in P.L., XIV, 921; ST. JEROME, Liber Psalmorum juxta hebraicam veritatem in P.L., XXVIII, 1123; IDEM, Excerpta de Psalterio (Maredsous, 1895); IDEM, Epistolae in P.L., XXII, 433, 441, 837; IDEM, Breviarium in Psalmos in P.L., XXVI, 821; ST. AUGUSTINE, Enarrationes in Pss. in P.L., XXXVII, 67; IDEM, Expositio in Pss. C-CL in P.L., LI, 277; CASSIODORIUS in P.L., LXX, 9.

Commentators of the Middle Ages: BEDE, PETER LOMBARD, ST. THOMAS, ST. BONAVENTURE and others of the Middle Ages depend chiefly upon the Fathers for their interpretations. NICHOLAS OF LYRA, in his Postilla, and the converted Jew, PAUL, ARCHBISHOP OF BURGOS, in his Additions to the Postilla, gives us much of rabbinic interpretation.

Moderns: BELLARMINE, Explanatio in Psalmos (1611), was by far the best commentator on the Psalms till recent times, as he used scientific methods in textual criticism; SCHEGG, Die Psalmen (Munich, 1845); ROHLING (1871); THALHOFER (Ratisbon, 1904); WOLTER, Psallite Sapienter (Freiburg im Br., 1904); BICKELL, Der Psalter (1884); VAN STEENKISTE (1870); PATRIZI, Cento Salmi tradotti e commentati (1875); MINOCHI, I Salmi tradotti del Testo Ebreo (1895); LE HIR, Les Psaumes traduits de l'hebreu en latin avec la Vulgate en regard (Paris, 1876); LESETRE (Paris, 1883); FILLION, Les Psaumes commentes selon la Vulgate et l'Hebreu (Paris, 1893); CRAMPTON (1889); PANNIER (1908); ZENNER-WIESMANN, Die Psalmen nach dem Urtext (Munster, 1906); NIGLUTSCH (Trent, 1905); EATON, Sing ye to the Lord (London, 1909); HOBERG, Die Psalmen nach der Vulgata (Freiburg, 1892); M'SWINEY, Psalms and Canticles (St. Louis, 1901).

Protestants: the commentaries of DE WETTE (1811-56); HITZIG (1863-65); OLSHAUSEN (1853); HUPFELD (1855-88); EWALD (1839-66); DELITZSCH (1895); DUHM (Freiburg im Br., 1899); BAETHGEN (Gottingen, 1904); CHEYNE (New York, 1892); International Critical Commentary, ed. BRIGGS (New York, 1907), the best of non-Catholic commentators on the Psalms; KIRKPATRICK in Cambridge Bible (1893-95).


Jewish Perspective Information

Article Headings:

-Biblical Data:

Hymns of Praise:


Didactic Psalms:

Literary Form.

Religious and Ethical Content.

-In Rabbinical Literature:

Composition of the Psalter.

Liturgical Songs.

Hymn-Book of Second Temple.

-Critical View:

Didactic Psalms.

The "Lamed Auctoris."

Date of Psalter.

Reflection of History.

Reflex of Politics.

Pilgrim Songs.

Musical Accompaniment.

Name derived from the Greek ψαλμός (plural ψαλμοί), which signifies primarily playing on a stringed instrument, and secondarily the composition played or the song accompanied on such an instrument. In the Septuagint (Codex Alexandrinus) ψαλτήριον is used, which denotes a large stringed instrument, also a collection of songs intended to be sung to the accompaniment of strings (harp). These terms are employed to translate the Hebrew "mizmor" and "tehillim." The exact derivation and meaning of the former are uncertain. It would seem that, etymologically denoting "paragraph," it owes its signification of "psalm," "song," or "hymn" to the circumstance that it is found prefixed to the superscriptions of a number of psalms. The word "tehillim" is a plural, not occurring in Biblical Hebrew, from the singular "tehillah" = "song of praise." It is thus a fitting title for the collection of songs found in the "Ketubim" or Hagiographa (the third main division of the Hebrew canon), and more fully described as "Sefer Tehillim," or the "Book of Psalms." "Tehillim" is also contracted to "tillim" (Aramaic, "tillin").

