Psalms (book of the Bible)

Psalms. They are a set of five books of Hebrew religious poetry that is part of the Jewish Tanach and the Christian Old Testament. it is the first book of the “scriptures” (Kethubhim or Hagiographa), that is, the third section of today’s Hebrew Bible . In this section of the Hebrew Bible, the canonical order of the books has varied substantially, while in the first and second sections, in the Law in the Prophets, the books have tried to always maintain the same order.


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  • 1 Origin and history of the Psalms
  • 2 Authors
  • 3 Old Testament Witnesses
    • 1 David
    • 2 Asaf
    • 3 The children of Korah
    • 4 Moses
    • 5 Solomon
    • 6 Ethan
  • 4 The text
  • 5 Usefulness of the Psalms
  • 6 Theological Value
  • 7 Teaching and Wisdom Psalms
  • 8 Sources

Origin and history of the Psalms

The opinions among exegetes on this point are widely diverse, even though until the 19th century they were more uniform. The ancient exegetes agreed to fix the date of creation of the psalms in the period after the captivity in Babylon , including that of the Maccabees. In recent times, gender and influence analysis have diversified schools. Some emphasize the various influences that they manage to highlight and with that they fix the compositions in later times, even to the captivity of Babylon.

Others emphasize the relationship between the psalm and its cult use and therefore date them in relation to the feasts that were celebrated in the Temple . Finally some after considering the variants and additions believe that the origin of many psalms would be so old that it would be impossible to find it.

Faced with the various proposals, Caselles affirms: Many psalms are ancient and convey memories of their origin that are not artificial at all. Most of the mythological allusions in the psalms are authentic and attest to their antiquity. This does not mean that the procedure could have been imitated in recent times, and that it can be spoken, in certain cases, of false archaism, due to a simple literary procedure.


  1. Witnesses to Tradition
  2. The 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.
  3. The Christian tradition is equally uncertain. Saint Ambrose, “In Psalms 43 and 47” (PL, XIV 923), recognizes in David the only author. Saint Augustine, in “De Civitate Dei”, XVII , 14 (PL, XLI, 547), thinks that all Psalms are Davidic and that the names of Aggeus and Zacarias were subscribed by the poet in a prophetic sense. Saint Philastrius, Haer. 130 (PL, XII , 1259), marks a contrary opinion as heretical. On the other hand, the plurality of writer was defended by Origen, “in the Psalm” (PG, XII, 1066); St. Hilary, “In The Psalm Procem. 2) (PL, IX , 233); Eusebius,” In The Psalm Procem. In Psalms 41, 72 “(PG, XXIII, 74, 368); and many others. St. Jerome, “Announcement Cyprianum, Epist. 140, 4 (PL, XXII , 1169), says that” those who judge that all the psalms belong to David are wrong, and not the work of those whose names were previously written. “
  4. This disagreement, regarding the authorship of the psalms, ranges from parents to theologians. Davidic authorship is defended by Santo Tomas, the converted Jew Archbishop Paul de Burgos, Bellarmine, Salmeron, S, Mariana; the authorship of multiple writers is defended by Nicholas de Lyra, Cajetan, Sixtus Senensis, Bonfrere, and Menochio.
  5. The church has made no decision on this matter. The Council of Trent (Sess. IV, the 8 of April of 1546 ), in its decrees on Sacred Scripture, includes “Psalterium Davidicum, 150 Psalmorum” among the canonical books. This phrase does not define the authorship of David more than the number 150, but only says the book, which is defined to be canonical (cf. Pallavicino, the “di Trento Istoria of the Council”, l. VI, 1591 . Naples , 1853, I, 376). In the preliminary vote, fifteen parents voted for the name “Psalms of David”; six for “Psalterium Davidicum”; nine for “Libri Psalmorum”; two for “Libri 150 Psalmorum”; and sixteen for the adopted name, “Psalterium Davidicum 150 Psalmorum”; and two had no concern that these names were chosen (cf. Theiner, “acta Authentica Councilii Tridentini”, I, 72 sq.). From the total vote it is clear that the council had no intention of defining Davidic authorship.
  6. The recent decree of the Biblical Commission ( of May 1 , 1910 ) decides the following points
  • Neither the wording of the council decrees nor the opinions of certain fathers have the weight to determine that David is the sole author of the Psalms.
  • It is not wise to deny that David is the primary author of the Psalter.

