Psalm 151 is the final psalm in the Psalter in Septuagint manuscripts. It contains the following superscription: “This psalm is ascribed to David as his own composition (though it is outside the number), when he had fought in single combat with Goliath.” This superscription indicates that, at least for its author, there was some sense of a collection of one hundred and fifty psalms plus this additional one that was “outside the number.”

In the psalm itself, David speaks in the first person, and his autobiographical remarks are drawn from 1 Samuel 16–17. David recounts that he was a shepherd, the smallest and youngest among his brothers (v. 1), a musician who played the lyre (v. 2). Verse 3 is difficult to interpret. It begins with a question: “And who will tell my Lord?” (NRSV). Whether this “lord” is God or Saul is unclear. In vv. 4–5, David relates how God sent a messenger and how he was anointed king instead of his brothers. Verses 6–7 then recount how David went out to meet “the Philistine” (Goliath) and beheaded him with his sword.

A Hebrew version of Psalm 151 came to light in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was discovered in cave 11 at Qumran in 1956 (11QPsa) and published by James Sanders in 1965. This autobiographical psalm comes at the very end of the scroll but is actually divided into two distinct poems, each with its own superscription. The first poem (Psalm 151A) contains the superscription “A Hallelujah of David the Son of Jesse,” which is followed by the verses about David as a shepherd and a musician (vv. 1–2 in Greek). Following this, there is a section that is not extant in the Greek version; these lines are very difficult and can be interpreted in different ways. They talk about how the mountains and hills do not praise God, but the trees and flock do hear David's song. Some scholars have seen in these lines Orphic or Pythagorean influence, but this interpretation is neither necessary nor likely. The following lines, about Samuel's anointing of David as leader and ruler rather than his brothers, are closer to the Greek. After this last bit, the rest of the line in 11QPsa is left blank, after which a second psalm (Ps 151B) begins. Its superscription reads: “At the beginning of David's power after the prophet of God had anointed him.” David then relates that he saw “a Philistine”—at which point the text is no longer preserved. Presumably, the full, original text had David recounting his defeat of Goliath.

The exact relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions is much debated. Whether the Hebrew text we now have was the original that was then shortened by a Greek translator, or whether there was an originally short(er) Hebrew psalm that was translated into Greek with the 11QPsa version an expansion, is unclear. There is also ongoing debate about whether 11QPsa is a Psalter (although clearly different than the standard Masoretic Psalter) or whether it is some other type of collection or prayer book. In any case, Psalm 151 attests to a tradition of composing psalms and attributing them to David in the Hellenistic period.

[See also APOCRYPHA, subentry OLD TESTAMENT and PSALMS.]

Bibliography

  • Flint, P. W. The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls & the Book of Psalms. Studies on the Texts of Desert of Judah 17. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997.
  • Sanders, J. A. The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa). Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 4. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. See 49, 54–64.
  • Sanders, J. A. The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967. See 94–102.

Eileen Schuller