-Biblical Data:

In the printed Hebrew Bible the Book of Psalms is the first of the Ketubim; but it did not always occupy this position, having formerly been preceded by Ruth. (B. B. 14b; Tos. to. B. B. l.c.). Jerome, however ("Prologus Galeatus"), has another order, in which Job is first and the Psalms second, while Sephardic manuscripts assign to Chronicles the first and to the Psalms the second place (comp. 'Ab. Zarah 19a). The Book of Psalms is one of the three poetic books denoted as (EMaT = Job [Iyyob], Proverbs [Mishle], and Psalms [Tehillim]) and having an accentuation (see Accents in Hebrew) of their own.

The Sefer Tehillim consists of 150 psalms divided into five books, as follows: book i. = Ps. i.-xli. ii. = Ps. xlii.-lxxii.; iii. = Ps. lxxiii.-lxxxix.; iv. = Ps. xc.-cvi.; v. = Ps. cvii.-cl., the divisions between these books being indicated by doxologies (Ps. xli. 14 [A. V. 13]; lxxii. 19 [18-19]; lxxxix. 53 [52]; cvi. 48). The conclusion of book ii. is still further marked by the gloss = "The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended." Of the 150 psalms 100 are ascribed, in their superscriptions, to various authors by name: one, Ps. xc., to Moses; seventy-three to David; two, lxxii. and cxxvii., to Solomon; twelve, 1. and lxxiii. to lxxxiii., to Asaph; one, lxxxviii., to Heman; one, lxxxix., to Ethan; ten to the sons of Korah (eleven if lxxxviii., attributed also to Heman, is assigned to them). In the Septuagint ten more psalms are credited to David. Sixteen psalms have other (mostly musical) headings. According to their contents, the Psalms may be grouped as follows: (1) hymns of praise, (2) elegies, and (3) didactic psalms.

Hymns of Praise:

These glorify God, His power, and His loving-kindness manifested in nature or shown to Israel, or they celebrate the Torah, Zion, and the Davidic kingdom. In this group are comprised the psalms of gratitude, expressing thankfulness for help extended and refuge found in times of danger and distress. The group embraces about one-third of the Psalter.


These lend voice to feelings of grief at the spread of iniquity, the triumph of the wicked, the sufferings of the just, the "humble," or the "poor," and the abandonment of Israel. In this category are comprehended the psalms of supplication, the burden of which is fervent prayer for the amelioration of conditions, the restoration of Israel to grace, and the repentance of sinners. The line of demarcation between elegy and supplication is not sharply drawn. Lamentation often concludes with petition; and prayer, in turn, ends in lamentation. Perhaps some of this group ought to be considered as forming a distinct category by themselves, and to be designated as psalms of repentance or penitential hymns; for their key-note is open confession of sin and transgression prompted by ardent repentance, preluding the yearning for forgiveness. These aredistinct from the other elegies in so far as they are inspired by consciousness of guilt and not by the gnawing sense of unmerited affliction.

Didactic Psalms:

These, of quieter mood, give advice concerning righteous conduct and speech, and caution against improper behavior and attitude. Of the same general character, though aimed at a specific class or set of persons, are the imprecatory psalms, in which, often in strong language, shortcomings are censured and their consequences expatiated upon, or their perpetrators are bitterly denounced. Most of the 150 psalms may, without straining the context and content of their language, be assigned to one or another of these three (or, with their subdivisions, seven) groups. Some scholars would add another class, viz., that of the king-psalms, e.g., Ps. ii., xviii., xx., xxi., xlv., lxi., lxxii., and others. Though in these king-psalms there is always allusion to a king, they as a rule will be found to be either hymns of praise, gratitude, or supplication, or didactic songs. Another principle of grouping is concerned with the character of the speaker. Is it the nation that pours out its feelings, or is it an individual who unburdens his soul? Thus the axis of cleavage runs between national and individual psalms.

Literary Form.

