Volume 48 - Issue 2

Reading Psalm Superscriptions through the Centuries

By Ian J. Vaillancourt


This article seeks to retrieve from the past in order to gain perspective for the present. It begins by surveying the manuscripts of the MT Psalter, the LXX Psalter, and 11QPsa from the DSS, reporting on the unique aspects of the psalm superscriptions in each of these text traditions. The heart of the article then surveys the way five key questions about superscriptions have been answered by prominent interpreters in the patristic, medieval, reformation, higher critical, and more recent periods. It concludes with some lessons drawn from its survey of history as a vehicle for suggesting a way forward for the present day.

The interpretation and even the value of the Psalm superscriptions are subjects of debate in current scholarship.1 Of the many questions that are commonly asked, this article focuses on five:

  1. When were the psalm superscriptions added?
  2. Which manuscript tradition should be followed?
  3. What do the obscure words in the psalm superscriptions mean?
  4. Do the psalm superscriptions report actual history?
  5. What does the lamedh preposition + proper name refer to in the various psalm superscriptions?

The burden of this study is to retrieve from the past in order to gain perspective for the present. We begin by briefly describing three key Psalms manuscripts, move to survey the interpretation of the superscriptions through the past two thousand years, and conclude by summing up our findings, before offering some suggestions about a way forward.

1. The Superscriptions in Three Key Manuscripts

We begin with the key manuscripts. Of course, space restrictions limit us to focusing on only the most salient and sometimes representative details.

1.1. The Masoretic Text (MT)

One hundred and one psalms in the Masoretic Text refer to an author, with David taking pride of place with seventy-three.2 Of these, thirteen are so-called historical superscriptions, in which an event from David’s life is listed as the occasion for the psalm’s composition. Apart from Psalm 142, the other twelve occur in books 1 and 2. Finally, the superscriptions also contain musical, liturgical, and type-of-psalm terms, including Mizmor, Miktam, Maskil, Tephillah, and so forth. The heading לַמְנַצֵּחַ (“for the choir director”) also occurs fifty-five times.

1.2. The Septuagint (LXX)

The LXX superscriptions are derived from the MT as a base text, but they also exhibit numerous peculiarities. The additional Psalm 151 bears the following superscription: “This psalm was written for David and is outside the number; when he engaged Goliad in combat.”3 The MT has thirty-four psalms that lack a superscription, while the LXX has only seventeen.4 VanGemeren summarizes that the LXX “adds ‘of David’ to psalms that do not contain this phrase in the MT (33; 43; 71; 91; 93–99; 104; 137) but deletes ‘of David’ in the superscription of Psalms 122 and 124.”5

Also significant, the LXX rendering of musical terms is sometimes curious. At times the terms are transliterated, and at times they are reinterpreted.6 For example, all fifty-five occurrences of לַמְנַצֵּחַ (“for the choir director”) appear as Εἰς τὸ τέλος (“for the end”) in the LXX. In addition, “on the Gittith” is translated as “on the winepresses” in the LXX (e.g., Ps 8). I agree with Gillingham that features like this bespeak a translator who “was living at a time when Jewish hopes for a cataclysmic redemption were high,” and so this seems to have influenced his work, “giving it a more future-oriented, eschatological bias.”7 In short, the “Davidizing” of the LXX Psalms was witnessed in its extra Davidic psalm, and its extra Davidic superscriptions. Also, the eschatological character of the LXX seems to be apparent from its translation choices for some of its musical and liturgical terms.

1.3. The Great Psalms Scroll from Qumran (11QPsa)

Among the thirty-nine Psalms scrolls discovered at Qumran, 11QPsa is unique. It is the longest Psalms scroll, contains roughly the last fifty Psalms of the MT, but reorders them significantly, and also adds nine psalms not found in the MT.8 As with the LXX, there seems to have been an attempt to highlight David in this scroll by scattering Davidic psalms throughout, where they had been more clustered together in the MT. Further evidence for “Davidization” is found in the nine compositions not found in the MT. For example, “David’s Compositions” in column twenty-seven of 11QPsa speaks of David’s wisdom, light, literacy, discernment, and his composition of 4,050 psalms, songs, and other poems.9 However, other than a few very minor alterations, the psalms that appear in both the MT and 11QPsa have remarkably similar superscriptions.10 In other words, the peculiarities of 11QPsa reside more in its reordering of material and its addition of non-MT psalms, and has less to do with unique superscriptions on psalms that appear in the MT Psalter.

