Resources for Biblical, Theological, and Religious Studies maintained by Tyler F. Williams

Home Dead Sea Scrolls Scroll Introductions Qumran Psalms Scroll (11Q5/11QPs-a)
Qumran Psalms Scroll (11Q5/11QPs-a)

Discovery & Publication Data

The so-called Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa = 11Q5) was one of six psalms manuscripts discovered by Bedouin in 1956 in what came to be known as Cave 11. The scroll proper and four fragments (A through D) were officially published by James A. Sanders as The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa) (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan, vol. 4; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), and fragment E was published in full by Yigael Yadin, "Another Fragment (E) of the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa)," Textus 5 (1966) 1-10. Sanders produced a popular English translation of scroll (The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll [Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967]), and translations of the "non-biblical" psalms from 11QPsa also appear in the standard English translations of the DSS (García-Martínez 304-311; Vermes 301-307; Wise, Abegg & Cook 447-52).

Physical Description

11QPsa, made up of the scroll proper and five fragments, contains a total of forty-eight psalms, biblical and otherwise, and one prose composition. The scroll itself is deep yellow tanned animal skin (perhaps calf), and is almost four metres in length. The bottom of the scroll is badly decomposed, while the top is well preserved (Sanders, Psalms Scroll, 3). The scroll contains the remnants of 34 columns of text that preserve a total of 51 compositions (see below). While the beginning of the scroll is not extant, based on his analysis of fragment a, Skehan ("Qumran and Old Testament," 169-70) argued that the scroll likely began with Ps 101. The psalms are written in prose format with the exception of the acrostic Ps 119, which is written as poetry with eight verse lines per letter.

The scroll has been dated paleographically to the late Herodian era, that is somewhere between 30 and 50 CE. Also noteworthy is the fact that the scroll uses the paleo-Hebrew script for the divine name Yahweh. The scroll is characterized by a full orthography.

11QPsa columns 27-28


Contents and Structure

There are two remarkable features of this scroll. First, in addition to the thirty-nine biblical psalms from Books 4 and 5 of the MT Psalter, it includes a prose composition ("David’s Compositions," col. 27) and nine other poetic compositions: one from elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible ("David’s Last Words," 2Sam 23:1-7); at least one Catena based upon Ps 118 (col. 16); four previously extant in ancient versions (Pss 154 and 155 from the Syriac; Ps 151, and Sirach 51:13-30 from the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate); and three hitherto unknown compositions ("The Plea for Deliverance," col. 19; "The Apostrophe to Zion," col. 22; and "The Hymn to the Creator," col. 26).

The second remarkable feature of this scroll is its unique ordering of the psalms themselves. While there are nineteen places where ordering of the psalms reflect the MT-Psalter, there are no less than twenty-eight places where psalms that are joined consecutively in 11QPsa differ with the arrangement in the MT Psalter. The psalms contents are ordered as follows (an arrow > indicates a continuous join, while a semi-colon indicates a gap):

Psalm 101 > 102 > 103; 109 > [110]; 118 > 104 > 147 > 105 > 146 > 148 [+120] > 121 > 122 > 123 > 124 > 125 > 126 > 127 > 128 > 129 > 130 > 131 > 132 > 119 > 135 > 136 > Catena > 145 [+ Another Psalm?] > 154 + Plea for Deliverance > 139 > 137 > 138 > Sirach 51 > Apostrophe to Zion > 93 > 141 > 133 > 144 > 155 > 142 > 143 > 149 > 150 > Hymn to the Creator > David’s Last Words > David’s Composition > 140 > 134 > 151A > 151B > blank column [end of scroll]

Various ways of analyzing the structure of 11QPsa has been suggested. Most early proposals explained its structure in comparison to the MT Psalter. For example, Skehan ("Liturgical Complex," 195-205) isolated a number of liturgical groupings and argued that the scroll was a liturgical rearrangement of the MT Psalter. With the resurgence of interest in the Psalms Scroll, there has also been a number of new proposals. Based on various editorial indicators, Gerald Wilson ("Qumran Psalms Scroll" 455-64) isolated five segments that progressively focus on the hope of a Davidic messiah. Peter Flint (189-198) also provides a structural outline of the scroll based on five different organizing elements, the two dominant ones being a concern to reflect the solar calendar and emphasize the role of David. Flint’s structure is as follows:

Mainly Davidic Pieces (5)

101 - 102 - 103; 109 - [110]

Passover Hallel (6)

[113 - 114 - 115 - 116 - 117] - 118

Halleluyah/Hodu Psalms (5)

104 - 147 - 105 - 146 - 148

Psalms of Ascent (13)?