In form the Psalms exhibit in a high degree of perfection charm of language and wealth of metaphor as well as rhythm of thought, i.e., all of the variety of parallelism. The prevailing scheme is the couplet of two corresponding lines. The triplet and quatrain occur also, though not frequently. For the discussion of a more regular metrical system in the Psalms than this parallelism reference is made to J. Ley ("Die Metrischen Formen der Hebräischen Poesie," 1866; "Grundzüge des Rhythmus der Hebräischen Poesic," 1875), Bickell ("Carmina V. T. Metrice," 1882; and in "Z. D. M. G." 1891-94), Grimme ("Abriss der Biblisch-Hebräischen Metrik," ib. 1896-97), and Ed. Sievers ("Studien zur Hebräischen Metrik," Leipsic, 1901; see also "Theologische Rundschau," 1905, viii. 41 et seq.). The refrain may be said to constitute one of the salient verbal features of some of the psalms (comp. Ps. xlii. 5, 11; xliii. 5; xlvi. 7, 11; lxxx. 3, 7, 19; cvii. 8, 15, 21, 31; cxxxvi., every half-verse of which consists of "and his goodness endureth forever"). Several of the psalms are acrostic or alphabetic in their arrangement, the succession of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet occurring in various positions-the beginning of every verse, every hemistich, or every couplet; in the last-mentioned case the letters may occur in pairs, i.e., in each couplet the two lines may begin with the same letter. Ps. cix. has throughout eight verses beginning with the same letter. Occasionally the scheme is not completely carried out (Ps. ix.-x.), one letter appearing in the place of another (see also Ps. xxv., xxxvii., cxi., cxii.).

Religious and Ethical Content.

The religious and ethical content of the Psalms may be summarized as a vivid consciousness of God's all-sustaining, guiding, supreme power. The verbal terms are often anthropomorphic; the similes, bold (e.g., God is seated in the heavens with the earth as His footstool; He causes the heavens to bow down; He scatters the enemies of His people; He spreads a table). God's justice and mercy are the dominant notes in the theology of the Psalms. His loving-kindness is the favorite theme of the psalmists. God is the Father who loves and pities His children. He lifts up the lowly and defeats the arrogant. His kingdom endures for ever. He is the Holy One. The heavens declare His glory: they are His handiwork. The religious interpretation of nature is the intention of many of these hymns of praise (notably Ps. viii., xix., xxix., lxv., xciii., civ.). Man's frailty, and withal his strength, his exceptional position in the sweep of creation, are other favorite themes. Sin and sinners are central to some psalms, but even so is the well-assured confidence of the God-fearing. Repentance is the path-pointer to the forgiving God. Ps. 1., for instance, rings with an Isaianic protest against sacrificial ritualism. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. Often the nation is made to speak; yet the "I" in the Psalms is not always national. Individualization of religion is not beyond the horizon. Nor is it true that the national spirit alone finds expression and that the perfect man pictured is always and necessarily conceived of as a son of Israel. The universalistic note is as often struck. The imprecations of such psalms as cix. are not demonstrations of the vindictiveness of narrow nationalism. Read in the light of the times when they were written (see Psalms, Critical View), these fanatical utterances must be understood as directed against Israelites-not non-Jews. Ps. xv. is the proclamation of an ethical religion that disregards limitations of birth or blood. Again, the "poor" and the "meek" or "humble," so often mentioned-"poverty" or humility being found even among God's attributes (xviii. 35)-are Israelites, the "servants of Yhwh," whose sufferings have evoked Deutero-Isaiah's description (Isa. liii:). The "return of Israel" and the establishment of God's reign of justice contemporaneously with Israel's restoration are focal in the eschatology of the Psalms, treated as a whole. But perhaps this method of regarding the Psalms as virtually reflecting identical views must be abandoned, the reasons for which are detailed in Psalms, Critical View.

In Rabbinical Literature:

The richest in content and the most precious of the three large Ketubim (Ber. 57a), the Sefer Tehillim is regarded as a second Pentateuch, whose virtual composer was David, often likened to Moses (Midr. Teh. ch. i.). "Moses gave [Israel] the five books of the Torah, and to correspond with them [] David gave them the Sefer Tehillim, in which also there are five books" (ib.). Its sacred character as distinct from such books as the "Sifre Homerns" (works of Hermes, not Homer) is explicitly emphasized (Midr. Teh. l.c.; Yalḳ. ii. 613, 678). The Psalms are essentially "songs and laudations" (). According to Rab, the proper designation for the book would be "Halleluyah" (Midr. Teh. l.c.), because that term comprehends both the Divine Name and its glorification, and for this reason is held to be the best of the ten words for praise occurring in the Psalms. These ten words, corresponding in number to the ten men who had a part in composing the Psalms, are: "berakah" (benediction); Hallel; "tefillah" (prayer); "shir" (song); "mizmor" (psalm); "neginah" (melody); "nazeaḥ" (to play on an instrument); "ashre" (happy, blessed); "hodot" (thanks); "halleluyah" (ib.).

