with Lee Campbell

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Week 1: Overview, Authorship, Canonicity, Genre


The Hebrew Bible consists three parts: the Pentateuch,[1]  the Prophets[2]  and the Writings. [3]  This last part consists of five books known as the Poetic Books. Psalms is one of those poetic books. The collection of 150 psalms spans 1,000 years[4]  and is cited directly 116 times in the NT.

This kind of poetry is not limited to the book of Psalms, however. Psalms are recorded during the times of the exodus (Ex.15:1-18, 21), judges (Jg.5:2-31), through the times of the kings & prophets (2Sam.1:19-27; 3:33-34; 22:2-51; 23:1-7; 1Chr.29:10-13; Isa. 5:1-7, 23:16; 26:1-6; 27:2-5; Ez.19; Hos.6:1-3 & Hab.3) and at least to the time of the exile (Ps.137).

Efforts to collect this poetry may also have begun early (e.g. the book of Jashar is mentioned in Josh.10:13 & 2Sam.1:17-27).

The material from the Qumran caves suggests that our collection of psalms may only consist of a portion of the Psalms actually written.[5] 

The title used in the Hebrew Bible[6]  is Tehillim, meaning, "Praise Songs." 

Our title Psalms is taken from the Greek translation of a Hebrew word mizmor, meaning a song sung to instrumental accompaniment. 

The LXX[7]  translation of mizmor is the Greek word psalmoi meaning, "songs to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument," (i.e. the Greek word, psallein means, "to pluck a stringed instrument."). 

Some authors will refer to the book as the Psalter because the Alexandrinus Greek manuscript of the OT called the book the Psalterion (i.e. a stringed instrument). 

Nearly all Psalms involve an honest communication with and response to God.[8] 

We should be as responsive to Him. Some of us are brutally honest with our doubts but unresponsive, even disloyal, to the truth. We don't tether our doubts onto God's ways.

We should be as honest with Him. Some of us are too quick to stick truth into the holes that arise in our faith. It makes us too uncomfortable.[9]  Interestingly, the psalmists are as unguarded with their praise as they are with their doubts. I wonder if stifling one causes us to stifle the other? Perhaps we should be willing to appear undignified in order to be honest with God.[10]  

This honesty & responsiveness often produces a fruitful clash between God and man.

It's clear that God intends great spiritual growth to accompany and follow trials (Ja.1:2-5, 12; Heb.12:4-13; 2Cor.4:7-18). This spiritual growth includes increased confidence in and dependence on God's provision and increased commitment to God's goals. 

I hope you will use this five weeks to increasingly express uninhibited praise, gratitude, anger, anxiety, sadness, longing, confidence and joy to God. I think as you're open with Him you'll find he has a lot more elbow room to transform you into His own image. 


Psalms is divided into five books in the MT[11]  

The first three books were probably compiled earlier than the last two books.[12]   

There are duplicate Psalms (53 & 14; 70 & 40:13-17; 108 & 57:7-11/60:5-12). 

By the time of the LXX the following Psalms were used at designated times: Sunday - Ps.24 (according to LXX); Monday - Ps.48 (according to LXX); Tuesday - Ps. 82; Wednesday - Ps.94 (according to LXX); Thursday - Ps.81; Friday - Ps.93 (according to LXX) and Sabbath Day - Ps.92 (according to the Masoretic text). 

Different MSS[13]  show different arrangements & combinations of Psalms. 


Book I Pss.1-41

Book II Pss. 42-72

Book III Pss. 73-89

Book IV Pss. 90-106

Book V Pss. 107-150

Each division ends with a doxology, suggesting to many that the initial collections were deliberately assembled into the books.[19] 



The Psalm text itself doesn't typically indicate authorship.[20]   

34 Psalms have no authorship indicators in the MT but the LXX has titled all but the 1st two Psalms. 

2/3 of the Psalms have been ascribed to David 

If authorship is indicated it is contained in an associated title. 

Superscripts/Postscripts are very ancient.[21]  

Concerning the term lamed

Some historical superscripts seem unsubstantiated by the content of the psalm that follows (e.g. 34). It's not clear whether this is because titles were speculative additions to the psalm, whether the psalms are generalized principles relevant to the historical antecedent or whether, as some argue, the superscripts are really subscripts for the previous psalm. 

For some time scholars tended to believe that many or most psalms were post-exilic for theoretical reasons.[22]  Recent analysis makes it pretty clear that the language and phraseology of the Psalms is much more ancient than found during the Maccabean period, however. [23]  Except for 137 most of the Psalms are thought to be pre-exilic. 

