What is the Book of Psalms?
• McCann states, “the book of Psalms
presents nothing short of God’s claim
upon the whole world and … articulates
God’s will for justice, righteousness, and
peace among all peoples and all
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Brueggemann states, “the book of
Psalms provides the most reliable
theological, pastoral, and liturgical
resource given us in the biblical
tradition. …The Psalms are helpful
because they are a genuinely dialogical
literature that expresses both sides of
the conversation of faith.”
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Gerhard von Rad echoed the dialogical
nature of the Book of Psalms. He called
the psalms “Israel’s Answer” to the acts
of God, rehearsing those acts,
responding both positively and
negatively to Yahweh, and interacting
with Him in praise.
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Claus Westermann begins one of his
books on the psalms, “the psalms are
poems or lyrics which have survived for
centuries, through changes of
civilization, religions and languages, to
speak still a living word to us today. The
reason for this continued vitality of the
psalms is that their words are directed
to God, they are prayers and appeals to
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Westermann: Under the influence of my
wartime experiences, I realized that the
people who had written and prayed the
psalms understood prayer differently than
we do. Prayer was closer to life, closer to
the reality in which they lived, than is true
with us. For us, prayer is something a
person does or is admonished to do—a
human act. But in the Psalter, crying to God
grows out of life itself; it is a reaction to the
experiences of life, a cry from the heart.
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Hermann Gunkel developed the formcritical norms of psalm study in use
today. The psalms of the Old Testament
arose “in the real life of persons and
have their setting therein. …The genres
of an ancient writing must be
differentiated by the various events of
life from which they developed.”
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Brevard Childs points out, the crucial
conclusion of Gunkel’s work was the
demonstration that “the historical
settings of the psalms were not to be
sought in particular historical events,
but in the cultic life of the community.”
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Nahum Sarna: In the Psalms, the human
soul extends itself beyond its confining,
sheltering, impermanent house of clay. It
strives for contact with the Ultimate
Source of all life. It gropes for an
experience of the divine Presence. The
biblical psalms are essentially a record
of the human quest for God.
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Bonhoeffer: Whoever has begun to pray
the Psalter earnestly and regularly, will
soon give leave to those other, easy little
prayers of their own because they lack
the power, passion, and fire, to be found
in the Psalter.
What is the Book of Psalms?
• DeClaisse-Walford: We encounter
something different in the Psalter. Its
pages record, for the most part, not the
words of God to humanity, but the words
of humanity to God. In it, we encounter
striking second-person language,
language found only rarely in the rest of
the Bible. The words are meant to be
spoken by people in the presence of and
directly to God (3).
What is the Book of Psalms?
• Prayer book of the second
Poetry, Translation
• Synonymous Parallelism
• The two lines of the poetic pair (bi-cola)
are basically synonymous.
PS 24:1 The earth is the LORD's, and
everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
PS 27:1 The LORD is my light and my
salvation--whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid?
Poetry, Translation
• Antithetical Parallelism
• The second line expresses the
opposite of the first, thus stating its
PS 1:6 For the LORD watches over the
way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Poetry, Translation
• Chiasm
--PS 107:32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the
and praise him in the council of the elders (NIV).
--lit., “Let them exalt him in the assembly of the
and in the council of the elders praise him.”
--PS 109:30 With my mouth I will greatly extol the
LORD;in the great throng I will praise him.