Composition of the Psalter.

Ten men had a share in the compilation of this collection, but the chief editor was David (B. B. 15a; Midr. Teh. i.). Of the ten names two variant lists are given, namely: (1) Adam, Moses, Asaph, Heman, Abraham, Jeduthun, Melchizedek, and three sons of Korah; (2) Adam, Moses, Asaph, Heman, Abraham, Jeduthun, David, Solomon, the three sons of Korah counted as one, and Ezra (B. B. 14b; Cant. R. to verse iv. 4; Eccl. R. to vii. 19; sometimes for Abraham, Ethan ha-Ezraḥi is substituted). Adam's psalms are such as refer to cosmogony, creation. Ps. v., xix., xxiv., xcii. (Yalḳ. ii. 630) were said to have been written by David, though Adam was worthy to have composed them.

The division into five books known to the Rabbis corresponded with that observed in modern editions. The order of the Psalms was identical with that of modern recensions; but the Rabbis suspected that it was not altogether correct. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi is reported to have desired to make alterations (Midr. Teh. xxxvii.). Moses was credited with the authorship of eleven psalms, xc.-c. (ib. xc.). They were excluded from the Torah because they were not composed in the prophetic spirit (ib.). Ps. xxx. ("at the dedication of the house") was ascribed to David as well as to Ezra (ib. xxx.). Twenty-two times is "ashre" found in the Psalms; and this recalls the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (ib. i.). "Barki nafshi" occurs five times in Ps. ciii., recalling the analogy with the Pentateuch (ib. ciii.). Ps. xxix. names Yhwh eighteen times, in analogy with the eighteen benedictions of the Shemoneh 'Esreh (ib. xxix.). Ps. cxxxvi. is called "Hallel ha-Gadol" (Pes. 118a), to which, according to some, the songs "of degrees" also belong. The ordinary "Hallel" was composed of Ps. cxiii-cxviii. (Pes. 117a). The Masorah divides the book into nineteen "sedarim," the eleventh of these beginning with Ps. lxxviii. 38(see Masoretic note at end of printed text).

One Palestinian authority, R. Joshua b. Levi, counts only 147 psalms (Yer. Shah. 15). According to Grätz ("Psalem," p. 9), this variance was due to the effort to equalize the number of psalms with that of the Pentateuchal pericopes according to the triennial cycle. Ps. i. and ii. were counted as one in Babylon (Ber. 9b, 10a; as in the LXX.). Ps. x. 15 belonged to ix. (Meg. 17b). The concluding verse of Ps. xix. was added to Ps. xviii. (Ber. 9b); xlii. and xliii. were counted as one (see Fürst, "Kanon," p. 71). Ps. lxxviii. was divided into two parts comprising verses 1 to 37 and 38 to 72 respectively (Ḳid. 30a). Ps. cxiv. and cxv. were united (see Ḳimḥi, commentary on Ps. cxiv.), and cxviii, was divided into two. Psalms whose authors were not known, or the occasion for whose composition was not indicated, were described as "orphans" (; 'Ab. Zarah 24b).

Liturgical Songs.

According to Talmudic tradition, psalms were sung by the Levites immediately after the daily libation of wine; and every liturgical psalm was sung in three parts (Suk. iv. 5). During the intervals between the parts the sons of Aaron blew three different blasts on the trumpet (Tamid vii. 3). The daily psalms are named in the order in which they were recited: on Sunday, xxiv.; Monday, xlviii.; Tuesday, lxxxii.; Wednesday, xciv.; Thursday, lxxxi.; Friday, xciii.; and Sabbath, xcii. (Tamid l.c.). This selection shows that it was made at a time when Israel was threatened with disaster (see Rashi on Suk. 55a). The fifteen "Songs of Degrees" were sung by the Levites at the Feast of Tabernacles, at the festive drawing of water. Ps. cxxxv. and cxxxvi. were recited antiphonally by the officiating liturgist and the people. As New-Year psalms, lxxxi. and the concluding verses of xxix. were used (R. H. 30b). Those designated for the semiholy days of Sukkot are enumerated in Suk. 55a. Massek. Soferim xviii. 2 names those assigned for Passover. At New Moon a certain psalm (number not given in the Talmud) was sung in the Temple (Suk. 55a); Soferim names Ps. cv. with the concluding verses of civ. For Ḥanukkah Ps. xxx. is reserved (Soferim xviii. 2). From Soṭah ix. 10 (see Tosefta ad loc.) it is apparent that at one time Ps. xliv. constituted a part of the Temple morning liturgy, while xxx. was sung during the offering of the First-Fruits. The same psalm, as well as iii. and xci., was sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments on the occasion of the enlargement of Jerusalem (Shebu. 14a).

