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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Psalm 151

John Barton

Ps 151 occurs at the end of the book of Psalms in the Greek Bible, and can also be found in the ancient versions that depend on the Greek: Latin, Syriac—where it is one of a group of five non-canonical Psalms—and Ethiopic. The heading in the Greek indicates that it is ‘outside the number’ (and some texts add ‘of the one hundred and fifty’), but it is regarded as canonical in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. As it stands it describes various aspects of the life of David and ‘is ascribed to David as his own composition’: his work as a shepherd, his musical ability, his choice by God even though his ‘brothers were handsome and tall’, and his victory over Goliath.

The Qumran Psalms Scroll 11 QPsa preserves evidence of an earlier Hebrew version in which there were two separate psalms. The first corresponds to Ps 151:1–5 ; but the second was evidently a fuller version of Ps 151:6–7 , though only two lines of it now remain. The first dealt with David's early career, the second (which originally had its own superscription) with his victory over Goliath. The superscription to the first psalm in Hebrew is ‘A hallelujah for David the son of Jesse’. There is no scholarly consensus about the status of 11 QPsa. It may reflect an early ‘canon’ of the Psalms differing from the later Hebrew one, or it may be a compendium of hymns for worship containing both canonical and non-canonical texts.

Verses 1–5 are based on 1 Sam 16 . On David's musical abilities (vv. 2–3 ) the Hebrew adds, ‘And I rendered glory to the Lord; I spoke in my soul. The mountains do not witness to him and the hills do not tell. The trees have cherished my words and the flock my deeds.’ Verses 6–7 derive from 1 Sam 17 .

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