THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE PSALM TITLES
James H. Fraser
Introductory notes or psalm titles are found in the
text of many of the Biblical Psalms. These notes have been
maligned and given a place of secondary importance by
critics and translators alike in recent generations. The
majority of critical scholars consider them to be late addi-
tions to the text which in many cases are based upon ques-
tionable exegesis or just plain conjecture. Such criticisms
are unfounded in light of the Biblical and extra--Biblical
evidences which point to their antiquity and credibility.
It is uncertain whether or not the titles were
attached to the psalms at the time of composition. However,
there is ample evidence to show that they have long been a
part of the Psalter text. Both the manuscript evidence and
Biblical evidence outside the Psalter support the view that
they have always been a part of the canonical text of the
Psalter. Some of the terms used in the titles had lost
their meaning by the time the LXX translation was made indi-
cating that the liturgical instructions of the titles had
been in disuse for years. Also, several examples of this
literary pattern may be gleaned from the Bible and extra-
Biblical literature. They show that it was a well-known
practice to attach either a title or colophon to poetic com-
positions long before the post-exilic period.
The titles are valuable guides to the interpretation
of the Psalter. They give accurate and reliable information
concerning the authors, historical settings and liturgical
use of the psalms in question. When l; is used with a
proper name authorship is implied, although in the case of
Asaph and the "sons of Korah" it is a generic designation.
The support of other Scripture together with the internal
agreement of the contents of the psalms with the titles
shows that there is no justifiable reason for doubting the
authenticity of the psalm titles.
Accepted by the Faculty of Grace Theological Seminary
in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree
Master of Theology
D. Wayne Knife
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACCEPTANCE PAGE iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS v
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS viii
I. INTRODUCTION 1
General Character and Content of the Titles 3
Divergent Views on the Value of the Titles 4
The Inspired Scripture View 4
The Authentic-Tradition View 5
The Critical-Tradition View 6
The Psalter-Compilation View 7
The Midrashic-Exegesis View 7
The Cultic-Setting View 8
The Higher-Critical View 9
The Scope and Purpose of the Thesis 11
II. THE ANTIQUITY OF THE PSALM TITLES 12
Textual Evidence for Their Antiquity 12
Hebrew Manuscripts 13
The MT 13
Manuscripts from Other Areas 21
Ancient Versions 22
The Aramaic Targum 24
The Syriac Peshitto 25
Linguistical Evidence for Their Antiquity 26
Literary Evidence for Their Antiquity 29
Biblical Examples 30
A Hebrew Inscription 31
Ancient Near Eastern Parallels 32
III. THE CREDIBILITY OF THE TITLES 37
The Designation of Authorship in the Titles 38
Problems Relating to Interpretation 38
The Usage of l; 38
Subject or Serial 41
Genetive of Authorship 42
The Usage of Proper Names 45
Davidic King 45
Davidic Collection 46
King David 47
The Levitical Musicians 49
Ethan and Heman 54
The Sons of Korah 57
David as Author 63
Historical Views of David the Psalmist 63
Objections to Davidic Authorship 67
Historical Notices in the Titles 72
General Character of the Historical Notes 72
Objections to the Credibility of the
Historical Notes 74
Positive Arguments for the Credibility of
the Historical Notes 80
Summary Statement on the Credibility of the
Psalm Titles 82
IV. THE ORIGIN OF THE PSALM TITLES 83
V. CONCLUSION 87
. . . . . . . . . . . .
APPENDIX A: A COMPARISON OF THE MT TITLES AND THE DSS
APPENDIX B: POSSIBLE MEANINGS OF l; COMBINED WITH A
PROPER NAME 92
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED 93
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AJSL American Journal of Semitic Languages and
ANET James Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern
BA Biblical Archaeologist
BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
BDB Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs,
Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
ExpTim Expository Times
ICC International Critical Commentary
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JSS Journal of Semitic Studies
OTS Oudtestamentische Studien
RB Revue Biblique
VT Vetus Testamentum
VTSup Vetus Testamentum, Supplements
ZAW Zeitschrift für die Altestamentliche Wissenschaft
In recent years there have been no works of major
significance dealing with the psalm titles. Thirtle's book,
The Titles of the Psalms, published in 1904 and considered by
some to be the standard work on the subject is no longer of
much help in dealing with the real issues. As has been
pointed out by Nestle, Thirtle's theory that the musical por-
tions of the superscriptions should really be subscriptions
to the preceeding psalms is of little consequence.1 In
addition to his theory of subscriptions, Thirtle also dis-
cusses and applies the meaning of the terms found in the
titles but is of little help in responding to the critics who
question their authenticity.
It is largely due to the influence of these critics
who have minimized the value of the psalm titles that there
has not been more written on the subject. For the most part
the critical scholars have dismissed the titles as secondary
additions, which contain no reliable information that may be
1E. B. Nestle, "The Titles of the Psalms," Exp Tim
23 (May 1912):383. For a more complete evaluation of
Thirtle's work see Roderick V. Smith, "The Titles in the
Psalms" (M. Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1974),
used to determine the authorship or background of the various
psalms.1 While this may be the general trend among the crit-
ical scholars it has been pointed out by such reputable
scholars as K. A. Kitchen that "this attitude rests on no
particle of respectable evidence and has much against it."2
On the contrary side there is much evidence to verify
the traditional view that the psalm titles are authentic.
From the standpoint of textual criticism it can be shown that
they do belong to the canonical text of the Psalter. Then as
they are examined linguistically, it becomes apparent that
many of them must have been written long before the exile,
making the probability of their authenticity more likely.
The possibility that they may have been a part of the orig-
inal composition or at least added soon after is seen by the
fact that compositions from the ancient Near East as far back
as the time of Abraham have been found with similar patterns
of superscriptions or subscriptions.
These evidences along with the Biblical materials
which support the testimony of the titles concerning such
matters as authorship and historical backgrounds weigh in
favor of the authenticity of the titles.
1Brevard S. Childs, "Psalm Titles and Midrashic
Exegesis," JSS 16 (Autumn 1971):137.
2Kenneth A. Kitchen, "The Old Testament in Its Con-
text: 3 From Joshua to Solomon," Theological Students'
Fellowship Bulletin 61 (Autumn 1971):11.
General Character and Content of the Titles
The value of this study of the authenticity of the
superscriptions may be seen in reviewing the general charac-
ter and content of the titles. Of the 150 Biblical psalms
there are 116 which have some type of title.1 These titles
have often been ignored by English readers of the psalms
because most English versions relegate them to a position of
secondary importance by placing them at the head of the psalm
in small print or leaving them out altogether. The Hebrew
Bible, on the other hand, incorporates them into the text of
the psalm so that when the verses were numbered in the six-
teenth century they were counted as the first verse or part
of the first verse.2 Thus, indicating that in the Massoretic
tradition of the Hebrew Bible they were regarded as an
integral part of the text.
Following Bullock's outline, the information con-
tained in the titles may be divided up into five categories:
(1) authorship, (2) historical origin, (3) literary features,
1That means that there are 34 psalms which in the
Talmud are referred to as "orphan Psalms." This number may
be reduced even further if the opening h.yA Ull;ha of the
Hallel psalms is considered as a title rather than a part of
the composition. Delbert R. Hillers' "A study of Psalm 148,"
CBQ 40 (July 1978):325 favors the view that they are edito-
rial, thus fitting into the category of a title. However,
for the purpose of this paper they will be considered as a
part of the actual psalm composition. This is the view
favored by Kemper Fullerton, "Studies in the Psalter," The
Biblical World 36 (1910):326-27.
2Cristoph Barth, Introduction to the Psalms (New
(4) liturgical use, and (5) musical notations.1 The primary
concern of this paper is with the first two categories of
authorship and historical origin. Not only are they the
crucial areas of controversy, but they also provide vital
information which should serve as foundational guidelines
for any study of the psalms. The other three areas will be
discussed primarily from the standpoint of their antiquity
and therefore their contribution in helping to establish the
trustworthiness of the material pertaining to the first two
Divergent Views On the Value of the Titles
Most scholars would agree that there is at least some
value in the titles, though a few reject them as altogether
worthless. Since no one knows for sure how or when the ti-
tles came to be a part of the psalms, speculations on their
origin have abounded. This then has paved the way for a wide
diversity of views concerning their value. The following
seven views are representative of some of the attitudes of
scholars toward the psalm titles either as a whole or toward
certain parts of them.
The Inspired Scripture View
The belief that the titles should be considered as a
part of the inspired text of Scripture was the general
1C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old
Testament Poetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), p. 124.
concensus among those whom Callan refers to as "the older
Catholic authorities."1 Included among these older Catholic
authorities are such notable early church writers as Augus-
tine and Theodoret.2 This view is not widely held or at
least not expressed among scholars today even though it can
be defended from the standpoint of tradition and canonicity.3
Based upon the available textual evidence today, they have
always been a part of the Scriptural text.
The Authentic-Tradition View
In general those who hold to this view believe that
the titles are reliable and accurate traditions, though not
necessarily a part of the original text. Examples of adher-
ents to this view include Wilson, Leupold, Green and Unger.
Wilson, who has made one of the most significant contribu-
tions to the subject by his two-part series in the 1926
issue of The Princeton Theological Review, concludes on the
bases of objective evidence that "the headings of the psalms
are presumptively correct."4 Leupold suggests that they
1Charles J. Callan, The Psalms (
Wagner, Inc., 1944), p. 7.
2C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 3 vols.
3The popular radio preacher Charles Swindoll, WBCL,
"Insight for Living," 2 August 1983, has referred to the
psalm titles as being inspired.
were added by
trustworthy leaders in
wanted to preserve a "valuable and well-authenticated tradi-
tion."1 Green2 and Unger3 both conclude that as ancient
traditions the titles should be accepted as true except in
individual cases where there is adequate proof to the con-
trary. The implication of both writers' conclusions is that
such proof may not exist.
The Critical-Tradition View
The proponents of this view, such as Kirkpatrick4
and Perowne5 of the nineteenth century and Sabourin6 more
recently, accept the titles as ancient traditions which may
or may not be trustworthy. Therefore, their value must be
weighed and tested by the usual critical processes. This
critical process may in some cases simply result in a
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rap-
ids: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 6.
2Henry W. Green, "The Titles of the Psalms,"
Methodist Review 72 (July 1890):506.
3Merril F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old
Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 1:740.
4A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, Book I, The
University Press, 1897), pp. xxix-xxx.
5J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, 2 vols.
1, 4th ed. (
pp. 97, 101-103.
6Leopold Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and
Meaning (Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1974),
different interpretation of what has traditionally been held
to be the authors of the psalms (dvidAl; etc.), rather than a
complete rejection of the title.
The Psalter-Compilation View
This view completely rejects the psalm titles as
reliable traditions which indicate the author, date, or
character of the original psalms. However, they are consid-
ered of some value in determining how the psalms were used
and how they were collected together into their present
form.1 According to this view the various parts of the ti-
tles indicate smaller collections of psalms which the indi-
vidual psalms were a part of at one time. Each time then
that a psalm was taken from one collection and put in another
the name of the previous collection would be prefixed to it.2
With this view the titles would be of no value in interpret-
ing the text of the psalms themselves.
The Midrashic-Exegesis View
The midrashic-exegesis view is concerned primarily
with the historical data in the titles and in some cases with
the area of authorship. Proponents of this view include
1Charles Augustus Briggs and Emilie Grace Briggs, A
Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms,
1, ICC (
p. lviii. See also J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay, Psalms
University Press, 1977), p. 3.
33 (1914): 199.
Childs, Slomovic, and Bruce. Childs1 and Bruce2 deal only
with the historical portions. They propose that these are
derived from the text of the psalm reflecting the work of an
early Jewish exegete rather than an independent historical
tradition. Slomovic carries the theory even further to in-
clude the identity of the authors as being derived from a
form of rabbinic midrash.3 The principle value of the psalm
titles according to this view is found in the area of herme-
neutics. They represent early attempts to interpret the
The Cultic-Setting View
The form-function approach to the study of the psalms
as advocated by Gunkel and Mowinckel led to the proposal by
Mowinckel that the titles have a cultic meaning. Though the
historical notes are considered later additions by editors
who misunderstood the meaning of dvidAl; the rest of the
material including dvidAl; are really technical terms associa-
ted with the use of the psalm in the cult." Weiser, who
1Childs, "Psalm Titles," p. 143.
2F. F. Bruce, "'The Earliest Old Testament Interpreta-
in The Witness of Tradition, OTS 17 (
Brill, 1962), p. 52.
3Elieser Slomovic, "Toward an Understanding of the
Formation of Historical.Titles in the Book of Psalms," ZAW
91 (1979) :380.
4Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in
vols. in 1, trans. D. R. Ap-Thomas (
1962) , 2:99, 210-17.
pretty much follows Mowinckel's view of the titles, explains
that dvidAl; means "for the Davidic ruler" who exercises cer-
tain functions in the cult.1 The chief value of the titles
for the adherents of this view is to support their theory
that the psalms were actually composed for and used in the
cultic services of the temple rather than derived from real
The Higher-Critical View
The early opinion of the higher critics was that the
psalms were composed much later than the time of David.
