The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


(Redirected from DEGREES, SONG OF.)

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 V10p241001.jpg (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 V10p241002.jpg = "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: V10p243001.jpgPage from Polyglot Psalms, Genoa, 1516. Latin Gloss Mentions Discovery of America by Columbus.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)

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 [V10p244001.jpg] 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" (V10p244002.jpg). 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" (V10p244003.jpg; '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 = V10p245001.jpg; 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 ל 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 ל 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 V10p245002.jpg ("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 V10p245003.jpg (= "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 V10p246001.jpg and V10p246002.jpg—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.

V10p247001.jpgPart of a Censored Page from Psalms, with Ḳimḥi's Commentary, Naples, 1487.(From the Sulzberger collection in the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York.)

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 psalmthe "maḳre" or precentor added a doxology ending with V10p248001.jpg ("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 V10p248002.jpg; this is a word denoting "paragraph," hence a new beginning. Thirty psalms are designated as V10p248003.jpg (= "song"), probably indicating that the psalm was actually sung in the Temple. Thirteen psalms are labeled V10p248004.jpg, the meaning of which word is doubtful (see Hebrew dictionaries and the commentaries). Six psalms are superscribed V10p248005.jpg—another puzzle—three times with the addition V10p248006.jpg, once V10p248007.jpg (lx.), and in lvi. with V10p248008.jpg V10p248009.jpg. Five psalms are called V10p248010.jpg = "prayer" (xvii., xl., lxxxvi., cii., cxlii.). Two psalms are marked V10p248011.jpg = "to remember" (xxxviii., lxx.), the meaning of which is not known. Ps. c. is designated by V10p248012.jpg = "for thanksgiving," probably indicating its use in the liturgy as a hymn for the thank-offering. Ps. clv. is marked V10p248013.jpg = "jubilee song or hymn," indicating its content. Ps. lx. has V10p248014.jpg, probably a dittogram for V10p248015.jpg = "for David." Ps. lxxxviii. has the heading V10p248016.jpg, which seems to be also a dittogram of the preceding V10p248017.jpg. Ps. vii. has another enigmatical caption (see commentaries).

  • 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.
Images of pages