--lit., “I will give thanks to the LORD greatly with my
mouth,in the midst of the multitude I will praise
‫‪Poetry, Translation‬‬
‫הֲש֣ ְמָך֣‬
‫מ֣לְךֲואבָ רכֲָ֣ ֲִ‬
‫אֲרו ִֹמ ְמָך֣ אֱלוֹהֲ֣יֲה ֲ‬
‫בְֲכָ ל־י֣וֹםֲאבָ רכֲ֣ךֲָואהלְ ֲָל֣הֲ ‪ 2‬לְ ע ֹו ֲָל֣םֲו ֶָֽעד׃‬
‫ש֣ ְמָך֣ לְ ע ֹו ֲָל֣םֲו ֶָֽעד׃‬
‫‪ֲִ 3‬‬
‫א֣דֲוְֲ֣לִ גְ דֻ לָת֣וֲֹאֲ֣יןֲ‬
‫לֲמ ֲֹ‬
‫הֲּומהֻ ֲָל֣ ְ‬
‫ֲָג֣ד֣וֹלֲיְהֲָו֣ ְ‬
‫‪ֶֽ 4‬חקר׃‬
‫ֹת֣יָךֲי ִֶֽגידּו׃‬
‫‪ּ 5‬ד֣וֹרֲלְֲ֣דוֹרֲיְשבֲ֣חֲמעשֲ֣יָךֲּוגְ בּ֣ור ֲ‬
‫ֹת֣יָךֲאָ ִֶֽשיחָ ה׃‬
‫‪ 6‬הֲ֣דרֲכְ ב֣וֹדֲהוֹדֲָ֣ךֲוְ ִדבְ רֲ֣יֲנ ְִפלְ או ֲ‬
Historical Development of the
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Pre-monarchic Psalms?
Ps 291Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings1 ,
1 Hebrew
sons of God, or sons of might
voice of the Lord is over 
the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon to 
skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of 
10The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Pre-monarchic Psalms?
Ps 821
has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of 
the gods he holds judgment:
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Davidic Psalms?
• Ps 236Surely
goodness and mercyshall follow
me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwellin the house of the Lord forever.
• Sam 713 He shall build a house for my name,
and will establish the throne of his kingdom
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Pre-exilic Psalms?
Ps 721 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with
righteousness, and your poor with justice!
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Pre-exilic Psalms?
Ps 243 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Pre-exilic Psalms?
• Ps 7860 He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent
where he dwelt among mankind,
• Jeremiah 712-14 Go now to my place that was in
where I made my name dwell at first, and
see what I did to it because of the evil of my people
Israel. And now, because you have done all these
things, declares the Lord, and 
when I spoke to you
persistently you did not listen, and when I called
you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to 
house that is called by my name, and in which you
trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your
fathers, as I did to Shiloh.
Historical Development of the Psalms
• Post-exilic Psalms?
• Ps 1371-3, 8-9 By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept, when we remembered
Zion. On the willowsthere we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” . . .
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
Psalms and Hymns outside of Psalms
1 Chronicles 16:8-36
Exodus 15
Job 3
Jeremiah 18:19-23; 20:7-12
Habakkuk 3:1-19
Isaiah 38:10-20
Luke 1:46-55
Philippians 2:6-11
Colossians 1:15-20
Canonical Arrangement of Psalms
Masoretic Text Septuagint
11QPsa 1
101-103, 109,
118, 104, 147, 105,
114-115 146, 148
116-145 121-132, 119, 135-136,145
146-147 139, 137-138, 93, 141, 133
148-150 144, 142-143, 149-150,140
134, 151
• 5 Books
– Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, & 107-150.
– The doxology at the end of Psalm 72 states that
“the prayers of David are ended.”
• “Songs of Ascent” (lit. “Songs of Going Up”),
Psalms 120-134
• Others?
• “Of David” = ledavid (‫)לְ ָדוִ ד‬
– Seventy-three Psalms (85 in the LXX)
• “Of Solomon" (Ps. 72)
• “Of Moses" (Ps. 90)
• “Of Ethan" (Ps 89)
– Ethan is a sage in 1 Kings 4:31, but a temple
musician in 1 Chronicles 6 & 15.
• “Sons of Korah”--Psalms 42-49, 84-85, 87-88
– Musicians & gatekeepers in the temple in 1 Chron.
• “Of Asaph”—Psalms 50, 73-83
– Asaph was a temple musician under David in
Chronicles, and his descendants are listed as
singers after the exile (Ezra 2:41).