This led to the belief that the titles must be spurious ad-
ditions of the text based on groundless and erroneous con-
jecture. The end result being that they were rejected as
untrustworthy. Toy, writing in 1886 said: "The statements
of the titles are worthless; that is though they may in some
cases be right, they may always be wrong, and are therefore
of no use as critical guides."2 This was the view of Driver3
and Cheyne4 as well as many others at that time.
1Arthus Weiser, The Psalms, trans. Herbert Hartwell,
Old Testament Library (
Press, 1962), pp 96-97.
2C. H. Toy, "On the Asaph-Psalms," Journal of the
Exegetical Society 6 (1886):73.
3S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of
(1897; reprint ed.,
Publishing Co., 1956), p. 378.
4Thomas Kelly Cheyne, The Origin and Religious Con-
tents of Psalter (
Interestingly enough this was the view of Calvin who regard-
ed them as marginal glosses which were of little value in
This extremely low view of the psalm titles has
seemingly fallen right along with the higher critical theory
which placed most of the psalms in the post-exilic period.
The discoveries of Ras Shamra, along with literary research
hymnody in vogue before and during David's time, with some
amazing parallels to the Biblical psalms.2 These finds,
together with the
ics to push the date of the origin of the psalms back into
the pre-exilic period and reconsider the testimony of the
These many views along with minor variations which
will be interacted with further at appropriate places in the
thesis, point out the present state of confusion concerning
the real purpose and value of the psalm titles.
1John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, vol.
trans. James Anderson (
Publishing Co., 1949), p. 27.
2R. Laird Harris, "Psalms," in vol. 2 of The Bibli-
cal Expositor (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1960),
pp. 35-36. See also Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the
Bible, s.v. "Psalms, Book of," by J. B. Payne; and William
Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of
(Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1942), pp. 125-29.
The Scope and Purpose of the Thesis
The purpose of this paper is to provide objective
evidence to support the thesis that the psalm titles are
authentic. They are trustworthy witnesses concerning the
authorship, age, purpose and occasion of the various psalms
concerning which they give such information either implicit-
ly or explicitly.
The format of the paper will be first of all to pre-
sent evidence arguing for the antiquity of the titles as
they are found in the MT. Then to examine the credibility
of the titles in matters relating to authorship and histori-
cal data. Having then presented the evidence certain deduc-
tions and conclusions will be drawn concerning the origin of
the psalm titles and their benefit to the present day
THE ANTIQUITY OF THE PSALM TITLES
There is considerable evidence that the psalm titles
have always been a part of the canonical text of the Old
Testament Scriptures. This in itself would argue in favor
of the authenticity of the titles because of the very nature
of Scripture as God's inspired Word. Further evidence seems
to indicate that they can be dated back much earlier even
than the time when the OT canon was completed around 400
B.C.1 Thus, not only placing their authenticity on sound
footing textually and theologically but also historically as
Textual Evidence for their Antiquity
In their effort to discredit the validity of the
psalm titles some critics have pointed to the lack of agree-
ment among the ancient manuscripts when it comes to the
1Although many critical scholars would disagree with
this early date for the completion of the canon, it does
harmonize with the well-established tradition that the
of prophecy departed from
Ezra. For a full discussion of the canonization of the OT
see R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), pp. 154-
psalm titles.1 These discrepancies are cited as evidence
that the titles at least in part are late additions. While
this may be true concerning some of the titles found in the
LXX and the Syriac Peshitta, the majority of the titles as
they are found in the MT find substantial support for their
antiquity in nearly all of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts
and the ancient primary versions which are available to us
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in
1947, virtually all of the known Hebrew manuscripts were
based upon the work of the Masoretes, who sought to stan-
dardize and preserve the text of the OT. The oldest of
these manuscripts still available today come from the tenth
and eleventh centuries.2 Besides these early editions of
the Psalter numerous other editions based on earlier manu-
scripts are available for comparison. In examining these
many manuscripts, there is near unanimous agreement on the
1Frederick Carl Eiselen, The Psalms and Other Sacred
Writings (New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1918), p. 43
Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament an Introduction, trans.
Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 451.
2The oldest ones being the Alleppo Codex from the
first half of the tenth century and the Codex Leningradensis
(L), which is dated around A.D. 1008. Ernst Würthwein, The
Text of the Old
trans. Errol F. Rhodes (
SCM Press Ltd., 1979) pp. 34-35.
text of the headings. R. D. Wilson concludes from his study
of these manuscripts that "the text of the headings of the
Psalms in the Textus Receptus is almost perfect so far as
the evidence of the Hebrew MSS. and printed editions of
Kennicot and DeRossi is concerned."1 From this, it is evi-
dent that the headings of the psalms were part of the stan-
dard text which the Masoretes so meticulously sought to
preserve in the second half of the first millennium, A.D.
The standard text, however, appears to have been
established already by the end of the first century A.D.
with the result that all other variant lines of tradition in
Judaism were destroyed.2 This in the past has made the work
of OT textual criticism much less conclusive since there
were no Hebrew texts available which were not derived from
the MT tradition which was standardized around A.D. 100.
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls beginning in 1947,
numerous ancient manuscripts were made available which had
not been subjected to the standardization process which lies
behind the MT. This is evident in that all three text types
are represented at
2Bruce K. Waltke, "The Textual Criticism of the Old
Testament," in vol. 1 of The Expositors Bible Commentary,
Frank E. Gaebelein (
House, 1979), pp. 216-17. A date in the early second cen-
tury A.D. under the leadership of Rabbi Akiba is suggested
in William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic
Bush, Old Testament Survey (
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), pp. 32-33.
the Textus Receptus, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the LXX.1
Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls have become crucial in the study
of the OT text and in determining the validity of the psalm
titles as they are found in the MT.
Numerous fragments and in some cases substantial
portions of manuscripts containing the Biblical psalms have
been found in the
years. Perhaps the most significant of these finds was the
Psalms Scroll (11QPsa)
from cave 11 at
been dated by Sanders in the Herodian period between A.D. 30
and 50.2 In addition to the Psalms Scroll several other
text portions containing psalm titles have been found in
Qumran Caves 4 and 11, in the Nahal Hever region, and on
Masada.3 As these texts are examined they are found to be
in essential agreement with the MT in the assignment of ti-
tles to the various psalms they contain except for a few
1Waltke, "Textual Criticism," p. 214.
2J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (
3For a catalog of all the pre-Masoretic Psalms manu-
scripts known before 1965 see J. A. Sanders, "Pre-Masoretic
Psalter Texts," CBQ 27 (April 1965), pp. 114-17.
4For a comparison of the Dead Sea Scrolls psalm
titles with the MT titles see Appendix A.
One of the more interesting texts from
contains part of a commentary on Psalm 45 (4QpPs45). It is
significant to the present study because it contains the
psalm title along with an explanatory note before the con-
tents of the psalm with its commentary are given. Allegro's
translation of the title and explanatory note is as follows:
"To the choirmaster: according to the (Lil)lies. (A maskil
of the Sons of Korah, a song of lots). They are the seven
divisions of the penitents of Is(rael). . . ."1 This is then
followed by the text of the first verse of the psalm itself.
The inclusion of the title in the commentary would
seem to indicate that the writer considered it an essential
part of the psalm text. As Smith has pointed out, "the ma-
terial he wanted to deal with was in the text of the psalm,
but he could not quote the text without giving its proper
The explanatory note on the title may be a further
indication tat the writer considered the title a part of
the sacred text and therefore worthy of comment.
Two other texts from
lished lished which contain one psalm title each. The first,
4QPsb, contains part at least of Psalms 91-118 with Psalms
1John M. Allegro,
1968), p. 45.
2Smith, "The Titles in the Psalms," p. 36.
95 and 104-111 omitted. The only title or part of a title
that is preserved from these psalms is d[vdl] from Psalm
103, which agrees with the MT.1 The parts of the manuscript
which should contain the other titles have deteriorated.
The second of these published texts from cave 4 is
4QPsq. It contains Psalm 33 (which immediately follows the
last verse of Psalm 31) and Psalm 35:4-20. In it, Psalm 33
which does not have a title in the MT is given the title
rvmzm ryw dvdl.2 Though different than the MT, this
does agree with the LXX in attributing the psalm to David.
The rest of the relevant texts from cave 4 have been
assigned to Monsignor P. W. Skehan, but have not yet been
published.3 The longest of these, 4QPsa, has, however, been
dated by Skehan in the Hasmonean period, placing it in the
latter half of the second century B.C." This date is con-
firmed by Cross.5
Skehan has also let it be known that 4QPsa "arranges
the Psalms and their titles as they still appear in the
1Patrick W. Skehan, "A
Psalm Manuscript from
(4QPsb)," CBQ 26 (July 1964): 318.
2J. T. Milik, "Deux documents inedits du desert de
Juda," Bib 38 (1957): 245-68.
3Sanders, "Pre-Masoretic Psalter Texts," pp. 114-17.
4P. W. Skehan, "The
Volume du congres in VTSup 4 (
Brill, 1957), p. 154.
Modern Biblical Studies (
Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1958), p. 122.
Masora," adding further that "there is no special separa-
tion between title and text."1 From this arrangement Cross
concludes that the collection of canonical psalms was al-
ready fixed by Maccabean times.2 It may be further conclud-
ed that the psalm titles were an integral part of that text
back in Maccabean times.
Two of the manuscripts from cave 11 have been pub-
lished so far. They are the well-known Psalm Scroll
(11QPsa) and 11QPsb.
Like the Psalm Scroll, 11QPsb has also been dated in
the Herodian period in the first half of the first century
A.D.3 It contains one psalm title which is in agreement
with the MT and is included as a part of the text (the first
verse of the psalm itself continues on the same line).
Thus, the second line of script taken from Psalm 133 reads:
. . . bv]F hm hnh dyvdl tv[lfmh ryw.4
The Psalm Scroll from cave 11 has yielded by far the
most material for comparison with the MT. In addition to
the forty-one Biblical psalms given in part or in whole, the
scroll contains eight apocryphal compositions including
2Cross, The Ancient Library, p. 122.
3J. Van Der Ploeg, "Fragments dun manuscrit de
psaumes de Qumran (11QPsb)," RB 74 (1967):408.
4Ibid., p. 411.
seven non-Biblical psalms and one prose piece about David.1
The scroll is unique not only by the inclusion of the apoc-
ryphal compositions but also by the arrangement of the
psalms which differs from the traditional order. This has
led Sanders to conclude, contrary to Cross (see above), that
the Psalter was still open-ended in the first century, and
that the Psalms Scroll represented a "local Palestinian text
with its own internal problems of limited fluidity."2 He
does allow however, on the basis of the materials from cave
4, that Books I and II of the Psalter may have been fixed
Sanders theory of an open-ended Psalter in the first
century A.D. however, has not been accepted by textual crit-
ics as a whole. Goshen-Gottstein gives some convincing evi-
dence that the scroll was never intended to be more than a
"liturgical collection."4 A view which is adopted by
Würthwein.5 Likewise Skehan makes several observations con-
cerning the scroll which seem to indicate that 11QPsa is
dependent upon "the complete collection of Psalms as we
2Ibid., pp. 157-58.
3Ibid., pp. 13-14
4M. H. Goshen-Gottstein, "The Psalms Scroll
(11QPsa); A Problem of Canon and Text," in vol. 5 of Textus
1966), pp. 29-33.
5Würthwein, The Text of the OT, pp. 32-33.
If indeed, the Psalms Scroll is simply a liturgical
collection, the presence of the psalm titles in thirteen of
the Biblical psalms used is even more significant. It would
indicate that the compiler considered the titles an integral
part of the text which should not be left out, even though
they did not apply specifically to the liturgical purpose of
Unfortunately, many of the psalms contained in
11PQsa are "orphan psalms" or are missing the first verse
and therefore, are irrelevant to the present study. However
there are fourteen of the psalms which can be compared to
the MT (see Appendix A). Eleven of these have essentially
the same titles as the MT (Pss. 121, 122, 126, 127, 129,
130, 133, 138, 140, 143, and 145).2 The only substantial
differences are found in Psalm 144 where dvdl is omitted
from 11QPsa and in Psalms 104 and 123 where dvdl is added.
It should also be noted that two of the apocryphal
psalms contain headings. Psalm 151A is designated: hyvllh
ywy Nb dyvdl, "A Hallelujah of David the Son of Jesse;"
and Psalm 151B begins: xybn vHwmwm dy l hrbg tlHt
Myhvlx, "At the beginning of David's power after
1Patrick W. Skehan,
"The Biblical Scrolls from
ran and the Text: of the Old Testament" BA 23 (September
2Two minor differences involving one letter are
found in Psalms 121 and 145.
of God had anointed him."1 Neither one of these titles
can be described as characteristic of the Biblical titles.
This may be an indication that they were written much later
than the Biblical psalms which may be why they were never
included in the MT though they are found in the LXX.
Manuscripts from Other Areas
There have been two other texts or fragments of a
text discovered in the
which dates to the latter half of the first century A.D.
was found in the Nahal Hever region and contains the end of
Psalm 15 and the title of Psalm 16 as it appears in the MT.2
The second is a much larger manuscript portion from
with the same titles as the MT.3 Yadin has given a first
century A.D. date for this manuscript as well.4
These manuscripts along with the Psalter texts from
part of the canonical psalms in the first century A.D. and
even as far back as the second century B.C. The essential
agreement of these texts with the MT as far as the titles
2Y. Yadin, "Expedition D," IEJ 11 (1961):40.
