Psalms of Solomon

PSALMS OF SOLOMON. One of the pseudep. A collection of eighteen psalms patterned after the canonical Psalter and ascribed to King Solomon. The work now exists in Gr. and Syr. MSS which are apparently trs. of a lost Heb. original.

History.

Psalms of Solomon was the one pseudepigraphical work which was at times included in the “deutero-canon,” or Apoc. It was included as such in the Stichometry of Nicephorus and the Pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis. More importantly, the table of contents of Codex A shows that Psalms of Solomon was originally included in that MS, although at the end, and consequently, now lost. Some have argued that Codex Aleph also contained it, but this cannot be proven conclusively, for both the beginning and ending of that work have been lost.

Psalms of Solomon was lost sight of during the Middle Ages, not appearing again until a MS was recognized in the library of Augsburg in the early 17th cent. Subsequently the MS was lost, but its text was published by de la Cerda in 1626. Since that time other MSS have come to light, bringing the total to six more or less complete Gr. MSS and two in Syriac. At least three defective Gr. copies are known. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was considerable scholarly interest in the book. This has subsided somewhat in recent years.

Date, authorship, etc.

The consensus of virtually all scholars is that the book dates to the 1st or 2nd cent. b.c. The historical events, which are described in only thinly veiled language, certainly relate to this period. The struggle between the more pious and the more worldly elements in Judaism is clearly outlined. The taking of Jerusalem by an important foreign figure is mentioned, as is the desecration of the Temple. While some students of the book have related these events to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, a great majority have noted the closer agreement with Pompey and the events of 64-46 b.c. The second psalm is esp. noteworthy at this point.

Since the book was not authored by King Solomon, it may be asked how it received its title. Presuming that it was not written by another Solomon, it is likely that the author or authors were under the influence of the canonical psalms (which they certainly were in matters of style and content) for their title. Since many of the canonical psalms were entitled Psalms of David, they may have wished to follow a similar pattern, while not necessarily claiming the same authority for their work. Their choice of the second great Davidic monarch also was undoubtedly affected by their Messianic interests.

It cannot be ascertained whether the collection is the work of one poet or several. Since there are no glaring differences in the style or content of any of the psalms from the others, a group of authors is not demanded. Since the investigations of Wellhausen, it has been largely agreed that the author(s) were Pharisees. Their contrast of themselves with the “sinners” in the seats of power is reminiscent of the Pharisee-Sadducee conflict. Along with this, the favorite Pharisaical doctrines of the theocracy, the Messiah, divine retribution and free will receive prominence. Recent studies in the light of the discoveries at Qumran have altered this conclusion somewhat. It can be argued very cogently that the positions just mentioned prove only that the authorship was not Sadducee, for these doctrines were by no means the exclusive possession of the Pharisees. They belonged as well to that third, rather amorphous, group, of which the Qumran community was an extreme example, and which may be called the “eschatological” Jews. In fact, the strong Messianic strain of the Psalms of Solomon and the relatively light stress upon resurrection points more to the latter group than to the Pharisees, as such.

With regard to the original language of the collection, peculiarities in the Gr. of the extant MSS have led most scholars to the conclusion that it is a rather literal tr. of a Heb. original.

Content.

In general outlook, these psalms are much like the canonical psalms. The same range of feelings and expressions is found, extending from praise to lament, and from entreaty to thanksgiving. The similarity extends to the literary types as well, although form critics point out that the types are mixed more indiscriminately in the pseudepigraphical work.

Overall, the sense of judgment pervades. The author in no way blames God for this judgment, for He is justified in every respect (2:16; 8:7). The people have been incredibly sinful, “more sinful than the heathen” (1:8; 8:12, 14). The blessedness of the righteous vs. the damnation of these sinners is dwelt upon at great length (13; 14; 15). The people have been led in this sinfulness by their leaders, men who wear the faces of godliness and sincerity (4:2), but who are “sinners” through and through (4:4-6). They are spoken of as home-wreckers who have taken advantage of their privileged status to aggrandize their lust (4:13).

But God has not abandoned His people (11:2; 18:1). The sinners (the Hasmoneans) into whose hand He had given the land (17:6-8), and who had attempted to make it into a heathen land, have gone into captivity (Aristobulus) (8:23, 24). That great man (Pompey) into whose hands they surrendered themselves (8:18), has perished on the waves in Egypt (2:30, 31). (Pompey was stabbed in the back while stepping from a small boat.) So will God requite all who exalt themselves against Him when, in reality, they are only instruments of His purpose (2:32-35). On the other hand, the simple, righteous man who puts his trust in God will never be forsaken (5:20; 6:8; 12:6). Thus God has His faithful remnant which He will honor and preserve (7:9).

The day is coming when God will vindicate His people (11:8). All the nations will see Israel’s glory and they will hurry to do obeisance to Israel and her God (17:34, 35). They will send the exiles home, where the Lord Messiah (17:36), the scion of David (17:23), will inaugurate a rule of peace and justice (17:25-31).

Messianism.

The seventeenth psalm in this collection contains one of the clearest statements of the Jewish Messianic hope to be found in the lit. of that people. The discoveries at Qumran have contributed masses of new information, but much of it is framed in imagery so complex as to be dismaying, whereas the concepts here are found in much simpler language. The Messiah is clearly an individual. He is a son of David, in special fulfillment of God’s promise after the apparent destruction of that kingship. While there is no clear statement of his divinity, he is called “the Lord Messiah.” (Although commentators believe that this should be read “the Lord’s messiah,” there is no example of such a reading in these psalms.) Since “the Lord” refers to God only, the implication is clear. Beyond this, it is clear that the kingdom which will be set up will be no ordinary human one, but a supernatural one wherein all wrongs and all inequities will be conclusively righted. He will purify Jerusalem, destroy the ungodly nations and convict the sinners. He will give the earth to the tribes of Israel and free them from the heathen in their midst. Yet, all this was to be done without implements of war. He would smite the earth with His word and purify the nations with His righteousness. He would care for His people as a shepherd cares for his flocks. This picture is not different from that which may be gained from a reading of canonical Messianic passages, but it is more complete and coherent. Interestingly enough, it perpetuates that ambiguity between conqueror and redeemer which was to confuse so many during Jesus’ lifetime.

Bibliography

A. Hilgenfeld, “Die Psalmen Salomos,” Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche Theologie, XIV (1871); J. Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer (1874); H. E. Ryle and M. R. James, The Psalms of Solomon (1891); O. v. Gebhardt, ψαλμοὶ Σολομω̂ντος (1895); R. Harris and A. Mingana, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon (1916-1920); K. G. Kuhn, Die älteste Textgestalt der Psalmen Salomos (1937); J. Begrich, “Der Text der Psalmen Salomos,” ZNW, XXXVIII (1939); H. Braun, “Zur Theologie der Psalmen Salomos,” ZNW, XLIII (1950), 1-54; S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh (1956), 280-321; W. Barrs, “An Additional Fragment of the Syriac Version of the Psalms of Solomon,” “A New Fragment of the Greek Version of the Psalms of Solomon,” VT, XI (1961), 222, 223, 441-444; J. O’Dell, “The Religious Background of the Psalms of Solomon,” Revue de Qumran, X (1961), 241-257.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Apocalyptic Literature, sec. B, III, 1.