Hymn-Book of Second Temple.

Critical View:

The Book of Psalms may be said to be the hymn-book of the congregation of Israel during the existence of the Second Temple, though not every psalm in the collection is of a character to which this designation may apply. By earlier critics advancing this view of the nature of the Psalms it was held that they were hymns sung in the Temple either by the Levites or by the people. Later scholars have modified this opinion in view of the circumstance that the participation of the people in the Temple ritual was very slight and also because the contents of many of the psalms are such that their recitation at sacrificial functions is not very probable (e.g., Ps. xl. and l., which have a certain anti-sacrificial tendency). While B. Jacob (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1897, xvii.) insists that the Psalter is a hymn-book for the congregation assisting at or participating in the sacrificial rite, and as such must contain also liturgical songs intended for individuals who had to bring offerings on certain occasions, others maintain that, while a number of the hymns undoubtedly were of sacerdotal import and, consequently, were intended to be sung in the Temple, many were written for intonation at prayer in the synagogue. In this connection the determination of the reference in the so-called "I" psalms is of importance. The discovery of the Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) has caused Nöldeke (Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1900, xx.), on the strength of the observation that in Ecclus. (Sirach) li. 2-29 the "I" refersto Ben Sira, to urge that the "I" psalms must similarly be construed as individual confessions. The traditional view was that David, the reputed author of most of these "I" psalms, was in them unbosoming his own feelings and relating his own experiences. It is more probable, however, that, while the "I" in some instances may have its individual significance, on the whole this personal pronoun has reference to the "congregation of Israel" or to a circle or set of congregants at prayer, the "pious," the "meek," the "righteous." The metrical reconstruction of the Psalms (see Baethgen, "Commentar," 3d ed.) promises to throw light on this problem, as the assumption is well grounded that hymns written for or used on public liturgical occasions had a typical metrical scheme of their own (comp. "Theologische Rundschau," viii., Feb., 1905). At all events, some of the psalms must have served at private devotion (e.g., Ps. cxli.), as, indeed, the custom of hymn-singing at night-time by some of the pious is alluded to (ib. lix., xcii., cxix., cxlix.).

Didactic Psalms.

On the other hand, many of the didactic psalms remind one of the general type of gnomic anthologies. It seems more likely that these were recited, not sung, and were learned by heart for ethical instruction and guidance. That the "alphabetical" psalms were not intended originally for liturgical uses may be inferred at least from Ps. cxi. Most of this class reflect the study-room of the scholar, and lack entirely the spontaneity of the worshipful spirit. There are good reasons for regarding Ps. i. as a prologue, prefaced to the whole collection by its latest editors, who were not priests (Sadducees), but scribes (Pharisees) interested in the rise and establishment of synagogal worship as against the sacerdotal liturgy of the Temple. If so regarded, Ps. i. reveals the intention of the editors to provide in this collection a book of instruction as well as a manual of prayer.

