The Book of Psalms

The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 religious songs and chants. The Masoretic Texts, the Hebrew version of the Jewish Bible, refer to the book as Tehillim — a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “Praises.” The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, referred to the book as Psalmoi — a transliteration of the Greek word, meaning to sing to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. It is from the Septuagint title that the English translation gets its name of The Book of Psalms. This book was the hymnal of the Jewish people.

Five Books within One

The psalms are arranged in Five Books: Psalms 1-41; Psalms 42-72; Psalms 73-89; Psalms 90-106; Psalms 107-150. These divisions are indicated in both the Masoretic and Septuagint texts. Each of the books concludes with a doxology of praise to God (41:13; 72:19-20; 89:52; 106:48; 150:1-6). Within the Five Books of the psalms there are sub-groups, including the Psalms of the Sons of Korah, 42-49; the Psalms of Asaph, 73-83; the Michtam Psalms, 56-60; and the Songs of Degrees, or Pilgrimage Psalms, 120-134.

With regard to the divisions, one thought is that these divisions are in honor of the Pentateuch—the Five Books of Moses—though the content of the Books themselves actually does not parallel the content of the Pentateuch.

Another, more likely thought regarding the divisions is that they or the result of the collection process. Most of the psalms probably began as individual songs, except for those that many have been written together for a common purpose. As the psalms became better known, they were gathered into collections of “song books” that were circulated together. The smaller collections were probably combined over time into the larger Five Books, and these were eventually combined into one Book and organized under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Hebrew Poetry

Unlike much Western poetry, Hebrew poetry is not based on rhyme or meter, but on rhythm and parallelism. The rhythm is not achieved by balanced numbers of accented and unaccented syllables, but by tonal stress or accent on important words.

In parallelism, the poet states an idea in the first line and then reinforces it by various means in the succeeding line or lines. The most common type is synonymous parallelism, in which the second line essentially repeats the idea of the first.

The Long, the Short and the Middle

Here are some interesting statistics associated with The Book of Psalms from the perspective of the Protestant Bible. The longest psalm in the Bible is also the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, with 176 verses (Septuagint Psalm 118). The shortest psalm in the Bible is also the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117, with 2 verses (Septuagint Psalm 116). And this psalm also happens to be the middle chapter of the Bible, with 594 chapters coming before and 594 chapters coming after, for a total of 1189 chapters.


The above posting is an excerpt from 'Ruminating on the Psalms, Volume 1' by James M. Thomas, available in paperback and ebook (Kindle, etc.) at lulu.com and amazon.com .


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