1.4. Summary of Findings

The superscriptions were added prior to the translation of the LXX and transmission of the DSS. Further, the obscure words are indeed obscure, and it is possible that even the LXX translators did not understand some of them.11 It is also possible that these translators deliberately altered some of them in order to speak eschatologically to the community of which they were a part. Finally, regarding the lamedh + proper name in the superscriptions, the LXX translates the noun in the dative, and the dative of means (i.e., “authorship by __”) is an interpretive probability in this regard. Further, the “Davidic” nature of 11QPsa also points to this denoting authorship; in an effort to “Davidize” the scrolls, the Psalms were re-ordered.

2. Reading Psalm Superscriptions through the Centuries

We now turn to overview the past two thousand years of church history.

2.1. The Patristic Period

During the patristic period, it is important to remember that the majority of the early church fathers worked from the LXX Psalter as a base text, and this had great impact on their interpretation of Psalm superscriptions. In light of the translation of לַמְנַצֵּחַ as Εἰς τὸ τέλος in fifty-five of the LXX Psalm titles, mixed with the New Testament use of Psalms to point to Christ, these interpreters were understandably led to an eschatological reading of the Psalms.12 For example, “Asterius the Sophist in comment on Psalm 9:1 exclaimed: What is τὸ τέλος? The beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the τέλος of the Law and the Prophets.”13

Gregory of Nyssa (335–395 AD) believed that the theological essence and purpose of the psalms were indicated by their superscriptions.14 It is not surprising, then, that he wrote an entire book on them during the early portion of his scholarly life, around 376–378 AD.15 In line with the dominant view of his time, this work followed the LXX, and the alterations of titles present in that work.16

Most scholars of this period assumed Davidic authorship of the seventy-three psalms that bear his name and assumed that the ל of the superscription (or more often, the dative article in the LXX superscription) denotes authorship. This view is found, for example, in Jerome (347–420 AD), who made the following comment on Psalm 51: “King David progressed from the serious sin of adultery to the even greater sin of murder, and the greater the sin the greater the measure of divine mercy that is needed for forgiveness.”17 In fact, with the exception of Theodore of Mopsuestia (350–428 AD), the major interpreters from this period read the superscriptions historically.18

Finally, not only did Augustine accept the LXX as authoritative, but Bray notes, “He was opposed to Jerome’s use of the Hebrew text instead of the Septuagint, because he regarded this as a form of Judaizing,”19 and this view, “triumphed in the western church, and it was not until the Reformation that Jerome’s position was vindicated.”20 In commenting on Psalm 51, Augustine first listed 2 Samuel 11 and then Psalm 51 as his dual reference, showing he believed the superscription’s claim that the psalm was occasioned by David’s sin with Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan’s rebuke of him.

In line with many others of his time, Augustine’s reading of the LXX superscriptions also tended in an eschatological direction. For example, on Psalm 4—the first Εἰς τὸ τέλος—Augustine comments, “‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’ For this ‘end’ signifies perfection, not consumption.”21 On Psalm 22:1, he adds, “‘To the end,’ for His own resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself speaketh.”22 Similarly, on Psalm 8, the LXX superscription of which reads, “for the end, for the wine-presses, a psalm of David,” Augustine writes, “We may then take wine-presses to be Churches, on the same principle by which we understand also by a threshing floor the Church.”23 Alternatively, he also suggests that winepresses could refer to the Divine Word as the grape, and “this grape comes into the ears, as into the pressing machines of the wine-pressers.”24 As a third alternative, Augustine asserts, “‘Wine-presses’ are usually taken for martyrdoms, as if when they who have confessed the name of Christ have been trodden down by the blows of persecution, their mortal remains are husks remained on earth, but their souls flowed forth into the rest of a heavenly habitation.25

Finally, with the more obscure terms in the Psalms, Augustine could sometimes get creative. For example, he interprets the phrase “on the eighth” to refer to the day of judgment or the eternal age, “for that after the time present, which is a cycle of seven days, it shall be given to the Saints.”26

