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Book of Psalms, Psalter

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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.

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

Bibliography
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



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