Especially it cannot be denied that David is the author of the psalms which, in the old or the new testament, are clearly cited under the name of David, for example 2, 16, 18, 32, 69, 110 (2, 15 , 17, 31, 68, 109).

Old Testament witnesses

In previous decisions, the Biblical Commission has followed not only Jewish and Christian traditions, but also Christian and Jewish scriptures. The Old Testament witnesses to the authorship of the Psalms mainly in the titles. These attribute various psalms, especially books I – III, to David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Moses , and others.


The titles of seventy-three psalms in the Massoretic text and many more in the Septuagint seem to choose David as the author: cf. from Psalms 3-41 (3-40), that is to say the whole book. Saving only 10 and 33; Psalms 51-70 (50-69), except 66 and 67, in Book II; Psalm 86 (85) of Book III; Psalm 103 (102) in Book IV; Psalms 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 135-145 (107-109, 121, 123, 130, 132, 134-144) of the title of Book V. Being the Hebrew title.

It is now generally held that, in the Hebrew word, the preposition has the force of a genitive, and that the Septuagint tou David “of David” is a better translation than the Vulgate, ipsi David of “David himself.” Does this preposition mean authorship? Not in every title; both David and the Director are the authors of Psalm 19 (18), and all the sons of Korah, a psalm “(Psalm 48), we probably have indications, not of authorship, but of various collections of psalms – those titled “David”, “The Director”, “the children of Korah”. Just like the New Testament, the Council of Trent, and many Church Fathers speak of “David” or “The Psalter of David,” “The Psalms of David,” it is not necessarily inferred that all the psalms are of David, but he was the quintessential psalmist,

So the titles of many psalms are assigned not so much to their authors but to their collectors or to the main author of the collection to which they belong. On the other hand, some of the longer titles go to show that “David’s” can mean authorship. Taking for example: “from the director, to the tune ‘do not destroy’, from David, a chosen piece (Mikhtam), when he fled from Saul in the cave” (Psalm 57).

The historical occasion of David’s composition, of the lyrical quality of the song, its inclusion in the initial collection “of David” and later in the book of praises, the tune on which it was written by David or he was the director – all these things seem to be indicated by the title under consideration. So the Davidic titles are the subscribed conclusion of the first two books of the psalms: “Amen, Amen; the phrases of David son of Jesse end” (Psalm 72, v.20). This formula is older than the Septuagint and would be out of place if David were not the main author of the psalms, in the two added books.

Additionally, the Old-Testament evidences the authorship of the psalms to David, as suggested by the recent Decree of the Biblical Commission, David has a natural poetic talent, demonstrated in his songs and hymns of Kings II and I Par., Additionally to the fact that he was the one who instituted the solemn levitical cantilation of psalms in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (I Par. 16, 23-25). The songs and hymns attributed to David are significantly similar to David’s psalms in spirit, style, and phraseology. Let’s examine the opening line of II Kings 22: “and David spoke to Yahweh the words of this song on the day that Yahweh saved him from the clutches of his enemies and out of the hands of Saul, and he said: 2. Yahweh is my rock, my fortress, my way of escape, 3. My God, my Rock to whom I will cling, my Protector, the Horn of my salvation, my Tower. My Refuge, my Savior, my Comfort. 4. I cry out in praise, I cry out to Yahweh, and from my enemy I get salvation. ”

The two songs are clearly identical, the slight differences are probably due to various liturgical redactions of the Psalms. At the end of II Reye’s writing he gives “David’s last words” (23, 1) – artfully, a short psalm in the Davidic style where David speaks of it as “Sweet Song-Singer of Israel “, “extraordinary psalms of Israel “(II Kings 23, 2).