Davidic Psalms

Some have denied that that David wrote many of the Psalms ascribed to him but: 

Overall, there's really no compelling reason to deny that David authored the Psalms ascribed to him when all the evidence is that he was quite capable as a poet, musician, singer and founder of temple musicology.[24] 


Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Book 5

David [73] 3-9 (10), 11-32, 34-41 51-65, 68-70 86 101, 103 108-10, 122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145
Asaph [12]   50 73-83    
Sons of Korah [12]   42, 44-49 84-85, 87-88    
Solomon [2]   72     127
Moses [1]       90  
Heman the Ezrahite [1]     88    
Ethan the Ezrahite [1]     89    

Summary Table[25] 


The collection of Psalms we possess is ancient but hard to date. They were likely compiled at different times in Israel's history: 

Hebrew Poetry

Ugaritic texts (Ras Shamra) are helpful in the elucidation of Hebrew words, phrases and concepts but no comparable collection of songs has been found in this literature. Hymns have been found in Egyptian, Sumero-Akkadian and Hittite literature.

What is common to Semitic poetry is the use of imagery and parallelism rather than meter and rhyme as is more typical of English poetry.

Why use poetry at all? It's less precise. It's often less informative. It's hard to read. All this is true but what's also true is that poetry slips past our guard (e.g. compare Exodus 14:26-31 with Exodus 15:1-5). As Longmann says, "...poetry appeals more directly to the whole person than prose does. It stimulates our imaginations, arouses our emotions, feeds our intellects and addresses our wills...more than this, poetry is pleasurable." 

Imagery involves the use of simile, metaphor, mythological references or other literary devises that provide us with mental images. These images support the point the author is trying to make. The 1st Psalm is full of such images (e.g. sitting in the seat of mockers v.1; like a tree planted by the waters v. 3; like the chaff v.4). Psalm 23 is an extended metaphor that is as comforting to us as it would be to the sheep the psalmist is alluding to. 

"We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow these grounds..." - Abraham Lincoln

Parallelism runs over us like as series of waves driving the message home. There are different kinds of parallelism:

semantic parallelism

The thesis & antithesis are making the same point.  

The use of imagery in conjunction with parallelism. 

A clause is shared between two lines. 

The entire 2nd Psalm is a chiastic form (1-3 & 10-12)

chiastic.gif (1569 bytes)

grammatical parallelism

This involves the repetition of the parts of speech from one line to the next, although not necessarily in the same order (e.g. Ps.2:5; He rebukes them in his anger {verb-direct object-prepositional phrase} and in his wrath he terrifies them {prepositional phrase-verb-direct object}. This serves to tie one line with another. 

Much of this material is obscure to us and so many of these definitions are tentative ones.[26]   

  • mizmor - musical accompaniment 
  • shir - vocal music 
  • maskil - contemplative or instruction 
  • mikhtam - a song of covering or atonement 
  • tepillah - prayer 
  • tehillah - song of praise 
  • siggayon - an irregular or wandering song 
  • lam-menasseah - to the choir leader 
  • neginot - with stringed instruments 
  • nehillot - with wind instruments 
  • seminit - with an 8-stringed lute or an octave lower than soprano 
  • alamot - soprano or high pitched 
  • mahalat - song of lament 
  • al mut lab-ben - Death of a son 
  • al 'ayyelet has-sahar - According to the hind of the morning 
  • Susan or al sosnnim - to the lilies 
  • al tashet - Do not destroy 
  • al Yonat elem rehoquim - According to a dove of silence those who are afar off


We don't have the time to study each Psalm[28]  in this course. Given this, a useful approach to the Psalms might be to study types of Psalms and to take a close look at examples of each type. Now this approach looks good on paper but the types or genres of psalms are not self-evident. If you read 5 scholars you'll get 7 opinions about how to classify them. Some classify according to how the psalm was used,[29]  others classify according to the content of the psalm [30]  and still others classify psalms according to both schemes. Each system seems like the proponent is trying to get a horse into a suitcase - a few things are left sticking out.

The format I suggest isn't going to be any better. Some psalms will seem to fit into more than one category. Other psalms will not seem to fit well into any category but here goes: 

These psalms do not have a set form, except for the fact that they all recommend how the reader can live life skillfully before God. 