3Y. Yadin, "The
Preliminary Report," IEJ 15 (1965):104.
4Ibid., p. 103.
are concerned tends to confirm the great antiquity of the
titles as a part of the established OT text.
The Greek translation of the Psalter has for some
proven a valuable source of evidence in favor of the authen-
ticity of the psalm titles, while for others it has been
used as evidence against their authenticity. The problem
for the latter group is in the fact that the LXX while basi-
cally presenting a literal translation of the psalms them-
selves has taken the liberty to make changes in the psalm
titles. This has been interpreted to mean that the trans-
lators did not have the same respect for the titles as they
did for the psalms themselves.1 However, as the critical
text of the LXX is examined it is discovered that these dif-
ferences have been greatly exaggerated.
In Rahlfs' edition of the Greek Psalter one finds
an essential agreement with the traditional Hebrew text ex-
cept that there are several additions.2 These additions
involve: adding David as the author of thirteen anonymous
psalms (33, 43, 71, 91, 93-99, 104, and 137), adding Haggai
and Zachariah to Psalms 146-148, plus several additions of
1Eiselen, The Psalms, p. 44.
2Alfred :Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, 9th ed., 2 vols.
(Stuttgart: Würtembergische Bibelanstalt, 1935).
liturgical or historical notes.1
R. D. Wilson who has done extensive research into
the different Greek manuscripts and secondary versions of
the LXX Psalter summarizes his work as follows:
The Greek Septuagint omits one author mentioned in
the Hebrew, and one Greek manuscript or another adds
the author's name in about 20 cases. Most of this
testimony of the variations of the manuscripts of the
Septuagint from the Hebrew is rendered doubtful by
the fact that one or more of the ancient versions
from the Septuagint are found in almost every case
to differ from the Greek original as preserved in B
and A and to agree with the Hebrew original.2
This seems to suggest as Pietersma has shown that
there are many inner-Greek additions to the titles of
Rahlfs editions of the LXX which almost certainly do not
rest on a Hebrew Vorlage.3 The fact that in some cases there
is near unanimous manuscript witness for these extra--MT
titles "may mean no more than that the ever expanding Davidic
tradition totally eclipsed all other witnesses."4
Kooij, meanwhile, attributes at least some of the
extra-MT titles to the influence of a Palestinian origin of
the LXX Psalter. Thus, he seems to imply that the additions
were original with the translators themselves or taken from
liturgical notations which had been added to the Hebrew
1For a complete listing of all the variations in the
LXX manuscripts and secondary versions see
"The Headings of the Psalms," pp. 380-89.
2Ibid., p. 391.
3Albert Pietersma, "David in the Greek Psalms," VT
30 (April 1980): 225-26.
4Ibid., p. 219.
Having responded briefly to the problems raised by
the LXX psalm titles a word needs to be said concerning
their value. As DeWette has pointed out in response to
those who argue against the genuineness of the titles on the
basis of the LXX, the titles were translated by the LXX
translators.2 That means then that their existence goes
back well before the second century B.C. when the Psalter
was translated into Greek. Furthermore, in looking at some
of the nonsensical translations of some titles, it appears
that the translators respected the titles enough as part of
the various psalms that rather than omitting them it was
better to at least attempt to translate them.
The Aramaic Targum
ious editions of the Targums. He concludes that the Hebrew
text they used for their translation of the headings must
have been the same one that is available today.3 He also
notes that the translators must have had a great reverence
for the text of the titles because of the "ludicrous"
1Arie Van Der Kooij, "On the Place of origin of the
Old Greek of Psalms," VT 33 (January 1983):73-74.
2DeWette, "Introduction to the Psalms," trans. J.
Torrey, The Biblical Repository 3 (July 1833):468-69.
3Wilson, "The Headings of the Psalms," p. 373.
results of their efforts to be accurate in the translation.1
The Syriac Peshitto
It is in the Syriac Peshitto that a significant
variation of the psalm titles occurs. Bloemendaal points
out that in the manuscripts and printed editions of the
Peshitto the psalms are "either without titles or have ti-
tles which differ completely from those in the Hebrew and
Greek texts."2 It appears that the original translators may
have left them out and that they were subsequently replaced
by others. No one knows for sure why they were left out
suestia and Theodoret that the Peshitto departed from the
Hebrew text in the case of the psalm titles.3 He then goes
on to cite several passages from the writings of both of
these men to show that the titles were present in both the
Hebrew and Greek texts of their day and should not be ig-
were omitted for liturgical, dogmatic, or utilitarian
2William Bloemendaal, The Headings of the Psalms in
3Wilson, "The Headings of the Psalms," p. 377;
Bloemendall, The Headings of the Psalms, p. 12, agrees with
4Wilson, "The Headings of the Psalms," pp. 377-79.
reasons and replaced by other headings considered to be more
It is thus, unfair to use the Syriac Peshitto as an
argument against the antiquity of the titles. Nor is there
any real proof that the Hebrew text from which the transla-
tion was made did not contain the titles.
In addition to the above versions,
uated the Greek
from the second century, and Jerome's Latin translation
from the late fourth century.2 He has found that they al-
ways agree with the Hebrew in the titles except in one case
in Symmachus and Theodotian.3
The predominate agreement of the ancient Hebrew manu-
scripts and ancient versions of the Psalter with regards to
the titles is a strong argument in favor of the antiquity
and genuineness of the titles. From the second century B.C.
on, all the evidence shows a genuine respect for the titles
as an integral part of the Psalter text.
Linguistic Evidence for their Antiquity
Another convincing argument for attributing an early
date to the psalm titles--perhaps even pre-exilic times--is
the difficulty which the early translators had in translating
1Ibid., pp. 379-80.
2Ibid., pp. 373-75.
3Ibid., pp. 390-91.
some of the terms. It appears that by the time the LXX was
translated in the second or third century B.C. the meaning
of some of the terms had already become obscure, indicating
a lengthy period of disuse in order for them to be forgotten.
A prime example of this phenomena is found in the
early translations of the term Hacenam;la which occurs fifty-
five times in the titles. Today it is generally understood
to mean "for the director of music" (NIV), based upon the
usage of the root HcAnA in the Chronicler.1 However, in the
LXX version of the titles it is translated ei]j to> te<loj,
"unto the end" or "forever," as if it were Hcan,lA. Mean-
while in Habakkuk 3:19 the LXX translates Hacenam;la as tou?
A quick look at some of the other ancient versions
shows that the confusion over the meaning of Hacenam;la was not
just a local problem to
the translators in
Targums give the translation xHbwl, "to praise." Aquilla
Symmachus, Theodotian and Jerome read t&? nikopoi&?, "to
the conquest-maker;" e]pini<kioj, "of victory;" ei]j to<
ni?koj, "for the victory;" and victory, "victor" respec-
tively.2 In each case the translators attempted to render
1Mowinckel would disagree with this interpretation.
In The Psalms in Israel's Worship, 2:212, he takes it to
mean "for the merciful disposition (of Yahweh)" or "to dis-
pose (Yahweh) to mercy" as if the psalm was designed to
2B. D. Eerdmans, The Hebrew Book of Psalms, OTS
4 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1947), p. 54.
as near as possible a literal translation of the title; but
because the word had gone into disuse years before, the
meaning had been lost.
Besides the term Hacenam;la there are several other
liturgical and literary features given in the titles whose
meanings have been lost. In some cases their meaning is
still a matter of conjecture even as they were in the time
of the early translations.
As to when or how the meanings were lost it is
impossible to say for sure. Eerdmans has suggested that
following the exile (during which the temple singers could
not practice, Ps. 137:4) when the musicians returned to Jeru-
a brief revival of the temple music under Ezra it did not
last. Thus, the liturgical use of the psalms as it was prac-
ticed in the first temple never really took hold and the
meanings of several technical terms were lost.1
The antiquity of the titles is also supported by the
fact that the language of the titles reflects the early
Hebrew writings rather than late. It would be expected that
if the titles were late additions they might use words bor-
rowed from Aramaic or Greek such as the terms for musical
instruments in Daniel 3.2 Yet in the titles a large pro-
portion of the words are not found in later Hebrew or in any
1Ibid., pp. 46-48.
2John F. A. Sawyer, "An Analysis of the Context and
Meaning of the Psalm-Headings," Transactions of the Glasglow
University Oriental Society 22 (1967-1968):26.
roots of many of these words have closer analogies in Baby-
lonian than in any other language.”2
The linguistical evidence would thus seem to suggest
that the origin of these titles must go back at least to the
time of Ezra and very possibly much earlier. If this is the
case it is very probable that they were a part of the pro-
phetic tradition and therefore have rightfully been preserv-
ed in the Biblical text.
Literary Evidence for Their Antiquity
It is well-known by Biblical scholars that the Old
Testament was not written in a vacuum. While it is true
that the theology of the Hebrews was unique, their writing
style and expressions were often analogous to that of their
ancient Near Eastern neighbors. Such an analogy can be seen
in the case of the psalm titles. Thirtle mentions that tab-
lets and cylinders have
been found from
ing hymns and prayers with both superscriptions and subscrip-
tions: the superscriptions giving the author and the sub-
script lines intimating that the document was a temple copy
of a state original.3
Testament, revised by
Edward J. Young (
1959), p. 154.
3James William Thirtle, Old Testament Problems
(London: Henry Frowde, 1907), p. 83.
In addition to these pieces of comparative litera-
ture from without, there are also both Biblical and non-Bib-
lical compositions from
that the practice of attaching either a heading or a colo-
phon to a piece of literature was in vogue in pre-exilic
times at the time the various psalms were composed or earlier.
The best-known Biblical example (if such a title out-
side the Psalter comes from 2 Samuel 22:1. Here the narra-
tive introduces the following psalm attributing it to David
at the time when Yahweh delivered him from the hand of all
his enemies and from the hand of Saul. This is significant
because the psalm which follows is also recorded as Psalm 18
in the Psalter with essentially the same title. The only
difference is that in Psalm 18 the style is characteristi-
cally "title style" (. . . dvidAl; hvAhy; db,f,l; HacEnam;la), whereas
in 2 Samuel 22 it is narrative style (dveDA rBeday;va. . . hOAhyla).
The Samuel Text then confirms the validity of the Psalm 18
title as well as sets a precedent for identifying the
author and occasion of such writings as being pre-exilic.
From the Pentateuch written in the fifteenth century
B.C. comes the example of Moses' song in Exodus 15:1 and
Miriam's song in Exodus 15:21. In both instances the author
or singers are identified. Further examples from the books
of Samuel include Hannah's prayer (1 Sam. 2:1) which is set
in poetic form, and David's lament from 2 Samuel 1.
There are also two key examples from the seventh and
eighth century prophets Habakkuk and Isaiah. In Isaiah 38:9,
Isaiah introduces the psalm of Hezekiah with these words
which are in characteristic "title style," –jl,m, UhyA.qiz;hil; bTAk;mi
Oyl;HAme yHiy;v OtloHEBa hdAUhy;. Then in Habakkuk 3 both a superscrip-
tion and a colophon are given to Habakkuk's prayer. The
superscription reads: tOnyog;wi lfa xybinA.ha qUq.baHEla hl.ApT;; and the
colophon: ytAOnygin;Bi HacE.nam;la.
After studying the above examples in relation to the
psalm titles, Tur-Sinai came to the conclusion that the
psalms were originally part of an historical narrative.
Consequently, the psalm titles merely represent a portion of
that narrative. This would imply then to him that there is
an element of truth in the psalm titles, though in some
cases the psalms attributed to David may just be poetical
enlargements of David's sayings.1 Such a theory is very un-
likely to be proven true, but the psalms set in the narra-
tives of Scripture with appropriate titles or introductions
do establish the fact that other Biblical psalms from pre-
exilic times had comparable titles.
A Hebrew Inscription
In addition to the Biblical examples of superscrip-
tions outside the Psalter there has recently been discovered
at Khirbet el Qom an inscription in one of the tombs which
contains both a superscription and a colophon to what is
1N. H. Tur-Sinai, "The Literary Character of the
Book of Psalms," OTS 8 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1950), p. 265.
believed to be a prayer either by or for the man buried
there.1 According to Miller this inscription comes from "the
same social, historical, and geographical setting out of which
came many of the Psalms, i.e., Judah during the time of the
Divided Monarchy and the Exile."2 The transliteration and
translation of the text given by Miller is as follows:
1. (1) 'ryhw h‘sr ktbh
2. brk ’ryhw lyhwh
3. wmsryh 1’ srth / hws‘ / lh
4. 1’ nyhw
5. wl’ srth
6. r h
1. (for) Uriyahu the rich: his inscription. (Or:
has written it)
2. Blessed is Uriyahu by Yahweh;
3. Yea from his adversaries by his asherah he has
4. (Written) by Oniyahu
5. (. . . ?) and by his asherah.3
The title or first line of the inscription gives
presumably the owner or author of the inscription who is
identified as "Uriyahu the rich." The colophon at the end
then identifies Oniyahu as the one who cut the inscription
and possibly composed it. The parallels with the psalm ti-
tles are self-evident.
Ancient Near Eastern Parallels
Several of the Sumerian psalms from the time of
Hammurabi have been found which contain subscriptions.