Similarly, the Chronicler (I Par. 16, 8-36) quotes as Davidic a song composed before Psalm 105, v.1-13, of Psalm 96 and a small portion of Psalm 106. Finally, the prophet Amos deals with the Samarians: “And when they sing the sound of the psaltery, they have thought of having musical instruments like David” (6, v.5). David’s poetic energy stands out as characteristic of the Shepherd King. His clear elegiacs in the death of Saul and Jonatan (II Kings 1, 19-27) reveal a certain energy, but not that of the Davidic psalms. The above reasons for Davidic authorship are contested by many who insist on the final wording of II Kings 21-24 and on the discrepancies between the parallel passages.


Asaph is credited, by title, with twelve psalms, 50, 73-83 (49, 72-82). These psalms are all national in character and belong to the widely-separated periods of Jewish history. Psalm 83 (82), although attributed to Briggs (“Psalms”, New York, 1906, p.67) to the recent Persian period, seems to have been written at the time of the havoc caused by the Assyrian invasion of Tiglath-pileser III in 737 BC Psalm 74 (73) was probably written, as Briggs’s conjectures, during the Babylonian Exile, after 586 BC

Asaph was a Levite , the son of Barakiah (I Par. 6:39), and one of the three leaders of the Levitical choir (I Par. 15, 17). They put aside the “sons of Asaph” “to prophesy with the harps and with psalters and cymbals” (I Par. 25, 1). It is probable that the members of this family composed the psalms that were later collected in an Asaf Psalter. The characteristics of these psalms of Asaph are uniform: they make frequent allusions to the history of Israel for a didactic purpose; sublimity and vehemence of style; vivid description; they exalt the concept of divinity.

The children of Korah

The sons of Korah is the title of eleven psalms – 42-49, 84, 85, 87, 88 (41-48, 83, 84, 86, 87). The Korahim was a family of the temple singers (II Par. 20, 19). It may be that each psalm in this group was composed in common by all the sons of Korah; Each composition was made up of a member of the Kore guild; or, perhaps, they were collected from various sources in a liturgical hymn by the guild of the sons of Korah.

At all events, there is an identity of style in these hymns that is indicative of the Levitical spirit of union. The characteristics of the Korahite psalms are a great love for the holy city; a living desire for the public worship of Israel; supreme confidence in Yahweh and a poetic form that is simple, elegant, artistic, and well-balanced. From messianic ideas and historical allusions, these psalms seem to have been composed between the times of Isaiah and the return from exile.


Moses is in the title of Psalm 90 (89). Saint Augustine (PL, XXXVII, 1141) does not admit Mosaic authorship; is Saint Jerome (PL, XXII, 1167). The author imitates the songs of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 and 33; This imitation may be the reason for the title.


Solomon is in the titles of Psalms 72 and 127 (71 and 126), probably for a similar reason.


Ethan, is in the title of Psalm 89 (88), must probably be Idithun. The Yedutun Psalter of Idithun, also contained in Psalms 39, 62, 77 (38, 61, 76).

The text

The psalms were originally written in Hebrew letters, just as we see only coins and some lapidary inscriptions; the text has come to us in Aramaic Letters. Only a few versions give us an idea of ​​the pre-Masoretic text. So far, no pre-Masoretic of the Psalms has been discovered.

The Masoretic text (MSS) has been preserved in more than 3400 MSS., Of which none is earlier than the 9th century and only nine or ten are prior to the 12th century (see BIBLUS MANUSCRIPTS). This MSS. it represents two slight variants of the tradition – the texts of Ben Asher and Ben Neftalí. Its variations are a small 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, has clarified that our Hebrew text is far from perfect, and that its points are often incorrect.