The existing Psalter is a compilation of various collections made at various times. The division into several parts was not in every case altogether due to a desire to imitate the structure of the Pentateuch. Books i. (Ps. i.-lxi.), ii. (Ps. lxii.-lxxii.), and iii. (Ps. lxxiii.-lxxxix.) are marked as separate collections by doxologies, a fact which points to their separate compilation. The doxology which now divides books iv. and v. after Ps. cvi. has the appearance of being the beginning of another psalm (comp. I. Chron. xvi., where it occurs at the close of the interpolation verses 8 to 36). It is impossible to determine the date at which these older collections may have been put together. Book i., containing "David" psalms (originally without Ps. i. and ii.), may have been the first to be compiled. In books ii. and iii. (Ps. lxii-lxxxix.) several older and smaller compilations seem to be represented, and that, too, in some disorder. The (a) "David" hymns (ὐμνοι = ; ib. li-lxxii.) are clearly distinct from the (b) songs of the sons of Korah (xlii.-xlix.), (c) "Asaph" songs (l., lxxiii.-lxxxiii.), and (d) later supplements of promiscuous psalms (lxxxiv.-lxxxix.). It is noteworthy that in the "David" hymns duplicates of psalms are found, incorporated also in book i. (Ps. liii. = xiv.; lxx. = xl. 14-18; lxxi. 1-3 = xxxi. 2-4), while lvii. 8 et seq. is duplicated in book v. (cviii. 2-6). Another peculiarity of this book is the use of "Elohim" for "Yhwh," except in the supplement (lxxxiv.-lxxxix.). Comparison of the texts of the duplicate psalms, as well as the circumstance that these duplicates occur, indicates the freedom with which such collections were made, and suggests that many collections were in existence, each with variant content. Book iv. is distinct in so far as it contains, with the exception of three psalms (xc. "of Moses"; ci., ciii. "of David"; but in the Septuagint nine more), only anonymous ones. The character of the doxology (see above) suggests that this book was separated from the following only to carry out the analogy with the Pentateuch. Books iv. and v. are characterized by the absence of "musical" superscriptions and instructions. In book v. the group comprising cvii. to cix. is easily recognized as not organically connected with that composed of cxx.-cxxxiv. It is possible that the liturgical character and use of cxiii. to cxviii. (the [Egyptian] "Hallel") had necessitated the redaction of the "Hallel" psalms separately. The "Songs of Degrees" (see below) must have constituted at one time a series by themselves. The metrical arrangement is the same in all, with the exception of cxxxii. The rest of book v. is composed of loose "Halleluyah" psalms, into which have been inserted "David" psalms (cxxxviii.-cxlv.) and an old folk-song (cxxxvii.).

The "Lamed Auctoris."

As to who were the compilers of these distinct collections it has been suggested that an inference might be drawn in the case of the psalms marked "to the sons of Korah" or "to Asaph, Heman, Ethan, Jeduthun," respectively. But the prefixed to the superscription in these cases is plainly not a "lamed auctoris," the names being those of the leaders of the choir-gilds (established, according to Chronicles, by David). The headings in which occurs merely indicate that the hymns were usually sung by the choristers known as "sons of Korah," etc., or that the psalm constituting a part of the repertoire of the singers so named was to be sung according to a fixed melody introduced by them. These choir-masters, then, had collected their favorite hymns, and, in consequence, these continued to be named after their collector and to be sung according to the melody introduced by the gild. It has also been urged as explaining the terms ("unto David," "unto Moses") that a certain melody was known by that term, or a collection happened to be labeled in that way. It is, however, manifest that in some instances the superscription admits of no other construction than that it is meant to name the author of the psalm (Moses, for instance, in Ps. xc.), though such expressions as "David song," "Zion song" = "Yhwh song" may very well have come into vogue as designations of sacred as distinguished from profane poems and strains. Still, one must not forget that these superscriptions are late additions. The historical value of the note (= "unto David") is not greater than that of others pretending to give the occasion when and the circumstances under which the particular psalm wascomposed. The variants in these superscriptions in the versions prove them to be late interpolations, reflecting the views of their authors.

Date of Psalter.

By tradition David was regarded as the writer of most of the psalms, even the other names occurring in the captions being construed to be those of singers under his direction (David Ḳimḥi, Commentary on Psalms, Preface). He was held to be also the editor of the Biblical Book of Psalms. But this ascription of authorship to him is due to the tendency to connect with the name of a dominating personality the chief literary productions of the nation. Thus Moses figures as the lawgiver, and the author of the Pentateuch; Solomon, as the "wise" man and, as such, the writer of the Wisdom books; David, as the singer and, in this capacity, as the composer of hymns and as the collector of the Psalms as far as they are not his own compositions.

When the Book of Psalms first assumed its present form is open to discussion. Certain it is that the New Testament and Josephus presuppose the existence of the Biblical Psalter in the form in which it is found in the canon. This fact is further corroborated by the date of the so-called "Psalms of Solomon." These are assigned to about 68 B.C.; a fact which indicates that at that period no new psalms could be inserted in the Biblical book, which by this time must have attained permanent and fixed form as the Book of Psalms of David. It is safest then to assign the final compilation of the Biblical book to the first third of the century immediately preceding the Christian era.

