THE PSALMS

Authorship of Psalms

The Old Testament witness to the authorship of the Psalms chiefly lies in the superscriptions or titles at the top of a psalm. These attribute various psalms, especially in Books I-3, to David, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Moses, and others. Let’s consider these authors individually.

David

The titles of 73 psalms in the Masoretic Text and of many more in the Septuagint seem to identify David as the major author of the Psalms. While it is popular today in some scholastic circles to strip David of the authorship of any psalms, the weight of history and the biblical evidence is clearly in his favor. Here is a breakdown of the Davidic psalms:

  • Psalms 3-41, i.e. all of Book I except Psalm 10 and 33;
  • Psalms 51-70 in Book 2, except Psalm 66 and 67;
  • Psalm 86 in Book 3;
  • Psalm 103 in Book 4; and
  • Psalms 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, 135-145 in Book 5.
  • It is now generally believed by most Hebrew scholars that the Hebrew expression in the titles of the Davidic psalms has the force of a genitive, as in the Septuagint, and that tou David, “of David” is a better translation than the Vulgate ipsi David, “unto David himself.”
  • This preposition, however, does not always signify authorship. In cases where a psalm has a composite title such as “to the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David” (Psalm 19), or “A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah” (Psalm 48), the title probably doesn’t indicate authorship but rather a collection of psalms.
  • Further Old Testament evidence of Davidic authorship of many Psalms is David’s natural poetic talent. After all, he is the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1).
  • If you compare David’s songs and dirges in 2 Samuel 22 and 1 Chronicles 16 with the wording of multiple psalms, there should be no question of David’s authorship of the psalms that bear the telltale traces of his talent.
  • Besides, it was David who instituted the solemn Levitical cantilation of psalms in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chronicles 16:23-24) and established the singers, choirs and musicians of Israel (1 Chronicles 25).
  • No candidate for authorship of the psalms attributed to David stands out like David himself.
Asaph
  • Asaph is credited, by their titles, with 12 psalms (Psalms 50, 73-83).
  • Asaph was a Levite, the son of Barachias (1 Chronicles 6:39), and one of the three choirmasters of the Levitical choir (1 Chronicles 15:17).
  • The “Sons of Asaph” were separated from David’s army as those “who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals” (1 Chronicles 25:1).
  • Most probably members of Asaph’s Levitical family composed the psalms bearing Asaph’s name which later were collected into an Asaph psalter.
  • These psalms are all nationalistic in character and seem to address Israel’s state of affairs in widely-diverse periods of Jewish history.
  • Psalm 83, for example, appears to have been written when Tiglath-pileser III invaded Israel in 737 BC.
  • Psalm 74 was likely written during the Babylonian Exile, after 586 BC.
  • All the Asaph psalms are uniform in that they feature vivid descriptions, make frequent allusions to Israel’s history and exalt Yahweh as God above all gods.
The Sons of Korah
  • The Sons of Korah are named in the titles of 11 psalms (Psalms 42-49, 84, 85, 87, and 88).
  • The Korahim were a family of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19).
  • This family did not all jointly compose every psalm that bears their name.
  • Rather, each psalm was either composed or compiled by a particular member of the guild of Korah and thus ascribed to that family.
  • There is a similarity in style between each of the Sons of Korah psalms; they betray their Levitical heritage.
  • Korahite psalms exhibit an innate trust in Yahweh, an intense love for the Holy City of Jerusalem, and a strong desire for the public worship of Israel.

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