Psalms

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Psalms

(sämz) or

Psalter

(sôl`tər), book of the Bible, a collection of 150 hymnic pieces. Since the last centuries B.C., this book has been the chief hymnal of Jews, and subsequently, of Christians. The hymns are of varying date and authorship, but many are ascribed to DavidDavid,
d. c.970 B.C., king of ancient Israel (c.1010–970 B.C.), successor of Saul. The Book of First Samuel introduces him as the youngest of eight sons who is anointed king by Samuel to replace Saul, who had been deemed a failure.
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, and some to AsaphAsaph
, in the Bible. 1 Choirmaster of David's time, or the eponym of a corps of singers. His name is attached to a little collection of psalms. 2 The same as Abiasaph. 3 Father of a chronicler. 4 King's forester in the Book of Nehemiah.
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 (1,) SolomonSolomon,
d. c.930 B.C., king of the ancient Hebrews (c.970–c.930 B.C.), son and successor of David. His mother was Bath-sheba. His accession has been dated to c.970 B.C. According to the Bible.
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, MosesMoses
, Hebrew lawgiver, probably b. Egypt. The prototype of the prophets, he led his people in the 13th cent. B.C. out of bondage in Egypt to the edge of Canaan. The narrative in the Bible is the chief source of information on his life.
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, and the sons of KorahKorah
, in the Bible. 1 Levite leader, with Dathan and Abiram, of the unsuccessful revolt in the desert against the exclusive priesthood of the Aaronic family and against the leadership of Moses; the rebels were consumed by fire and earthquake.
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. Many scholars believe that some of the Psalms originated in David's time and some even earlier. Most of them, however, took their present form between c.538 B.C. (when the Jews returned from Babylonian exile) and c.100 B.C. According to the Hebrew text, the Psalms are divided into five books: Psalms 1–41; 42–72; 73–89; 90–106; 107–150. The poems vary significantly in tone and subject. Psalms occur throughout the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Pseudepigrapha. The Syriac Psalter adds Psalm 151, found also in the Psalms Scroll at QumranQumran
, ancient village on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in what is now the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It is famous for its caves, in some of which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Archaeological work at Qumran has yielded a profile of its history.
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. The history of Psalm translations is more extensive than that of any other part of the Bible. Earlier English versions include those of St. Aldhelm and of Richard RolleRolle of Hampole, Richard
, c.1300–c.1349, English religious writer, a Yorkshire hermit. He wrote mainly in Latin, but his English works are important for the history of the language.
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. The Psalms have been translated into English metrical verse a number of times, e.g., the Bay Psalm BookBay Psalm Book,
common hymnal of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Written by Richard Mather, John Eliot, and Thomas Weld, it was published in 1640 at Cambridge as The Whole Book of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre.
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 and versions by Nahum TateTate, Nahum
, 1652–1715, English poet and dramatist, b. Dublin. He wrote several popular adaptations of Shakespeare, the most famous being his King Lear (1681), in which he omitted the part of the fool and had Cordelia survive to marry Edgar.
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 and Nicholas Brady and by Isaac WattsWatts, Isaac,
1674–1748, English clergyman and hymn writer, b. Southampton. He was one of the most eminent Dissenting divines of his day. As a pastor in London he was known for his sermons, but beginning in 1712 poor health caused him to live in semiretirement.
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. Until the late 20th cent. the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer were in the version of the Great Bible of 1539 (by Miles Coverdale from the VulgateVulgate
[Lat. Vulgata editio=common edition], most ancient extant version of the whole Christian Bible. Its name derives from a 13th-century reference to it as the "editio vulgata." The official Latin version of the Roman Catholic Church, it was prepared c.A.D.
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). The use of this version, instead of the Authorized Version, was continued because of its popularity.

Bibliography

See (besides books listed under Old TestamentOld Testament,
Christian name for the Hebrew Bible, which serves as the first division of the Christian Bible (see New Testament). The designations "Old" and "New" seem to have been adopted after c.A.D.
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) studies by A. A. Anderson (1972), D. Kidner (1973, 1975), C. Westermann (1980), W. Brueggemann (1984), and H. J. Kraus (1987, 1989).

Psalms

 

(the psalter), Judaic religious lyrics.

The term “psalms” (or “psalter”) usually refers to the 150 “psalms of David,” with which the third section of the Old Testament begins. Compiled to meet the needs of temple worship in Jerusalem, the collection apparently originated in the late Babylonian era (that is, not before the sixth century B.C.), but it also includes earlier texts. The Judaic (Masoretic) text of the Bible, which is used by the Protestant churches, numbers the psalms differently than the ancient Greek translation, the Septuagint, which is used by the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. (Accordingly, both numbering systems are used below.)

The poetic form and metrical organization of the psalms are based on syntactic parallelism, which unites synonymous variations of the same thought, a general idea and its concrete expression, two contrasting ideas, or utterances that form an ascending sequence.

