Chapter 11. Yahwism Into Judaism

Song of the Vineyard
by B. Davie Napier

Chapter 11. Yahwism Into Judaism


If I am a father, where is my honor?

Mal. 1:6

"Third" Isaiah

The question of authorship and date of the various poems brought together at the Close of the book of Isaiah, in chapters 56-66, involves us in uncertainty. As a collection, this block cannot be earlier than the last ten or fifteen years of the century. Some sections seem to presuppose a firmly reinstituted temple cultus, which was not realized until after the rebuilding of the temple in the years from 520-515 (see especially chs. 56 and 58). Although the literary quality of the whole is worthy of its position in the book of Isaiah, at points there is a conspicuous unevenness in verbal texture and theological point of view, precluding we think the possibility of unity of authorship.

On the other hand, we read here several poems hardly distinguishable from the work of Second Isaiah; and we must conclude, therefore, that Isaiah 56-66 comes out of continuing Isaianic circles of prophetism surviving the sixth-century debacle, and had as its nucleus a small collection of Second Isaiah’s oracles not incorporated in 40-55 and perhaps of somewhat later origin (see especially the three chapters, 60-62, and the Servant Song in 61:1-4).

Some of classical prophetism’s persistent themes are sounded again, reinterpreted out of the broadening experiences of the sixth century. Of "foreigners who join themselves" to this religious community of Jews, this is the Yahweh Word:

these I will bring to my holy mountain,

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;


for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (56:7)

The bitter prophetic word of "peace, peace, when there is no peace" (Jer. 8:11) of the preceding century is answered out of the same essential prophetic faith addressing now a new time:

Thus says the high and lofty one

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

but also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit,


I will lead him [my people] and requite him with comfort,


Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says Yahweh. (see 577:15-19)

If Sabbath observance and other external observations of the revived cultus are enjoined (56:2-5; 58:13-14), the classical prophetic note, the theological-social ethic, is still resoundingly here:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure.


Is such the fast that I choose

a day for a man to humble himself?

It is to bow down his head like a rush,

and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?


Is not this [rather] the fast that I choose:


to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke!

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,


when you see the naked, to cover him,


Then shall your light break forth like the dawn. (see 58:1-12)

Israel’s mission is nothing less than the world’s redemption: "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (see 60:1-3).

The servant is here, the anointed one, the messiah (a resurrected, personified Israel, or one out of Israel nevertheless embodying in himself all Israel?) — the Servant, prophetism’s boldest and most profound conception, the assertion of the fulfillment of the covenant, and implicitly the assurance that Yahweh’s promissory Word to bless the families of the earth is now accomplished (61:1-4).

The Return

These are relatively dark years. Throughout the two centuries of Persian dominance (in round numbers, 540-330) it is always difficult and sometimes impossible to know the nature and sequence of events in Jerusalem and Judah. What we know of the first century of the Persian period in Palestine comes (in addition to what we can glean from Isaiah 56-66) from five Old Testament writings. Two of these purport to be historical books: Ezra and Nehemiah. Three are in the prophetic Canon: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

When we move into the fourth century it is clear that we have to do with a theocratic community, a state ruled by priests. The temple and walls of Jerusalem have been restored. But exactly how and in what sequence all of this occurred in the sixth and fifth centuries we can only conjecture.

The books Ezra and Nehemiah are unmistakably the editorial work of the Chronicler. I and II Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, were originally a single book, dating probably from 300 B.C. or later. The Chronicler employed a wide range of sources, with which he apparently exercised great freedom. He is not a historian in any sense of the word, but an apologist: he conceives his task as that of glorifying the Kingdom of David, its history, its people, its city, its temple, and its theocratic life. To this end, he happily preserves for us some of the Old Testament’s most valuable historical material, including the memoirs of Ezra (Ezra 7:27-28; 8:1-34; 9:1-15) and Nehemiah (but more extensively edited, in Neh. 1-7).