1Patrick D. Miller, "Psalms and Inscriptions,"
Congress Volume VTSup 32 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1957),
2Ibid., pp. 311-12.
3Ibid., p. 317.
These subscriptions give at times the author, purpose, god
addressed, tune, musical instruments, and other notes simi-
lar to those found in the Psalter.1 There are even techni-
cal classifications of psalms in these colophons such as
balbale, adab, tigi, and sagarru whose meanings are unknown
today.2 These classifications are comparable to the Hebrew
Miktam, Maskil and Shiggion.
In the liturgical hymn to Sin the colophon gives
some liturgical instructions identifying the melody and in-
strument by which it was to be accompanied. Langdon gives
the following translation: “It is a sagar melody. Sung on
the flute to Sin.”3 In a liturgy to Enlil the colophon
reads: "A prayer for the brick walls of Ekur, that it re-
turn to its place. A Song of Supplication."4 Here the
purpose of the hymn is given. An example of one which iden-
tifies the author is the colophon from another hymn to Enlil
which reads in part: "Copy from Barsippa, according to its
original, written and collated. Tablet of Beliksur son of
Belishkunni son of Iddin-Papsukkal worshipper of Nebo."5
1Wilson, A Scientific Investigation, p. 141.
2Kitchen, "The OT in Its Context," p. 12.
3Stephen Langdon, Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms
(Philadelphia: Published by The University Museum, 1919),
4Ibid., p. 308.
5Ibid., p. 329. For further examples of colophons
in Sumerian literature see James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient
Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed.
Press, 1969), pp. 496, 637-45, 579-82.
While the latter may be a librarian's note, it nevertheless
shows the desire of the ancients to preserve such informa-
tion in the form of notes either at the beginning or end of
Several of the Egyptian hymns and prayers from the
second millennium B.C. also contain such information as
author, god addressed and occasion.1 This information is
usually contained in an introductory statement which in some
cases is rather lengthy. They are not really comparable to
the psalm titles except for the fact that these Egyptian
hymns do sometimes have the author identified and/or the
The analogy has also been drawn by Sawyer between
the psalm titles and the Akkadian ritual texts dating from
the third century B.C. He notes that these ritual text:
contain a combination of some or all of the following
the cultic occasion when the composition is to be
the official appointed to utter it;
the type of composition (prayer, incantation, lamen-
the title of the composition;
the instrument(s) to accompany it;
the mode of utterance (singing, reciting).2
While all of these elements (except for the last) are found
in the psalm titles, it may be significant that there is no
indication of author or historical background in the
1Ibid., pp. 365-81.
2Sawyer, "An Analysis of the Psalm-Headings," pp.
Akkadian texts. Sawyer suggests that this might be because
these two elements belong to a non-cultic background.1
It should also be noted with regard to this analogy
that some of these texts were copied from older Babylonian
texts.2 Consequently, the analogy should not be taken to
imply a late date for the psalm titles.
In addition to the presence of titles and colophons
in the psalms of other ancient Near Eastern peoples as far
back as the third millennium B.C. there is also ample evi-
dence for the need of such notes. Sarna points out that as
early as the third millennium B.C. professional singers and
musicians were a part of the temple personnel in both
show the possibility that the psalm titles could come from
the period of David.
It appears from the evidence thus far presented that
the psalm titles are indeed very old. There is no evidence
from the standpoint of textual criticism which goes back to
the second or third century B.C. that there was ever a time
when they were not considered a part of the text of Scrip-
ture. The nonsensical translations of certain words in the
1Ibid., p. 29.
2Pritchard, ANET, p. 334. For the full text of
these see pp. 331-45.
3N. M. Sarna, "The Psalm Superscriptions and the
Guilds," in Studies in Jewish Religions and Intellectual
History, ed. Siegfried
Stein and Raphael Loewe (
titles of the LXX would indicate that at the time of trans-
lation they were already "hoary with age." Furthermore, the
analogy from other writings both Biblical and non-Biblical
shows that the use of titles or colophons to give the type
of information contained in the titles was certainly not un-
known in the time when the psalms were written.
While age alone does not guarantee that the titles
are authentic, it, certainly increases the possibility. A
careful study of the titles themselves in the context of the
Biblical revelation will determine whether or not they are
credible witnesses of all that they claim.
THE CREDIBILITY OF THE TITLES
The principle reason for rejecting the psalm titles
among the critics of the old critical school was that the
titles attributed many psalms to David. According to their
theory of the development of religion, David was a man of
his age--primitive both ethically and morally--and therefore,
unable to write the kind of material found in the Davidic
Psalms.1 As Driver writes concerning these psalms "they
express an intensity of religious devotion, a depth of spir-
itual insight, and a maturity of theological reflection, be-
yond what we should expect from David or David's age."2
However, with the discovery of both the
Scrolls and a fully developed hymnody with similar vocabu-
lary and form which was in vogue in David's time, this atti-
tude toward the psalm titles has changed. The trend in many
cases has been to retain the titles as they are but to re-
interpret them, at least in the matter of authorship. Thus,
it will be necessary in discussing the credibility of the
titles to establish first of all the meaning of the terms
1Smith, The Psalms Translated, pp. 243-45.
2Driver, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p.
which have traditionally been interpreted as designations of
authors. Once it has been established that these terms are
designations of authorship, a defense of their credibility
and that of the accompanying historical notices will be
The Designation of Authorship in the Titles
In the Massoretic Psalter there are a total of one
hundred psalms which are ascribed to authors by prefixing
the authors' names with the preposition l;. Seventy-three
of these are attributed to David, twelve to Asaph, eleven to
the Sons of Korah (including Psalm 88, which is also ascrib-
ed to Heman the Ezrahite), two to Solomon, and one each to
Moses and Ethan the Ezrahite.
Problems Relating to Interpretation
One of the major problems in understanding the psalm
titles is the ambiguity of the terms which are used espe-
cially as it relates to the designation of authorship.
First of all there is the problem of how the l; which pre-
fixes a personal name is to be understood. Then, closely
associated with that is the question concerning the meaning
attached to the proper names.
The Usage of l;
Since there are several different usages of the
preposition l;, its meaning must ultimately be determined by
context. Unfortunately with many of the psalm titles there
is not sufficient context to determine the meaning. The re-
sult is that many different views have arisen concerning its
meaning in the psalm titles.
In some instances the preposition l; prefixed to a
personal name denotes possession and can be translated,
"belonging to."1 This usage is not only found in Scripture,
but is also quite common in seal inscriptions. Several of
these seals have been
exilic period.2 For the most part they contain the owner's
inscribed design with his name prefixed by l indicating that
he is the owner of the seal. Thus, in some cases at least,
when the construction l; prefixed to a personal name stood
alone it denoted possession.
The dative usage of l; translated "to" or "for" is
the most common in Biblical Hebrew.3 This is the usage
which the cult-functional school of interpretation applied
to the psalm titles. Mowinckel the leading scholar in that
1BDB, p. 513.
2Examples of these seal inscriptions can be found in
Graesser Jr., "'The Seal of Elijah," BASOR 220 (December
1975):63-66; Herbert G. May, "Seal of Elamar," AJSL 52
(1936):197; and M. Heltzer, "Some North-west Semitic
Epigraphic Gleanings from the XI-VI Centuries b.C.,"
Institute Universitario Orientale 31 (1971):183-92.
3BDB, pp. 510-11.
regard says that dvidAl; means "for David" indicating that
the psalm was composed and designed for the Davidic king to
use in the festival cult as he represented the people.1
The preposition l; is used this way in the titles in
some instances (Hace.nam;la ) but not with the personal names.
In fact its usage in this way with Hac.enam;la occurring in the
same titles as dvedAl;, JsAxAl; or Hraqo-yneb;l; helps to rule
out the possibility of the dative sense for l; with a proper
name in the titles.
In a slightly different mode of thought Terrien
opting for the dative usage of l; suggests that dvidAl;
should be taken to mean "Psalm dedicated to David," or
"Psalm written in the name of David."2 This view has re-
ceived little attention and finds no support in the psalms
The dative sense of l; is also used in the LXX which
consistently translates dvidAl;, t&? Dauid in the Psalm
titles. However, Pietersma has pointed out that in the pro-
cess of textual transmission t&? Dauid was frequently
changed to tou? Dauid with the apparent purpose of clar-
ifying Davidic authorship.3 The usage of the dative in the
LXX is probably best explained by the efforts of the
1Mowinckel, The Psalms in
2Samuel Terrien, The Psalms and Their Meaning for
Today (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1952), p. 32.
3Pietersma, "David in the Greek Psalms," p. 225.
translators to give a literal translation.
Subject or Serial.
A third possible usage of l; in the titles finds
support from the notes which appear at the top of the clay
epic poems have the
name of the hero prefixed by the
ic preposition which is equivalent to l; (1-Aqht, 1-Krt and
1-B’l). In some cases the hero is a god (Baal) so it cannot
be an indication of authorship. Most likely it is designed
to identify the subject and should be translated "concerning
Aqhat," or “pertaining to Aqhat.”1 Another possibility sug-
gested by Sabourin is that these headings indicate the
"cycle" or literary serial to which the compositions are
The possibility that the l; may denote the subject
of the psalm may be ruled out in that it does not fit many
of the psalms in which the only subject is Yahweh. There is
the possibility, however, that the l; could indicate the
literary serial or collection from which the psalm was taken.
If this is the case, however, the basis for the psalm being
in that collection is easier explained in terms of author-
ship rather than subject or function as would be the case at
1Kitchen, "The OT in Its Context," p. 13.
2Sabourin, The Psalms, p. 14.
Genitive of Authorship
The most widely held view of the usage of l; in the
Psalm titles down through the years has been that it is a
lamed auctoris. Gesenius supports this meaning in the psalm
titles by noting that in other semitic dialects, especially
Arabic, this is a customary idiom.1
That this is a possible meaning for l; can also be
seen from the use of l; in Ugaritic where both B; and l; can
mean "from" or "by."2 Normally, in Hebrew, one would expect
to find the preposition -Nmi when the sense of "by" or "from"
is intended. However, in Ugaritic (a predecessor of the
Hebrew language) the preposition -Nmi was unknown. Either
B; or l; was used instead. Thus, even after -Nmi was intro-
duced into Biblical Hebrew the prepositions B; and l; con-
tinued in many cases to retain the meaning "from."3
The genitive use of l; in the psalm titles is well-
attested among scholars but many are reluctant to call it a
genitive of authorship.
refers to it as a genitive of relationship similar to its
usage in I Kings 5:15 (Heb.) where Hiram is called a friend
1William Gesenius, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, ed. and
German ed. by A. E. Cowley (
Press, 1910), par. 129.
2Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook in Analecta
Orientalia 38 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1965),
3Sabourin, The Psalms, p. 14.
of David (dvidAl; MrAyhi hyAhA bhexo).1 Various interpretations
have consequently arisen concerning the meaning of such ex-
pressions as dvidAl; and JsAxAl; based upon different inter-
pretations of the proper name.
While it is true that each independent usage of l;
with a personal name in the titles cannot be proven to be a
reference to authorship, it can be shown that at least some
of them do. It is only logical then to assume that with the
consistency with which l; is used with personal names in the
titles that the same meaning should be attached in each case
unless there is sufficient proof to the contrary.
The usage of the lamed auctoris is found in two in-
stances outside the Book of Psalms which are not questioned.
In Isaiah 38 the psalm of Hezekiah is introduced as bTAk;mi
Uhy.Aqiz;hil;, "the writing of Hezekiah." In this case the context
clearly indicates that Hezekiah was the author. Likewise
Habbakuk 3:1 introduces a prayer which is authored by Habba-
kuk with the words xybinAha qUq.BahEla hlApiT;, "a prayer of Habbakuk
Assuming that each part of a psalm title was written
at the same time, the historical occasions connected with
thirteen Davidic psalms show that the l; was intended to
indicate authorship. In fact two of these historical notes
claim that David sang or spoke the words of the psalm on a
Lexicon of the
Publishing Co., 1971), p. 169.
given occasion (Psalms 7 and 18). The clear implication is
that whoever wrote these historical notices understood dvidAl;
to indicate authorship.
Additional proof for this meaning is supplied by the
colophon at the end of Book II (Ps. 72:20). Here it is
stated that the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.
This colophon follows the benediction of Psalm 72:18-19 which
concludes Book II of the Psalter. Thus, the colophon has
been understood to refer to all of the psalms in Books I
and II. This raises some additional problems especially
since the last psalm in Book II--Psalm 72 is given the title
hmolow;li. There are also some psalms in this part of the
Psalter attributed to the sons of Korah and Asaph. The ma-
jority of them however, are designated dvidAl; and would fit
the general description of "the prayers of David son of
One other example in which l; refers to the author
may be found in the inscription from Khirbet el Qom (see
above p. 32). The fourth line, according to Miller, is part
of a colophon referring to the scribe or author of the in-
scription using the phrase l'nyhw, "by Oniyahu."1 There is
also the possibility that a l stood before the initial name
Uriyahu and that he may have been the author since it is
identified as his inscription.2 Certainly there is ample
1Miller, "Psalms and Inscriptions," p. 315.
evidence to show that the lamed auctoris is a valid possibil-
ity in the psalms and that the l; with a personal name was
intended at least in some instances to identify the author.