2.2. The Medieval Period

Although most prominent scholars of the medieval period used the LXX Psalter as a base text, and although Delitzsch notes that because of this, “The mediaeval church exposition [of the Psalms] did not make any essential advance upon the patristic,”27 the period is still worthy of note. The giant of this period, of course, was Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), and he wrote a commentary on the Psalms based on the priority of the LXX over the MT. Commenting on Psalm 51 (LXX Ps 50), Aquinas links the psalm with 2 Samuel 11–12 and summarized that narrative as a lens through which the psalm was to be read. Further, with regard to the expression “for the winepresses,” Aquinas comments,

What should be considered is that which is said in Deut. 16: You shall keep the feast of booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your wine press. One should know that David had a special role of devotion of celebration during the feast; and he would do something special for the praise of God. For, the Feast of Booths was a major feast.28

2.3. The Reformation Period

The Reformation period witnessed a shift, as Luther, Calvin, and their followers worked from the MT Psalter. In line with the fifteen-hundred-year history of the church before them, both also assumed Davidic authorship of the seventy-three לְדָוִיד psalms, along with the authenticity of the historical notices. For example, on Psalm 51 Martin Luther (1483–1546 AD) comments, “David prayeth for remission of sins whereof he maketh a deep confession—He prayeth for sanctification—God delighteth not in sacrifice but in sincerity—He prayeth for the church.”29 He continues, “This, among all the psalms, is a signal and golden one. It contains experiences and feelings truly Davidical; and teaches us what sin is, what the origin of sin is, and how great and awful and evil the fall of Adam was.”30

Next, Wenham reports that Calvin “entirely accept[ed] the validity of the psalm titles and exploit[ed] them to the full to understand the message of each psalm.”31 On Psalm 51, for example, Calvin clearly assumes the historical incident of David’s adultery with Bathsheba as the occasion for its composition.32 Regarding Davidic authorship, “Calvin attributed a large number of Psalms to David even though not all of these Psalms have the inscription ‘of David.’ He favored this interpretation of authorship and setting because the situation described in the Psalms often fit David best.”33 Finally, with respect to more obscure terms in the Psalm superscriptions, Calvin was characteristically well studied. For example, he wrote the following about the term Shiggaion in Psalm 7:1:

The Jewish interpreters are not agreed. Some understand it to mean a musical instrument. To others it seems to be a tune to which a song is set. Others suppose it to have been the beginning of a common song, to the tune of which David wished this psalm to be sung. Others translate the Hebrew word, delight, or rejoicing. The second opinion appears to me the most probable, namely, that it was some kind of melody or song, as if one should term it Sapphic or Phaleucian verse.34

From this quotation we notice that Calvin took the superscriptions seriously and so read broadly on them, but he still took a stand on his own interpretation out of those available. He didn’t even consider the LXX in his exploration of what the term could mean. Instead, and in line with his prioritizing of the Hebrew text, he appealed to Jewish interpreters in this instance.

2.4. The Higher Critical Period

Moving on to what we may call “the higher critical period,” Childs observes,

By the middle of the nineteenth century the Psalm titles, which had been thought to provide the key to psalm interpretation, had been almost universally abandoned as late, inauthentic, and insignificant. The last major scholarly commentary to defend completely the traditional stance was that of Hengstenberg in 1842, and it already appeared anachronistic to the new world of biblical criticism.35

Waltke lists some scholars who took this position, and identifies the roots of their beliefs:

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, under the impact of historical criticism, many academics discarded the superscriptions and reconstructed the historical context…. Scholars such as Bernhard Duhm, T. K. Cheyne, Paul Haupt, and the later Charles A. Briggs came to the mistaken conclusion that the Psalter was principally the hymnbook of the second temple, and they interpreted many psalms with reference to Maccabees. For example, they attributed Psalm 3 “to a leader caught in the partisan battles and struggles of that time.”36

Wenham notes further,

S. R. Driver … claimed on the one hand that some of the Davidic psalms were not fresh or original enough “for the founder of the Hebrew Psalmody,” and on the other hand that others “express an intensity of devotion, a depth of spiritual insight, and a maturity of theological reflection, beyond what we should expect from David or David’s age.”37

In 1886 C. H. Toy went so far as to claim, “‘The statements of the titles are worthless; that is, though they may in some cases be right, they may always be wrong, and are therefore of no use as critical guides.’”38 With regard to the ל in the superscription, many interpretive options were set forth, including “of,” “for,” “for use on,” “for use of,” or “belonging to” (but without connotations of authorship).39 The tendency was clearly to move away from ל as a marker of authorship.