Concerning the date of the two psalms lxxix. and cxlvi., I Maccabees furnishes a clue. In I Mace. vii. 17, Ps. lxxix. 2 is quoted, while cxlvi. 4 is utilized in I Macc. ii. 63. These psalms then were known to a writer living in the time of the Hasmonean rulers. He construed Ps. lxxix. as applying to the time of Alcimus. As remarked above, the historical superscriptions are worthless for the purpose of fixing the chronology, even if the concession be made that some of these pretendedly historical notes antedate the final compilation of the Psalter and were taken from the historical romances relating the lives of the nation's heroes, in which, according to prevailing ancient literary custom, poetry was introduced to embellish prose (comp. Ex. xv.; I Sam. ii.), as indeed Ps. xviii. is found also in II Sam. xxii.

Reflection of History.

By comparison with what is known of the events of Jewish internal and external history during the last centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple, critical scholars have come to the conclusion that the political and religious circumstances and conflicts of these turbulent times are reflected in by far the greater number of psalms. Most of the 150 in the Biblical book, if not all of them, are assigned a post-exilic origin. Not one among competent contemporaneous scholars seriously defends the Davidic authorship of even a single psalm; and very few of the recent commentators maintain the pre-exilic character of one or the other song in the collection. Of exilic compositions Ps. cxxxvii. is perhaps the only specimen. To the Persian period some psalms might be assigned, notably the "nature" psalms (e.g., viii., xix.), as expressive of monotheism's opposition to dualism. But there is no proof for this assumption. Still a goodly number of psalms must have been composed in pre-Maccabean years. Some psalms presuppose the existence and inviolability of the Temple and the Holy City (for instance, xlvi., xlviii., lxxvi.). Ps. iii., iv., xi., and lxii. might reflect the confidence of pious priests before the Maccabean disturbances.

Reflex of Politics.

But it is obvious that other psalms refer to the trickery and treachery of the house of Tobias (Ps. lxii.). The Maccabean revolution-with its heroism on the one hand, its cowardice on the other, its victories, and its defeats-has supplied many a hymn of faith and defiance and joy. The and -the "faithful," the "righteous," the "meek"-find voice to praise God for His help and to denounce the "wicked," the foreign nations that have made common cause with Syria (see lxxiv., lxxxiii., cxviii., and cxlix.). Ps. xliv. and lxxvii., point to events after the death of Judas Maccabeus; Ps. lv. and others seem to deal with Alcimus. The establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty on the throne and the conflicts between Pharisees (nationalists and democrats) and Sadducees (the representatives of aristocratic sacerdotalism) have left their impress on other hymns (Ps. ex. 1-4, "Shim'on" in acrostic). Some of the psalms are nothing less than the pronunciamentos of the Pharisees (ix., x., xiv., lvi., lviii.). Dates can not be assigned to the greater number of psalms, except in so far as their content betrays their character as Temple or synagogal hymns, as eschatological constructions, or as apocalyptic renderings of ancient history or of mythology.

Synagogal liturgy and strictly regulated Temple ceremonial are productions of the Maccabean and post-Maccabean conflicts. Apocalyptic ecstasy, didactic references to past history, and Messianic speculations point to the same centuries, when foreign oppression or internal feuds led the faithful to predict the coming glorious judgment. The "royal" or "king" psalms belong to the category of apocalyptic effusions. It is not necessary to assume that they refer to a ruling king or monarch. The Messianic king warring with the "nations"-another apocalyptic incident-is central in these psalms. The "'Aniyim" and the "'Anawim" are the "meek" as opposed to the "Gewim" and "'Azim" (which readings must often be adopted for "Goyim" and "'Ammim"), the "proud" and "insolent." The former are the (Pharisaic) pious nationalists battling against the proud (Sadducean) violators of God's law; but in their fidelity they behold the coming of the King of Glory, the Messianic Ruler, whose advent will put to flight and shame Israel's foreign and internal foes.

Pilgrim Songs.

The "Songs of Degrees" are pilgrim songs, which were sung by the participants in the processions at the three pilgrim festivals; all other explanations are fanciful. David Ḳimḥi in his commentary quotes the usual interpretation that these, songs were sung by the Levites standing on the fifteen stepsbetween the court of the women and that of the Israelites. But he also suggests that they refer to the post-exilic redemption, being sung by those that "ascend" from captivity. In fact, Ḳimḥi often reveals a very clear perception of the psalms of the post-exilic origin.