The Usage of Proper Names
Along with the multiplicity of meanings attributed
to the l; have come several different interpretations of the
names contained in the titles. For instance dvidAl; has been
interpreted as David the son of Jesse, the Davidic king, or
the Davidic collection. Likewise, the names Asaph and the
sons of Korah have been understood as the names of musical
guilds rather than the individuals. The rest of the names
(Moses, Solomon, Heman and Ethan) have for the most part
been accepted at face value.
Davidic King. One of the views concerning dviDA as
it occurs in the titles is that it refers to the Davidic
king--not necessarily David himself but any king from the
house of David.1 This understanding of David is based in
part upon some of the prophetic references in Hosea,
Jeremiah and Ezekiel2 in which the prophets anticipate the
time when the people of
1Weiser, The Psalms, p. 96; Mowinckel, The Psalms
2Hos. 3:5; Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24.
their God and David their king."1 However, the prophetic
passages refer specifically to the Messiah not just any
Commander. A somewhat similar view of the meaning
of dvidA based upon the Mari texts is to translate it as
"commander."2 In the Mari texts the word dawidum at first
was interpreted as "general" or "commander," but as Kitchen
points out it was later discovered that dawidum was actually
linked to the Babylonian word dabdum meaning "defeat."3
Needless to say the view is no longer held by any reputable
Davidic Collection. A view that is generally ac-
capted by modern scholars is that dvidAl; refers to the col-
lection of psalms from which these psalms were taken. It is
presumed that the collection may have had dvidA or dvidAl; as
the title for the entire collection. Such a theory does not
rule out the possibility that some or all of the seventy-
three Davidic psalms may have been authored by David, but in
many cases this view is adopted as an alternative to author-
ship for some psalms.4
Co. Inc., 1972), p. 44.
3K. A. Kitchen, Ancient orient and Old Testament
(Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1966), pp. 84-
4This is evident in Oesterley's discussion of dvidAl;.
W. 0. E. Oesterley, The Psalms (London: S. P. C. K., 1953),
The fact that this theory cannot be completely re-
jected is apparent from the corresponding use of Hraqo-yneb;li.
It is unrealistic to assume that each of the psalms so des-
ignated were collectively authored by Korah's sons. The
title is better taken to mean that these psalms originated
among the sons of Korah and belonged to a collection by that
name.1 Even if dvidAl; is taken to be a reference to the
collection by that title it must ultimately indicate that
David authored the psalms in that collection.
King David. The view that King David was the author
of these psalms finds ample support in the rest of Scrip-
ture. In the historical books David is pictured as a man
with great musical ability. Second Samuel 23:1 labels him
as the "sweet
his harp before King Saul because of his expertise in that
area (1 Sam. 16:16-23). Some of his compositions are even
recorded in the historical narrative of 2 Samuel and 1 Chron-
icles (2 Sam. 1:17-27; 3:33-34; 22:1-51; 23:1-7; 1 Chr. 16:7-
36; 29:10-13). In fact the psalln attributed to David in
1 Samuel 22 is the same one attributed to him in Psalm 18.
It is also ironic that Psalm 95 and parts of Psalms 105 and
106 are contained in the composition attributed to David in
1 Chronicles 16, yet, none of them have titles identifying
them as Davidic. Certainly if the titles were the work of
later editors they would not have missed the obvious.
1Bullock, An Introduction to Poetic Books, p. 125.
David also indicates in 2 Samuel 23:1-2 that he had
received a special annointing from God to sing and proclaim
God's Word in song. This fact is confirmed by the NT words
of Jesus and the apostles. The following list shows the
number of places in the NT where parts of a psalm are quoted
and in the context David is identified as the author.
Psalm 2--Acts 4:25-26
Psalm 16--Acts 2:25-28
Psalm 32--Romans 4:6.8
Psalm 69--Acts 1:16-20; Romans 11:9-10
Psalm 95--Hebrews 4:7
Psalm 109--Acts 1:20
Psalm 110---Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44;
In all but two instances (Psalms 2 and 95) the titles of
those psalms contain dvidAl;, indicating that Christ and the
apostles understood it to be an indication of David's author-
ship and affirmed that assertion to be true.
The other two psalms which the NT attributes to
David are anonymous in the Hebrew Bible.1 Some have taken
this to be an indication that the NT writers were simply
following the view of their contemporaries that David was
the author of the entire Psalter.2 In response to this
1It should be noted that the LXX, which the writer
of Hebrews uses, does attribute Psalm 95 to David and in
some manuscripts of the LXX Psalm 2 is also attributed to
him. The inspired witness of the NT writers would indicate
that at least some of the additional titles found in the LXX
are based upon an authentic tradition.
2Briggs, Commentary on Psalms, pp. lv-lvi; Josephus
considered David the author of the entire Psalter--Flavius
Josephus, The Works Flavius Josephus, trans. William
Whiston, vol. 2: Antiquities of the Jews I-VII (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974), pp. 465-66.
Payne has pointed out that no psalm which claims other
authorship, or contains later historical allusions (e.g. Ps.
137) is ever attributed in Scripture to King David.1 This
is noteworthy in light of the fact that there are over sixty
psalms quoted or alluded to in the NT.
Whether the intent of the writer who placed the ti-
tles at the head of the psalms was to indicate author or
collection the ultimate conclusion, based on the rest of the
Biblical evidence is that the psalms so designated were
authored by King David.
The Levitical Musicians
While David is the most prominent author listed in
the psalm titles, the Levitical musicians also made a sig-
nificant contribution to the Psalter. According to the ti-
tles; twelve psalms are assigned to Asaph, eleven to the
sons of Korah, and one each to Heman and Ethan. As was the
case with dvidAl; there is considerable disagreement over
whom or what the names are intended to designate.
The individuals named in these titles are generally
understood to be contemporaries of King David. According to
the Chronicler; Asaph, Heman and Ethan were assigned by
David as the leaders of music in the house of the Lord
(1 Chr. 6:31-46; 15:16-19; 16:31-42; 25:1-8), and the sons
of Korah were assigned to be gatekeepers (1 Chr. 9:17-19;
1Payne, "Psalms, Book of," p. 927.
26:1-19). While it is true that in some cases the psalms
fit well the time and character of David's contemporaries,
it is also true that there are some glaring anachronisms
which have caused some like Perowne to discount the possi-
bility of all the titles being trustworthy.1
These anachronisms have led other scholars to the
conclusion that these names do not refer to individuals but
rather to musical guilds named after the prominent leaders
from David's day. These guilds which were a common feature
of both secular and religious society in the ancient Near
East often followed a familial pattern of organization.
Sarna points out that it was not uncommon for certain skills
to stay in the same family generation after generation.2
Evidence for such family guilds is found in the
Chronicler and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. According to
1 Chronicles 25, David together with the commanders of the
army set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun
for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres
and cymbals. The sons who were appointed were under the
supervision of their respective fathers. In the case of
Asaph's descendants at least, this skill and responsibility
remained in the family clear up until the time of Ezra (Ezra
2:41; 3:10; Neh. 11:17, 22; 12:35, 46).
However, there are some problems with simply
1Perowne, The Book of Psalms, 1:96-97.
2Sarna, "The Psalms Superscriptions," p. 287.
interpreting JsAxAl; as a reference to the guild named after
Asaph. Other suggestions have been given as to the inter-
pretation of JsAxAl; as well as the other titles in this
Asaph. It is in these Asaphite psalms that the
anachronisms are most evident if David's contemporary Asaph
is taken to be the author. For example, both Psalms 74 and
79 are psalms of lament over the complete destruction of
place until the destruction of 586 B.C. Likewise, Payne has
suggested that Psalm 83 is more suitable to the ministry of
the Asaphite Jahaziel in 825 B.C. than to David's contempo-
rary (cf. Ps. 83:5-7 and 2 Chro. 20:1, 2, 14).1
If it is maintained that Asaph is the author of
these psalms, then they must be understood to be prophetic
psalms intended for use in the troublesome times that Asaph
foresaw by the Spirit of God. Spurgeon mentions this possi-
bility and sees no difficulty with it.2 In fact Asaph was
known as a seer (hz,Ho) who had recorded words suitable for
praise in the temple worship (2 Chr. 29:30). However, the
form is quite uncharacteristic of predictive prophecy else-
where in Scripture. The lament in both Psalms 74 and 79 is
from one who has personally experienced the disaster and not
just seen it from a distance.
1Payne, "Psalms, Book of," p. 928.
2Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 2:272.
Another possibility is that they were composed by
another Asaph at a much later date either during or after
the exile. Delitzsch points out that in Barhebraeus’
commentary on Job and in his Chronikon several traditions
are referred to "Asaph the Hebrew priest, the brother of
Ezra the writer of the Scriptures."1 Support for such a
tradition is still wanting.
The view which is the most tenable, though not with-
out its problems, is that JsAxAl; indicates the family or
guild from which the psalm originated.2 Perowne rejects
this view because it makes the sons of Asaph guilty of lit-
erary imposture since JsAxAl; in a title would customarily
designate authorship.3 It may be further questioned in that
the post-exilic writers refer to the members of the Asaphite
family or guild as the JsAxA-yneB; (2 Chr. 35:15; Ezra 2:41;
3:10; Neh. 11:22). The question that is raised is this:
if the Korahite psalms are designated Hraqo-yneb;li in the
titles, why are not the Asaphite guild psalms designated in
a similar manner?
The discrepancies between the titles and the post-
exilic writers in this regard may not be that significant,
1F. Delitzsch, Psalms, vol. 1, trans. Francis Bolton
in Commentary on the old Testament, reprint ed. (Grand.
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p,. 12.
(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969),
3Perowne, The Book of Psalms, 1:96-97.
for the Chronicler also differs from the psalm titles by
referring to the sons of Korah as Korahites rather than
Hraq-yneBi. In reality this is just another evidence that
neither the superscriptions or the Chronicler are dependent
upon each other. Sarna has carried this analysis one step
further to show that they both in turn contrast strongly with
the realities of the restoration period as recorded in Ezra
and Nehemiah. His conclusion is that "Psalms and Chronicles
must both represent genuine preexilic, if irreconcilable
Another version of this view which associates the
Asaph psalms with the musical guild is that JsAxAl; designates
the Asaphite collection or repertoire of hymns from which the
psalm was taken. This collection may have been compiled and
named after Asaph with more psalms added by his descendants
in later years.2
A similar view suggested by Briggs is that the Asaph
psalms were originally collected by an editor, not on the
basis of authorship or guild origin, but on the basis of
content and purpose.3 Indeed, the psalms do resemble each
other in character. Drijvers has characterized Asaph's
collection as "more didactic and historical with a strongly
1Sarna, "The Psalm Superscriptions," pp. 285•-86.
2A. Cohen, The Psalms in Soncino Books of the Bible
(London: The Soncino Press, 1969), p. 156.
3Briggs, Commentary on Psalms, p. lxvi.
prophetic flavour."1 However, this could easily be
accounted for by unity of authorship or guild tradition.
Delitzsch attributes some but not all of these twelve psalms
to David's contemporary who according to Psalm 78:69 must
have lived until the early part of Solomon's reign. The
rest, he says, whether they were composed by Asaph's descen-
dants or someone else were added to Asaph's collection
because they are modeled after Asaph's psalms.2
For the most part these are "educated guesses" based
upon the slightest amount of evidence. It must be admitted
that there are some real problems in simply interpreting
JsAxAl; as a single author from the time of David. The prob-
lem is best resolved by recognizing the solidarity of the
guild family in retaining the name of Asaph their founding
Ethan and Heman. The identification of Heman and
Ethan whose names are given in the titles of Psalms 88 and
89 with the added designation "the Ezrahite" attached to
each poses some different problems. First of all there is
the problem of which Heman and Ethan is intended. Then
there is the added confusion caused by the double title of
Psalm 88. There both Hraqo-yneb;li and yHirAz;x,ha NmAyhel; appear in
1Pius Drijvers, The Psalms, Their Structure and
Meaning (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), p. 18.
2Delitzsch, Psalms, 3:24.
3This argument could also be used against actual
Davidic authorship except for the fact that there is no
evidence for a Davidic guild of musicians.
If Hraqo-yneb;li appeared in the title with just NmAyhel;
there would be no problem since the Levite musician Heman
was a descendant of Korah (1 Chr. 6:33-37--Heb. vv. 18-22).
However, the added designation yHirAz;x,hA seems to link Heman
and Ethan to the great men of wisdom with whom Solomon was
compared in 1 Kings 4:31 (Heb. 5:11). The 1 Kings passage
lists these great men of wisdom as Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman,
Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. The same four names
appear again in 1 Chronicles 2:6 as four of the five sons of
Zerah of the tribe of
this information is that the title of Psalm 88 contains two
different statements concerning the origin of the Psalm
which are irreconcilable.1
In response to Delitzsch's conclusion it may first
of all be observed that the sons of Zerah (1 Chr. 2:6) of
the tribe of
not be the same men mentioned in 1 Kings. In fact the impli-
cation of the 1 Kings passage is that these wise men were
contemporaries of King Solomon. Secondly, the designation
"sons of Mahol" in 1 Kings 4:31 (Heb. 5:11) may actually
indicate membership in a musical guild. Albright interprets
it to mean "members of the orchestral guild" based on its
derivation from the root lUH. The meaning of lUH is much
like that of Greek o]rxe<omai, "to dance," from which the
1Delitzsch, Psalms, 3:24.
thought suggests that it is "an appellative expression mean-
ing 'sons of the dance '"2 Thus, the possibility remains
open that the Heman and Ethan found in the titles and 1 Kings
may also be the musicians mentioned in the Chronicler.
