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

The Development of the Psalter.

1.

While the titles provide little historical information about the individual psalms, they are important evidence for the development of the Psalter as a collection.

2.

The division into five books (Ps 1–41; 42–72; 73–89; 90–106; 107–50 ) could hardly have been made before the collection was complete. If, however, Ps 41:13, 72:18–19, 89:52, and 106:48 are doxologies inserted when the arrangement was made, this must have been before the time of the Chronicler, since 1 Chr 16:36 includes Ps 106:48 in the quotation of part of that psalm.

3.

Before this fivefold arrangement was made (possibly in imitation of the five books of the Torah) some smaller collections of psalms were already in existence. The most obvious of these is Ps 120–34 which all have the title ‘A Song of Ascents’.

4.

Eleven psalms are attributed to ‘the sons of Korah’ (Ps 42; 44–9; 84–5; 87–8 ) and twelve to Asaph (Ps 50; 73–83 ), and these were probably separate collections. Why some of the psalms became separated in the completed Psalter is unknown. ‘The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended’ (Ps 72:20 ) seems to have stood at the end of a collection of Davidic psalms. In the present form of the Psalter the psalms ascribed to him are not so neatly arranged. ‘Of David’ is found in the MT titles of Ps 3–9; 11–32; 34–41; 51–65; 68–70; 86; 101; 103; 108–10; 122; 124; 131; 133; 138–45 , and in a further fifteen psalms in the LXX. It is commonly supposed that two main collections of Davidic psalms consisted of Ps 3–41 (probably without 33 ), and 51–71 (possibly even including the Solomonic Ps 72 ). Whether all the Davidic psalms originally formed a single collection is uncertain, and the titles of these psalms after Ps 72 may be due to the tendency to ascribe ever more psalms to David. There seem to have been smaller collections or groupings of maskîl and miktām Davidic psalms in Ps 52–5; 56–60 . Cutting across these collections, however, are Ps 42–83 , the so-called Elohistic Psalter, in which YHWH is found relatively seldom and the Hebrew word for God (᾽ĕlōhîm) much more frequently, almost certainly due to the work of an editor (cf. Ps 53 where ‘God’ has been substituted for the YHWH of Ps 14 , and the curious ‘I am God, your God’ in Ps 50:7 , where the original would appear to have been ‘YHWH, your God’).

5.

Whether it is possible to discover the principles upon which the Psalter was put together is doubtful. Delitzsch (1887 ) suggested that catchwords (e.g. ‘shall never (not) be moved’, Ps 15; 16 ), similarities of theme (Ps 50; 51 both think sacrifice of little value; Ps 12–14 are lamentations, general—personal—general), psalm pairs (e.g. Ps 3–4 , morning and evening prayers), or the grouping of similar psalms, such as the ‘Hallelujah’ psalms (Ps 111–13; 146–50 ), could explain the ordering, but this is a piecemeal approach. The psalms in praise of the law (Ps 1; 19; 119 ) have been seen as markers of one stage in the growth of the Psalter. Wilson (1985 ) points to the presence of royal psalms at the main divisions of the first three books (Ps 2; 72; 89 ), and traces an overarching scheme of YHWH's covenant with David (bks. 1–2), the failure of that covenant (bk. 3), and the answer to this in the kingship of YHWH (bk. 4), with book 5 as an answer to the plea for restoration from exile in Ps 106:47 . To combine form-critical criteria with ancient Israelite intentions appears rash. (For details of other attempts to identify small collections within the Psalter and to account for its growth see Day 1990: 109–22; Gillingham 1994: 232–55, McCann 1993b .)

6.

It must be concluded that it is impossible to trace the development of the Psalter, although there is clear evidence of smaller collections that may have existed independently at some stage, and there is a general movement from laments, which dominate the first two books, to praises at the end of the Psalter. Such ignorance is not unexpected, given the long period of use and reuse of the psalms and the wide range of situations in which they have been sung and prayed.

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