The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

3
Psalms
from the North

In chapter 2 we examined a handful of psalms that may have been known during David’s kingship. As for his son Solomon, there are no psalms that can be attributed to the time of his kingship. It is true, Psalm 72 carries the superscription “Of Solomon,” but this note doubtless reflects a late tradition based on the expression “king’s son” in v. 1, understood as “David’s son.” There is at least the possibility that Psalm 104 was adapted from an Egyptian source during Solomon’s reign (see the discussion in chapter 4), but there is no way to prove it.

We remind ourselves that the kingdom broke in two after Solomon’s death, and so we ask ourselves whether we can trace any of the Psalms to the northern kingdom of Israel. As a matter of fact, scholars have recently begun to work on evidence that there are indeed a good many such psalms within our biblical book. Before we consider this evidence, however, we need to think through how such psalms would have come to us.

We must remind ourselves that the present book of Psalms, as a collection, is a product of the post-exilic Jewish community in Jerusalem (see chapter 6), so that any psalms of northern origin would be psalms that later proved useful in the south and were preserved in the south. Such psalms would be of two sorts. The first sort is psalms written by northerners and used at one or another of the northern sanctuaries before the fall of Samaria in 721 B.C.E. These psalms would have been brought south by refugees and adapted or adopted by worshipers in Jerusalem. The second sort of psalm would be psalms written by northerners who were not loyal to northern sanctuaries but who continued to remain loyal to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Such psalms could have originated either before 721 B.C.E. or thereafter: in Jer. 41:4-5 we read of some pilgrims from the north who came south to worship at Jerusalem at a time just after the fall of that city in 587 B.C.E. Psalms of this sort could of course be adopted without any change by the south.

But it is safe to say that any psalm from the north would have its origin before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.: there are not likely to have been any selfidentified northerners among the exiles from Jerusalem to Babylon, and the Jews

-26-

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