1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Solomon, Psalms of

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33012971911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — Solomon, Psalms ofRobert Henry Charles

SOLOMON, PSALMS OF. These psalms, eighteen in all, enjoyed but small consideration in the early Christian Church; for only six direct references to them are found in early Christian literature, though in the Jewish Church they must have played an important rôle; for they were used in the worship of the synagogue.

They were of course not written by Solomon, but were subsequently ascribed to him. The fact that they do not contain a single reference to Solomon is in favour of their having been first published anonymously. On the other hand, their author (or authors) may have placed over them the superscription “Psalms of Solomon” in order to gain currency for this new collection under the shelter of a great name of the past.

MSS. and Texts.—Before the publication of Swete’s second edition and the edition of von Gebhardt, only five MSS., A, H, V, M, P, (of which H represents the Copenhagen MS.) were known, and these were utilized to the full in the splendid edition of Ryle and James (ψαλμοὶ Σολομῶντος, Psalms of the Pharisees commonly called the Psalms of Solomon, the Text newly revised from all the MSS., 1891). In Swete’s edition (The Old Testament in Greek,2 1894) there was given in addition to the above a collation of the Vatican MS. R. Finally in 1895, von Gebhardt published from five MSS. his edition entitled ψαλμοὶ Σολομῶντος, Die Psalmen Salomos zum erstenmale mit Benutzung der Athoshandschriften und des Cod. Casanatensis herausgegeben. The five MSS. used by this last editor are C, H, J, L, R, of which C, J, L are exploited for the first time and represent respectively the MSS. Casanatensis, Iberiticus and Laura-Kloster. He represents the affinities of the MSS. in the following table, where Z stands for the archetype:—


Thus H is the only MS. common to this edition and that of Ryle and James; for Gebhardt regards the secondary MSS. V, M, P as not deserving consideration. Notwithstanding there is a much finer critical training for the student in the textual discussions and retroversions in the latter edition than in the former.

Translations.—Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer (1874), 131 sqq. This translation is unfortunately based on the editio princeps of De la Cerda published in 1626. Pick’s translation which appeared in the Presbyterian Review for October 1883, pp. 775–813, is based on the same text and is imperfect owing to a faulty knowledge of English. Ryle and James (op. cit.). Kittel’s translation (Kautzsch, Apokr. u. Pseudep. i. 1900, ii. 127 sqq.) was made from von Gebhardt’s text.

The Original Language.—All modern scholars are practically agreed that the Psalms were written in Hebrew. It is unnecessary to enter into this question here, but a point or two might be mentioned which call for such a presupposition. (i.) First we find that, after the manner of the canonical Psalms, the musical symbol διάψαλμα, (סֶלָה) is inserted in xvii. 31 and xviii. 10, a fact which points to their use in the divine worship in the synagogue, (ii.) Next we find that a great number of passages cannot be understood unless by retroversion into Hebrew, when the source of the error becomes transparent. One such instance occurs in ii. 29, τοῦ εἰπεῖν τὴν ὑπερηφανίαν τοῦ δράκοντος ἐν ἀτιμίᾳ. Here εἰπεῖν, which is utterly meaningless, = לאקר a corruption of לקיר or לחקיר “to change,” “turn” (Wellhausen). Thus we arrive at the sense required, “To turn the pride of the dragon into dishonour. (iii.) Finally, there are several passages where the text exhibits the future tense, when it ought to give the past imperfect. This phenomenon can easily be explained as a false rendering of the Hebrew imperfect.[1]

Date.—The date can be determined from references to contemporary events. Thus the book opens with the alarms of war (i. 2, viii. 1), in the midst of a period of great prosperity (i. 3, 4, viii. 7), but the prosperity is merely material, for from the king to the vilest of his subjects they are altogether sinful (xvii. 21, 22). The king, moreover, is no descendant of David, but has usurped his throne (xvii. 6–8). But judgment is at hand. “A mighty striker” has come from the ends of the earth (viii. 16), who when the princes of the land greeted him with words of welcome (viii. 18), seized the city (viii. 21), cast down its walls (ii. 1), polluted its altar (ii. 2), put its princes and counsellors to the sword (viii. 23), and carried away its sons and daughters captive to the west (viii. 24, xvii. 14). But the dragon who conquered Jerusalem (ii. 29), and thought himself to be more than man (ii. 32, 33), at last meets with shameful death on the shores of Egypt (ii. 30, 31).

The above allusions are easy to interpret. The usurping kings who are not descended from David are the Maccabeans. The “mighty striker” is Pompey. The princes who welcomed his approach are Aristobulus II. and Hyrcanus II. Pompey carried off princes and people to the west, and finally perished on the coast of Egypt in 48 B.C. Thus Ps. ii. was written soon after 48 B.C., while Ps. i., viii., xvii. fall between 63 and 48 B.C. for they presuppose Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem, but show no knowledge of his death. Ps. v., vii., ix., xiii., xv. belong apparently to the same period, but iv. and xii. to an earlier one. On the whole Ryle and James are right in assigning 70–40 B.C. as the limits within which the psalms were written.

Authorship.—The authors were Pharisees. They divide their countrymen into two classes—“the righteous” (ii. 38–39, iii. 3–5, 7, 8), and “the sinners” (ii. 38, iii. 13, iv. 9) ; “the saints” (iii. 10) and “the transgressors” (iv. 11). The former are the Pharisees; the latter the Sadducees. The authors protest against the Asmonaean (i.e. the Maccabees) for usurping the throne of David and laying violent hands on the high priesthood (xvii. 5, 6, 8), and proclaim the coming of the Messiah, the true son of David (xvii. 23–25), who is to set all things right and establish the supremacy of Israel. The Messiah is to be pure from sin (xvii. 41), purge Jerusalem from the defilement of sinners and of the Gentiles (xvii. 29, 30, 36), destroy the hostile nations and extend his righteous rule over all the remaining peoples of the earth (xvii. 27, 31, 32, 34, 38).[2]

Ps. xvii., xviii. and i.–xvi. can hardly be assigned to the same authors. The hopes of the Messiah are confined to the former, and a somewhat different eschatology underlies the two works (see Charles, Eschatology: Hebrew, Jewish and Christian, 220–225).

In addition to the literature mentioned above, also in Ryle and James’s edition and Schürer, Gesch. des jüd. Volkes, 3rd ed., iii. 150 sqq, see Ency. Bib. i. 241–245. (R. H. C.) 

  1. In addition to Ryle and James, Introd. pp. lxxvii.–lxxxvii., see Perles, “Die Erklärung der Psalm. Sal.” (Oriental. Litteraturzeit., 1902, v. 7–10).
  2. The conception of the Messiah is vigorous, but the influence of such a conception was hurtful; for by connecting the Messianic with the popular aspirations of the nation, the former were secularized and the way prepared for the ultimate destruction of the nation.