Sunday, February 8, 2009


In Hebrew these hymns are known as Tehilim or ‘praises’. Psalm is from the Greek, meaning songs accompanied by a harp. In both western Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, the Psalter consists of 150 Psalms. The Latin Vulgate Bible follows the Greek numbering. In the Greek bible Psalm 9 consists of both Hebrew psalms 9 & 10. Greek psalm 113 combines Hebrew 114 & 115 while Hebrew 116 is divided in the Greek to become 114 & 115. Hebrew psalm 147 becomes psalms 146 & 147 in the Greek.The Greek Bible also includes an additional psalm, known as 151 but generally unnumbered in the Greek (although codex Sinaiticus declares its Psalter the 151 psalms of David). It is a psalm attributed to David and is part of the Psalter of all the eastern churches. In the Latin Vulgate it is included in the Appendix and is found in the Apocrypha of the King James bible. Some Syriac Psalters have an additional 4 psalms two of which are attributed to David and the one to Hezekiah.

The Hebrew Psalter of 150 psalms is divided into five books: 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150. Of the 150 psalms 73 are attributed to David and when psalms 151-155 are counted, 76 psalms overall attributed to David.

A number of psalm scrolls were found at Qumran. None of them contained psalms 32, 70, 80 or 90. Psalm 32 may not have been known at all at Qumran. There is evidence that psalm 1 was known at Qumran but no copies of it have survived either. Furthermore none of the Qumran psalm scrolls follow the order of the 150/1, Greek or Hebrew. The Great Psalm Scroll has a very different arrangement of psalms 91 onwards. It also includes a number of unknown psalms, some attributed to David, plus Hebrew versions of psalms 151, 154 & 155. Greek psalm 151 had actually joined together two separate psalms, the Hebrew forms of which were found at Qumran. The two psalms have more material than is found in the Greek 151. The Great Psalms Scroll also contained two other Davidic psalms, a hymn to the Creator, an Apostrophe to Zion, a Plea for Deliverance and Sirach 51. It also added a short postscript to psalm 145 and a large Catena or addition to psalm 136. Other Psalm scrolls included three exorcism psalms associated with psalm 91 and from other scrolls an Eschatological Hymn and an Apostrophe to Judah. It’s interesting that Sirach 51 is included here. The NRSV bible labels this final chapter of Wisdom of ben Sirach as ‘Prayer of Jesus Son of Sirach’ while my Orthodox Study Bible explicitly terms it a ‘Psalm of Thanks’. So this is likely a psalm that has been taken up by both texts (the Hebrew version of Sirach has further psalmic material after chapter 51).

Many of these scrolls date from the 1st century and were contemporaneous with Jesus. A number of scholars have argued that these should be regarded as hymn books for worship and not Psalters per se while others, such as James Sanders, argue that Qumran evidence shows that the Psalter was much more fluid 2000 years ago and only stabilised in the canonical processes of the next two to three centuries in both Christian and Jewish communities. Tyler Williams argues instead that the Great Psalms Scroll ‘was an alternative Psalter that reflected the sectarian outlook of the Qumran community... if David actually composed over 4000 psalms by the spirit of prophecy, what right does anyone have to limit it to 150 psalms?’ Certainly the Qumran evidence generally shows an acceptance of diversity in versions of the scriptures. These are oldest texts of the Old Testament. The great codices of the Greek bible come several centuries later while those of the Hebrew bible of Rabbinic Judaism are a thousand years later. I’m inclined to think that the Psalter 2000 years ago was more fluid in that there were Hebrew and Greek Psalters of 150 – 151 psalms, possibly even one of 155 psalms plus others such as the Great Psalms scroll with very different orderings and including a wider range of psalms, perhaps even open-ended to allow for the composition of new material. Perhaps the composition of psalms was considered a prophetic activity. Following the destruction of the Temple and catastrophes of the Jewish Wars against Rome the canon of psalms was definitively closed leaving us with several final forms, the Hebrew 150, the Greek 150 + 1 or 151 and a Syriac 155. One further thought – in the Gospels when Jesus refers to the Psalms or to David can we be sure that he is referring to any canonical psalter or simply the broad body of work known as psalms.