The text is often corrupt. It contains interpolations, marginal glosses transposed into the body of psalms, quotations not in the original, liturgical glosses, notes, and intentional alterations. Consonantal interchanges abound. Many of the psalms are clearly fragmentary torsos; others, as clearly, are composed of two or more disjointed parts drawn from other psalms without connection or coherence (comp. the modern commentaries, especially those of Duhm and Baethgen; also Grätz, "Psalmen," Introduction). According to Grätz (l.c. p. 61), such combinations of two psalms in one was caused by the necessities of the liturgical services. It is not unlikely that some psalms were chanted responsively, part of the Levites singing one verse, and the others answering with the next. In the synagogues the Psalms were chanted antiphonally, the congregation often repeating after every verse chanted by the precentor the first verse of the psalm in question. "Halleluyah" was the word with which the congregation was invited to take part in this chanting. Hence it originally prefaced the Psalms, not, as in the Masoretic text, coming at the end. At the conclusion of the psalm the "maḳre" or precentor added a doxology ending with ("and say ye Amen"), whereupon the congregation replied "Amen, Amen" ("Monatsschrift," 1872, p. 481). The synagogal psalms, according to this, then, are cv., cvi., cvii., cxi., cxii., cxiii., cxiv., cxvi., and cxvii. (the shortest of all psalms), cxviii., cxxxv., cxxxvi., cxlvi.-cl.

Musical Accompaniment.

Concerning the musical accompaniment less is known. Boys seem to have been added to the men's chorus ('Ar. 13b). Twelve adult Levites constituted the minimum membership of a chorus; nine of these played on the "kinnor," two on the "nebel," and one on the cymbals (ib. ii. 3-5). Singing seems to have been the principal feature of their art, the instruments being used by the singers for their self-accompaniment only. The kinnor, according to Josephus, had ten strings and was struck with a plectrum ("Ant." vii. 12, § 3), while the nebel had twelve notes and was played with the fingers. This information is not confirmed by what is known of the "lyra" or "kithara" of the Greeks. Jewish coins display lyres of three strings, and in a single instance one of five strings. Tosef., 'Ar. ii. gives the kinnor seven strings. According to Ps. xcii. 3, there must have been known a ten-stringed instrument. The Jerusalem Talmud agrees with Josephus in assigning the nebel to the class of stringed instruments (Yer. Suk. 55c; 'Ar. 13b). But it seems to have had a membranous attachment or diaphragm to heighten the effect of the strings (Yer. Suk. l.c.). The nebel and the "alamot" (I Chron. xv. 20; Ps. xlviii.; Ps. ix., corrected reading) are identical (see Grätz, l.c. p. 71). The flute, "ḥalil," was played only on holy days ('Ar. ii. 3). The Hebrew term for choir-master was "menaẓẓeaḥ." See also Cymbals.

Fifty-seven psalms are designated as ; this is a word denoting "paragraph," hence a new beginning. Thirty psalms are designated as (= "song"), probably indicating that the psalm was actually sung in the Temple. Thirteen psalms are labeled , the meaning of which word is doubtful (see Hebrew dictionaries and the commentaries). Six psalms are superscribed -another puzzle-three times with the addition , once (lx.), and in lvi. with . Five psalms are called = "prayer" (xvii., xl., lxxxvi., cii., cxlii.). Two psalms are marked = "to remember" (xxxviii., lxx.), the meaning of which is not known. Ps. c. is designated by = "for thanksgiving," probably indicating its use in the liturgy as a hymn for the thank-offering. Ps. clv. is marked = "jubilee song or hymn," indicating its content. Ps. lx. has , probably a dittogram for = "for David." Ps. lxxxviii. has the heading , which seems to be also a dittogram of the preceding . Ps. vii. has another enigmatical caption (see commentaries).

Emil G. Hirsch

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.


The most modern commentaries are those by Duhm, in K. H. C.; Baethgen (3d ed.), in Nowack's Handcommentar; and Wellhausen, in S. B. O. T. Cheyne's translation (1900) and introduction (1891) give the latest literature up to those dates.E. G. H.

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