Psalms

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Psalms is a book of the Bible in the Old Testament. It contains 150 songs, poems, and prayers (psalms) written in praise to God. David is credited to have written 73 of these psalms. However, since 48 Psalms are considered anonymous it is unclear if this is all that he wrote. Other authors were the sons of Korah, Asaph, and Solomon, among others.

The book of Psalms is arranged into five smaller books. This is similar to the structure of the Pentateuch (or Torah) which also contains five books.

Book one Psalms 1-41
Book Two Psalms 42-72
Book Three Psalms 73-89
Book Four Psalms 90-106
Book Five Psalms 107-150

The Psalms have an important role in prophecy and quotations in the New Testament. When Jesus is on the cross, he quotes Psalm 22. In Christian circles Psalm 22 is often regarded as a Psalm that foreshadows the future suffering of Jesus.

As Music

The HebrewBook of Praises” is the oldest song-book still in use. The term, “psalm” is from the Greek for striking or plucking and came to mean a song accompanied by a stringed instrument. It was translated as such in the 3rd century Septuagint. Psalms have been an important part of Jewish liturgy throughout the world (they crossed the Atlantic to America in colonial times). The destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70 and the subsequent ban on Jewish instrumental music gave impetus to a tradition of unaccompanied vocal and choral singing in synagogues, especially of psalms, that has lasted with little change to this day.

The psalms have been at the musical centre of Christian liturgy since the Church was created, in all the various orthodox rites, and into certain protestant services. Their course has followed the traditions of western church music (see plainchant, antiphon, polyphony and the like.) Nearly every noted composer up to the 19th century, and many since, have set psalms to music representative of their times, either as “serious” music or popular congregational hymns.

Psalm 23 is well known across religious lines and is often read at funerals. It begins "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..." Two notable 20th century examples of psalm settings that are familiar in the concert hall are the “Symphony of Psalms of Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”; the latter commissioned for use in a Christian cathedral from a Jewish composer.

Trivia

Strictly speaking, as Psalms is a collection of songs, it doesn't have chapters (which are later divisions for easy reference). However, counting the individual psalms as chapters, the following are true:

  • Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible with two verses, and also the middle chapter of the Bible.
  • Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses.
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