If this is true, the problem with the designation
"the Ezrahite" must be explained. Kidner assumes that it is
an equivalent of
Zerahite, a clan of
that the clan adopted the Levites Heman and Ethan into their
membership.3 Albright rejects this identification with
Zerah and instead interprets it to mean "members of a pre-
Israelite family."4 This interpretation is derived from the
noun form hrAz;x, which means “a native,”5 and in Numbers 9:14
is distinguished from both the Israelite and the stranger.
This meaning would suggest that both Heman and Ethan
were Canaanite proselytes who were adopted into the Levite
tribe so as to be able to use their musical abilities in the
worship of Yahweh.
Scriptural reason against using Canaanite proselytes in the
musical guilds so long as they accepted the worship of the
1Albright, Archaeology and
2The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Mahol," by J. G. G.
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 in The Tyndale Old Testa-
Press, 1973), p. 35.
4Albright, Archaeology and
5BDB, p. 280.
true God, Jehovah.1
Thus, it is best to understand the names Heman and
Ethan in the titles as David's musicians who were noted for
their wisdom in addition to their musical skills as leaders
of their respective guilds. The added ascription of
Hraqo-yneb;li in Psalm 88 may be an indication that Heman's
guild was named after Korah rather than himself.
The designation NtAyxel; in Psalm 89 must be treated
in the same was as JsAxAl; (see above), since verses 28-51
describe conditions in
The other suggestion given by Kidner is that the psalm
originally ended with verse 37 and was composed by David's
The Sons of Korah. There are eleven psalms, includ-
ing Psalm 88 which are designated Hraqo-yneb;li by their
Part II--David and the Critics." Bible and Spade 1 (Spring
2In the book of 1 Chronicles the name Jeduthun
replaces Ethan after chapter 16, but both names evidently
belong to the same person (cf. 1 Chr. 6:31ff.; 15:17, 19
with 16:37-42; 25:lff.). The name Jeduthun also occurs in
the titles--twice with the preposition –lf (Pss. 62, 77) and
once as NUdyodyli in a Davidic Psalm (Ps. 3§). Herbert
May, "’ ‘
Psalms," AJSL 58 (January-October 1941): 83, suggests that it
may refer to the name of a melody rather than a person in
the titles. Nahum Sarna in Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v.
"Psalms, Book of" suggests that it may be a musical instru-
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 in The Tyndale Old
Press, 1973), p. 320.
titles. These include a personal lament (Ps. 88), two com-
munal laments (Pss. 44,
85), four songs of
84, 87), two secular-type wisdom psalms (Pss. 45, 49), an
enthronement of Yahweh psalm (Ps. 47), and personal psalms
relating to the Sanctuary (Pss. 42/43, 84).1 In the psalms
of the last category the author expresses his own personal
longing for or attachment to the temple. In fact,
Psalm 84:10 indicates that the author was a doorkeeper in
the house of the Lord.
This then provides a vital clue to the identification
of the "sons of Korah." For in 1 Chronicles 26:1-19 some of
the Korahites (descendants of Korah) are appointed to be the
gatekeepers of the house of the Lord. This responsibility
remained with the family even after the return from the
Babylonian exile (1 Chr. 9:17-19; cf. Ezra 2:42; Neh. 7:45)
giving evidence of a distinctive group (guild) which per-
sisted for many generations. A part of their group may have
been involved in the musical aspect of worship as well, for
in 2 Chronicles 20:19 the Korahites are among the Levites
who stood up to praise the Lord in the days of Jehoshaphat.
Furthermore, it has; already been noted that the musical
guild leader Heman was also a descendant of Korah. This
may be an indication that the Hraqo-yneB; had double duty in the
priestly responsibilities of the temple, making them well
1Martin J. Buss, "The Psalms of Asaph and Korah,"
JBL 82 (December 1963): 382-83.
qualified to compose the quality and type of psalms in this
Another theory concerning the "sons of Korah" pro-
posed by Miller is that they were cultic leaders who lived in
the area of
occasional pilgrimages there during the period of the
Divided Kingdoms.1 The theory centers around the discovery
of an ostracon with the inscription Hrq ynb from Tel Arad.
This ostracon which was once part of a large bowl with the
names of several families or groups listed on it was found
in a royal, Yahwistic sanctuary in the ancient royal fortress
dating back to the period of the Divided Kingdom.2
While it is possible that some Levite descendants of
Korah were assigned to
the outpost of
written these psalms from there, there is no reason for
assuming as Miller does that the Korahites did not reside in
valid reason for assuming that the Edomite (Gen. 36:16),
Calebite (1 Chr. 2:42-43), Benjaminite (1 Chr. 3.2:1-6), and
Levitical Korahites all represented “the same tribal group
which entered southern
and settled among the
Calebites in the vicinity of
Miller, "The Korahites of
CBQ 32 (January 1970): 59, 66-67.
2Ibid., p. 64.
3Ibid., p. 67.
Such an assumption destroys the credibility of the geneo-
logical records of the Chronicler.
The references within the Korahite psalms which
speak of the writers asspociation with the temple and in
particular the gatekeepers of the temple imply that the
"sons of Korah" were more than just the collectors of these
hymns. Rather these psalms were actually composed by one of
the descendants of the notorious Levite who rebelled against
Moses and Aaron.
The meaning of hw,mol; has not been a major problem
in the area of interpretation since nearly all scholars
whether they agree with the title or not take it to be
attributing the authorship of Psalm 90 to Moses. For many
critics this is impossible and this psalm then is given as
a prime illustration of the unreliability of the titles.1
that "this and similar ancient guesses imply that the head-
ings of the Psalms must not always be taken at their face
Mowinckel's chief argument against Mosaic authorship
of Psalm 90 is that it does not reflect the primitive,
collective outlook of
those ancient times when
1Oesterley, The Psalms, p. 18.
2Anderson, The Book of Psalms, p. 46.
ambitiously intent on conquest. To him the psalm is too
individualistic--concerned with the personal interests of a
community that knows it is under the wrath of God--rather
than looking forward to the fulfillment of God's promises to
the nation.1 However, the psalm is not written simply from
whole standing before God.
From the positive side, there are many similarities
between the language of the psalm and that of the Pentateuch
written by Moses. Green, who gives an exhaustive list of
these, points out that in many cases these coincidences are
too subtle to be the work of an imitator, but rather reflect
the operation of the same mind.2
The identity of hmolow; in the titles of Psalm 72 and
127 is certainly understood to be King Solomon. The princi-
ple area of controversy is whether the hmolow;li in Psalm 72
should be translated "by Solomon" in the sense of authorship
or "for Solomon" in that Solomon seems to be the subject of
That Solomon was well-qualified to write both of
these Psalms there is little doubt. First Kings 4:29-34
1Mowinckel, The Psalms in
2Green, "The Titles of the Psalms," pp. 491-93; For
the answer to some other objections to Mosaic authorship see
Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, pp. 641-43.
describes his great wisdom and says that he wrote as many as
a thousand and five songs. Psalm 127 especially befits
Solomon as a man of wisdom being written in the form of
wisdom literature like many of his other writings recorded
in the book of Proverbs.1 Psalm 72 on the other hand
reflects some of the experiences of Solomon's life--a pros-
perous reign, sovereignty over many nations, and receiving
Some have argued that Psalm 72 was not written by
Solomon but by someone else like David about Solomon. One
reason for this is that the prayer seems to have Solomon as
the subject, and it would be inappropriate for Solomon to
expect the people to use such a prayer prepared by himself
on behalf of himself.2 In response to this Leupold has
shown that the prayer could be Solomon's prayer for his son
or a prayer designed to instruct the people how to pray for
"the realization of the divinely appointed destiny of his
father's house."3 It may be compared to Solomon's prayer
in 1 Kings 3:6-9.
Another reason for assigning this psalm to David
instead of Solomon is due to a misunderstanding of verse 20
which reads: "This concludes the prayers of David son of
1Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, pp. 890-91.
2Ibid., p. 515.
Jesse." This statement was not a part of the original
psalm. Instead, it is a colophon which appears after the
doxology of Book II and summarizes the contents of Books I
and II of the Psalter. It was evidently added by the com-
piler or an editor. The note was designed to recognize
David as the chief author of these books; not the only
author, since there are also psalms by the sons of Korah and
one by Asaph besides this one by Solomon.1
David as Author
One of the most serious charges leveled against the
psalm titles is that they lack credibility in attributing 73
of the 150 psalms to
character of Christ and the Apostles is at stake" if David
was not the author of at least the psalms attributed to him
in the New Testament (see above p. 48).2 In surveying the
views of scholars down through history David has always been
held in high esteem as a writer of psalms. It is only in
relatively recent history that Davidic authorship has been
Historical Views of David the Psalmist
The earliest extra-Biblical references to David as
an author are found in the Apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus
1Ridner, Psalms 1-72, p. 254.
Test" (Class Syllabus, Grace Theological Seminary, 1977),
and 2 Maccabees from the second century B.C. In Ecclesias-
ticus 47:7-11 David is described as a man of song and praise
who organized the musicians for temple worship.1 Second
Maccabees refers to "the works of David" as being among the
writings collected by Nehemiah when he founded a library
(2 Macc. 2:13).2
The next reference is found in the prose insert in
column XXVII of the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 4. The
pertinent lines of this insert are translated by Sanders as
And david, the Son of Jesse, was wise, and a light
like the light of the sun, and literate, and dis-
cerning and perfect in all his ways before God and
men. And the Lord gave him a discerning and enlight-
ened spirit. And he wrote 3,600 psalms; and songs to
sing before the altar over the whole-burnt perpetual
offering every day, for all the days of the year, 364;
and for the offering of the Sabbaths, 52 songs; and
for the offering of the New Moons and for all the
Solemn Assemblies and for the day of Atonement, 30
songs. And all the songs that he composed were 446,
and songs for making music over the stricken, 4. And
prophecy which was given him from before the Most
Whether or not this composition is based on a valid
tradition handed down from David's time or originated in the
show that the
1The Apocrypha, An American Translation, trans.
Edgar J. Goodspeed (New York: Random House, Inc., 1959),
2Ibid., p. 448.
of David as the musical composer and author of many psalms.
The Rabbinic writers for the most part assigned the
work of the Psalter to David though not necessarily the
authorship of every psalm. The second century A.D. Talmud
tract Baba Bathra (14b) states, "David wrote the Book of
Psalms with the aid of the ten ancients, with the aid of
Adam the first, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Jeduthun,
Asaph, and the three sons of Korah,"1 Apparently David was
considered the author of some psalms, but the editor of the
Very similar is the statement of the Midrash on the
Psalms from a latter date. On Psalm 1:2 is included the
statement that "as
Moses gave five books of laws to
so David gave five
books of Psalms to
little later ten men are listed as authors of the Book of
Psalms; namely Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, David,
Solomon, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah.3
The opinions of several Jewish commentators between
the tenth and thirteenth centuries concerning the authorship
of the Psalms have been summarized by Neubauer and in each
case David is held to be the principle author of the
1Briggs, Commentary on Psalms, p. liv.
2William G. Braude, trans., The Midrash on Psalms,
2 vols., in Yale Judaica Series 13, ed. Leon Nemoy (New
Psalms.1 R. Saadyah Gaon (died 940) considered David the
author of all the Psalms and takes the other names as persons
responsible for singing them.2 Salmon ben Yeroham, Yepheth
ben Eli, Abraham ibn Ezra and David Qamhi (or Kimhi) all
accept multiple authorship according to the designations in
It was also the view of some of the early Church
Fathers that David was the author of the whole Psalter.
Augustine for example considered the other names found in
the titles to be the individuals whom David, in composing
the Psalms, prophetically represented.4
It was in the seventeenth century when Benedict
Spinoza began to
Psalter that respect for Davidic authorship began to be
undermined. The final abandonment of Davidic authorship by
the higher critics came in the nineteenth century with the
rise of the critical-historical approach. At that time the
1Ad Neubauer, "The Authorship and the Titles
According to Early Jewish Authorities," in vol. 2 of
Studia Biblica et Ecclesiastica, ed. S. R. Driver, et al.
(Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1890), pp. 10-28.
2Ibid., pp. 1C-13.
3Ibid., pp. 1P, 20-21, 25-27, 28; cf. David Kimhi,
The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimhi on Psalms CXX-CL,
ed. and trans. Joshua Baker and Ernest W. Nicholson
(Cambridge: at the University Press, 1973), p. 11.
4Dewette, "Introduction to the Psalms," pp. 456-
Davidic authorship was almost completely abandoned.1 Since
then with the aid of some key archaeological discoveries and
the rise of the form-critical school it has been shown that
there is good reason for at least viewing many of the psalms
as pre-exilic and thus answering the key objection to
Objections to Davidic Authorship
Five reasons are given by Driver as to why the
majority, at least, of the seventy-three psalms ascribed to
David cannot be his.3 His first objection is that many of
these psalms are reminiscent of earlier psalms and lack the
freshness and originality expected from the originator of
Hebrew hymnody. Such an objection arbitrarily limits David's
poetic genius and fails to take into account the extenuating
circumstances out of which these psalms often arose.