The verbal accuracy of Cyrus’ decree as "remembered" by the Chronicler in Ezra 1:2-4 has been doubted; but the fact of a favorable edict and the first return, substantially as described, is certain. Formalized worship of some sort was no doubt reinstituted early; but if the Chronicler exaggerates the returnees’ ardor in this regard (he has them beginning intensive work on the Temple almost immediately, Ezra 3:8 ff.), his date for the completion of the work (the sixth year of the reign of Darius I, 521-485, i.e., 516[15]) is supported, although not confirmed, by Haggai and Zechariah. The number of persons (and animals) participating in the first return is grossly excessive:

The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty, besides their menservants and maidservants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven; and they had two hundred male and female singers. Their horses were seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules were two hundred and forty-five, their camels were four hundred and thirty-five and their asses were six thousand seven hundred and twenty. (Ezra 2:64-66)

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus makes us appreciate the relative modesty of this inflation of numbers: Josephus makes it 4,628,000!

Haggai and Zechariah

The first rapture fades quickly. It is, of course, a trying, frustrating existence in this land of physical destruction and of utterly deflated morale. The Jerusalem community finds itself hungry and ill-clothed. They cannot build the temple when the fundamental necessities are in woefully short supply. Haggai succeeds in getting the task of building under way (see Hag. 1:1-15). But a few weeks later the work has flagged and he is hard put to it to get the task resumed (2:3-5,9). At the close of the little book of Haggai, this stalwart leader and prophet interprets the current trouble suffered by Darius I within his empire (around 520 B.C.) as a sign of the new era in which, under Jerusalem’s own Zerubbabel as the messiah, the nation will be reborn into a glorious future (2:20-23).

Haggai and Zechariah agree in dating the beginning of the temple’s reconstruction in the second year of Darius, i.e., 520 (Hag. 1:1; 2:1; Zech. 1:1,7). Neither specifically dates its completion, but, as we have already noted, the Chronicler’s date (516 [15]) accords very well with the words of Haggai and Zechariah.

Zechariah worked, with Haggai, at the task of encouraging the rebuilding of the temple (Zech. 1:16). He is of a priestly family (see Neh. 12:16; Ezra 5:1 and 6:14). Of the fourteen chapters in the book of Zechariah, chapters 9-14 chiefly comprise a series of five apocalypses pointing to a date several centuries after the time of Zechariah. This section is usually attributed to a Second Zechariah (see below, chapter 12). For the rest, substantially a unit from the priest-prophet Zechariah, the first six chapters contain eight symbolic visions and one symbolic action; while chapters 7 and 8 comprise historical narrative.

Zechariah is not one of the greatest of the prophets. He exhibits little originality. At points he appears unable to make up his own mind. On the other hand, one appreciates the apparent fact that Zechariah knows this about himself. We observe that he stands in the very dim twilight of the dying day of classical prophetism, the successor in a tradition of giants from Amos to Second Isaiah. Being of priestly affiliation and standing at the beginning of a strongly priestly era, he nevertheless courageously repeats some of the best of the earlier age. At his best in symbolic vision and act he is in close affinity with Ezekiel. He reiterates the old prophetic theological ethic. His primary aim, frustrated at times to his own discontent, is to stand in the Isaianic tradition, as a disciple of the Isaiahs.

Look at the first vision (1:7-17, signifying liberation and restoration). Zechariah was always in tension between his own peaceful, universalistic leanings and the powerful, popular, militant nationalism of his own time. It was a nationalism fed by Persia’s internal confusion following the death of Cyrus’ successor, Cambyses (529-522). Darius I (521-485) was several years in bringing order and Haggai, as we saw, voiced at this same time the hope of national independence for Jerusalem and Judah under Zerubbabel. But Zechariah refuses to espouse this position. In 1:11 he is in effect counseling quietness. Accept the present order — "All the earth remains at rest." Underlying this counsel is, of course, the prophetic conviction that Yahweh alone is the sufficient strength of the nation; and in this counsel one wonders whether Zechariah may not be ultimately and perhaps consciously dependent upon Isaiah of Jerusalem (cf. again Isa. 7:9; 8:17; 30: 15). The tender lines that follow, 1:12-17, are strongly reminiscent of Second Isaiah.

