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Psalms

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Psalms is the nineteenth biblical book in the Old Testament and by far the longest, containing 150 individual Psalms (hymnic pieces) and 2,527 verses. Many of these hymns are attributed to various figures of early Jewish history, including David, Moses, and Solomon. The Book of Psalms is generally divided into 5 sections:

  • Psalms 1-41
  • Psalms 42-72
  • Psalms 73-89
  • Psalms 90-106
  • Psalms 107-150.

The Psalms cover various themes: those relating directly to God include praising Him for His greatness, asking Him for help in adversity, and entreating Him to have mercy on the righteous and punish the wicked. There are also Psalms for celebrating birth, marriages, and other aspects of Hebrew life as well as individual and communal mourning of loved ones.

Being generally short and very clear to understand, and being that they were originally poems and songs, Psalms have been noted by clergy and lay people alike as some of the most inspirational and helpful parts of the Christian Old Testament. The full text of this book was included in the original Book of Common Prayer, and it is frequently included in pocket-sized editions of the New Testament.

The Psalms are numbered differently between the Hebrew and the Greek; the text is the same, but the Greek at points joins together two Psalms in the Hebrew into one, or split what is a single Psalm in Hebrew into two. The Septuagint numbering was adopted also in the Vulgate, and up until the Reformation, Christians generally followed the Greek numbering (both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), while Jews followed the Hebrew. However, around the time of the Reformation there was an increased interested in the original Hebrew text, and as a result Protestants adopted the Hebrew numbering instead. The focus on the original languages in modern Biblical studies has only increased this tendency, and contributed to its spread to non-Protestant churches. Today, the Hebrew numbering is most common in English, and is even commonly adopted by Catholics, although the Greek numbering is still considered the most official in the Catholic Church. Many Catholic Bibles include both numberings of the Psalms (e.g. Greek with Hebrew in parenthesis).

Another difference between different Bibles concerns the verse numbering of the Psalms. Many Psalms include a superscription, a brief description of who wrote the Psalm or what tune was to be used or so on. Some approaches count the superscription as the first verse, others do not assign it a separate verse number, and position it before the beginning of the first verse, or include it as part of the first verse. The Masoretic Text treats the superscription as a separate verse, while the Septuagint and the Vulgate do not. Most English Bibles follow the Septuagint/Vulgate versification, whereas a few follow the Masoretic versification instead - for example, the New American Bible (a Catholic translation). As a result, in some Bibles the Psalm verse numbers are one greater than usual.

In addition to the 150 Psalms accepted by all Jews and Christians, there is an additional Psalm 151 accepted by the Eastern Orthodox church (but not the Protestant or Catholic churches). For a long time it had been assumed that Psalm 151 was an original composition in Greek, however among the Dead Sea Scrolls were found two Hebrew Psalms upon which Psalm 151 were based. There are also a further Psalms 152-155, which exist in the Syriac Bible accepted by the Nestorian Church. In the intertestamental period, the writing of Psalms was popular among Jews, hence the existence in the Dead Sea Scrolls of a number of non-canonical Psalms (including what became Psalm 151). One manuscript from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Psalm Scroll, interleaves the canonical Psalms with non-canonical ones; some believe this indicates the canon of Psalms had not yet been settled by that period, although it cannot be determined to what extent this was a peculiarity of the Qumran community. Another collection of non-canonical Psalms which has survived is the 18 Psalms of Solomon, which only survive in Greek, although scholars believe they are based on Hebrew or Aramaic originals.

Length of psalms

The psalms range in length between two verses (Psalm 117) and 176 verses (Psalm 119), although the latter is exceptional, with the second-longest (Psalm 78) being 72 verses and the third-longest (Psalm 89) being 52 verses.

See the research page for a table showing the length of each psalm.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is one of the more popular hymns:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

External Translations

Bible Gateway has several translations of Psalms.



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