The second objection, involving the presence of
pronounced Aramaisms is much more objective. These Arama-
isms may be explained in part by transmission. Weiser says
concerning these late linguistic forms, they are "conclusive
only for the final form of the psalms in question, not for
1Nahum M. Sarna, Prolegomenon to The Psalms, Chrono-
logically Treated with a New Translation, by Moses Butten-
weiser, in the Library of Biblical Studies, ed. Harry M.
Orlinsky (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1969),
2Charles Lee Feinberg, "The Date of the Psalms,"
BSac 104 (October-December 1947):439-40.
3Driver, Introduction to the OT, pp. 374-77.
the date at which they came into existence."1 Oesterley
applies the same argument not just to word forms but even to
some of the later thoughts.2
each of these Aramaisms and comes to the following conclu-
sions: (1) There are only fifteen genuine Aramaisms in the
Psalms, and of these only nine occur in Davidic psalms;
(2) these Aramaisms may actually have originated from other
ancient Semitic languages; and (3) there is no reason why
David could not have used Aramaisms since he ruled over all
of the Aramaeans as far as the Euphrates.3 The most recent
blow to Driver's argument comes from the discovery of
Aramaic elements in the fifteenth-century Ugaritic texts
which in terms of language, poetic form and syntax are very
similar to Hebrew Poetry.4
Driver's third objection is that some of these psalms
have stylistic affinities with psalms which are much later
than David's time. Such affinities, however, can not prove
any thing concerning the date of a psalm. Like the first
objection it tends to be very arbitrary and simplistic.
The last two objections which are quite similar are
1Weiser, The Psalms, p. 92.
2W. 0. E. Oesterley, A Fresh Approach to the Psalms
(London: Ivor Nicolson and Watson, 1937), pp. 62-63.
3Wilson, "The Headings of the Psalms," pp. 28-32.
4Harrison, Introduction to the OT, pp. 983-84.
legitimate objections which must be answered. Here Driver
cites several instances of psalms which are unadapted to
David's situation or character and psalms which presuppose
the circumstances and character of a later age. A prime
example of this phenomena is the implication that the temple
has already been built (Ps. 5:7 (8); 27:4; 68:29 (30);
138:2). But the usage of lkAyhe in these passages need not
refer to Solomon's temple as may be seen from its usage in
1 Samuel 1:9 and 3:3. Furthermore, as Archer points out,
there is proof in Psalm 27 which uses lkAyhe that the psalm
could not have been written after Solomon's temple was built
because the sanctuary is also referred to as hKosu, "booth"
and OlAh;xA, "His tent."'
There are also a number of psalms in which the
writer identifies himself with the poor and needy during
evil times when the wicked are established and the godly are
oppressed (Pss. 12, 25, 37, 38, etc.). Once again Driver
claims that these do not fit into the historical accounts of
David's life. Yet as Green has pointed out what better time
could be found for such compositions than the time when
David was being jealously pursued by Saul. At that time
David was God's anointed and Saul had been rejected by the
Lord. On one occasion Saul even massacred the priests sus-
pected of aiding David and Abiathar had to flee for his
1Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Intro-
duction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 441.
life.1 Here is fertile ground out of which such a psalm
could have arisen.
Psalm 51:18-19, where a reference is made to building
up the walls of
later reference to the hope of restoration. Here it is a
matter of interpretation. The expression "building the
walls" can mean "to strengthen, enlarge, and fortify them"
(1 Kgs. 11:27; 12:25; 15:17, 22); or it can be used figura-
tively to mean "give prosperity" (Ps. 28:5; 89:4).2 The
latter meaning would maintain the synonymous parallelism of
The references to the king in the third person
rather than the first person may also seem strange coming
from David, however, it is a common phenomenon in ancient
literature. In fact many times in the OT Yahweh is quoted
and speaks of Himself in the third person.3 Thus, it may be
observed in these few examples that in most cases where the
critics object to Davidic authorship of a psalm it is
because not all of the possible interpretations that would
relate it to David's time have been exhausted.
The argument of Sarna that the David of Samuel and
Kings was a man of his age who was ethically and morally
primitive and therefore unable to write with the depth of
1Green, "The Titles of the Psalms," p. 505.
2Ibid., p. 496.
3Archer, A Survey of OT Introduction, p. 440.
spiritual insight and religious devotion reflected in the
is based on an evolutionary bias.1
gious and ethical concepts did not develop over a period of
years, but were given
to them by God at
before David's time. The psalms of David then reflect a
thorough knowledge of God's law. As to the argument that
David was not exposed to the succession of trials and afflic-
tions of the kind represented in the Psalms, it can not be
substantiated. On the contrary, Delitzsch summarizes David's
psalms as follows:
They are the fruit not only of his high gifts and
the inspiration of the Spirit of God (2 Sam. 23:2),
but also of his own experience and of the experience
of his people interwoven with his own. David's path
from his anointing onwards, lay through affliction
to glory. . . . His life was marked by vicissitudes
which at one time prompted him to elegiac strains,
at another to praise and thanksgiving; at the same
time he was the founder of the kingship of promise,
a prophecy of the future Christ, and his life, thus
typically moulded, could not express itself other-
wise than in typical or even consciously prophetic
Space does not allow for all of the objections to
Davidic authorship in the individual psalms to be answered.
These, however, are treated in the commentaries on the Psalms
by such writers as Delitzsch, Kirkpatrick and Perowne.3
1Sarna, "The Psalms Superscriptions," p. 287.
2Delitzsch, Psalms, 1:9.
3For an exhaustive treatment of positive evidence
for Davidic authorship see International Standard Bible
Encyclopaedia, s.v. "Psalms, Book of," by John Richard
The Historical Notices in the Titles
If there is one item from the psalm titles that is
especially helpful in interpretation it is the historical
notices, for they give the historical occasion which
prompted the psalmist--in each case, David--to write. Yet,
this is the one area in the headings which has received the
most criticism. Some of this criticism is based upon the
general character of these notices and some on specific
problems found in the psalms.
General Character of the Historical Notes
A total of thirteen psalms contain these historical
notices in their titles.1 Everyone of them are identified
as Davidic psalms (dvidAl;) and refer to events in David's
life. Most, but not all, of these events are recorded in
the books of Samuel. The following is a list of these thir-
teen psalms with the corresponding passage from the histor-
ical books of the OT as it was compiled by Driver.2
Psalm 3--2 Samuel 15, etc.
Psalm 7--allusion obscure
Psalm 18--2 Samuel 22
Psalm 34--l Samuel 21:13
Psalm 51--2 Samuel 12
Psalm 52--l Samuel 22:9
Psalm 54--l Samuel 23:19
Psalm 56--1 Samuel 21:11 (or 27:2f., 7-12)
Psalm 57--1 Samuel 22:1; 24:3ff.
Psalm 59--1 Samuel 19:11
1This number may be increased to 14 if Psalm 30 is
included. The title there reads "A psalm, A song. For the
dedication of the temple. Of David." (NIV).
2Driver, An Introduction to the OT, p. 370.
Psalm 60--2 Samuel 8:13 (cf. v. 3 Zobah); 1 Chronicles
Psalm 63--l Samuel 23:14ff.; 24:1; 26:2
Psalm 142--1 Samuel 22:1; 24:3ff.
In summary; Psalms 7, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, and
142 refer to the period of David's persecution by Saul;
Psalm 18 to the climax of his reign; Psalm 51 to his con-
fession of sin with Bathsheba; Psalm 60 to the Syro-Ammonite
war; and Psalms 3 and 63 to his flight from Absalom.
In all but two instances these historical references
follow a set pattern of syntax. There is a noun clause
introduced by the temporal conjunction B; with the infini-
tive construct. Then the finite verb is used in the follow-
ing coordinate or subordinate clause.1 The two exceptions
to this stereotyped form are found in Psalm 7 and 18. In
each of these titles the particle rw,xE introduces a rela-
tive clause. The relative clause of Psalm 7 describes the
psalm as "that which he (David) sang to Yahweh concerning
the words of Cush, a Benjamite."2 With Psalm 18 the obvi-
ously different form is probably due to its adaptation from
2 Samuel 22:1. Similar to Psalm 7 the relative clause uses
the finite verb with the non-technical reference to "this
song." In all but Psalm 7 either the syntactical construc-
tion or a prepositional phrase indicates the time or
1Childs, "Psalm Titles," p. 138.
2Childs views this title as belonging to a litur-
gical setting since -lf in every other occurrence in the
titles refers to the manner in which the psalm is to be
rendered; Ibid., p. 138.
occasion with which the psalm is to be associated.
An intriguing parallel to this stereotyped form of
historical note is found in the introduction to Hezekiah's
psalm in Isaiah 38. Like the historical notes in the psalm
titles it is introduced with the infinitive construct joined
to the preposition B;. The similarity is seen in the tech-
nical psalm classification and designation of authorship as
well. From this it may be concluded that by Hezekiah's time
a fixed form of psalm title was being used.
Objections to the Credibility of
The Historical Notes
The stereotyped form of these historical references
has been used by Childs as evidence that they were part of
an exegetical process by ancient rabbis who desired to
supply a setting for these independent compositions.1 This
view is echoed by Bruce, although he is willing to admit
that some at least of the "historical" titles probably find
their origin in the time of the monarchy. He cites the
example of Psalm 18.2
Another view with less respect is cited by Oesterley.
He sees them as the work of a redactor who wanted to draw
attention to certain words or episodes which came to his
mind from the historical books as he studied these psalms.3
1Ibid., pp. 142-43.
2Bruce, "The Earliest OT Interpretation," p. 46.
3Oesterley, A Fresh Approach to the Psalms, p. 86.
Weiser is even more
critical in calling them
additions designed to establish Davidic authorship and thus
David’s authority for the cultic practices of the Second
Glueck says that these notices have nothing to do
with the historical setting of the psalm. Instead, they
were added as a kind of mnemotechnic used by the director of
music to remind the people of this or that psalm.2 All of
these explanations seriously undermine the credibility of
these historical notes placing them in the category of con-
jecture or downright deceitfulness. Much of modern scholar-
ship has abandoned the view that these notes represent
ancient traditions for a variety of reasons.
A common complaint is that the contents of the psalms
are inconsistent with their historical contentions.3 How-
ever, as they are individually examined it is found that
these objections are based upon a superficial understanding
of both the historical texts and the psalm texts. For
in the title of Psalm 7 is the Cushite who reports to David
the death of Absalom, and then notes the difference of mood
1Weiser, The Psalms, p. 38; cf. Edward R. Dalgish,
Psalm Fifty-One (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962), p. 245.
2J. J. Glueck, "Some Remarks on the Introductory
Notes of the Psalms," in Studies on the Psalms, in Die Ou
Testamentiese Werkgemeenskap in Suid-Africa (Potchefstroom,
3Eerdmans, The Hebrew Book of Psalms, p. 37.
between the psalm and 2 Samuel 19:1.1 Such an assumption
cannot be substantiated, in fact, Eerdman is one of the few
who makes that
assumption. Bruce conjectures that
be a "kinsman and emissary of Saul otherwise unknown," or
another name for Shimei.2 No definite identification can
be made from the Biblical information which raises the
question of where an "exegete" would have gotten his infor-
Many of these apparent inconsistencies may be ex-
plained by the fact that the psalms express the thoughts and
emotions of David in various crisis and not simply the
historical facts. For example Eerdmans rejects the authen-
ticity of the title of Psalm 142 because in the psalm David
is pictured as a lonely man forsaken by all his friends.3
The title, meanwhile, identifies it as a psalm of David in
the cave; where, according to 1 Samuel 22, he was joined by
his family and about 400 men. David, in Psalm 142 was not
giving an indication of who was or was not with him in per-
son, but rather an expression of his inward feelings on that
It is also possible that David may have recorded the
words of some of these psalms sometime after the experiences
as he reflected back upon them. Kidner suggests this
2Bruce, "The Earliest OT Interpretation," p. 48.
3Eerdmans, The Hebrew Book of Psalms, p. 399.
possibility in response to the objection that the polished
work of art represented by the acrostic of Psalm 34 could
not have been written in the life or death situation
described in the title.1 This could also account for the
strong statement of faith which some commentators find to be
inconsistent with the fear which led David to feign madness
before the king of
sistencies may also be answered by pointing to David's
persevering faith and proficient poetic ability as he was
guided by the Holy Spirit.
The lack of specific references within the psalms to
the events described in the titles should not be used as
evidence against their authenticity. On the contrary,
Harris sees a divine purpose in such titles which he express-
es with regard to Psalm 56.
It expresses trust in time of trouble; but the
explicitly mentioned. The psalm very likely was
written years after the event as David thought upon
those desperate days. He did not write just for the
pleasure of writing about his experiences. By the
Spirit of God, he was moved to write a general psalm
that would also be helpful to us when we are cap-
tured by our Philistines in the twentieth century.2
It is the above mentioned lack of specific ref-
erences within the psalms to the events described in the
titles which has led to Slomovic's view concerning the ori-
gin of these titles. He suggests that the rabbis used all
1Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 44.