Again in the third vision (23:1-13) Zechariah rejects nationalistic hopes pinned upon physical defense. To be sure, he appears sometimes to lack the courage and strength of conviction to stand unequivocally against popular hopes. He joins in the expectation of the overthrow of all national enemies and in the identification of Zerubbabel as the messiah. But in one significant respect these concessions to popular nationalism are sharply qualified: whatever is done in the realization of national aims is done not by people, nor by might, nor by ruler, but by Yahweh himself, and for his own ultimate purpose.

This is the Word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says Yahweh of hosts! (4:6)2


This is an anonymous writing. Malachi is not a proper name, but means simply "my messenger" (see 3:1). The simplest statement of the content of the writing is, after the introductory verses 1:1-5, a two-fold division: (1) 1:6-2:9, the prophet’s words to the priests, and (2) 2:10-4:3, his address in the main to the people. The closing verses 4:4-6 are commonly regarded as an editorial conclusion to the book, or perhaps and even probably, to the whole volume of the Twelve Prophets (Hosea-Malachi).

Malachi dates from the first half of the fifth century. The temple is rebuilt but the excitement is gone. Cultic observance is stale, joyless, and uninspired. Not only is the ritual carelessly observed (1:12), but there is widespread, brazen denial of any deviation on the part of priests responsible for this cultic demoralization (2:7-10a). Haggai, a few decades earlier, had assured the nation that its economic plight would somehow be resolved with the rebuilding of the temple. He and Zechariah breathed the confidence that when this was done, Yahweh would bless the community with peace and plenty. But now the temple stands completed, its ritual long since resumed — and the same wretchedness and economic frustration prevail. Understandably, the temple itself suffers from the reaction of disillusionment. Malachi’s message in this time and situation is summarized in these words:

Bring the full tithes into the storehouse. . . and thereby put me to the test, says Yahweh of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (3:10)

This is the central issue. It is essentially the question of theodicy which we met first explicitly in Habakkuk and Jeremiah, which appears repeatedly in the wisdom writings and most pointedly in Job. The orthodox proposition holds that Yahweh, being just and righteous, tangibly rewards the faithful performance, the fulfillment of divine command. Now Malachi, no more than the people, is disposed to dispute this proposition; but the prophet simply insists that they have not in fact acted in faithfulness. They have, he insists, failed to earn the mercies of Yahweh not only by their carelessness, boredom, and abuse of the cultus, but also in their contamination of the purity of the community by intermarriage (2:10-16).

The one distinguishing literary feature of Malachi is the frequent and very effective use of the question. The message of Malachi can be summarized by citing instances of this kind of dialectic discourse:

I have loved you, says Yahweh. But you say, "How hast thou loved us?" (1:2)

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? and if I am a master, where is my fear? (1:6)

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? (2:10)

Has not one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? (2:15)

You have wearied Yahweh with your words. Yet you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of Yahweh, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?" (2:17)

Return to me, and I will return to you, says Yahweh of hosts. But you say, "How shall we return?" Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, "How are we robbing thee?" In your tithes and offerings. (3:7b,8)

Your words have been stout against me, says Yahweh. Yet you say, "How have we spoken against thee?" You have said, "It is vain to serve God. What is the good of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before Yahweh of hosts? Henceforth we deem the arrogant blessed; evil-doers not only prosper but when they put God to the test they escape." (3:13-15)

The book of Malachi is a more eloquent and revealing link than Zechariah or any other writing between the earlier Old Testament world of prophetism and the emerging form of Judaism. It throws light on the crucial and otherwise dark half-century in which the transformation was in most active process and it gives strong support to the contention that prophetic Yahwism and priestly Judaism were in closer and more conscious continuity than is sometimes alleged. Malachi tends to confirm three common, binding characteristics. (1) In Judaism as in Yahwism, history is devoutly interpreted: the meaning of existence is derived from Yahweh’s concerned and purposive involvement in history. (2) Far from any intention of invalidating the prophetic tradition, it was assumed from the beginning that prophetic faith was gathered up and translated into the structure of Judaism. This is explicitly reflected in Malachi 3:5 and implicitly in the dialectic discourse, the statement-question-answer form of proclamation from which we have just quoted. (3) The clearest single motive behind the earlier Yahwism of the prophets is the creation and continued realization of devoted community. The real aim of Judaism, from its earliest beginnings as expressed in Zechariah and Malachi, is to render tangible, and to fix inescapably in practice, both the law of Moses and the Word of the prophet:

Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? (Mal. 2:10)

Judaism emerges in a different time, with a different program, a different disposition, and even a different mind — but no less concerned than prophetism with the realization in fact of the devoted and consecrated community.


Out of Zion shall go forth the law.

Isa. 2:3 (Mic. 4:2)


The trustworthiness of the Nehemiah Memoirs has rarely been questioned. This includes Nehemiah 1-7, 13, and perhaps also 11:1-2 and 12:27-43. Evidence of editorial work appears here and there and especially in chapter 3, but this

autobiography of Nehemiah. . . . is admittedly genuine beyond the shadow of a doubt. . . . Written by Nehemiah himself after 432 (5:14) and recounting his activities during the twelve preceding years, these Memoirs report frankly and vividly, as one would do in a personal diary not intended for publication, the actual events and the emotions which they aroused in the writer.

[The Memoirs] are not only one of the most accurate historical sources in the Old Testament, but they pierce for a moment the darkness enveloping the political history of the Jews during the Persian period.4

We assume, on the basis of considerable evidence, that it is to the years and reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424) that Nehemiah refers, not Artaxerxes II (404-358). The Memoirs open (1:1) "in the twentieth year [hence, 445(4)], as I was in Susa the capital" (of Persia). Nehemiah holds a highly trusted position vis-a-vis the king: he is Artaxerxes’ cup-bearer and personal steward. Not only that; his relationship to the Persian monarch is uncommonly intimate. Having heard earlier (1:3) of the continuing plight of Jerusalem with its walls still in ruins and its gates gutted by fire, he enters the king’s presence in a mood of deep melancholy.

Now I had not been [previously] sad in his presence. And the king said to me, "Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing else but sadness of the heart." (see 2:1-2)

Nehemiah asks and is granted permission to return and rebuild the city’s defenses. This work was completed in the phenomenally short space of fifty-two days (6:15), and that despite the best efforts of malicious obstructionists to defeat the task (2:19 and 4:7). In view of his nearly incredible feat of persistence, leadership, and skilled administration, it is no wonder that he was made governor of the province of Judah for a twelve-year term (444-432; see 5:14); and that at the end of this term he apparently embarked upon a second. In any case, he takes up work anew in Jerusalem (13:6-7). And here our knowledge of Nehemiah ends. We know from the Elephantine Papyri5 that in 408 one Bagoas, a native Persian, was serving as Governor. Did he, sometime earlier, succeed the aging Nehemiah? Or was Nehemiah recalled to Persia or removed from office in 424 at the death of his patron, Artaxerxes I?

Chapter 13, and probably also chapter 5, reflect Nehemiah not as wall-builder, but as governor. In both roles he exhibits vast resources of strength and leadership. He has the prophet’s concern for justice and something of the old Yahweh faith (see, e.g., 6:15-16). But he is primarily a man of action who obviously believes that Yahweh helps those who help themselves. He trusts in God but keeps his powder dry. He tells us that he consults with himself (5:7). In the face of social inequities he rests his reform program primarily on his own example (5:10-19). When his constituents are in any disorder, he personally sees to the immediate restoration of order!

Chapter 13 admirably illustrates the kinds of problems Nehemiah faced throughout his administration. All four of these issues are characteristic of the emergent theocratic state. They are, broadly speaking, priestly concerns.

1). The sanctity of the temple is desecrated by one Tobiah’s residence in one of the rooms.

I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. . . . and I brought back thither the vessels of the house of God. (13:8 f.)