It should also be noted, though, that during this period there was a conservative contingent in both the academy and in influential pastorates. Hengstenberg has already been mentioned, and to that conservative German scholar we could add the name of his fellow countryman Franz Delitzsch, who, writing in Germany in 1867, suggests that a rejection of the superscriptions had been made too hastily, for

Instances like Hab. 3.1 and 2 Sam. 1.18, comp. Ps. 60.1, shew that David and other psalm-writers might have appended their names to their psalms and the definition of their purport. And the great antiquity of these and similar inscriptions also follows from the fact that the LXX found them already in existence and did not understand them.40

3. Psalm Titles in Recent Discussion: Three Key Contributors

Finally, our survey of the superscriptions through the centuries has brought us to the recent past, with three key contributors from the last few decades.

3.1. Brevard S. Childs

First, although Brevard Childs embraced historical criticism during his seminary days and although he never left it behind, his canonical approach to the study of the Old Testament shifted the focus of his exegesis. In the context of the university, his key contribution lay in his acknowledgement that the redactional process on the Old Testament was done intentionally and theologically—older texts that had functioned in a former context were introduced into new non-historical contexts in order to make the Bible accessible to a new context. Since the final form of the Scriptures was chief in a culminating way, a historical-critical reading could offer a great depth-dimension for Childs, as layers of redaction revealed theological shaping by the editors. However, the redaction was intentional and theological and was done by the religious community and for the religious community, even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Further, though layers of redaction were clearly present in the text for Childs, not all of them were viewed as being discernible. For these reasons, the final form of the Old and New Testaments is the primary witness to Jesus Christ. Therefore, for Childs, the task of exegesis was not primarily to uncover the so-called “more pure earlier form” of the witness and then exegete it, but to interpret primarily the final form for the church.

Childs then applied this approach to the Psalm superscriptions. In Childs’s view, “although the titles [were] a relatively late addition, they represent[ed] an important reflection of how the psalms as a collection of sacred literature were understood and how this secondary setting became authoritative for the canonical tradition.”41 For Childs, this resulted in two primary angles of reflection: David as everyman, and the Psalm titles as midrashic.

First, in Childs’s view, the addition of historical superscriptions set David forth as a sort of “everyman”:

The psalms are transmitted as the sacred psalms of David, but they testify to all the common troubles and joys of ordinary human life in which all persons participate. These psalms do not need to be cultically actualized to serve later generations. They are made immediately accessible to the faithful. Through the mouth of David, the man, they become a personal word from God in each individual situation…. Far from tying these hymns to the ancient past, they have been contemporized and individualized for every generation of suffering and persecuted Israel.42

Second, for Childs the Psalm titles were also midrashic, providing insight into the inner lives their authors. While 1 and 2 Samuel narrated events, psalms with thematic and linguistic parallels to those events were tied to them, and they are set forth as David’s reflections during those seasons:

By placing a Psalm within the setting of a particular historical incident in the life of David, the reader suddenly was given access to previously unknown information. David’s inner life was now unlocked to the reader, who was allowed to hear his intimate thoughts and reflections. It therefore seems most probable that the formation of the titles stemmed from a pietistic circle of Jews whose interest was particularly focused on the nurture of the spiritual life.43

Finally, Childs correctly judged, “whatever the expression לדויד may once have meant, the claim of authorship now seems most probable.” This, he notes, is especially clear in those psalm titles (e.g., Ps 18) “which specify a particular historical incident in David’s life as providing the occasion for composition.”44

3.2. Gerald H. Wilson

Next, as a student of Childs at Yale, Gerald H. Wilson’s impact on Psalms scholarship was vast. Specifically with regard to superscriptions, Wilson suggests three layers of accretion: the liturgical elements were added first while the psalms were still being used in temple worship; authorship notices were added second; and the historical notices were added in a third stage.45 In his view, “the retention of the colophonic material as a ‘frozen’ part of a literary composition, even after subsequent additions and editing had skewed the function of the work from that of the original”46 was in parallel with the way the Sumerian inscriptions also functioned. Finally, and in complement to Childs before him, Wilson suggests that the additions of historical superscriptions had

the effect of obscuring the original cultic matrix of that psalm and loosing it to function on a more personal level. The implication is: If David responded to such events by expressing himself in a psalm, then what better way for me to respond to similar conflicts in my own life than to appropriate the words of his classical utterance? Such a movement toward personalization would quickly extend to the remaining psalms, regardless of their original function in the cult. This process of extension can be observed at work in the expansive psalms-headings of LXX and the targumim.47

