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Board at the Urach waterfall : Psalm 111, 2

A psalm ( plural psalms ) (from Gr. Ψαλμός psalmós "string play, song") is a poetic religious text in Judaism and Christianity , often with a liturgical function. The term is mainly used for the 150 poems, songs and prayers of the book of psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament (also called psalter ). In addition, there are other texts in biblical and extra-biblical literature, in tradition and prayer practice, which are referred to as psalms.


The Greek name ψαλμός ( psalmós ) comes from the verb ψάλλειν ( psallein ) = "to strike the strings". It describes a song with string accompaniment and can literally be translated as a "plucked song". The Greek name gives the Hebrew word מִזְמור( mizmor ) again, which is described as " cantilating spoken song with string accompaniment".


The numbering of the psalms in the Hebrew ( Masoretic ) and the Greek ( Septuagint ) differs in the last digit of many psalms.

Differences in the counting of psalms in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles
Masoretic text Septuagint (LXX) annotation
Ps 1-8
Count the same
Ps 9-10 Ps 9 LXX counts Pss. 9 u. 10 as a psalm
Ps 11-113 Ps 10-112 Hebrew count precedes 1
Ps 114-115 Ps 113 LXX counts 114 u. 115 as a psalm
Ps 116 Ps 114-115 Greek counted as two psalms; Cut after 9 verses
Ps 117-146 Ps 116-145 Hebrew count precedes 1
Ps 147 Ps 146-147 Greek counted as two psalms; Cut after 11 verses
Ps 148-150
Count the same
Ps 151 deuterocanonical

The Hebrew count is used in both the Jewish and Protestant traditions. Also in modern Catholic Bible editions and in Wikipedia. The Greek count is used in the Vulgate and all liturgical books based on it. In more modern editions, both statements can often be found, with the Greek in brackets, e.g. Ps.46 (45).

History of the text form

The psalms have models in ancient oriental literature, but are unparalleled in their drama and personal-historical statement. Origin, time of creation and “ seat in life ” of the individual psalms vary greatly depending on the occasion. The oldest psalms in the Bible probably come from the time before the Babylonian exile and from the time of the Israelite kings.

Form and genera

The psalms show the typical technique of Hebrew poetry, the parallelism membrorum ("parallel formed limbs"). Two (or seldom three) consecutive lines are designed as belonging together, in that the statement of the first line of verse is presented in the following from a different perspective. This can be done as a repetition (“synonymous parallelism”), as a contrast (“antithetical parallelism”) or as a continuation (“synthetic parallelism”) of the statement.

According to their content and form, psalms are divided into different genres. This categorization goes back to the genre- historical investigations of Hermann Gunkels and Joachim Greich , whereby transitions between the forms are frequent and each psalm has "a specific form and an individual biography" that makes it unique as a prayer:

  • Lament Psalm (e.g. PsEU , but also large parts of the Lamentations of Jeremiah )
  • Prayer psalm (e.g. PsEU , Ps 17  EU )
  • Praise psalm (e.g. Ps 113  EU , Ex 15.1  EU )
  • Thanksgiving psalm (e.g. Ps 30  EU , Ps 116  EU )
  • Zion's psalm as a hymn to the temple or to Jerusalem (e.g. Ps 46  EU , Ps 48, Ps 76  EU )
  • Royal psalm as an accompaniment to ritual celebrations of the Jerusalem kingdom (e.g. PsEU )
  • Wisdom Psalm (e.g. PsEU )
  • Pilgrimage songs (e.g. Ps 113  EU , Ex 15.1  EU ).

In addition, several psalms (such as Psalm 58 , Psalm 83 and Psalm 109 ) are traditionally referred to as curse psalms or, more recently, as retribution psalms .

About half of the psalms within the psalter refer in their headings to King David and are therefore called David psalms , some refer to another author, such as Asaf or Korach .

Psalms of lament, thanksgiving and supplication are further differentiated according to the number of those praying in psalms of the individual (e.g. Isa 38,10–20  EU ) or the people (e.g. RiEU ).

The lament often leads to a " turning point " at which the prayer after divine rescue action changes into praise and thanks.

