The LXX Psalm Superscriptions (Part 4) Situational Ascriptions

This is the fourth of a series of entries on the superscriptions in the Greek Psalter. Previous entries include “The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 1),” “The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 2): Personal Names and Notions of Authorship,” and “The Septuagint Psalm Superscriptions (Part 3): Liturgical Notices.”

[Note: I have removed the diacritical marks in the Greek text since it wasn’t displaying properly in some browsers.]

Situational Ascriptions in the Superscriptions

The final category that I want to discuss in this series are the additions and expansions of the situational ascriptions in the LXX Psalter. In the Hebrew Bible the situational notices relate individual psalms to some event in David’s life:

Psalm Situation Passage
3 David’s flight from Absalom 2 Sam 15-18
7 Concerning Cush, a Benjaminite (= Hushai the Archite? 2 Sam 17) ?
18 Deliverance from all his enemies and from Saul 2 Sam 22
34 Feigned madness before Abimelech 1 Sam 21:1-15
51 Nathan’s confrontation over Bathsheba 2 Sam 12
52 The betrayal of Doeg the Edomite 1 Sam 21:2-10; 22:9-10
54 The Ziphites’ betrayal of David to Saul 1 Sam 23:14-28
56 When the Philistines seized him in Gath 1 Sam 21:10-15; 27:1-12
57 Flight from Saul into the cave 1 Sam 22:1-2, 24:1-7
59 Saul’s surveillance of David’s house 1 Sam 19:11-12
60 Military victories over Aram-naharaim, Aram-zobah, and when Joab returned and struck Edom 2 Sam 8:13–14; 1 Chr 18:12–13; cf. 1 Chr 19:6
63 David in the Judean wilderness 1 Sam 23; 25; or 2 Sam 15
142 When David was in the cave 1 Sam 22:1-2, 24:1-7

While some of these superscriptions may contain a kernal of historical information, modern Psalms scholars are almost unanimous in understanding the situational superscriptions as much later additions that reflect interpretive or exegetical activity. For example, Mowinckel sees the titles as the end result of learned legends about David that associated certain psalms to specific incidents in David’s life (Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992] 2.100), while Bernhardt see these title as evidence of the first exegetical treatment of the psalms (Karl H. Bernhardt, Das Problem der altorientalischen Königsideologieim Alten Testament [Brill, 1961] 11). This midrashic understanding of the titles is also held by B.S. Childs, who argues “the Psalm titles do not appear to reflect independent historical tradition but are the result of an exegetical activity which derived its material from within the text itself” (“Psalms Titles and Midrashic Exegesis” JSS 16 [1971] 143; see also Martin Kleer, “Der Liebliche Sänger Der Psalmen Israels”: Untersuchungen Zu David Als Dichter Und Beter Der Psalmen [Bodenheim: Philo, 1996]).

David’s expanding role as the sweet psalmist of Israel continues in the LXX, with five additional psalms like to parts of David’s life. It is doubtful that the additional situational ascriptions in the psalm superscriptions are the result of the translator. This is based on what we know of translators generally; that is, that they tend to be conservative and stay pretty close to the text. More importantly, it is also supported by what is known of the translation technique of the LXX Psalter. Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that the same processes that gave rise to the situational titles in the MT Psalter would have ceased with its translation into Greek. Once the book of Psalms was translated into Greek, further midrashic activity would have occured.

The first addition is found in Ps 27(LXX 26):

Ps 27 MT לדוד Of David
4QPsr לדוד Of David
LXX 26 Του Δαυιδ, Ï€Ï?ο του χÏ?ισθηναι
Pertaining to David. Before he was annointed.

Most read the title as suggesting that this psalm was recited before David was anointed. The question remains, however, which anointing is being talked about? It could be his initial anointing by Samuel in 1 Sam 16:13, or his anointing as king over Judah in 2 Sam 2:4, or even his anointing as king over Israel in 2 Sam 5:1-6, esp. 3 (Rahlfs evidently understood the added phrase as referring to the anointing of the High Priest; most others apply the note to David [Pietersma, “Exegesis and Liturgy,” 103; Mozley, 48; Thomson and Brenton in their translation).

The early exegete Theodoret understood superscription to refer to an event prior to David’s anointing as king. He points to an association unique to the Greek translation of both סך “den, lairâ€? and ×?הל “tent” with of σκηνη — a term reserved for “tabernacle” elsewhere (Theodoret, In psalmos; cited in Rainer Stichel, “Zur Herkunft Der Psalmenüberschriften in Der Septuaginta,” in Der Septuaginta-Psalter [Herder, 2001] 149-161, p. 152). Theodoret also saw the “unjust witness” in verse 12 as an allusion to the deception of Doeg the Edomite.
Thus, while it is possible that the association could have happened on the Hebrew side of things, that it would have happened on the Greek side is clear.