With regard to the genre distinctions in the Psalter (e.g., שגיון), Wilson notes that they never occur together in the same superscription,48 and “genre does not constitute a primary editorial principle for the organization of the Psalter.”49 He then concludes that in books 1–3 the primary organizational concern is authorship—David in book 1, the sons of Korah or David in book 2, and Asaph and others in book 3. However, beyond Psalm 89 this changes, as only nineteen of the sixty-one remaining psalms bear superscriptions. But Wilson still notes attributions of authorship in books four and five, along with clusters of Davidic psalms at the beginning and end of book five.50 Even still, he concludes, “authorship cannot be considered the primary organizational concern of the final Hebrew Psalter. While there are a number of large groupings, in no case are all the pss of a particular author brought together into a single collection.”51

3.3. Bruce K. Waltke

A final more recent scholar who has contributed significantly to the study of Psalm superscriptions is Bruce K. Waltke, who correctly observes, “Whether or not the superscriptions are reliable affects the interpretation and theology of the Psalter.”52 In contrast to interpreters from the higher critical period onwards, Waltke explicitly argues, “The historical context of a psalm’s composition must be gleaned from its superscription, which often looks back to the book of Samuel, and/or from its content.”53 This is said to be supported by the antiquity of employing superscriptions—in Sumerian and Akkadian ritual texts as old as the third century BC.54

Waltke also believes that the ל prefixed to דוד in the superscriptions denotes authorship, citing Isaiah 38:9 and Habakkuk 3:1 as evidence from elsewhere in Scripture.55 He adds the ancient Near Eastern evidence that poets in general were not anonymous (unlike narrators).56 Further, he points out the Chronicler’s claim: “David assigned the Levites to various musical guilds in order to beautify the Mosaic ritual with music and associates David with Israel’s psalmody (1 Chron. 16:1–43).”57

Finally, Waltke interacts with the work of both Wilson and Gevaryahu and ultimately brings a new hypothesis to bear: the לַמְנַצֵּחַ plus “optional prepositional phrases originally served as postscripts to the psalms preceding them.”58 Therefore, although he takes a very conservative position regarding the superscriptions, he is also not averse to setting forth unique theories that would lead to a radical rethinking of the interpretation of the book of Psalms. He concludes, “the text was ripe for the textual confusion envisioned here and that ample time was available for the corruption and harmonizing editorial activity to have taken place before the extant witnesses to the text.”59 Although he concedes that there is no manuscript evidence for this shift, he posits that since the LXX and Qumran scrolls are close to the Masoretic text in their superscriptions, the corruption took place early.60 This “corruption” was for Waltke both the unintentional work of scribes and the deliberate work of editors: “The prose of these editorial notices butting up against one another versus the poetry of the psalms themselves contributed to their textual conflation.”61 Waltke suggests that Habakkuk 3 lends further support to his theory.62

4. Concluding Thoughts

To conclude, we have sought with C. S. Lewis “to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries” blowing through our minds,63 and this has resulted in a fresh perspective in our study of the Psalm superscriptions.

4.1. Summarizing Our Findings

We now return to the five questions that govern this article:

4.1.1. When were the psalm superscriptions added?

These were added prior to the translation of the LXX and the transmission of the DSS. Even where these manuscripts differ from the MT, they seem to be differing from a base text. The patristic, medieval, and Reformation periods all witnessed the dominant view that the superscriptions were integral parts of the original composition of the psalms. Despite some conservative holdouts, this view shifted during the higher-critical period. While Childs and Wilson also cast doubt on the authenticity of the superscriptions, Waltke has more recently affirmed them as original, authentic, and important.

