The psalm superscripts (Psalm 3)

Bilderesultat for psalm superscripts

The title “Psalms” is a transliteration of Psalmoi, the title in the Greek

A psalm superscript is the brief informational note that precedes many psalms. In Psalm 3, for example, the superscript is: “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” Today many scholars disregard the superscripts, considering them untrustworthy, but two factors suggest that we do well to  pay attention to them:

  • Some superscripts refer to incidents about which the books of Samuel and Chronicles say nothing about. For example, the superscript of Psalm 60 mentions otherwise unknown battles with Aram Naharaim, Aram Zobah and Edom. If a scribe had been inventing superscription to tie the psalms artificially to historical events, he would probably have linked them to known episodes from the canonical text (such as David’s flight from Absalom, as in Psalm 3). But references to unknown events or persons imply that the superscripts were written by people with specific knowledge of events, many of which are noe lost to us.
  • The superscripts use technical, musical terms. Examples include song titles (like “The Doe of the Morning” in Psalm 22), reference to instruments (such as “stringed instruments” in Psalm 4) and special instructions (such as “For the director of music” in Psalm 58). Significantly, however, as early as the third century B.C. the true meanings of many supersvcripts were lost. For example, the translators of the Septuagint evidently did not always know what to make of the Hebrew words of the superscripts and at the times resorted to guesswork in translating these terms into Greek. This imlies that the superscripts themselves are quite old – perhaps as ancient as the psalms themselves.

 

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