Critics’ efforts to refine the text are occasionally due more to insightful conjecture. The metric mold is chosen; then the psalm is forced to adapt to it. It was better to leave the text in its imperfect condition than to make it worse for guess-based work. The decree of the Biblical Commission is addressed to those to whom the imperfections in the Masoretic text are an occasion, although not an excuse, for the countless conjectural amendments, occasionally wild and imaginary, that are today of the current as exegesic critics of the Psalms.

Utility of the Psalms

The early Christian church adopted the psalms as a liturgical prayer due not only to the influence of Judaizing sectors but also to defend itself against the spontaneous and often heretical creations that derived from originality.

Theological Value

The theological ideas of the psalms are comprehensive; the existence and attributes of God, the soul’s living desire for immortality, the economy of tolerance and virtues, death, judgment, heaven, hell, hope of resurrection and glory, of fear of punishment – – all the main dogmatic truths of the faith of Israel appear repeatedly in its Psalter.

These truths are established not in a dogmatic way, but in the simple and infantile lyrical living desire of the naive soul, in the highest and most vehement outbursts of which the nature of man is capable. The psalms are definitely the most human and the most superhuman; they sink to the lowest depths of the human heart and rise to the heights of divine contemplation.

So human are the psalms that many times we can ask ourselves how they could have been inspired by God . Surely Yahweh could not have inspired the singer who prayed: “As for those who plan to destroy my soul , they must go to the depths of the earth; the sword drawn they must deliver; Prey to the jackals they will be converted.” – Psalm 83: 10-11 (82: 10-11) Such an objection is based on a misunderstanding. The perfection of the counsels of Christ is one thing, the aim of the good Levite is another. The ideals of the Sermon on the Mountthey are of higher spirituality than the ideals of the Impeachment Psalm. Still, the ideals of the imprecatory Psalm are not bad – they are good, they are Divine in origin and authority. The imprecatory psalms are national anthems ; they express the anger of a nation, not of an individual.

Humility, meekness and the forgiveness of the enemy are virtues in an individual; not necessarily from a nation; but it does not mean that Yahweh chooses the national, the people who know that Yahweh wanted a great nation and they had to remove their enemies from the land that He gave them. His great national love for his own people postulated a great national love for Yahweh. Love for Yahweh posited a hatred for Yahweh’s enemies, and, for the theocratic form of the Jewish people, Yahweh’s enemies were the enemies of Israel .

If we keep this national purpose in mind, and forget that all poetry, and especially Semitic poetry, colored and exaggerated, will not shock us in the lack of mercy in the writers of the imprecatory psalms. The main theological ideas of the Psalms are those that have respect to the incarnation. Are there Messianic Psalms? Unity for the authentic energy that the church interpreted and the consensus of the parents. Protestants have generally come to admire the psalms as non-Messianic in the literal or typical meaning; the oldest interpretation of Messianic was discarded as worn. Delitzsch only admits Psalm 110 (109) to be Messianic in its literal meaning.

Cheyne denies the literal and typical Messianic meaning of the psalms (“origin of the Psalm”, 339). Davison (Hast., Location CIT.) Says, “It may be derived either that the Psalter contains only a single case of the direct or messianic prophetic.” Catholics have always held that some of the psalms are messianic in meaning, literal or typical. (cf. Incarnation: Jesus Christ ; Messiah . The New Testament clearly refers in certain psalms to the Messiah. The parents are unanimous in interpreting many psalms as prophecies of coming, of the kingdom, of the priesthood, of passion, of death , and of the resurrection of the Messiah.

The coming of the Messiah is preached in Psalms 18, 50, 68, 96-98 (17, 59, 67, 95-97). Saint Paul (Ephesians 4, 8) interprets Christ’s ascension to heaven in the words of Psalm 68, v.18, description of Yahweh’s ascension after conquering the world. Messiah’s kingdom is foretold in Psalms 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 61.

Teaching and Wisdom Psalms

These are compositions intended for teaching. They are characterized by several formal elements that help make them more didactic and easily memorizable: they follow an alphabetical order in the first letter of some verses (cf. Ps 9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145), they are about Israel’s Law or ethics.


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