2).The temple personnel, the Levites and singers, are in hardship because the people are not paying the tithe that is due the temple (13:10-14). Malachi’s reforms obviously haven’t held. Nehemiah acts with his usual force and efficiency and adds the characteristic note,

Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service. (13:14, but also vv. 22,29,30)

3).Nehemiah institutes sabbath reform (13:15-22).

Merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem (on the sabbath). But I warned them and said to them, "Why do you lodge before the wall? If you do so again I will lay hands on you." From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. (13:20 f.)

Amen. This is Nehemiah.

4). The problem of marriages, first vocal in Malachi, appears again (13:23-31). Nehemiah moves in frontally and personally against parents responsible for arranging such marriages outside Judah:

And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. . . ." (13:25)

Note now that Nehemiah says nothing of divorce, of severing such marriages already established. We can well believe that as long as Nehemiah was around the business of marriage in Judah involved exclusively home-grown participants.

This is Nehemiah. No more personally forceful administrator appears in the Old Testament, but on the other hand, none acted with greater integrity and persistence, nor followed any more consistently than he the dictates of the best that he knew.


The Ezra Memoirs, Ezra 7:27-28; 8:1-34, and probably 9:1-15, have not enjoyed so secure a reputation as the Nehemiah Memoirs. It is certain that the Chronicler draws an Ezra somewhat more massive and significant than in fact he was; and it is probable that the Chronicler errs in making Ezra an older contemporary of Nehemiah. The Ezra Memoirs — in any case the most reliable information we have about Ezra — are also dated according to the years of the reign of Artaxerxes. But there is rather convincing evidence that Ezra’s monarch is Artaxerxes II (404-358), and that Ezra began his work in Jerusalem about 397 — "the seventh year of Artaxerxes" (7:7). If it were Artaxerxes I the year would be 458(7), more than a decade before Nehemiah returned to build the walls. The powerful priest Ezra would have shared responsibility for Nehemiah ’s Jerusalem in the years 444-432. But they do not mention one another in the respective Memoirs. Ezra occupies a restored Jerusalem (9:9), restored earlier, we must conclude, during the reign of Artaxerxes I, by Nehemiah. The Ezra Memoirs generally reflect a more densely populated and more thoroughly settled community than Nehemiah knew. Nehemiah’s high priest was Eliashib (Neh. 3:1, 30 f.; 13:4,7), but Ezra’s, Eliashib’s son, Jehohanan (Ezra 10:6), who was serving in that capacity as early as 408, as we know, again, from the Elephantine Papyri. Nehemiah never appeals to the law which Ezra brought with him, which Ezra promulgated and had ratified, precisely because neither Ezra nor that law had yet appeared in Jerusalem. The problem of mixed marriages is in Ezra’s time and perspective far more acute than in Nehemiah’s, so much so, in fact, that Ezra insists now upon divorce in existing mixed marriages (9:12; 10:2-4).

Ezra is much more probably the first Jew of the fourth century than a contemporary of Nehemiah in the fifth. He may not have been the giant the Chronicler makes him out to be — a new Moses, the founder of the new nation, and a new Josiah, revealing afresh the law of Moses (see Neh. 8:2-3, 13-18). On the other hand, accepting the tradition that Ezra was among the Babylonian priests, it is in every way credible that he did introduce torah (instruction) in the form of legislation formulated and codified during the two preceding centuries of exile. We cannot now determine the limits or otherwise identify the law of Ezra. A good guess, but no more than a guess, marks it as conforming roughly to what scholars have long indicated as the P (priestly) strata of the Tetrateuch.6

In further support of the reality of the person and work of Ezra, the character of the Judaism which emerges more fully into the light in the Greek period (in the late fourth and third centuries especially) is best explained and understood on the assumption of the substantial historicity of the role of Ezra. The prayer put on Ezra’s lips in Nehemiah 9:6 ff. (Neh. 8 and 9 belong to Ezra’s work, not Nehemiah’s) may represent. that notable priest himself, it is a moving penitential psalm reminiscent of other great confessional recitations on the theme of the history of God-and-people.7 It is right that this prayer-psalm has been called "the birth-hour of Judaism,"8 and that Ezra is commonly referred to as the father of Judaism.

