Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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In terms of pages, Psalms is the longest book in the Bible. Many of its hymns, psalms, prayers, and meditations are attributed to King David, but as usual there is no reliable evidence to determine whether this means they were actually written by him, or merely that they are ideologically identified with him. The phrase ‘Psalm of David’ is just as easily translated ‘for David’ or ‘belonging to David’ or ‘with reference to David’, and the ‘David’ element itself may refer to the textual David or the royal house. The title may thus reflect an intertextual development of individual psalms in conjunction with the story of David in the Samuel scrolls. This intertextuality may be seen in the fact that there are traces in the scroll of the development of an interpretative scheme associating certain poems with events in the life of David (3, 7, 18, 30, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 59–60), but most of the psalms with the title ‘A Psalm of David’ lack such labels. The prayers of David end at 72: 20, but the psalms of David continue to 145. The scroll of Psalms is divided into five volumes (paralleling the five books of the Torah of Moses?): 1–42, 43–72, 73–89, 90–106, 107–50. The Greek Bible translation (LXX) of the Psalms has a slightly different enumeration scheme and includes another psalm (151).53 It is not known when or how the collection of psalms came into existence nor is there any evidence for the original function of the collection. While many scholars associate the book of Psalms with the practice of worship in the second temple, this is at best only a hypothesis. Ps. 1 looks very much like a didactic poem of a non-cultic type and its presence as the first psalm may indicate an editing process which collected together all the psalms into a book for individual meditation. The literary types of psalms incorporated into the collection include hymns, songs of Zion, songs of pilgrimage, laments (communal and individual), songs of thanksgiving (communal and individual), royal psalms, narrative and didactic poems. Whatever its origins and functions, it is certainly the case that since post-biblical times the Book of Psalms has been the most influential handbook of piety for Jews and Christians. To this day individual pious Jews and Christians have lived out of this book and their discourses remained shaped by the language of Psalms (the Psalter). This is hardly a surprising social phenomenon, because the language of individual psalms is situational, occasional, and highly existential: there is a psalm for every human occasion.

Chapter.  729 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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