Book Of Psalms (in the Septuagint, , hymns sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments; in Hebrew collections, Tehillim, praise songs), one of the canonical books of the Old Testament, containing a copious collection of religious songs. Religious poetry among the Hebrews, as among the oriental nations in general, can be traced to a high antiquity. The Pentateuch contains several hymns and fragments of hymns; in the book of Psalms we find one psalm which is ascribed to Moses; and in the time of the judges we meet with the beautiful song of Deborah (Judges v.). But the religious poetry of the Hebrews attained its principal development through King David, who is represented in the Scriptures as having practised it from early youth until his death, and in particular as having introduced the singing of hymns into the service in the tabernacle. In the Hebrew original 73 psalms are ascribed to David, but none of the old ecclesiastical translations, as the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Peshito, agree in this respect.
Besides Moses and David, several other authors of psalms are named in the headings; thus, 2 psalms are ascribed to Solomon, 12 to Asaph, 11 to the sons of Korah, a Levitic family, and one each to Heman and Ethan. The Alexandrine and Syriac versions mention also the prophets Haggai and Zechariah as the authors of some psalms. - The collection of psalms, in the form in which it appears in the Old Testament, cannot have been completed until after the captivity, as some of the psalms are obviously of subsequent origin. According to Hitzig, Len-gerke, and Olshausen, some of the psalms belong to a time as late as that of the Maccabees. The possibility of Maccabaean psalms is admitted by Delitzsch, while their existence is denied by Hengstenberg, Hävernick, Keil, Ewald, and others. Particular collections, which were afterward embodied in the book of Psalms, may possibly have existed as early as the time of David. The book of Psalms is, according to the analogy of the Pentateuch, divided into five books, each of which closes with a doxology. The second book has a postscript, which seems to have been the conclusion of an old particular collection.
The Septuagint and the Vulgate, which follows it, differ somewhat from the Hebrew in numbering the psalms, the difference beginning with the 10th and extending to the 147th; the entire number in all these is 150. - The contents of the book of Psalms are manifold. With regard to their object, they may be divided into six classes: 1, hymns to God, in which he is' praised as the creator, preserver, and governor of the world, and in particular as the protector of his chosen people; 2, national psalms, in which the people are reminded of the ancient history of Israel from the time of the patriarchs, especially of the history of Moses, of the many favors received from God, of the occupation of the promised land, of the signal assistance of God, and of the gratitude therefore due to him; 3, the king's psalms, in which the theocratic king is praised as the representative of Jehovah, and the assistance of the Lord is invoked for him; 4, moral hymns, in which the fate of the pious and the wicked is described; 5, the psalms of lamentation, in which, sometimes by individuals, sometimes by the entire people, misery and calamity, especially oppression experienced from foreign or domestic foes, are lamented, with a prayer to God for deliverance; a subdivision of this class is the penitential psalms, describing the sufferings of the psalmist as deserved, recognizing the committed sin, and praying for pardon; 6, prophetic psalms, which have reference to a Messianic future.
A great difference of opinion prevails among exegetical writers as to the number of psalms belonging to this last class, and theologians of the rationalistic school have maintained that a directly predictive character cannot be claimed for a single passage in the Psalms. - The collection of psalms seems to have come at once into public use at divine service both as prayers and hymns. The singers who were appointed by David for the service of the sanctuary sang psalms. In the time of Heze-kiah, psalms of David and Asaph are recorded as having been sung at religious solemnities (2 Chron. xxix. 30), and songs of David were also sung in the second temple, after the captivity (Ezra iii. 10). In the Christian church the book of Psalms had likewise from the beginning a great importance. Christ himself, after the celebration of the last supper, sang psalms with his disciples; and soon afterward, when on the cross, he used the words of a psalm. Paul and Silas praised God in psalms in the dungeon at Philippi, and Paul exhorts the Ephesians and Philippians to praise the Lord with psalms and spiritual songs. The early Christians used the psalms both in public service and in their private devotions, and the church soon made them a prominent part of the liturgical books, in particular of the breviary.
In the Protestant churches the psalms have always been extensively used for congregational singing, and some denominations, as the Reformed Presbyterian church, do not allow in divine service the use of any other religious hymns. - On account of the significance which has always been attached to the book of Psalms, it has in modern times called forth a larger number of commentaries than any other Biblical book. Le Long, in his Bibliotheca Sacra (Paris, 1723), enumerates more than 500 commentaries, exclusive of those which form parts of larger works, as well as of the commentaries on a part of the book of Psalms. Among the English commentaries the work of Bishop Home has not been superseded for popular use, though its critical value is small. Of more critical worth are: Phillips, "The Psalms in Hebrew, with a Critical, Exegetical, and Philological Commentary" (2 vols., London, 1846); and Browne, "The Book of Psalms, a new Translation, with Introduction and Notes Explanatory and Critical" (2 vols., 2d ed., London, 1870). The exegetical literature of Germany is rich in excellent commentaries, of which the best known are those by De Wette, Hitzig, Hirzel, Ewald, Hengsten-berg, Delitzsch (new ed., 1867), Hupfeld (4 vols., 1855-'61; new ed. by Riehm, 1867-'7l), and Moll, Der Psalter (in Lange's Bibelwerk, 1869-'70). In America new translations have been published by G. R. Noyes, "A new Translation of the Book of Psalms, with an Introduction" (3d ed., 1867); J. A. Alexander, "The Psalms Translated and Explained" (3 vols., 1850); and T. J. Conant, "A new Version of the Psalms, and Philological Notes " (in the American ed. of Lange's Bibelwerk, 1872).