The Psalter

A few decades ago it was common to regard the Psalms as a collection of varied devotional pieces for the most part composed and first employed by individuals in postexilic times. In contradiction to this older view, two points of interpretation are now widely held. A great number of the psalms are preexilic; and the vast majority came into existence and were regularly employed in the formal, rhythmic celebration of the cultic year in Israel, the round of Yahwism’s ritual expression.

There are one hundred and fifty psalms in both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments, but the identification of specific psalms by number differs in the two. One suspects elements of the arbitrary and the haphazard in the division of the Psalter both by individual psalms and by "books." For example, 9-10 and 42-43 are each original units; and the five "books" (note the repeated benediction closing the first four at the end of Pss. 41, 72, 89, and 106) are in conformity to the "five books of Moses," the Pentateuch. The superscriptions, attributing large blocks of psalms to David (3-41, 51-71, 108-110, 138-145, and a number of individual psalms), two to Solomon (72 and 127), and one even to Moses (90) are hardly consistently reliable, although they do indicate how, in later postexilic Judaism, the psalms were read and interpreted.

Many psalms have already been listed for reading in conjunction with preceding sections where the psalm is itself a commentary on the biblical text under discussion. A selection of psalms is included with the list of readings for this section (see note 3). Our understanding of the Psalter as a whole is probably most enhanced by the recognition and consideration of the major types of psalm and the corresponding occasions in the cultic life of Israel-Judah on which they were employed.


The lament type is conspicuous in the Psalter and is, of course, represented elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g., in Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job). A few psalms in this category (e.g., 74 and 106) are demonstrably laments of all Israel; while many more appear to he individual laments (to mention only a few from our own selection, 6, 22, 27:7-14, 42-43, 51, 130). But as we have had occasion to remark before, the line between the individual and the community among the Old Testament people is often very lightly drawn. If the individual lament survived, it did so because it successfully articulated for the many a sense of impending or consummated calamity and the appropriate response in the Yahweh faith. The lament was recited in the Temple, probably in the presence of a priest; and it may well be that the present exultant conclusion to some of the psalms of lament is in response to the priestly oracle of reassurance (not, of course, a part of the psalm). This priestly oracle may well account for the sudden change of mood characteristic of many of the psalms of lament (see, for example, Ps. 6:8-10).9


This type of psalm, in its pure representation, appears in the Psalter relatively infrequently. From our selection of psalms, 18 (also a Royal Psalm), 46, 67, and 138 are psalms of thanksgiving. Two excellent examples appear outside of the Psalter, in psalms attributed to King Hezekiah (Isa. 3 8:10-20) and Jonah (Jon. 2:2-9). The thanksgiving psalm no doubt had its regular cultic use as a part of the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Its very close relationship to the lament is obvious, since its "description of the distress (the removal of which is the subject of the Thanksgiving) is often so elaborate and dominating that it can be difficult to determine if the psalm in question is a psalm of thanksgiving . . . or a psalm of lamentation with anticipation of the thanksgiving."10


This type of psalm is dominant in the Psalter. It appears in wide variation (examples from our list: 8, 19, 29, 65, 98, 100, 103-105, 114, 136, 150) but typically opens on the note of praise (often "Hallelujah!" meaning "Praise Yahweh!"); elaborates in the body of the psalm on the object and cause of praise which is Yahweh and his power in Word and deed; and concludes either as it began, or on a note of dedication, intercession or benediction (see, for example, 29:11, 104:35, and 19:114). Outside the Psalter, the hymn form appears in the Song of Miriam-Moses (Ex. 15: 1-18), and the Psalm attributed to Hannah (I Sam. 2:1-10).11