Homework Assignment 

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[1]  a.k.a. Torah Return to Text

[2]  It is further divided into the Former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel & Kings) & Latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the dodecapropheton {i.e. the 12-prophet book}). Return to Text

[3]  The Hebrew Bible calls the third section the Kethubim (lit. writings) which was translated into the Greek work Hagiographa in the LXX. It is this word used in Luke 24:44. The kethubim consist of Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs and Daniel. There are other versions of the Hebrew Bible, however. The Medieval Masoretes grouped Job, Proverbs and Psalms together into the "Book of Truth." Taking the first Hebrew letter for the title of each book spells the Hebrew word 'emeth (i.e. truth). The Masoretes also collected Ecclesiates, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations & Esther into another group of writings called the "Five Megilloth" (lit. five scrolls) for liturgical purposes. Return to Text

[4]  Beginning with Moses (Ps.90) and ending no later than the time of Ezra/Nehemiah (Ps.) Return to Text

[5]  11QPsa indicates that David's composed 4,050 Psalms. There was a separate discovery of over 200 Psalms attributed to David in the ninth-century AD near Jericho. These Psalms are not cited in the OT/NT canon but are not incompatible with the doctrines taught therein. Return to Text

[6]  The Masoretic text (i.e. abbrevieated MT) is a Hebrew preparation of the OT prepared by the Masoretes from extant Hebrew scriptures available to them beginning in 500 AD. This text is often compared with the LXX, the Dead Sea scrolls and other copies of the OT by Bible scholars. Return to Text

[7]  LXX is short-hand for a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint (i.e. meaning 70; the origin of this title is unclear) Return to Text

[8]  Psalm 2 is an exception to this rule. It is God's revelation of Himself. Return to Text

[9]  See Doubt by Os Guiness; read the critical interaction with Ps.91 in the document by Plantinga entitled '91' in your Chapters folder, in the Psalms folder... Return to Text

[10]  Consider Michal's response to David's enthusiasm for the ark of the Lord, 2Samuel 6:16, 20-23. Return to Text

[11]  Masoretic Text Return to Text

[12]  One scroll from the Qumran community, (i.e. 11QPsa, is a large compilation of Psalms that begins at Psalm 101, containing no earlier psalm other than Psalm 93) , some are not found in the MT and many are, especially from books 4 & 5; In 11QPsa and MT books 1-3 almost entirely agree with one another; The LXX indicates that Pss.91; 93-99 & 143-48 and are David's whereas the MT does not. What's intriguing here is that each set of chapters is in the last two books of the Psalms suggesting that books 1-3 were very early stabilized, and that MSS of books 4 and 5 continued to exhibit fluctuation until some later period. Return to Text

[13]  an abbreviation for 'manuscripts' Return to Text

[14]  For example the LXX has 150 psalms but two pairs in the MT are combined in LXX (9/10 and 114/115), and two in MT are split in two by the LXX (116 and 147). Additionally, Psalm 9/10 and 42/43 are thought to be one Psalm. Return to Text

[15]  There is not much difference between MT & LXX except for Ps. 91-99 in book 4. In 5 cases LXX indicates a Psalm of David where MT makes no attribution. In two of these cases the LXX attribution is backed up by the Qumran MSS. In two cases the MT indicates a psalm of David when the LXX does not (122 & 124). In those cases where LXX contains superscript material not found in MT, the superscript appears to be a Greek translation of Hebrew and thus must be getting it's attribution from earlier Hebrew source material. These attributions are not regarded as inspired by Bible scholars. For instance, Ps.99 does seem to be from David but Ps.43 & 137 do not, according to many scholars. Return to Text

[16]  Anderson believes the MT and Qumran collections of Psalms are parallel developments and that neither is authoritative over the other. "... a hypothesis of parallel development is more likely to be correct. There is in the first place evidence that the Masoretic psalter even in books 4 and 5 was extant at least contemporaneously with the community at Qumran. This evidence comes in the form of both Josephus and the LXX....Secondly, although the date of the LXX psalter may be obscure, it must at least have been completed well before the first century AD when it was known throughout Judea and the Diaspora (as evidenced by the NT{ Note that the NT speaks of the psalms as a "book" (singular) in Luke 20:42 and Acts 1:20. This seems to imply a finished canonical product.})." from R. Dean Anderson, Jr. Return to Text