In terms of content, there are a number of varieties of psalms. In addition to worshipful praises to the god Yahweh, there are supplications (6/6, 51/50), impassioned laments, (44/43, 102/101), and curses (58/57, 109/108), as well as historical observations (106/105). There is even a wedding song (45/44, known as the Song of Songs). A philosophically contemplative tone distinguishes some of the psalms, including the eighth psalm, which contains theological speculations concerning man’s greatness. However, considered in their entirety as a book of the Bible, the psalms are characterized by a uniform perception of life and common religious themes and motifs. In them, man (or a people) addresses god as a personalized force, a constant observer or listener who plumbs the depths of the human heart.

As a literary genre, the psalms belong to the mainstream of the development of Middle Eastern lyric poetry. (For example, Psalm 104/103 is similar to Egyptian hymns to the sun dating from the reign of Amenhotep IV [Ikhnaton].) However, the psalms are distinguished by their unmistakably personalized tone. The genre was further developed in later Judaic literature (the songs of Solomon, first century B.C.).

The psalms had an enormous influence on folklore and served as the source of many proverbs. In the Middle Ages the psalter was the chief textbook for the mastery of reading. Methodius is credited with translating the psalter into Old Church Slavonic (ninth century). The psalter was mentioned in Old Russian manuscripts from the 11th century, and it was widely quoted in the Primary Chronicle (compiled by Nestor) and in the works of Theodosius of Pechery, Ilarion, Kirill of Turov, and Serapion of Vladimir. Adaptations of the psalms were very popular, including 18th- and 19th-century versions by M. V. Lomonosov, G. R. Derzhavin, F. N. Glinka, N. M. Iazykov, and A. S. Khomiakov.

In Judaic ritual the psalms were sung as hymns with instrumental accompaniment. As a rule, the method of performance and the psalm tune (the appropriate melody) were indicated for each psalm.

The psalms came to occupy an important place in Christian worship. They were sung during church services and home prayers. Originally, they were sung in church by the entire congregation, usually in a responsorial style, with a lead singer intoning the verses of the psalm and the congregation responding with the refrain. Sometimes the antiphonal style was used. Ensemble performance of the psalms by children’s, male, or female choruses came into practice in the fourth century. The psalms were performed a cappella, and musical instruments were permitted only at home performances. The style of performance was recitative and psalmodic. In addition to entire psalms, selections of some of the most expressive verses were also used, giving rise to separate hymns—the antiphon, gradual, tract, and alleluia.

Multivoiced versions of the psalms developed in the 15th century. In Italy, these were initially simple, homophonic songs, but they soon developed into the fauxbourdon, a form that was important in Europe for several centuries. Choruses or sometimes a soloist and a chorus were juxtaposed. Instruments were introduced, and the texture of the music became polyphonic. The earliest polyphonic versions of the psalms date from circa 1500. Josquin des Prez (the Netherlands) wrote approximately 20 psalms in four-part harmony, which became models for other composers. From the 15th century the anti-phonal style and more complex polyphony characterized the performance of the psalms. Instruments were frequently added, and the techniques of concert style were applied. The works of the Italian composers G. Gabrieli and C. Monteverdi greatly influenced the musical development of the psalms.

France developed its own style of psalm music, with the main emphasis on bringing out the characteristics of the text. In England the psalms were sung as anthems. Stylistically, the psalms later resembled the mass, the motet, and the cantata. Among the composers who wrote works based on the texts of the psalms or used psalm melodies were Palestrina (Italy), O. di Lasso (the Netherlands), and H. Schütz (Germany). Psalms served as the texts for some of J. S. Bach’s motets. Many 19th-and 20th-century composers wrote works inspired by the psalms, including Schubert (Austria), Mendelssohn, Brahms, and M. Reger (Germany); F. Liszt and Z. Kodály (Hungary); A. Honegger (France); and Stravinsky.

The psalmodic song developed in the 16th century during the Protestant movement. Among the composers of these multipart songs set to psalm texts were C. Goudimel and C. Le Jeune (France) and M. Gomółka (Poland). In Russia, V. P. Titov set the Rhymed Psalter (1690) of Simeon of Polotsk to music.

REFERENCES

“Upotreblenie knigi Psaltyr’ v drevnem bytu russkogo naroda.” In the collection Pravoslavnyi sobesednik, book 4. Kazan, 1857.
Nikol’skii, N. M. Tsar’ David i psalmy. St. Petersburg, 1908.
Rozov, N. “Drevnerusskii miniatiurist za chteniem psaltiri.” In Trudy otd. drevnerus. litry, vol. 22. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
Uspenskii, N. D. Drevnerusskoe pevcheskoe iskusstvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971.
Lods, A. Histoire de la littérature hébraique el juive depuis les origines jusqu’à la ruine de I’état juif. Paris, 1950.
Ellis, P. The Men and the Message of the Old Testament. New York, 1963.

S. S. AVERINTSEV and N. D. USPENSKII (music)

Psalms

the collection of 150 psalms in the Old Testament, the full title of which is The Book of Psalms
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