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Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Structure of the Scroll Hebrew Poetics Psalm Titles / Superscriptions. Title. “psalm” from Greek “psalmos” translating Hebrew “mizmor” = song with chordophone accompaniment “Book of Psalms” from Hebrew “Sefer Tehillim” (“book of praises)

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Introduction to the Book of Psalms


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    1. Introduction to the Book of Psalms Structure of the Scroll Hebrew Poetics Psalm Titles / Superscriptions

    2. Title • “psalm” from Greek “psalmos” translating Hebrew “mizmor” = song with chordophone accompaniment • “Book of Psalms” from Hebrew “Sefer Tehillim” (“book of praises) • Tanak = Torah / Nebi’im / Ketubim (cf. Luke 24:44-45)

    3. Canonical Form of the Psalms: Five “Books” • Book 1: Pss 1:1 – 41:13 • Book 2: Pss 42:1-72:18-19 / 20 • Book 3: Pss 73:1- 89:52 • Book 4: Pss 90:1 – 106:48 • Book 5: Pss 107:1- 150:1-6

    4. Five “Books” • “150” psalms = possible arrangement dating from the time of Ezra (c. 428 BCE) corresponds to a three-year cycle for reading the Torah • Doxologies (Pss 41:13; 72:18-19; 89:52; 106:48; 150:1-6)

    5. Use of the Divine Names • Book I (Pss 1-41): YHWH 272x; Elohim 15x • Book II (Pss 42-72): YHWH 30x; Elohim 164x • Book III (Pss 73-89): YHWH 44x; Elohim 43x • Book IV (Pss 90-106): YHWH 103x; Elohim 0x • Book V (Pss 107-150): YHWH 236x; Elohim 7x

    6. Earlier collections • “Of David” (73 in Hebrew; 82 in LXX) • “Of Korah (12) • “Of Asaph” (12) • Davidic collection dominates first two/three books (Ps 2 / Ps 72:20 / Ps 89) • Levitical collections added to the Davidic collection • Book IV, almost completely “orphan psalms”, is an appendix to the first three • Book V = Temple collection of Hallel psalms

    7. Elements of Hebrew Poetics

    8. Parallelism • Balance of form and thought between successive members in a poem (“thought rhyme”) • Line of poetry = “stich” / “colon” • Two related lines of poetry = “distich” / “bicola” / “couplet” • Three related lines of poetry = “tristich” / “tricola” / “triplet”

    9. Forms of Parallelism • Synonymous • Antithetical • Formal / Synthetic • Climactic • Internal / External • Complete / Incomplete

    10. Synonymous Parallelism • In synonymous parallelism, the same thought is expressed in successive stichs • In these stichs, the second [and third] stich simply repeats the sense of the first in slightly different terms • Sometimes the later stich(s) give(s) more precise expression to the sense of the first • E.g., Psalm 1:1

    11. 1a: Blessedness-of the-man who • 1b: Not he-walks in-counsel-of wicked-ones • 1c: Or-in-way-of sinners not he-stands • 1d: Or-in-seat-of ones-mocking not he-sits • N.B. Both formal and thought correspondence in 1c and 1d • N.B. Thought correspondence of 1b, 1c, and 1d • N.B. 1b is related chiastically to 1c and 1d

    12. Antithetical Parallelism • In antithetical parallelism, the thought expressed in the later stich(s) is in contrast to that in the first • This type of parallelism is especially characteristic of Wisdom literature (and of Jesus’ sayings) • E.g., Psalm 1:5

    13. 6a: For watching-over YHWH way-of righteous-ones • 6b: But-way-of wicked-ones she-will-perish • N.B. Formal relation of 6a and 6b is chiastic • N.B. Thought rhyme contrasts way of the righteous and the way of the wicked

    14. Formal / Synthetic Parallelism • Formal / Synthetic parallelism contains neither repetition in different terms nor contrasted assertions • The thought of the first stich is carried further and completed in the later stich(s) • Formal balance of clause with clause, but no correspondence in content as in synonymous and antithetical parallelism • E.g., Psalm 1:3