I'd like to see Psalms 151-155 become a part of Christian bibles and a part of Christian worship. Maybe one day bibles will have three Psalters, one ordered according to the Hebrew reckoning, the other according to the Greek with Psalms 151-155 appended plus the Great Psalms Scroll itself with both its own ordering and the previously unknown psalms it contained plus the other unknown psalms found at Qumran. That way the Psalms can attest to the rich plurality and diversity of the biblical world.

You can read Psalm 151 here. I hope at a later stage to write another post on Psalm 151 and its Qumranic variants.

Because Psalms 152-155 are generally unknown I’ve decided to put them below. I’m using a 19th century English translation from of a manuscript in which these four psalms appear to be listed in a different order again following on from Psalm 151.

II. The Prayer of Hezekiah when enemies surrounded him - 154.

(1) With a loud voice glorify ye God; in the assembly of many proclaim ye His glory. (2) Amid the multitude of the upright glorify His praise; and speak of His glory with the righteous. (3) Join yourselves (literally, your soul) to the good and to the perfect, to glorify the Most High. (4) Gather yourselves together to make known His strength; and be not slow in showing forth His deliverance [and His strength] and His glory to all babes. (5) That the honour of the Lord may be known, wisdom hath been given; and to tell of His works it hath been made known to men: (6) to make known unto babes His strength, and to make them that lack understanding (literally, heart) to comprehend His glory; (7) who are far from His entrances and distant from His gates: (8) because the Lord of Jacob is exalted, and His glory is upon all His works. (9) And a man who glorifies the Most High, in him will He take pleasure; as in one who offers fine meal, and as in one who offers he-goats and calves; (10) and as in one who makes fat the altar with a multitude of burnt offerings; and as the smell of incense from the hands of the just. (11) From thy upright gates shall be heard His voice, and from the voice of the upright admonition. (12) And in their eating shall be satisfying in truth, and in their drinking, when they share together. (13) Their dwelling is in the law of the Most High, and their speech is to make known His strength. (14) How far from the wicked is speech of Him, and from all transgressors to know Him! (15) Lo, the eye of the Lord taketh pity on the good, and unto them that glorify Him will He multiply mercy, and from the time of evil will He deliver their soul. (16) Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered the wretched from the hand of the wicked; who raiseth up a horn out of Jacob and a judge of the nations out of Israel; (17) that He may prolong His dwelling in Zion, and may adorn our age in Jerusalem.

III. When the People obtained permission from Cyrus to return home - 155

(1) O Lord, I have cried unto Thee; hearken Thou unto me. (2) I have lifted up my hands to Thy holy dwelling-place; incline Thine ear unto me. (3) And grant me my request; my prayer withhold not from me. (4) Build up my soul, and destroy it not; and lay it not bare before the wicked. (5) Them that recompense evil things turn Thou away from me, O judge of truth. (6) O Lord, judge me not according to my sins, because no flesh is innocent before Thee. (7) Make plain to me, O Lord, Thy law, and teach me Thy judgments; (8) and many shall hear of Thy works, and the nations shall praise Thine honour. (9) Remember me and forget me not; and lead me not into things that be too hard for me. (10) The sins of my youth make Thou to pass from me, and my chastisement let them not remember against me. (11) Cleanse me, O Lord, from the evil leprosy, and let it no more come unto me. (12) Dry up its roots in (literally, from) me, and let not its leaves sprout within me. (13) Great art Thou, O Lord; therefore my request shall be fulfilled from before Thee. (14) To whom shall I complain that he may give unto me? and what can the strength of men add [unto me]? (15) From before Thee, O Lord, is my confidence; I cried unto the Lord and He heard me, and healed the breaking of my heart. (16) I slumbered and slept; I dreamed and was helped, and the Lord sustained me. (17) They sorely pained my heart; I will return thanks because the Lord delivered me. (18) Now will I rejoice in their shame; I have hoped in Thee, and I shall not be ashamed. (19) Give Thou honour for ever, even for ever and ever. (20) Deliver Israel Thine elect, and them of the house of Jacob Thy proved one.