4.1.2. Which manuscript tradition should be followed?

Prior to the Reformation, the LXX Psalter was preeminent, and this greatly impacted the interpretation of the individual psalms up until Luther and Calvin. However, the Reformation’s return to the sources also resulted in a recovery of the Hebrew language and so the MT superscriptions, and this has prevailed in conservative and critical schools of thought for the past 500 years.

4.1.3. What do the obscure words in the psalm superscriptions mean?

In the patristic and medieval periods, there was often creative and novel allegorizing of the obscure terms in the superscriptions. For the Reformers, the obscure terms needed to be studied, especially in light of all the sources available, including (or especially) Jewish sources. Finally, for Gerald Wilson, the obscure terms of the Psalter denoted genre, and although there may not be certainty with regard to their meaning, one can notice from them that genre is not a primary factor in the organization of the Psalter.

4.1.4. Do the psalm superscriptions report actual history?

With few exceptions, the so-called pre-critical period answered this question with a resounding “yes,” and the higher-critical period witnessed a clear shift. Other than Hengstenberg and Delitzsch, and more recently, Bruce Waltke, the general assumption for the past few hundred years has been that the superscriptions do not report actual history.

4.1.5. What does the lamedh preposition + proper name refer to in the various psalm superscriptions?

Once again, with few exceptions, the so-called pre-critical period most often assumed that this formula denoted authorship, and the critical period witnessed a clear shift, with a variety of interpretive options available. However, although Childs thought the historical superscriptions were late additions, he did assert that the editors intended them to denote authorship, and the New Testament bears this out in its reading of the various psalms. Waltke takes this a step further, essentially returning to the pre-critical position, but also offering biblical evidence for his position.

4.2. Where Do We Go from Here?

Now that our broad overview is complete, where do we go from here? Let’s consider five lessons to be drawn from our study.

4.2.1. Interpret Psalm superscriptions.

In light of the versification in our contemporary English Bibles and in light of the higher-critical bias against superscriptions, many contemporary readers ignore the Psalm superscriptions. But the sweep of history has taught us that these are valuable for the interpretation of the Psalms. Whether this is done in the manner of the majority of interpreters from the past two thousand years or that of Childs and his followers, these portions of Holy Scripture are worthy of attention. It should sober us that comparatively few interpreters in history have ignored them or called them useless.

4.2.2. Consider the manuscripts.

Each age has had its own outlook. With regard to manuscript traditions, some ages have prioritized the LXX, and others the MT, but what we glean from this is that a consideration of all the manuscript evidence is worthy of attention. The way the scribes and redactors from over two thousand years ago interpreted the superscriptions has valuable insights for the modern interpreter.

4.2.3. Wrestle with the question of the historical notices.

Some ages have assumed too much, and others have adopted a hermeneutic of suspicion with regard to the superscriptions. In light of the sweep of history, though, Childs’s, Wilson’s, and Waltke’s modeling of wrestling with historical notices is worthy of attention.

4.2.4. The enigmatic ל may not be so enigmatic after all.

Whether it is a consideration of the LXX or the New Testament, or a survey of interpretations through the past few thousand years, history has taught us that the lamedh + proper name in the superscriptions was meant to denote authorship in the majority of cases.64

4.2.5. A new generation of interpreters of the superscriptions is welcome.

If the history of interpretation has taught us abundantly about the superscriptions, the rigorous scholarship of Childs, Wilson, and Waltke has modeled that newer is not always novel and faulty. In fact, some of the most helpful insights in our study have come from interpreters of the past forty years. If these scholars have offered the interpretive community much to consider, a new generation could certainly build on their work and provide even more fresh insights for the next generation.

[1] For initial help in brainstorming my approach to this article, I am indebted to the following work: John Lee Thompson, Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

[2] Next are the Sons of Korah (eleven times, all in books 2 and 3), followed by Asaph (twelve times; once in book 2, and the rest in book 3), Solomon (twice), Heman the Ezrahite (once), Ethan the Ezrahite (once), Moses (once), and anonymous (about forty-nine times). Psalm 88 lists two different authors in its superscription; this is why 102 different authorial notices occur in the book of Psalms, but only 101 psalms have reported authors.

[3] Also unique to the LXX, the Masoretic postscript הללו יה in Psalms 113–118 (112–117 LXX) is shifted to the superscription of the following psalm in each occurrence.

[4] See Willem VanGemeren, Psalms, rev. ed., EBC 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 36.

