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The book of Psalms is not a single literary work. It is a collection of around poems. The divisions of the psalms vary slightly across different translations, as it is not always clear where one psalm ends and another begins. This article gives references to the Psalms as in the English translations. Headings were added to the psalms during the process of compilation. Some of these headings may originally have been intended as a sort-of footnote to the psalm before.
Headings will often ascribe a particular author or authors to the psalm e. Psalms of lament typically feature supplicants praying to YHWH for deliverance from horrendous predicaments and from their enemies. Psalms of praise usually feature supplicants exalting YHWH for having delivered them from such difficult circumstances, or praising him for his mighty acts. Many psalms contain both prayer and lament, generally rapidly switching from one to another.
Often, the psalms begin with lament, but are transformed into praise once YHWH has delivered the supplicant e. Psalms tend to end in praise, with some exceptions e. However, it may not be so straightforward as this. Some psalms can be grouped together as sub-types because they have similar characteristics.
For much of the 20th century, it was thought that the psalms in some of the sub-types were all originally used in the same sort of ritual setting, but this is now disputed see Date and authorship for specific examples. Some sub-types include:. The Book of Psalms is an anthology of pre-existent material, probably compiled by the 2nd century BCE at the latest. The headings of each psalm appear to have been added during the process of compilation of the book. This took place a long time after the composition of individual psalms see Interpretation.
The headings may indicate the thematic content of the psalms, and even give some clues as to the original contexts in which they were written, but scholars would generally not attribute authorship of the psalms to the historical figures named in the headings. So, for example, headings to many of the psalms claiming that David wrote them are not to be taken seriously.
There is no way of reliably identifying the particular author of any given psalm. There is almost no agreement as to when the individual psalms were written. The nature of the book of Psalms as a collection of poems written across different times and contexts makes it especially difficult to date individual psalms.
Some scholars who argue that many psalms pre-date their collection into the book of Psalms by at least several centuries nonetheless hold that even these psalms were edited over time, and possibly adapted for use in different ritual contexts. However, scholars have used several techniques in order to try to date the psalms:. Identifying the sub-types of psalms continues to be an important part of Psalms scholarship. Some psalms, such as Ps 18, use language which scholars believed to indicate early forms of Hebrew. Language within psalms such as these bears similarities with language in other biblical texts that scholars have understood to have been written early in the history of the composition of the Old Testament.
This may suggest that such psalms may pre-date even the 10th century BCE, in which the Old Testament claims the united kingdom of Israel was founded. However, the development of the classical Hebrew language is a controversial subject. So what language one identifies as ancient is dependent upon how one understands the development of classical Hebrew. Some scholars contend that a few psalms correspond so closely to texts written before the 10th century BCE that they must originate from the same contexts.
The methods for establishing these early origins are disputed. It has been claimed that some psalms are responses to particular historical events. Sometimes psalms are understood to be referring to events in the past e. Others are thought to be responding to contemporary events.
A of psalms have therefore been dated to particular battles before the fall of the royal dynasties of Israel and, later, Judah. However, there is rarely agreement as to which particular event should be ased to any supposed monarchic psalm. Among psalms said to be written by exiles in Babylon in the mid-6th century BCE, Ps is particularly noteworthy as it describes the experiences of exiles.
Even this psalm, however, is now held by some scholars to be a later portrayal of the Babylonian exilerather than something written by the exiles themselves. There have been huge changes in the interpretation of the Psalms since the s. Although some opinions on aspects of the Psalms held during the early to midth century are still held today while some have been rejectedmany of the questions scholars ask about the psalms have changed considerably. From the early to midth century CE, Psalms scholars were heavily concerned with establishing the contexts in which individual psalms or groups of psalms were originally composed see Date and authorship.
Others argued that enemies generally referred to enemies of the nation. Nonetheless, other questions have risen to prominence, in the light of other developments in the field of psalms scholarship. Some scholars now argue that it is simply impossible to reconstruct an original ritual setting for psalms.
Moreover, there is now a greater interest in analysing the psalms as literary works, without necessarily paying the same level of attention to their dating, or historical or ritual contexts. It had long been debated how far the Psalms are poetry and how to recognise Hebrew poetry.
More philosophical questions have now been asked about poetry in the Psalms—e. Or, how is poetry distinguished from prose? Some of the many topics they consider include:. The Psalms have a rich and varied reception. They are heavily quoted as messianic prophecy in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews. They have played a major part throughout the ages in the liturgies of most Jewish and Christian traditions. The Psalms have had a major influence on music from ancient times to the present day, probably to a greater extent than any other biblical book.
Anderson, A. The Book of Psalms.
London: Oliphants, Brueggemann, Walter. The Psalms and the Life of Faith. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, Day, John. Old Testament Guides.
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