[120] - 121 - 122 - 123 - 124 - 125 - 126 - 127 - 128 - 129 - 130 - 131 - 132

Wisdom Psalm


Hymns of Praise (3)?

135 - 136 (with Catena) - 145 (with subscript)

Deliverance/Supplication (4)

154 - Plea for Deliverance - 139 - 137

Praise or Wisdom (4)?

138 - Sirach 51 - Apostrophe to Zion - 93

Mostly Supplication (6)

141 - 133 - 144 - 155 - 142 - 143

Liturgical Grouping (4)

149 - 150 - Hymn to the Creator - David’s Last Words

Mainly Davidic Pieces (5)

David’s Composition - 140 - 134 - 151A - 151B



Context and Significance

Relationship to Other DSS

The Psalms were obviously one of the favorites for the Qumran community, with ca. thirty-nine manuscripts containing psalms discovered among the DSS (more than any other book). Out of all these manuscripts, the order and arrangement of 11QPsais reflected in three other scrolls: 11QPsb and perhaps 4QPse and 4QPsb. While there are other manuscripts that differ from the MT Psalter, they stand alone (4QPsa; 4QPsd; 4QPsf; 4QPsk; 4QPsn; 4QPsq, 11QPsApa).

A number of pieces of evidence suggest that the scroll was compiled at Qumran: "David’s Compositions" in col. 27 presupposes a solar calendar (which is the calendar of the Qumran community); were more than one copy of the composition found at Qumran; and it is characterized by a "Qumran" orthography (cf. Tov). In addition, the order and arrangement of some of the psalms within it may reflect the beliefs of the community (e.g., the separation of Pss 133 and 134 from the rest of the Psalms of Ascent suspends the collection’s culmination in the Temple with Ps 134, which reflects the community’s disdain of the Jerusalem Temple).


Sanders has argued since its original publication that 11QPsa represents a true "canonical" Psalter that gives witness to the "fluid" and "open ended" character of the last third of the book of Psalms before the first century CE. This proposal raises two primary questions that highlight the significance of 11QPsa.

First it raises questions concerning the formation of the Book of Psalms. While there are significant problems with the way Sanders framed the discussion (e.g., his anachronistic use of the notion of "canon", etc.), his view regarding the formation of the Psalter been refined and maintained in whole or in part by a number of scholars, most notably Wilson and Flint. Nevertheless, a major piece of evidence against the notion of a "fluid" last third of the Psalter is the Greek translation of the Psalms, which clearly reflects the contents and arrangement of the MT Psalter and can confidently be dated to the second century BCE (see my article "Towards the Date for the Old Greek Psalter,” in The Old Greek Psalter: Studies in Honour of Albert Pietersma [R. Hiebert, C. Cox, and P. Gentry, eds.; JSOTSup 332; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001] 248-276). In addition, the agreements between the MT Psalter and 11QPsa seem to indicate that the compilers of 11QPsa were aware of the ordering of the MT Psalter. So it appears that this question is far from resolved.