Psalms in the Hebrew Bible and in the Second Temple Period


Most of the psalms can be found in the book of psalms, but individual psalms can also be found outside of this book. In the Torah , for example, the Song of Victory on the Red Sea ( Ex 15.1–18  EU ) or the Song of Moses ( Deut 32.1–43  EU ) should be mentioned. Hymns and thanksgiving songs are the Deboralied and the “Magnificat of Hanna” ( 1 Sam 2,1–11  EU ). There are also psalms from the Song of Songs , the Book of Job and the books of the prophets (e.g. Jer 17–18  EU , Isa 12.1–6  EU ). The psalm of Jonah from the belly of the whale ( Jonah 2, 3–10  EU ) is particularly well known . The lamentations of Jeremiah can also be counted among the psalms. Also to be mentioned are David's prayers in the 2nd book of Samuel (2Sam 1,7; 22 = Ps 18; 2Sam 23,1ff).

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community are 120 psalms found in Caves 1, 4 and 11, some of which coincide with those canonized in the Hebrew Bible.

Not part of a biblical canon is the collection of 18 poems known as the Psalms of Solomon , probably from the 1st century BC, which were ascribed to King Solomon . The Septuagint has a 151st Psalm that is not in the Hebrew Psalms Book.

Example: For the song of Hanna (1Sam 2,1-10)

The classification of the genre as a song of thanks for the individual or as a hymn can be discussed.

The designation “Magnificat of Hanna” suggests itself because Luke 1.46–55 (Magnificat of Mary) seems to receive 1Sam 2,1–10. Evidence for this would be a few key terms (σωτηρία / σωτήρ, δυνατος, θρόνος, ...).

Frequent word fields in 1Sam 2,1-10 are on the one hand to be high / increase and on the other hand to fall / lower. A concentric structure seems to form around v. 6f (YHWH - Lord of death + life), which also contains the theological core statement. Furthermore, key topics are:

  • Elevation of the praying / oppressed - decline of the haughty
  • Statements of God:
    • Incomparable Adonais
    • Adonai as a knowing judge
    • Lord of life and death
    • Creator

Psalms in the New Testament and in the Christian liturgy

Some texts from the New Testament are assigned to the genus “Psalm” because they presuppose and take up this textual tradition or even go back to Jewish models. Therefore, the Magnificat ( Lk 1.46–55  EU ), the Benedictus ( Lk 1.68–79  EU ) and the Nunc dimittis ( Lk 2.29–32  EU ) are sometimes explicitly referred to as Psalms (mostly as Cantica ). The Philippians hymn ( Phil 2.5–11  EU ) also belongs to this series.

According to the Passion Reports of the Gospels , two of the Seven Last Words spoken by Jesus during his agony on the cross come from the Psalms ( Ps 22  EU and Ps 31  EU ).

Christianity, which emerged from Judaism, adopted the Psalms - especially the complete book of Psalms of the Old Testament - as the basis of its own prayer language . Many psalms were interpreted in such a way that they refer to Jesus Christ or that he himself speaks in them. One of the most famous psalms is Psalm 23 with the title "The Lord is my Shepherd". This addresses the protection and security in the "House of the Lord".

In the Christian churches , most of the liturgical forms of singing go back to the psalms. The singing of psalms on different melodic models is called psalmody . Above all, the psalms (sung or spoken) form the main content of the Liturgy of the Hours . There they are regularly completed with the Trinitarian doxology Gloria Patri . In addition, since early church times the singing of freely composed hymns has played a large part in all liturgical traditions. The German Reformation created the genre of the vernacular church hymn , for which psalms were often brought into rhyme and stanzas. In the Reformed tradition, the psalm song following Calvin was long considered the only legitimate chant for worship ( Geneva Psalter ). Almost all sacred poems to this day are shaped by psalm motifs and psalm language.

See also


Web links

Commons : Psalms  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Psalm  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ ES Gerstenberger, Art. Psalm , Col. 208.
  2. Frank-Lothar Hossfeld, Erich Zenger: The Psalms I. Psalm 1-50 . The New Real Bible. Echter, Würzburg 1993, p. 5.
  3. Erich Zenger : The Book of Psalms, in: Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 360.
  4. Hermann Gunkel , Joachim Greich: Introduction to the Psalms .
  5. Erich Zenger: Introduction to the Old Testament , p. 362.
  6. Klaus Berger (Ed.): Psalms from Qumran.