IV. Spoken by David when he was contending with the lion and the wolf which took a sheep from his flock - 152

(1) O God, O God, come to my aid; help Thou me and save me; deliver Thou my soul from the slayer. (2) Shall I go down to Sheol by the mouth of the lion? or shall the wolf confound me? (3) Was it not enough for them that they lay in wait for my father's flock, and rent in pieces a sheep of my father's drove, but they were wishing also to destroy my soul? (4) Have pity, O Lord, and save Thy holy one from destruction; that he may rehearse Thy glories in all his times, and may praise Thy great name: (5) when Thou hast delivered him from the hands of the destroying lion and of the ravening wolf, and when Thou hast rescued my captivity from the hands of the wild beasts. (6) Quickly, O my Lord (Adonai), send from before Thee a deliverer, and draw me out of the gaping pit, which imprisons me in its depths.

V. Spoken by David when returning thanks to God, who had delivered him from the lion and the wolf and he had slain both of them -153

(1) Praise the Lord, all ye nations; glorify Him, and bless His name: (2) Who rescued the soul of His elect from the hands of death, and delivered His holy one from destruction: (3) and saved me from the nets of Sheol, and my soul from the pit that cannot be fathomed. (4) Because, ere my deliverance could go forth from before Him, I was well nigh rent in two pieces by two wild beasts. (5) But He sent His angel, and shut up from me the gaping mouths, and rescued my life from destruction. (6) My soul shall glorify Him and exalt Him, because of all His kindnesses which He hath done and will do unto me.

Of the previously unknown psalms found at Qumran, I’ve really only been able to find this one in English translation online over at The Qumran Library.

I hope to make other Qumran psalms available here when I can.

Plea for Deliverance (A Noncanonical Psalm)

(1) Surely a maggot cannot praise thee nor a grave worm recount thy loving-kindness. (2) But the living can praise thee, even those who stumble can laud thee. In revealing
(3) thy kindness to them and by thy righteousness thou dost enlighten them. For in thy hand is the soul of every
(4) living thing; the breath of all flesh hast thou given. Deal with us, O LORD,
(5) according to thy goodness, according to thy great mercy, and according to thy many righteous deeds. The LORD
(6) has heeded the voice of those who love his name and has not deprived them of his loving-kindness.
(7) Blessed be the LORD, who executes righteous deeds, crowning his saints
(8) with loving-kindness and mercy. My soul cries out to praise thy name, to sing high praises
(9 ) for thy loving deeds, to proclaim thy faithfulness--of praise of thee there is no end. Near death
(10) was I for my sins, and my iniquities have sold me to the grave; but thou didst save me,
(11) O LORD, according to thy great mercy, and according to thy many righteous deeds. Indeed have I
(12) loved thy name, and in thy protection have I found refuge. When I remember thy might my heart
(13) is brave, and upon thy mercies do I lean. Forgive my sin, O LORD,
(14) and purify me from my iniquity. Vouchsafe me a spirit of faith and knowledge, and let me not be dishonored
(15) in ruin. Let not Satan rule over me, nor an unclean spirit; neither let pain nor the evil
(16) inclination take possession of my bones. For thou, O LORD, art my praise, and in thee do I hope
(17) all the day. Let my brothers rejoice with me and the house of my father, who are astonished by the graciousness...
(18) [ ] For e[ver] I will rejoice in thee.

Transcription and translation by J. A. Sanders

And talking about little known psalms there's also the 18 Psalms of Solomon found in one of the ancient codices of the Greek Bible but more on that another day.

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