Ps 93 MT
11QPsa הללויה Hallelujah
LXX 92 εις την ημεÏ?αν του Ï€Ï?οσαββατου
οτε κατωκισται η γη αινος ωδς τω Δαυιδ
For the day before the Sabbath when the land was first inhabited;
a praise song of David

There is a significant amount of textual variation in this superscription. Rather than understanding this situational ascription as connected to an event in David’s life, it more likely refers to the sixth day of creation.

Ps 96 MT
LXX 95 οτε ο οικος ωκοδομειτο μετα την αιχμαλωσιαν ωδη τω Δαυιδ
When the house was built after the captivity; a song of David

Once again there is a lot of textual instability with this superscription. While 1 Chr 16:23-33 associates this psalm with the brining of the ark into Jerusalem by David (which would be after he made himself a house), the reference to the captivity suggests the reference is to the rebuilding of the Temple in the post-exilic period. These connections could suggest the use of the psalm in a temple dedication festival (Kraus). No matter whatprompted the title, the use of οτε in the superscription suggests it is secondary.

Ps 97 MT
LXX 96 τω Δαυιδ οτε η γη αυτου καθισταται
Pertaining to David, when his land is established

While not entirely clear, this superscript may allude to the statement in 2 Samuel 7:1 that David “was settled in his palace and Yahweh had given him rest from all his enemies around him.” While there is no strong lexical links between the psalm and 2 Sam 7, the use of καθιστημι in the superscript strongly connects it with a number of psalms that speak of the establishment of David’s throne (Pss 2:6; 8:7; 18[17]:44; cf. 9:21). Noteworthy is this association is only found in the Greek text as καθιστημι is used to translate a variety of Hebrew terms. The use of οτε in the superscription suggests it is secondary.

Ps 143 MT מזמור לדוד A Psalm of David
11QPsa מזמור לדוד A Psalm of David
LXX 142 ψαλμος τω Δαυιδ οτε αυτον ο υιος καταδιωκει
A psalm, pertaining to David, when [his] son pursued him

There is some variation in the textual witnesses to this superscription; in fact many witnesses name Absalom explicitly. The reference is certainly to Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 15-18 (cf. Ps 3), though what triggered the association is not as clear, though the psalm itself is a lament of an individual who is being pursued by his enemy. The use of καταδιωκω in v. 3 and the superscript identifies Absalom as the enemy. Likely secondary due to the use of οτε.

Ps 144 MT לדוד Of David
LXX 143 τω Δαυιδ Ï€Ï?ος τον Γολιαδ
Pertaining to David, concerning Goliath

This final addition to the situaltion ascription in the LXX Psalms connects this psalm to LXX Psalm 151. This allusion to the Goliath episode in 1 Sam 17 was more than likely triggered by the reference to the “evil sword” in verses 10-11:

εκ Ï?ομφαιας πονηÏ?ας. 11 Ï?υσαι με και εξελου με εκ χειÏ?ος υιων αλλοτÏ?ιων, ων το στομα ελαλησεν ματαιοτητα και η δεξια αυτων δεξια αδικιας.
From an evil sword Rescue me and deliver me from the hand of aliens, whose mouth spoke vanity, and whose right hand was a right hand of injustice.

The question once again is whether or not this harkens back to a Hebrew Vorlage or whether it is a Greek development. The one piece of evidence which may suggest it derives from the Greek is the transcription of Goliath’s name as Γολιαδ, and not Γολιαθ, which would be expected as the translator typically renders final tavs on names with a theta.


What becomes clear from examining these additional superscriptions that read the psalms in the light of David’s life, is that the exegetical activity that was started in the Hebrew tradition was continued in the Greek. This represents a further “Davidization” of the Psalter in which more psalms were read and/or prayed in association with an exemplary situation in the life of David.

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One Response to The LXX Psalm Superscriptions (Part 4) Situational Ascriptions

  1. Brian says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful work on this topic. I wrote a paper on the Superscriptions of the Psalms while in seminary, but I never considered the LXX angle.
    You have challenged me to go and dig out my paper and share my conclusions. I went against the general academic consensus that the superscriptions are a later addition. Hopefully, I will have that up in the next couple of weeks.
    I am glad that this was in your “Series and Favourites” list.

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