Historical Superscriptions
• A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.
– Psalm 3
• To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan
the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to
– Psalm 51
• To the choirmaster: according to 
Shushan Eduth.
Miktamof David; for instruction; when he strove with
Aram-naharaim and with Aram-zobah, and when Joab
on his return struck down twelve thousand of Edom in
the Valley of Salt.
– Psalm 60
• What might the superscriptions tell us?
– Bellinger: Compare “Psalm of David” to
“Authorized King James Version”
• Brueggemann: “Whose psalm is it?”
Musical Notations?
• shir (‫שיר‬
ִ )—Often with notation that it refers to
songs accompanied by musical instruments. It is
one of two basic words for “song.”
• mizmor (‫—) ִמ ְזמֹר‬Often translated “psalm,” but the
difference between these two terms has been lost.
• maskil ( ‫שכֲִ֣יל‬
ְ ֲ֣‫—)מ‬Often associated with
wisdom circles and referred to “didactic poetry.”
• selah (‫—)סלה‬This term occurs 71 times in the
Psalms (92 in the LXX).
• Other notations apparently refer to tunes, e.g. “The
Deer of the Dawn” (Ps. 22), “The Dove of the Far-off
Terebinths” (Ps. 56), and “Lilies” (Pss. 45, 69).
Literary Types
• Coded Speech
• Rhetorical Patterns
Literary Types
• Hymns
– Psalm 96 (also called an
“Enthronement song”)
• 96:1-3—Call to Worship the Lord
• 96:4-6—Act/attributes of the Lord for
which He deserves praise
• 96:7-13—Concluding call to praise
because He reigns as king
Literary Types
• Complaints/Laments
– Opening address, often with a vocative
– Description of the trouble
– Plea or petition for God’s response,
sometimes with reasons that He
should help
– Profession of trust or confidence
– Promise of vow to praise God or offer a
Literary Types
• Complaints/Laments
– Psalm 42-43
• Address to God or cry for help (42:12, 9; 43:1)
• Description of current distress (42:3,
5a, 6-7, 10-11a; 43:5a)
• Affirmation of Trust (42:4, 5b, 8, 11b,
• Vow to praise and assurance of
being heard (43:2-4)
Literary Types
• Thanksgiving Songs
– Expressions of praise/gratitude to God
– Description of the trouble or distress
from which the psalmist has been
– Testimony to others concerning God’s
saving deeds
– Exhortation to others to join in praising
God and acknowledging God’s ways
Literary Types
• Thanksgiving Songs
– Psalm 92
• 92:1-3--Introductory summary and resolve
to give thanks.
• 92:4-14—Reason for giving thanks
• 92:8—Chiastic(?) structure with v. 8 as a
statement of praise at the center of the
• 92:15—Summary of Thanksgiving
Literary Types
• Royal/Messianic Psalms
– King
– Messiah
– Psalm 110
Literary Types
• Other Types
– Wisdom Psalms
• Psalm 1
– Entrance Liturgy
• Psalm 24
– Psalms of Confidence
• Psalm 23
“The edge of emotional coping”
Technology “numbs us to the
edges” and “thins life.”
Brueggemann’s Rubric
• We stay in orientation as long as we
can—we put off admitting that it is not
• You must make the move to
Disorientation in order to “stay human.”
• Otherwise, we live in a “wonderland of
• New Orientation is always a surprising
gift of God.
Paul Riceour
• Limit experiences—Limit expressions
• “Once you say it, you must own it.”
• Once you own it, you can deal with it.
• Faith requires candid entry into our
• Suffering is God’s natural habitat.
• God is hope. (Jews are “hopers.”)
• Moves to disorientation are “profoundly
General Comments
• Psalms are “generative of new reality.”
• They are “performative speech”:
– Psalm 96 “makes” Yahweh king.
– Eucharistic language brings Christ present.
– Laments are “Performance of Absence”!
J. Goldingay, Psalms

Hebrew Sentences Coordinate Relationships