[17]  Probably the group appointed over the service of worship by David. They were survivors of God's judgment (see Nu.16 & 26:11). According to Anderson, "They were gatekeepers from Moses to David (1 Chr 9:19; 26:1-19). This seems to fit Ps 84:11. They had become renowned in helping David (1 Chr 12:6), and were appointed over the service of worship (1 Chr 6:31-32; 25). 2 Chr 20:19, in the time of Jehoshaphat, seems to be the last time they are heard of. However, Psalm 87, with the mention of Babylon (and possibly Psalm 85?), appears to be at least exilic. N. H. Ridderbos assumes that the sons of Korah did return after the exile since "the sons of the gatekeepers" are mentioned as such (Ezek 2:42 et al.).57 This seems likely. Note that Heman the singer in the time of David stemmed from Korah (through Abiasaph, 1 Chronicles 6). So it seems some of the sons of Korah were gatekeepers, and some (through Heman?) were singers (ergo 2 Chr 20:19). Asaph the singer stemmed from Gershon (through Libni). The sons of Heman and Asaph together are identified as singers (1 Chr 6:33-48; 2 Chr 5:12). The sons of Asaph are sometimes identified as the singers (Ezra 2:41; 3:10-11; Neh 7:44; 11:17,22; and perhaps 12:46). But this designation does not necessarily seem to exclude the Korahite line of Heman (2 Chr 35:15). Given that the sons of Korah are never referred to by name in Ezra/Nehemia, but only as "the gatekeepers," it may not be out of place to understand singers from their line being subsumed under "the sons of Asaph."" Return to Text

[18]  Anderson suggests that this is, "...a chief among the singers appointed under David (1 Chr 15:16ff.; 16:4-7,37; 25:1ff.) (cf. 1 Chr 25:1-2). He appears to have been an important author of psalms (cf. 2 Chr 29:30)." Return to Text

[19]  from doxa - glory and logia - word, meaning words of praise to God; Ps 41:14; 72:18-19; 89:53; 106:48; Ps.150 or Ps. 146-150; Psalm 150 is sometimes called the Great Hallelujah. Return to Text

[20]  Psalm 72:20 could either be an exception to the rule or an editorial edition since it was the last song in a unit. Return to Text

[21]  According to Anderson these are not only found, "... in MT, Qumran, LXX, and Targums, but it ought also to be noted that even by the time of the LXX translation (second or third century BC?) the technical terms contained there were so antiquated and obscure that the translators had a fair degree of trouble interpreting them. This is true also for the Targums. Furthermore, we find similar super/postscripts in other parts of Scripture (cf. Hab 3:1, 19b; Isa 38:9). There thus seems to be no reason not to take the super/postscripts seriously." Return to Text

[22]  Religious evolutionary theory of the early part of this century suggested that these ideas and poetical forms were too advanced for the period from the patriarchs through the kings. No serious evidence has effectively supported religious evolutionary theory, however. Additionally, substantial empirical evidence supports the ancient dating of the Psalms (e.g. psalmistry was extant in the Canaanite culture that is quite similar to Hebrew psalmistry; the language of the Psalms is ancient, etc.). Return to Text

[23]  Buttenwieser, Moses (1938) The Psalms, Chronologically Treated with a New Translation & Dahood, Mitchell (1970) Psalms The Anchor Bible Return to Text

[24]  There is one line of argumentation worth mentioning. Some suggest that the term lamedh (i.e. meaning 'of', 'to' or 'for') could mean a psalm is written by an author, for an author or a psalm the author wishes to have included in a book (e.g. Since book 1 is clearly a collection of Davidic psalms, the author might wish for his work to be included in that book when he titles it 'for David'). However, ambiguity doesn't argue for any point of view and in light of other evidence in support of Davidic authorship the burden of proof seems to lie with those who would deny David wrote the psalms attributed to him. Return to Text

[25]  from Bullock Return to Text

[26]  This is taken from Archer Return to Text

[27]  I am indebted to Dennis Bratcher for these genre's and sub-categories of Psalms. See, The Christian Resource Institute website at Copyright 1999 Christian Resource Institute. My use of Bratcher's genres should not be construed as an endorsement of the views expressed on his website, which I do not endorse. Return to Text

[28]  In the four weeks remaining after this introductory lecture we would have to cover a Psalm every three minutes. Return to Text

[29]  For example, Psalms 120-134 the Psalms of ascent were pilgrim songs sung by people as they made their way to Jerusalem for religious festivals & service. Some Psalms were used for community worship and so on. Return to Text

[30]  This will be our approach but I will note the functional uses of particular psalms as we go along. Return to Text

[31]  Please submit all written work in a type-written format (i.e. a computer print out) Return to Text

[32]  You can do this through footnoting or by referencing line numbers in a narrative style. Return to Text