[5] VanGemeren, Psalms, 45.

[6] Wilson represents a common conclusion: “As many have noted before, the ancient translators of LXX and the targumim must have found many of these technical terms exceedingly obscure, as evidenced by the variety of their renderings. While modern scholarship has brought greater precision to our understanding of these terms, in the final analysis, many still resist all attempts to drag them into the light of day.” Gerald H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 142. Gillingham agrees: “many of the Hebrew terms, not least in the superscriptions, do not seem to have been known in the second-century Alexandria.” Susan E. Gillingham, Psalms through the Centuries (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 1:8.

[7] Gillingham, Psalms through the Centuries, 8. J. Glen Taylor adds, “Since this notation is very often followed by the words ‘of David,’ readers of the psalms in Greek would read ‘of David’ in conjunction with ‘concerning fulfillment.’ I think it very likely that this influenced readers of the psalms to understand the psalms of David to be read no longer simply as hymns but as prophecies. Prophecies about what? Most likely: ‘of [the] David’ who is yet to come, God’s messiah, the one to resurrect David’s dynasty (Am. 9, Jer. 31, and Zech. 6).” J. Glen Taylor, “Psalms 1 and 2: A Gateway into the Psalter and Messianic Images for the Restoration of David’s Dynasty,” in Interpreting the Psalms for Teaching and Preaching, ed. Herbert W. Bateman and D. Brent Sandy (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2010), 58.

[8] “11QPsa Psalter contains nine additional psalms, four of which were already known to scholars (Pss 151A and 151B, 154, 155, David’s Last Words [= 2 Sam 23:1–7], and Sirach 51:1330), whereas the other four were unknown (Plea of Deliverance [col. xix], Apostrophe of Zion [col. xxii], Hymn to the Creator [col. xxvi], David’s Compositions). Four of these additional psalms are Davidic: David’s Last Words, David’s Compositions, Ps 151A, and Ps 151B.” Hulisani Ramantswana, “David of the Psalters: MT Psalter, LXX Psalter and 11QPsa Psalter,” OTE 24.2 (2011): 447.

[9] The composition in full is as follows: “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. And the Lord gave / 4 him a discerning and enlightened spirit. And he wrote / 5 3,600 psalms; and songs to sing before the altar over the whole-burnt / 6 perpetual offering 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.” Cited from Ramantswana, “David of the Psalters,” 448.

[10] For example, in addition to changes in full vs. defective spellings, Ps 93:1 MT has no superscription, but 11QPsa has “Hallelujah.” Further, in Ps 123:1 11QPsa adds “of David” to the middle of the superscription and changes a definite article for a lamedh in the third word. In Ps 144:1 the MT has “of David” and 11QPsa has no superscription. In Ps 145:1 11QPsa exchanges a ה in the MT for a פ.

[11] Terrien notes, “These musical ruberics were already obscure for the LXX translators, who seemed to have groped hesitantly for the Greek equivalent.” Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 28.

[12] “That the Fathers of the Church, who read the entire Septuagint as a praeparatio euangelica would read Εἰς τὸ τέλος and in fact τέλος generally from an eschatological perspective is of course true.” Albert Pietersma, “LXX Exegesis and the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter,” in The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception, ed. Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 470.

[13] Pietersma, “LXX Exegesis and the Superscriptions of the Greek Psalter,” 470.

[14] Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Inscriptions of the Psalms, ed. Casimir McCambley (Brookline, MA: Hellenic College Press, 1990).

[15] See David L. Balás, “Review of Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms: Introduction, Translation and Notes,” Church History 66:3 (1997): 544–45. Ronald E. Heine notes that “the inscription of the Psalms has been neglected in modern studies of his work. It has never been translated into a modern language, nor been the subject of a monograph” (Ronald E. Heine, Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms: Introduction, Translation and Notes, Oxford Early Christian Studies [Oxford: Clarendon, 1995], 1, as cited in Balás, “Review of Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms,” 544–45. Balás adds, “Thus Heine’s book fills a real gap in the otherwise rich scholarship on Gregory of Nyssa.” Balás, “Review of Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms,” 545.

[16] See Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms, 3 vols., KDCOT, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 1:49.

[17] Quentin F. Wessenschmidt, ed., Psalms 51–150, ACCOT 8 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 1.

