This post is my first in a series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition. Now, some of my readers may be wondering what is this Psalm 151 that I am talking about? The biblical book of Psalms only contains 150 psalms! To you I reply, you are absolutely correct (but also a little incorrect!). The book of Psalms in the Hebrew Masoretic tradition — the tradition on which Protestants and Jews base their modern English translations — contains 150 psalms (actually this isn’t quite correct; there are Masoretic manuscripts that divide the psalms differently resulting in more or less than 150 psalms. For example, there are manuscripts that divide individual psalms differently and end up with 147, 148, 149 and even 170 psalms! Nonetheless, the Masoretic tradition is consistent in its content with modern Protestant and Jewish translations). If we turn to the Greek Septuagint (and the Syriac) tradition, however, we find an extra psalm right after Psalm 150, which has become known as “Psalm 151.” It appears that this psalm was not held with quite the same authority as the other 150 psalms, since an editorial note in the psalm title marks it as ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ (“outside the number”).
While this psalm was known for a long time from the Greek and Syriac traditions, the discovery of two Hebrew psalms clearly related to the Septuagint Psalm 151 among the Dead Sea Scrolls (dubbed “Psalm 151A and 151B” by the editor of 11Q5), has challenged our understanding of this psalm in a number of ways. It has raised significant questions surrounding the relationship between the Greek and Hebrew versions of this psalms, as well as the precise nature of the Hebrew original from which the Greek was translated. In much of this debate, the interest in the Qumran psalms has overshadowed interest in the LXX version of Psalm 151. In this series of posts I will explore these questions and any implications they may have to our understanding of the development of the book of Psalms. More specifically, I want to look at the relationship between LXX Ps 151 and 11Q5 Ps 151A and 151B and then provide an analysis of Psalm 151 as a psalm in its own right.
But first, let me provide the actual psalm itself as well as an English translation:
|LXX Psalm 151|
|1a||Οὗτος ὁ ψαλμὸς ἰδιόγραφος εἰς Δαυιδ καὶ ἔξωθεν τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ, ὅτε ἐμονομάχησεν τῷ Γολιαδ.||This Psalm is autobiographical. Regarding David and outside the number. [When he fought Goliath in single combat.]|
|1b||Μικρὸς ἤμην ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου||I was small among my brothers,|
|1c||καὶ νεώτερος ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ τοῦ πατρός μου,||and the youngest in my father’s house;|
|1d||ἐποίμαινον τὰ πρόβατα τοῦ πατρός μου.||I would shepherd my father’s sheep.|
|2a||αἱ χεῖρές μου ἐποίησαν ὄργανον,||My hands made an instrument;|
|2b||οἱ δάκτυλοί μου ἥρμοσαν ψαλτήριον.||my fingers tuned a harp.|
|3a||καὶ τίς ἀναγγελεῖ τῷ κυρίῳ μου;||But who will report to my lord?|
|3b||αὐτὸς κύριος, αὐτὸς εἰσακούει.||The Lord himself, he listens.|
|4a||αὐτὸς ἐξαπέστειλεν τὸν ἄγγελον αὐτοῦ||It was he who sent his messenger|
|4b||καὶ ἦρέν με ἐκ τῶν προβάτων τοῦ πατρός μου||and took me from my father’s sheep|
|4c||καὶ ἔχρισέν με ἐν τῷ ἐλαίῳ τῆς χρίσεως αὐτοῦ.||and anointed me with his anointing oil.|
|5a||οἱ ἀδελφοί μου καλοὶ καὶ μεγάλοι,||My brothers were handsome and tall,|
|5b||καὶ οὐκ εὐδόκησεν ἐν αὐτοῖς κύριος.||but the Lord took no delight in them.|
|6a||ἐξῆλθον εἰς συνάντησιν τῷ ἀλλοφύλῳ,||I went out to meet the foreigner,|
|6b||καὶ ἐπικατηράσατό με ἐν τοῖς εἰδώλοις αὐτοῦ,||and he cursed me by his idols.|
|7a||ἐγὼ δὲ σπασάμενος τὴν παῤ αὐτοῦ μάχαιραν||But I, having drawn the sword from him,|
|7b||ἀπεκεφάλισα αὐτὸν||I beheaded him,|
|7c||καὶ ἦρα ὄνειδος ἐξ υἱῶν Ισραηλ.||and removed reproach from Israel’s sons.|
This psalm has been aptly described as an autobiographical midrash on the early life of David as recorded in 1 Samuel 16–17. It weaves together incidents from David’s adolescence recorded in 1 Samuel 16-17: his anointing (16:1-13), his entry into Saul’s service as a musician (16:14-23), and his victory over Goliath (chap. 17). Significantly, these three episodes hang together uneasily in their context in Samuel, but are brought together in this poetic midrash connecting David’s anointing by Samuel with his victory over Goliath as an example of the Lord’s presence with David.
I will offer some more analysis of this psalm in a later post.