Second, the Qumran Psalms Scroll raises questions concerning the "canonical" status of 11QPsa for the Qumran community (as well as the state of the canon in the first century CE). The debate surrounding the status of the scroll has been fraught with methodological flaws, which is even apparent in the most recent assessment by Flint (202-227). He continues to perpetuate the false dichotomy between 11QPsa being a "True Psalter" or a "Secondary Collection." As has been noted above there are good reasons to think that the scroll was dependent on the MT Psalter as reflected in the LXX. This, however, does not necessarily mean that it was not considered authoritative for the Qumran community. In fact, I would suggest that 11QPsa was an alternative Psalter that reflected the sectarian outlook of the Qumran community (see Dahmen's recent work). While the multiple copies of the scroll may suggest this, the key to this discussion is the prose piece adumbrating David’s prolific psalm writing. Two items stand out about this piece (reproduced below). (1) First, the fact that it reflects the solar calendar that the Qumran community followed suggests that it may be the product of the Qumran community (this would be further supported by some of Chuytin’s analysis of the contents of the scroll also reflects the solar calendar). (2) Second, while scholars have noted that it is somewhat of an anomaly to find a prose composition in a Psalter manuscript (this has been appealed to as one of the reasons why it can’t be a true Psalter), and others have highlighted that it serves to "Davidicize" the scroll as a whole, no one to my knowledge has asked the question of how it functions. I would like to suggest it functions polemically to undergird the authenticity of the scroll itself. The scroll was an alternative sectarian Psalter that the Qumran community maintained in opposition to the MT Psalter which was limited to 150 psalms (the fact that Ps 151 in the LXX was noted as "outside the number" seems to indicate that there was significance to the 150 psalms that make up the MT Psalter). Thus, if David actually composed over 4000 psalms by the spirit of prophecy, what right does anyone have to limit it to 150 psalms?


Key Text: David’s Compositions (Col. 27 of 11QPsa)

[2] And David, the son of Jesse, was wise,
  and a light like the light of the sun, and literate,
  [3] and discerning and perfect in all his ways before God and men.
[4] And the Lord gave him a discerning and enlightened spirit.
And he wrote 3,600 psalms; [5]
  and songs to sing before the altar over the whole-burnt
    perpetual offering [6] every day,
  for all the days of the year, 364;
  [7] and for the offering of the Sabbaths, 52 songs;
  and for the offering of the New [8] Moons
    and for all the Solemn Assemblies
    and for the Day of Atonement, 30 songs.
[9] And all the songs that he spoke were 446,
  and songs [10] for making music over the stricken, 4.
And the total was 4,050
[11] All these he composed through prophecy
  which was given him from before the Most High.

David's Compositions
"David's Compositions" (11QPsa col. 27)



Annotated Bibliography

  • Chyutin, Michael. "The Redaction of the Qumranic and the Traditional Book of Psalms as a Calendar." RevQ 16/63 (1994): 367-95. [A learned article that argues for a complex structure of 11QPsa tied to the solar calendar.]
  • Ulrich Dahmen. Psalmen- und Psalter-Rezeption im Frühjudentum: Rekonstruktion, Textbestand, Struktur und Pragmatik der Psalmenrolle 11QPsa aus Qumran. Leiden: Brill, 2004. [An entire reconstruction and examination of the great Psalms Scroll from Qumran. Argues that 11QPsa is a qumranic composition and an example for the reception of biblical texts and books in early Judaism.]
  • Flint, Peter W. The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll & the Book of Psalms. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 17. Leiden: Brill, 1997. [This revision of the author’s thesis is the most significant study in recent years on the Psams scrolls in English]
  • Sanders, James A. The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967. [This is a popular English translation of 11QPsa.]
  • Sanders, James A. The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa). Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan. Vol. 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965. [This is the official edition of 11QPsa. It includes an introduction, transcription, plates, and notations on the scroll.]
  • Skehan, Patrick W. "A Liturgical Complex in 11QPsa." CBQ 34 (1973): 195-205.
  • Skehan, Patrick W. "Qumran and Old Testament Criticism." Qumrân. Sa piéte, sa théologie et son milieu. Ed. M. Delcor. BETL 46. Paris and Leuven: Éditions Duculot and Leuven University Press, 1978. 163-182. [This essay and the above article both seek to demonstrate that 11QPsa is a liturgical reworking of the Mt Psalter.]
  • Wilson, Gerald H. The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. SBLDS 76. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. "The Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa) and the Canonical Psalter: Comparison of Editorial Shaping." CBQ 59 (1997): 448-464. [Wilson’s works refine and further tose of Sanders. This particular article explores the structure of 11QPsa.]
  • Yadin, Yigael. "Another Fragment (E) of the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa)." Textus 5 (1966): 1-10. [This is the first publication of this fragment of 11QPsa.]


Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 July 2009 12:49