[18] See William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 77.

[19] Gerald Lewis Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 92, emphasis added.

[20] Bray, Biblical Interpretation, 92.

[21] Augustine, Expositions on The Book of Psalms: Translated, With Notes and Indices, VIII, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 8.

[22] Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 58.

[23] Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 27.

[24] Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 28.

[25] Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 28.

[26] Augustine, Expositions on the Book of Psalms, 44.

[27] Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms, 1:54.

[28] Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary on Psalm 8,” n.p.,

[29] Martin Luther, A Manual of the Book of Psalms: or, The Subject-Contents of All the Psalms, trans. Henry P. Cole (London: Bohn, 1847), 140.

[30] Luther, A Manual of the Book of Psalms, 142. Luther also suggested a unique translation in the titles of the songs of ascents: “A song for the higher choir.” See Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 100.

[31] Gordon J. Wenham, Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 28.

[32] He comments, “For a long period after his melancholy fall, David would seem to have sunk into a spiritual lethargy; but when roused from it by the expostulation of Nathan, he was filled with self-loathing and humiliation in the sight of God, and was anxious both to testify his repentance to all around him, and leave some lasting proof of it to posterity.” John Calvin, Psalms 36–92, trans. Rev. James Anderson, Calvin’s Commentaries 5 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 281.

[33] H. J. Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 31.

[34] Calvin, Psalms 36–92, 75.

[35] Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 509. See also Wenham, Psalms as Torah, 35.

[36] Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 871.

[37] Wenham, Psalms as Torah, 28.

[38] James H. Fraser, “The Authenticity of the Psalm Titles” (ThM thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1984), 17.

[39] Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1–50, WBC 19 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 34.

[40] Delitzsch, Commentary on the Psalms, 1:22–23. The conservative views of the popular preacher and interpreter of Scripture from this period Alexander MacLaren were also apparent in his assumption of both the Davidic authorship and the historical correctness of the superscription of Ps 51: “A whole year had elapsed between David’s crime and David’s penitence. It had been a year of guilty satisfaction not worth the having; of sullen hardening of heart against God and all His appeals.” Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 4, Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932), 1.

[41] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 520.

[42] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 521.

[43] Brevard S. Childs, “Psalm Titles and Midrashic Exegesis,” JSS 16.2 (1971): 149.

[44] Childs, “Psalm Titles and Midrashic Exegesis,” 138.

[45] See Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms, Volume 1, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 80.

[46] Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 23.

[47] Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 143.

[48] See Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 158.

[49] Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 161.

[50] See Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 155.

[51] Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, 155.

[52] Waltke, with Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 871.

[53] Waltke, with Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 871.

[54] Waltke, with Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 872.

[55] See Waltke, with Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 872.

[56] See Waltke, with Yu, An Old Testament Theology, 872.

[57] Bruce K. Waltke, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 11. This is also said to be supported by Amos 6:5, which cites David as one who played the harp. See Waltke, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms,” 11.

[58] Bruce K. Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” JBL 110.4 (1991): 588–89.

[59] Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” 588–89.

[60] See Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” 596.

[61] Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” 594.

[62] See Waltke, “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both,” 595.

[63] See C. S. Lewis, “Introduction to Athanasius on the Incarnation,” in On the Incarnation: The Treatise De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, ed. Penelope Lawson (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 5.

[64] A notable exception may be Ps 72 and its לִשְׁלֹמֹה superscription. While the LXX most often translates lamedh + proper name as “τῷ + proper name” in Greek (most likely referring to the authorship “Of __”), in light of the note about the prayers of David in Ps 72:20, the superscription is translated as Εἰς Σαλωμων (“for Solomon”). For a helpful overview of this issue, along with a convincing argument in favor of reading Ps 72 as a prayer of the aged David for his son and successor, see Adam D. Hensley, “David, Once and Future King? A Closer Look at the Postscript of Psalm 72.20,” JSOT 46.1 (2020): 24–43. Another notable exception may be the superscription of Ps 88, which includes two instances of lamedh plus proper name. Are these meant to be thought of as two authors of the same psalm, or is there another explanation worth considering?

Ian J. Vaillancourt

Ian J. Vaillancourt is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Heritage Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario and the author of several books including Treasuring the Psalms: How to Read the Songs That Shape the Soul of the Church.

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