By a flexible definition of these three main types, the vast majority of psalms are included. Hermann Gunkel (who died in 1932) and Sigmund Mowinckel (1884-___), the two pioneering giants in modern study of the Psalter,12 properly distinguished several other types, but all have some affinity with these three major categories. Gunkel’s Songs of Zion (46, 48, 76, 87) and Songs in Celebration of Yahweh’s Enthronement as King over All (47, 93, 97, 99) are variations of the hymn. Mowinckel’s very large category of psalms assigned by him to the occasion of the celebration of the New Year Festival is also drawn largely from the hymn type.13 It may be that we should retain as a major category Gunkel’s Royal Psalms (including, from our selection, 18, 72, 110, 132) which have to do with the life and function of the king of ancient Israel — his enthronement (2, 101, and from our selection, 110), the occasion of his marriage (45), or some other auspicious or particularly significant occasion in his reign (see, for example, 18, 20, 21, 72). Some few psalms are unmistakably in the category of liturgy. Thus Psalm 50 would appear to have had its liturgical cultic setting in the repeated ceremony of covenant renewal; and Psalm 24 has long been recognized as a liturgy recited at the temple doors antiphonally between the temple personnel within and the procession of newly arrived pilgrims without. And this brings to mind the two psalms which Gunkel classified as Songs of Pilgrimage (84 and 122) which "point to the existence of a type of psalm which was composed for use of pilgrims to one or another of the annual festivals, and, as such, might be sung by them on their way to the holy city, for example while they were assembling for the road or when they had reached their journey’s end."14

Some psalms, assigned to other types, contain instructional or oracular lines; thus, the office of both priest and prophet is reflected in the Psalter (for example, 4, 15, 24, and some of the Royal Psalms cited above). Finally, a few psalms are of the wisdom type (see below, Chapter 12), a typical example being Psalm I (cf. 37, 49, 73, 112, 128).

The present Psalter is Judaism’s work in the centuries following ancient Israel’s destruction and exile. The voice of Yahwism’s successor, Judaism, is heard repeatedly in the Psalms. But we know now that the life of the days of the kingdoms and the kings and the sanctuaries and the first Temple is also mirrored here, and that in the Psalms we witness afresh the faith and devotion of the Old Testament people over the vast span of perhaps a thousand years.



1. Isa. 55-66; Ezra 1, 3-6; Hag. 1-2; Zech. 1-8; Mal. 1-4.

2. Cf Jer. 9:23-24.

3. Neh. 1-2, 4-7, 13; Ezra 7-10; Pss. 1, 6, 8, 14, 18 (= 11 Sam. 22), 19, 22-24, 27, 29, 42-43, 46, 48, 51, 65, 67, 72, 74. 84, 89-91, 93, 95-100, 103-106, 110, 114, 121, 122, 130, 132, 136-139, 150.

4. R. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, New York, 1958, p. 829.

5. These are documents on papyrus of the fifth-century B.C. Jewish community at Elephantine, an island in the Nile facing Assuan (Aswan).

6. For another opinion, see F. G. Kraeling, Bible Atlas, New York, 1956, p. 340.

7. One thinks especially of the short cultic credos of Deuteronomy 6:20 ff. and the longer recitations of Josh. 24 and Pss. 104-106.

8. Cf. H. W. Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, Oxford, 1946, p. 23.

9. One of the milestones of the form critical method is the article of J. Begrich, "Das priesterliche Heilsorakel," Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenscbaft, II (1934), 81-92, in which he proposes and supports this explanation for the characteristic change of mood in the psalm of lament.

10. A. Bentzen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., Copenhagen, 1952, vol. 1, p. 154.

11. In the New Testament, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) perpetuate the hymn form.

12. H. Gunkel, Ausgewahlte Psalmen, 4th ed,, Gottingen, 1917; Die Psalmen, in the series Handkommentar zum Alten Testament, Gottingen, 1926; and J. Begrich. Einleitung in die Psalmen, Gottingen, 1933; S. Mowinckel, Psalmstudien, Kristiana, 1921-1924, vols. I-VI.

13. For a knowledgeable summary of Mowinckel’s position in this regard, see Aubrey Johnson, "The Psalms," in H. H. Rowley, ed., The Old Testament and Modern Study, Oxford, 1951.

14. Ibid., p. 176.