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Psalms, Apocryphal


Syrian manuscripts have preserved a group of five apocryphal Psalms, one of which is also contained in the Septuagint version of the canonical Book of Psalms. This Psalm, which occurs as a "supernumerary" in the Septuagint, found its way into the Vetus Latina and the Syrohexapla (see *Bible, Versions) as well. It was not known whether the five apocryphal Psalms were a translation from an original Hebrew version or whether they were originally composed in some other language in imitation of the Hebrew Psalms.

An answer to this problem came in 1962 with the publication of the Psalms Scroll found among the *Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran Cave 11 (11qpsa), which included, among the canonical Psalms, three of the five apocryphal Syrian Psalms. This unexpectedly confirmed the supposition, of M. Noth, of the Hebrew origin of (at least some of) the Syrian Psalms. Moreover, the fact that the apocryphal Psalms were included in 11qpsa among the canonical Psalms raised the possibility that the members of the Qumran sect regarded them as part of the Canon. This assumption, if correct, would imply that shortly before the beginning of the Common Era – when 11qpsa was written – a great flexibility existed in the books of Psalms in circulation in Ereẓ Israel both as regards the Psalms they included and as regards the internal arrangement of the biblical Psalms themselves. This is a further indication that the final crystallization of the Book of Psalms, in its present form, is comparatively late. Thus the boundary line between canonical and apocryphal materials – at least as far as the Book of Psalms is concerned – becomes rather blurred. Some scholars however maintain that 11qpsa does not represent the Book of Psalms, as generally understood, but rather a liturgical compilation used in religious services. This "liturgical theory" removes two major difficulties for those scholars rejecting such a late date for the final canonization of the Biblical Psalter:

(1) a compilation of this nature would naturally contain various non-biblical excerpts without any intention of ascribing to them a canonical status;

(2) the biblical chapters quoted in such a liturgical compilation would not necessarily follow the order in which they occur in the Bible. Hence the Qumran Psalms Scroll cannot, at this stage, confirm the canonicity of the apocryphal Psalms even among certain Jewish circles at the turn of the Common Era. It can however prove the existence of an original Hebrew text from which (some of) the Syrian Psalms were translated.

Date and Place of Origin

The content of these Psalms do not provide a clear solution for the problem of their date and place of origin, since they too exhibit those nontemporal features characteristic of the canonical Psalms. The attemps to find in them traces of "an Orphic influence" or indications of "an Essene origin" cannot be conclusively proved. Linguistic criteria, although insufficient for fixing any definite dating, at least furnish grounds for stating that in their present form the apocryphal Psalms (including the Septuagint Psalm 151, apparently the earliest of them) were possibly composed in Hellenistic times and certainly not before the Persian period. This is borne out by the use not only of characteristically postclassical Hebrew idioms and phraseology but also of terms and epithets typical of rabbinic and post-biblical literature: "sons of the covenant"; "a faithful judge" (dayyan emet); "the Lord of all" (but this reading is disputed). The apocryphal Psalms also display significant parallels to the Wisdom of Ben Sira and to Qumran post-biblical writings, as do other "Psalms" contained in other scrolls.

If it should be proved that the apocryphal Psalms are Hellenistic, and if it is true that none of those in the canonical Psalter originated after the Persian period, it may well be contended that (one of) the reason(s) for the exclusion of the apocryphal Psalms from the canonical Psalter is due to the fact that the rabbis did recognize the late origin of these compositions. This is however a question that can be clearly and unequivocally decided only on the basis of new facts and the discovery of further apocryphal writings.


J.A. Sanders, Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (1965); idem, Dead Sea Psalm Scroll (1967), incl. detailed bibl. (pp. 151–3); Yalon, in: Molad, 22 (1964), 463–5; B. Uffenheimer, ibid., 69–81, 328–42; Talmon, in: Tarbiz, 35 (1965/66), 214–34; idem, in: Textus, 5 (Eng., 1965), 11–21; Goschen-Gottstein, ibid., 22–23; A. Hurvitz, in: Eretz Israel, 8 (1967), 82–87.

[Avi Hurvitz]

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