You probably noticed that the Psalms are written in verse. If you didn't, you might want to go back for a reread. Songs and poetry appear elsewhere in the Bible, but Psalms is by far the biggest collection. Does the fact that they're poetry change the way you read the Psalms? What challenges does it pose to translators?
Oh, one other thing: what the stink is "selah"? This word is littered throughout Psalms. Scholars are unsure of its meaning, but it probably indicates a pause, a musical interlude, or is just another way of breaking up the text (source).
Putting the Pieces Together
Psalms is a big book—the biggest in the Bible, in fact. But it definitely wasn't all written by one guy. It wasn't even all written in one century…more like six. Most modern editions include a division of the Psalms into several books that scholars believe constitute a specific historical period or author. Here's the breakdown:
- Book 1 (Psalms 1-41): King David
- Book 2 (Psalms 42-72): King David
- Book 3 (Psalms 73-89): other authors
- Book 4 (Psalms 90-106): up in the air (but is said to contain Psalms attributed to Moses and David)
- Book 5 (Psalms 107-150): King David
Notice a trend? There's a reason people generally attribute the Psalms to David.
Psalms Got Style
The Psalms are all over the place in terms of content. We've got laments, hymns, expressions of wisdom, songs about the royal monarchy, and psalms that express thanks. But there are quite a number of overlapping stylistic tendencies.
Repetition? We've got that in spades. Passages repeat within the Psalms themselves, and even pop up later in the book. Take a look at Psalms 7:15 and 9:15, 85:9 and 85:12-13 for some good examples. Certain Psalms even rehash earlier books, like Genesis (105) and Exodus (78, 106, 135, and 136).
Parallelism? Yes, please. The writers of Psalms often used the same phrasing structure, but with different words:
He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?
He who disciplines the nations, he who teaches knowledge to mankind, does he not chastise? (94:9-10)
Packs a punch, right? Especially when these words are chanted or spoken aloud. Go ahead. Try it. We'll wait.
Hungry for more parallelism? Check out 19:7-10, 20:2-5, 24:7-10, 35:5-6, 38:7, 103:19-22, 118:1-9, and 136.