FREE Catholic Classes
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 Massoretic 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.
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 .
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 Massoretic 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.
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 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.
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.
Download Now >
(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 .
Help Now >
'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 Massoretic 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-Massoretic 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. Massoretic 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
(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).
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 Massoretic 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 evasio
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.