The LXX Psalm Superscriptions (Part 3) Liturgical Notices and the Psalms for the Days of the Week

This is the third of a series of entries on the superscriptions in the Greek Psalter. Previous entries include “The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 1)” and “The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 2): Personal Names and Notions of Authorship.

Liturgical Notices in the Superscriptions

There are a variety of different liturgical notices in the psalm superscriptions. These include the phrase למנצח, “to the leader” (NRSV; “for the director of music,” NIV); and other obscure terms denoting melodies, musical instruments, and/or cultic procedures. Interestingly, there is only one place where the LXX adds εἰς τὸ τέλος (= למנצח): Psalm 30(29). This reading is highly contested within the Greek tradition. While it is difficult to determine whether this addition reflects a different Hebrew Vorlage, it is difficult to understand why it would have been the result of transmission history.

Psalms for the Days of the Week

A more significant group of liturgical notes relate to psalms that were read on certain days of the week. The Mishnah (mTamid 7.3-4), among other places, notes that the Levites recited specific psalms in the Temple on each day of the week. In the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), only the Sabbath song is so marked (Psalm 92); and where a psalm is extant in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it also supports the MT. On the Greek side, however, all of the daily psalms but Tuesday are marked.

Day Mishnah
MT Septuagint (LXX) Qumran
Sunday Ps 24 Ps 24 (23): τῆς μιᾶς σαββάτων
“Of [day] one of the week”
Monday Ps 48 Ps 48 (47): δευτέÏ?á¾³ σαββάτου
“[Pertaining to the] second day of the week”
Tuesday Ps 82
Wednesday Ps 94 Ps 94 (93): τετÏ?άδι σαββάτων
“[Pertaining to the] fourth day of the week”
Thursday Ps 81 Ps 81 (80): πέμπτησαββάτου
“[Pertaining to the] fifth day of the week”
Friday Ps 93 Ps 93 (92): εἰς τὴν ἡμέÏ?αν τοῦ Ï€Ï?οσαββάτου
“Regarding the day of preparation” [lit. [“the pre-sabbath”]
Saturday Ps 92 92 Ps 92 (91): εἰς τὴν ἡμέÏ?αν τοῦ σαββάτου
“Regarding the day of the Sabbath”Ps 38 (37): πεÏ?ὶ σαββάτου
“Concerning the Sabbath [day]”

While I will not rehearse the full textual evidence for these psalms, there is some variation among the different Greek texts. Noteworthy is that the Greek tradition has an additional psalm marked for the Sabbath (Psalm 38(37)). In addition, one fifth-century manuscript (1219) marks Psalm 23(22) for the first day of the week (Sunday). While it is not possible to be certain, it is likely a carry over from Ps 24(23).

The question that remains for the other superscriptions is whether they are based on a Hebrew parent text or are they the product of transmission history. The fact that the MT (and extant DSS) only marks Ps 92(91) for the Sabbath may indicate, as Sarna suggests, that the tradition arose some time after the MT Psalter was finalized, yet before it was translated into Greek in the second century BCE (Nahum Sarna, “The Psalm for the Sabbath Day (Ps 92),” JBL 81 (1962) 155-56). If this is not the case, one would have to explain their omission from the MT Psalter, which is problematic to say the least.

At a purely formal and stylistic level one cannot help but notice a measure of diversity in the Greek of these superscripts. In Ps 24(23) the note begins with an articular genitive. Psalms 48(47), 81(80), and 92(93) have anarthrous datives. In 92(91) and 93(92) we meet εἰς (“regarding”) plus an articular accusative but inarticular (by reason of sense) in 38(37). Furthermore, σάββατον (“Sabbath”) is plural in 38(37) and 94(93) but singular in 48(47) and 81(80), though all refer to the week rather than a specific day (that is found elsewhere, however). Psalms 92(91) and 93(92) render “day” explicit while the rest do not. And finally, the marker of grammatical relationship is a genitive in 24(23), πεÏ?ὶ plus genitive in 38(37), a dative in 48(47), 81(80) and 94(93), and εἰς plus accusative in 92(91) and 93(92). This variety in linguistic expression is considerable and some of it may be rooted in a differing Hebrew parent text, or (less likely) in the translator’s differing treatment of the same Hebrew. The high degree of predictability and formalism found in the other parts of the Septuagint psalm titles is clearly lacking in the psalms for the days of the week. This strongly suggests their secondary origin.

A related question is why did these particular psalms become associated with these days of the week. Most have assumed the superscripts reflect Jewish liturgical practice and were likely added during the transmission process. This appears to be the view of the editor of the Göttingen edition of the Greek Psalter (Rahlfs) as well as others like Sarna. Albert Pietersma, however, has recently argued that the associations may be the result of exegetical rather than liturgical in nature. Starting with Psalm 92(91), Pietersma argues that the translator understood the title to indicate what the psalm “is about, not on what occasion it is used” (“Exegesis and Liturgy in the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter” in X Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Oslo 1998 [Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001] 134).

While this may be the case, it creates a false dichotomy between exegesis and liturgy. Sarna has demonstrated that MT Psalm 92 was chosen to be the temple Sabbath hymn precisely because it reflects a number of Sabbath-themes. Hence exegesis and liturgy are one and the same. The problem with understanding the other Sabbath-day titles in the LXX as arising from a Greek exegetical tradition (rather than reflecting Jewish practice based on the use of the MT Psalter) is it suggests that the associations with various days was either triggered by the translator of the Greek Psalter (and then reflected in the Mishnah, etc.) or the Greek exegetical tradition concerning the days just happened to highlight the same days as Jewish tradition (which is highly unlikely). The best hypothesis is that certain psalms began to be used in Jewish liturgy after the compilation of the MT Psalter (with the exception of Psalm 92). This Jewish tradition of associating certain psalms with days of the week was later reflected in the LXX Psalter. While the additions may be the translator’s doing, it is more likely that they are later accretions from the Greek transmission history of the Psalms.

What’s interesting is that while these superscripts may reflect a Temple (or Synagogue) liturgy, they eventually were given an eschatological interpretation. Such an interpretation of Psalm 92 is facilitated by its Greek translation of the Hebrew prefix verbs as futures in Ps 92:5 and 11, among other things (though it is not clear that the translator intended this eschatological interpretation). The Targum of Psalms is more explicit, expanding Ps 92:9 to read “You are exalted and the Most High in the world to come,” and attributing the psalm to Adam via a superscription. In later Jewish tradition, as preserved in mTamid 7.4, the Sabbath Psalm (Psalm 92) is also described as “a psalm, a song for the future that is coming, for the day that is altogether a Sabbath of rest for eternal life.”

My next blog on this topic will look at the additions and expansions including situational ascriptions in the Septuagint Psalter.

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