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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Psalms of Solomon - Introduction

The Psalms of Solomon are neither quoted nor referred to explicitly by any of the Fathers. The earliest mention of them is in the catalogue of contents in the Codex Alexandrinus of the Bible in the British Library (5th cent.) where ‘eighteen Psalms of Solomon’ are listed right at the end, after the two Epistles of Clement, which in turn follow the ‘Apocalypse of John’. Presumably Alexandrinus contained a text of the Psalms, but it does so no longer: its last leaves have been lost, and the text breaks off rather more than half-way through 2 Clement. Later on, the Psalms occur in the List of Sixty Books, as also in the pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis and the Stichometry of Nicephorus. In the last two, however, they are joined together with the Odes – ‘Psalms and Ode(s) of Solomon’. They are not mentioned in the Gelasian Decree.

The text of the Psalms is preserved in some ten Greek manuscripts (two of them defective), one Greek fragment (consisting of xvii. 2–xviii. 14 ), 1 See W. Baars, ‘A New Fragment of the Greek Version of the Psalms of Solomon’ in VT xi (1961), pp. 441–444. and also in two defective Syriac manuscripts and two Syriac fragments (both, oddly enough, containing xvi. 6–13). The Greek MSS date from the late 10th or early 11th cent. to the early 15th, and in all of them the Psalms appear as one among a number of other works, some Biblical and some ecclesiastical. In the two Syriac MSS, however, the Psalms are preceded by the Odes, but there is no distinction between them: the Psalms follow immediately on the Odes without a break: all are given the title ‘Psalms’; and they are numbered consecutively from the beginning of the Odes – thus, Psalm i in our numeration becomes Psalm xliii in the Syriac, and so on up to lx. Neither Syriac MS contains any other work. One of them (Rylands Cod. Syr. 9; 16th cent.) is deficient at the beginning of the Odes and also from Ps. xvii. 38 to the end: the other (B.L. Addit. 14538; 9th or 10th cent.) contains only Odes xvii. 7–xlii. 20 and Pss. i.i–iii. 5 and x. 4–xviii. 5 .

The combination of Odes and Psalms in a single series known as ‘Psalms’ in the Syriac tradition raises the question, Was this a peculiarity of the Syriac-speaking church or was it also known elsewhere? As we have seen, both the pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis and the Stichometry of Nicephorus list the ‘Psalms and Ode(s) of Solomon’ together. It is possible that there is evidence here that the Psalms and Odes were combined in some Greek MSS – though in the reverse order, it would seem, from the order in the Syriac. It is possible, too, that when Alexandrinus and the List of Sixty Books mention the ‘Psalms’ only they are referring to a similar combination. 2 Though this is most unlikely in the case of Alexandrinus, since the text, as it stands, refers explicitly to ‘eighteen’ Psalms. But all this is mere hypothesis. The facts are that only ten Greek MSS of the Psalms are known, all of which have preserved the Psalms without the Odes; and these, together with the Syriac, are the only evidence there is for the text of the Psalms.

It is now generally agreed that the Psalms were originally written in Hebrew. The Greek will accordingly be a version from the Hebrew. It has been suggested that the Syriac is also a version from the Hebrew; but this suggestion has found few supporters, and most regard the Syriac as a secondary version made from the Greek.

There are no obviously Christian passages in the Psalms nor any that look as if they had been worked over by Christian editors. The Psalms are Jewish through and through and breathe the atmosphere of the canonical Psalms of David, in conscious imitation of which they were doubtless written.

The writer himself belongs to the circle of ‘the righteous’ (iii. 3–8), or God's ‘holy ones’ (ix. 3), or ‘those who fear the Lord’ (xv. 13), as against their opponents ‘the unrighteous’ (xv. 4–13), or ‘sinners’ (ii. 34–35), or ‘lawless ones’ (xiv. 6). These latter are charged, not merely with general misbehaviour, immorality, and ungodliness (e.g. iv. 1–22), but specifically with having set up a non-Davidic monarchy (xvii. 4–6) and with having profaned the Temple and its sacrifices (ii. 3; viii. 11–12). The writer and his circle abhor such lawless deeds (xii. 1–4): they pride themselves that they ‘walk in the righteousness of [God's] ordinances, in the law which he commanded’ (xiv. 2); and they await in patience the advent of the legitimate Davidic Messianic King (xvii. 21–35: cp. xviii. 5–9).

It is not difficult to see here a reflection of the opposition between the Pharasaic and Sadducaean parties sometime during the first century BC. References to a foreign conqueror in three of the Psalms enable us to fix the date of these three, at least, more exactly. The foreign conqueror came ‘from the end of the earth’ (viii. 15) and sent off his captives ‘to the west’ (xvii. 12) – so from the west he presumably came. At first he was welcomed by some of the nation, and the way was left open for him to approach Jerusalem (viii. 16–18). Later, it seems, he encountered resistance and used battering-rams to breach the walls (ii. i). Having captured Jerusalem, he was responsible for a general massacre (viii. 19–21) and introduced his soldiers into the Temple where they contemptuously ‘trampled’ the altar (ii. 2). Ultimately he was murdered in Egypt, and his body lay exposed for lack of burial (ii. 26–27). These details correspond very closely with what is recorded elsewhere of the details of Pompey's capture of Jerusalem in 63 BC and his death in Egypt in 48 BC.

Whether the Psalms were all the work of a single author or not we have no means of knowing. Nor can we tell how close in date the other Psalms are to the three which refer to Pompey. Many moderns think of a ‘school’ as having produced the Psalms rather than a single author, and most would connect it with the Pharisees – hence the popular (but quite unofficial) title ‘Psalms of the Pharisees’. Some, however, would dispute this connection, partly on the ground that the Psalms themselves provide only the most general evidence for it, and partly on the ground that we know as yet far too little about the various movements and parties within Judaism in the 1st cent. BC to make certainty possible – in particular, it seems likely that there was in fact a much greater variety in the groupings and factions at the time than the conventional Pharisee—Sadducee—Essene categorization suggests (in which case the authors of the Psalms may well have belonged to one of these otherwise ‘unknown’ groups).

But in any case, there is no need to suppose that all the Psalms were written at once. Schüpphaus, for example, has maintained that two separate ‘clusters’ of Psalms can be identified, which, he claimed, represent two separate stages in the development of a single community (though it was for Schüpphaus a Pharisaic community): one cluster stems from the time of the Roman invasion in 63 BC, the other from somewhere between 48 and 43/2 BC.

On any hypothesis, however, the Psalms are patently Palestinian; and the probability is that they were written in Jerusalem.

The translation which follows is based on Gray's. The verse numeration is that of von Gebhardt (with Gray's numeration in brackets).

Notes:

1 See W. Baars, ‘A New Fragment of the Greek Version of the Psalms of Solomon’ in VT xi (1961), pp. 441–444.

2 Though this is most unlikely in the case of Alexandrinus, since the text, as it stands, refers explicitly to ‘eighteen’ Psalms.

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