    15. 3a: And-he-is like-tree being-planted by streams-of waters • 3b: Which fruit-of-him he-yields in-season-of-him • 3c: And-leaf-of-him not he-withers • 3d: And-all that he-does he-prospers • N.B. Progress of thought in 3a – 3b • N.B. Progress of thought in 3b – 3c • N.B. 3d as conclusion of 3a – 3c

    16. Climactic Parallelism • In climactic parallelism the characteristics of synonymous and formal parallelism are combined • The later stich(s) echo(es) or repeat(s) part of the first and adds to it an element which carries forward or completes the sense • E.g, Psalm 1:2

    17. 2a: But rather in-law-of YHWH delight-of-him • 2b: And-on-law-of-him he-meditates by-day and-night • N.B. law-of-YHWH is shared element; 2b extends the thought of 2a

    18. Internal / External Parallelism • Internal parallelism = balance of form and thought is between the individual stichs within a bistich or a tristich • External parallelism = balance not only within but between di- or tristichs • E.g., Psalm 1:1-3

    19. Complete / Incomplete Parallelism • Complete parallelism occurs when each term in the first stich is matched by a corresponding term in the later stich(s) • In incomplete parallelism one or more terms in the first stich may have no counterpart in the later stich(s) • E.g., Psalm 1:1b re:1:1c or 1:1d // Psalm 1:1c re: 1:1d

    20. Meter • Problematic: meter is determined by accented syllables and the number of unaccented syllables is of no significance (“sprung rhythm”) • 3 + 3 is most common for proverbs • 2 + 2 is used for intense emotion and urgency • 3 + 2 is the “qinah” (limping) meter used for laments

    21. Strophic Arrangement • Recurring refrains • E.g., Psalm 42-43 / Psalm 67

    22. Poetic Techniques • Acrostic (e.g., Psalms 9-10 / 34:1-21 / 119) • Alliteration (juxtaposition of words or syllables that begin with the same letter) • Assonance (recurrence of the same vowel sounds) • Onomatopoeia (use of words that sound like what they describe) • Paranomasia (plays on words like puns) e.g, Isaiah 5:7b

    23. Psalm Titles / Superscriptions • Literary forms • Musical indications • Ascriptions of patronage • “Historical” contexts

    24. Literary Forms • Shir / Shir ham-ma`aloth= title of 30 Pss • Mizmor = title of 57 Pss • Maskil = title of 13 Pss • Miktam = title of 6 Pss • Tehillah/Tehillim = title of Ps 145 / title of scroll • Tephillah = title of 5 Pss • Shiggaion = title of 1 Ps

    25. Musical Indications • alamoth (Ps 5) = ? • sheminith (Pss 6, 12) = ? • neginoth (Pss 4, 6, 54-55, 61, 67, 76) = “for strings” • al mahalath + le`annoth (Ps 88) = “for melancholy flute” ? • higgayon = “instrumental interlude” (Pss 9:16; 19:14; 92:3)

    26. `al-yonath `elem rehoqim (Ps 56) = “To the Dove on Far-Off Terebinths” • `al-`ayyeleth hash-shahar (Ps 22) = “To the Deer of the Dawn” • `al-shoshannim (Pss 45, 69) = “To the Lilies” • al-shushan eduth (Pss 60, 80) = “To the Lily of the Covenant” • `al-tassheth (Pss 57-59, 75) = “Do not destroy” • `al-hag-gittith (Pss 8, 81, 84) = “To the Gittith”

    27. Ascriptions of Patronage • David = in 73 “titles” • lam-menasseah (choir director) = in 55 “titles” • [sons of] Korah = in 12 “titles” • Asaph = in 12 “titles” • Solomon = in 2 “titles” • Moses, Jeduthun, Heman the Ezrahite, Ethan the Ezrahite = in 1 “title” each

    28. “Historical” Contexts • Pss 3, 7, 18, 34, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63, 142

    29. Selah (cf Ps 3) • Pause • Repeat • Instrumental interlude • Look (or lift) up • Bow down / prostrate • Turn (in circle)