The Historical Jesus in Context

By Amy-Jill Levine; Dale Allison Jr. et al. | Go to book overview
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15
The Psalms of Solomon

Joseph L. Trafton

A few years before the birth of Jesus, a group of Jews struggled to reconcile a debacle at the hands of a foreign conqueror with the belief that Israel was God's chosen people. The result was a collection of eighteen psalms that eventually— and for reasons that are not altogether clear—was given the title Psalms of Solomon (here abbreviated as PssSol). These psalms provide insight into both intra-Jewish quarrels of this period and the hope of at least one Jewish group for the coming of a Messiah.

The author (or authors) of the PssSol write with two distinct opponents in mind. The first is the foreign conqueror from the West, mentioned in PssSol 2, 8, and 17, who captured Jerusalem and defiled the Temple. Although a few scholars have argued that the psalmist was referring to Herod the Great, most agree that the allusions fit the Roman general Pompey, who captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE and was slain in Egypt in 48 BCE. This dates the PssSol to the last half of the first century BCE.

The second is a particular group of Jews. In a general sense, the psalmist divides Jews into two camps. He identifies himself with those whom he calls the righteous, the holy ones, the poor, the innocent, and those who fear the Lord; on the other side are the wicked, the lawless, the sinners, the deceitful, and the hypocrites. But he also provides more specific criticisms: his opponents have defiled the Temple and its sacrifices and have set up a non-Davidic monarchy. Such charges suggest that the Jewish opponents in view are the Hasmoneans—the dynasty that was descended from the leaders of the Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks in the second century BCE and took over both the high priesthood and the kingship before giving way to the Romans in the first century BCE.

Faced with the calamities that these two opponents brought upon the nation, the psalmist looks forward to the day when the Messiah, the Son of David, will purify the nation of its enemies and restore Jerusalem to its proper place. Yet the psalmist does not see the Messiah as a military figure. His trust will be in God, not in horse or rider or bow. Building upon such traditional texts as Psalm 2 and Isaiah 11, the psalmist develops his vision of the Messiah in terms of the roles of king, judge, and shepherd.

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