2Harris, "Psalms," p. 38.
the midrashic-hermeneutical methods to determine the set-
tings for these psalms.1 For instance, he sees a linguistic
connection between Psalm 56 and the narration of 1 Samuel
21:11-16. The word llahA appears three times in the Psalm
and once in the Samuel narrative. Also, the expression of
fear, xrAyxi (Ps,. 56:4) is connected with the only mention of
fear on David's part in the Historical narratives (1 Sam.
21:13).2 Certainly if this was the explanation for the ti-
tles there would be good reason to question their authen-
Another reason for discrediting these notes is that
in some cases they differ from the information given in the
historical narratives. For example, in Psalm 34:1 the king
called Achish. Another very conspicuous difference is found
in the title of Psalm 60. There it is said that David
fought the Aramaeans and Joab returned and struck down
Edomites in the
2 Samuel 8 mentions David's defeat of the Aramaeans and
identifies David as the one returning from striking down
Edomites in the
icles 18:12 it is Abishai who struck down 18,000 Edomites in
1Slomovic, "Formation of Historical Titles," p. 352.
2Ibid., p. 372; Patrick W. Skehan, "A Note on
Ps. 34,1," CBQ 14 (July 1952):226, also sees the use of the
root llahA as the connecting link between Psalm 34:3 and
1 Sam. 21:14.
These differences, however, need not be construed
as irreconcilable accounts of the same event. In the case
of Achish and Abimelech they both refer to the same person.
Achish is the king's personal name and Abimelech is his
title, similar to the Pharaoh of Egypt (cf. Gen. 20 & 26).1
As for Psalm 60:2, Green has shown how that the last part of
the title may simply refer to a separate part of David's
Joash.2 The obvious differences in the case of Psalm 60:2
from the historical narratives has led some like Butten-
wieser to consider this as a genuine heading.3 In fact this
is the only heading Buttenwieser considers to be genuine.
Perowne questions the authenticity of these histori-
cal notices on the basis that they only occur in Davidic
psalms. He argues that the history of David is much better
known than of the other psalmists so it was easier to fit
his psalms into a particular occasion in David's life. This
is then confirmed by the fact that most of them are taken
almost word for word from the historical books.4 This argu-
ment does not stand for it is just as easy to attribute
1Green, "The Titles of the Psalms," p. 499.
2Ibid., pp. 499-500.
3Moses Buttenwieser, The Psalms, Chronologically
Treated, with a New Translation, Prolegomenon by Nahum M.
Sarna, in the Library of Biblical Studies, ed. Harry M.
Orlinsky (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1969), p.
4Perowne, The Book of Psalms, 1:101.
these titles to someone like the author of the historical
books who was himself familiar with the events of David's
Positive Arguments for the Credibility
of the Historical Notes
Some of the reasons for rejecting the authenticity
of the historical notes may just as easily be used to sup-
port their authenticity. The variations and additional bio-
graphical details may be cited as evidence for the use of a
different tradition behind at least some of the titles from
what is given in the historical books.
These different traditions do not necessarily mean
that the titles are authentic, but it does argue for their
antiquity. For example in the case of Psalm 7, there would
be no reason for
introducing the unknown "
in the title unless it was a detail that had been passed
down with the psalm itself.1 The same could be said con-
cerning some of the details introduced in the title of
Psalm 60. They must have been valid traditions for as
Archer says, "A later editor would never have ventured to
manufacture new details not contained in Samuel and Chron-
It may also be noted that the want of a clear
1Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 46.
2Archer, A Survey of OT Introduction, p. 443.
connection between the contents of a psalm and the psalm
title is best explained by a tradition connected with the
psalm from the time it was written. Meanwhile, some of the
other psalms in the Psalter which contain obvious historical
allusions have no such titles. If these historical refer-
ences are the work of a rabbinic exegete it seems strange
that he would pass over the obvious and make up an histori-
cal setting based upon such meager evidence in some cases.
In summary, these notes which in thirteen instances
give the historical setting out of which the psalm arose
deserve serious attention. They give important clues con-
cerning the origin of many other psalms beside their own.
They show that many of the psalms arose out of the experi-
ences of the life of a man who walked with God. Therefore,
unless it could be proven that there is a conflict between
the claim of the title and the contents of the psalm they
should be accepted as trustworthy.1 As far as their origin
is concerned it must be admitted that there is no way of
knowing how they originally became a part of the text.
Kidner's remarks on this are especially appropriate.
It should perhaps be left an open question whether
some are the product of comparing scripture with
scripture, and others the product of historical
records. What matters is their truth, which there
is no valid reason to doubt, and which finds
1Many of the claims by critics that such conflicts
do exist have been shown to be unsubstantiated by Green,
"The Titles of the Psalms," pp. 494-504; and by Leupold in
his commentary, Exposition of the Psalms.
incidental confirmation in the light which they throw
on the psalms they introduce.1
Summary Statement on the Credibility of
the Psalm Titles
From the internal and external evidences examined
with regard to the credibility of the psalm titles it may be
concluded that they represent authentic traditions. As such,
they are to be taken at face value and may be used as accu-
rate and reliable sources of information concerning the
author, historical setting, and liturgical use of the psalms
where such information is given. The musical and liturgical
notes would apply to
their usage in the
it is likely that some of them were still functionable in
1Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 46.
THE ORIGIN OF THE PSALM TITLES
It is impossible to discern with any certainty when
or how the titles came to be a part of the various psalms.
Several theories have been proposed, many of which have
already been discussed and shown to be faulty on one account
or another. The most acceptable view in light of the pre-
ceding material is that they are pre-exilic in origin and
very likely date back to the time of composition.
The first line of argument comes from a comparison
of the psalm titles with the Chronicler. First Chronicles
16:7-36 gives a composite psalm consisting of Psalms 105:1-
15; 96:1-13; the closing prayer of Psalm 106:47; and the
doxological colophon of Book Four of the Psalms. This com-
posite psalm was committed to Asaph by David to be sung by
the Levitical singers on the day that the ark of God was
brought up to
ent form of the Psalter including the titles must have been
established before the Chronicler wrote.
This fixed form is indicated first of all by the
inclusion of the doxology which has been shown to belong to
the final redaction of the Psalter, serving a literary and
not a liturgical function.1 As far as the titles are con-
cerned it may be assumed that they were already established
at this time since Psalms 96, 105 and 106 remained anonymous
even though the Chronicler identified them as Davidic.
One additional passage from Chronicles which
form before the Chronicler wrote is 2 Chronicles 29:30.2
According to it the Levites were ordered by Hezekiah to sing
praises to Yahweh with the words of David and Asaph. This
indicates that there were psalms recognized as belonging to
David and Asaph not only in the Chronicler's day, but also
in Hezekiah's day. It is not certain whether they were
recognized by their titles or a distinct collection, but
apparently David's and Asaph's psalms were distinguishable
a little over 200 years after they were written.3
Further evidence for an early origin of the titles
comes from the arrangement of the Psalter. The Psalter is
divided into five books with the majority of the titles
being found in the first three. The fourth and fifth books
contain only four psalms which have any kind of musical
directions and these
psalms are Davidic.
as an indication of a
1Fullerton, "Studies in the Psalter," p. 192.
2Ibid., p. 190.
3By this time
This is confirmed by the Annals of Senacharib in which he
reports that male and female musicians were included in the
tribute paid by Hezekiah. See Pritchard, ANET, p. 288.
titles.1 In response to those who claim that these titles
are associated with the
worship in the
asks, "why do we not find the most choice notes with the
The Chronicler of course supports this arrangement
in that it was under David's leadership that the more elab-
orate service of song
in the former
Thus, it should come as no surprise that in the first three
books of Psalms sixty-five of the eighty-nine psalms have
musical directions. These are almost without exception
identified as being composed by David or his contemporaries.
It may also be noted here that the two Asaph psalms which
by their context must be considered exilic psalms (Pss. 74
and 79) have no musical directions.
It is suggested then that all of the information
contained in the psalm titles finds its origin in the period
of the composition of the psalms. This does not necessarily
mean that the titles were affixed to the psalms by the
author, though that was undoubtedly true in some cases.
Most likely they were placed at the head of the psalms by
the editor or compiler as the Psalter was being formed.
There has been much speculation concerning how the title:
came into the text of the psalms. Nevertheless, the fact
remains that they are a part of the text of Scripture that
God has seen fit to preserve. All the evidence that has
1Bernard C. Taylor, "The Psalms with Their Super-
scriptions," Hebraica 1 (April 1884):30.
been presented suggests that their origin lies squarely
within the prophetic tradition of the OT Scriptures which
makes their authenticity a foregone conclusion.
The ultimate conclusion from the evidence that has
been presented is that the psalm titles are authentic. They
may not have been written by the authors of the various
psalms but they do represent ancient and reliable traditions.
This is shown in part by the antiquity of the titles. From
the standpoint of textual studies, there is no evidence to
show that there was ever a time when they were not a part of
the text. By comparing the titles with other portions of
Scripture it seems very probable that they were fixed well
before the exile. Even if some were added as late as Ezra's
time that would still place them within the "prophetic tra-
As a product of the "prophetic tradition" they
deserve then to be respected, recognized and understood as
an integral part of the various canonical psalms to which
they belong. To omit these titles from the text, as The
New English Bible does in its translation, is a great
disservice to the reader.1
1Driver gives the reasons why they were omitted as
follows. "Some are historical notices, obviously deduced
from the text and often unsuitable; all are of doubtful
value. . . ." Concerning the musical notations he says
The information contained in the titles has been
shown to be accurate in the areas of authorship and histor-
ical backgrounds. When the preposition l; is used in the
titles with a personal name the author of the psalm is indi-
cated either personally, as is the case with David, or
generically, as with Asaph and the sons of Korah. When an
historical background is given for a psalm, it does not rep-
resent the speculation of some Jewish rabbi but the actual
historical context from which the psalm originated. The
other notes, which were not specifically discussed, repre-
sent actual instructions and factual information which were
important for the usage
of the psalm in
Thus, these latter notes provide important clues concerning
the role of psalmody in
conveying God's Word to
their public worship.
In summary, the psalm titles are trustworthy witness-
es concerning the authorship, age, purpose and occasion of
the various psalms concerning which they give such informa-
tion either implicitly or explicitly.
"they are now for the most part unintelligible." He goes
on to note the totally different notes found in the Syriac
version and concludes that "as such the headings are almost
certainly not original." See Godfrey R. Driver, Introduc-
tion to The New English Bible, The Old Testament (n.p.:
A Comparison of the MT Titles and the DSS Titles
Psalm MT1 Col. Line 11QPsa2
121 tvlfml ryw III 1 tvlfmh ryw
122 tvlfmh ryw III 7 same as MT
123 tvlfmh ryw III 15 tvlfml dyvd[ ]
126 tvlfmh ryw IV 9 same as MT
127 tvlfmh ryw IV 16 hmvlwl [ ]
129 tvlfmh ryw V 4 [ ]w
130 tvlfmh ryw V 10 same as MT
133 tvlfmh ryw XXIII 7 same as MT
138 dvdl XXI 1 same as MT
140 rvmzm Hcnml XXIII 12 same as MT
143 dvdl rvmzm XXV 6 same as MT
144 dvdl XXIII 12 no Title
145 dvdl hlht XVI 7 dyvdl hlpt
1Taken from K. Elliger and W. Rudolf, eds., Biblia
2Taken from J. A. Sanders, The Psalms Scroll of
Psalm MT Col. Line 11QPsa
104 no Title Fragment El1 dvdl
133 dvdl tvlfmh ryw dvdl tv [ ]
103 dvdl d[ ]
33 no Title rvmzm ryw dyvdl
45 Mynww lf Hcnml ] My [ ] lf Hcnml
Nahal Hever frg.6
16 dvdl Mtcm ] vdl Mt [ ]
1J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (
2J. Van Der Ploeg , "Fragments d'un manuscrit de
psaumes de Qumran (11gPsb)," RB 74 (1967):411.
Skehan "A Psalm Manuscript from
(4QPsb)," CBQ 26 (July 1964): 318.
4J. T. Milik, "Deux documents inedits du Desert de
Juda," Bib 38 (19.57):246.
5John M. Allegro,
1968), p. 45.
6Y. Yadin, "Expedition D." IEJ 11 (1961):40.
82 Jsxl rvmzm "A Psalm of Asaph"
83 Jsxl rvmzm ryw "A Song, A Psalm of Asaph"
84 tytgh lf Hcnml "To the Chief Musician
rmzm Hrq ynbl (upon Gittith, A Psalm for
the Sons of Korah) "
85 Hrq-ynbl Hcnml "To the Chief Musician, A
rvmzm Psalm for the Sons of
1Y. Yadin, "The Excavation of Masada--l963/1934,
Preliminary Report," IEJ 15 (1965):104. Only the English
translations of the titles are given by Yadin.
Possible Meanings of l;
Combined with a Proper Name1
1. "On (or: about) N.N."
2. "For N.N.;" "composed for N.N. (by someone else)"
3. Something is intended to be used "on behalf (for benefit)
of N.N. "
4. "Belonging to N.N.," that is to say, to the property or
the inheritance of N.N. or to what tradition has
preserved concerning him
5. "At the disposal of N.N." The source and original
intention of the matter in question are not given
6. Lamed auctoris, "(a work) of N.N."
7. "In the manner (style) of," and characterizes the work
as "composed in the manner of N.N."
1Taken from L. A. F. LeMat, Textual Criticism and
1957), p. 34.
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