The coronation of Ashurbanipal (Psalm 72)

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Illustration: Ashurbanipal

Who wrote Psalm 72, David or Solomon? This particular psalm is distinctive in that it contains both the superscript “Of Solomon” (which could be taken to mean “for Solomon”, “about Solomon” or “by Solomon”) and the colophon “This includes the prayers of David son of Jesse”. The colophon suggests that the superscript here means “for Solomon” and that the author of that piece was David. The psalm appears to be a prayer written by David for the occasion of the coronation of his son and successor, Solomon.

Hymns and prayers composed for the coronation of kings of other nations are also found among ancient Near Eastern texts. For example, one text contains a prayer or liturgy for the coronation of Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian king (ruled 668-627 B.C.). The liturgy invokes a variety of blessings from the Assyrian gods, including the following:

  • That Ashurbanipal be granted a long life and reign.
  • That he be given great eloquence and understanding.
  • That the scope of his rule might expand.
  • That the people of Asshur might be so prosperous that grain and oil could be purchased inexpensively.
  • That the gods would provide abundant rain for the land.

Psalm 72 includes striking parallels to the Ashurbanipal coronation liturgy. The psalmist prayed for the Israelite king’s domain to be extended (72:8-11) and for the land to prosper (72:15-16). In addition, 72:1 appeals to God to grant the king wisdom, as does the Ashurbanipal text.

At the same time, Psalm 72 is distinctive for its concern that the Israelite king should rule with righteousness and compassion (72:2-7). In addition, the Biblical text sought for God’s name to be glorified through the king’s reign (72:5). Indeed, Psalm 72 was not seeking expanded political and military domination for Israel so much as it was looking for a fulfilment of the Messianic promises. Behind this psalm stood the assurances that the Gentiles would be blessed in Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and the reign of God would be established through the son of David (2 Samuel 7). Formally, then, Psalm 72 is similar to the coronation prayer for Ashurbanipal, but the message and hope of the Old Testament have invested the Biblical text with a distinctive purpose and outlook.


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