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

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

4
Psalms
for the Temple of Solomon

I turn now to psalms that appear to have arisen in the southern kingdom of Judah between the death of Solomon in 922 B.C.E. and the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. We remind ourselves that there were several sanctuaries in the southern kingdom other than Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. For example, the prophet Amos (approximately 755 B.C.E.) refers to a sanctuary at Beersheba (Amos 5:5; 8:14), forty-five miles (seventy-two kilometers) southeast of Jerusalem. It was only in 622 B.C.E. that King Josiah centralized worship at the temple in Jerusalem and forbade worship at outlying sanctuaries (2 Kings 22–23). One surmises then that there must have been psalms developed at these outlying sanctuaries, but we have no way to determine whether any of them survived into our biblical collection. We therefore turn to psalms that originated at the Jerusalem temple. One caution is necessary, however: as we attempt to visualize psalms in this context, we must be careful not to imagine that Jerusalem too grandly. Recent estimates suggest that the population of Jerusalem in David’s day was approximately two thousand, and that it grew to roughly thirty thousand by the time of Hezekiah (700 B.C.E.), remaining at that level until the fall of the city in 587 B.C.E.1 It was a modest city, at least by present-day standards.


The Nature of Our Evidence

How might we identify these pre-exilic Jerusalemite psalms? I can think of three kinds of evidence that can be brought to bear. The first is the identification of royal psalms: psalms that presuppose the king as speaker or addressee, if they are not of northern origin, must be southern psalms from the monarchical period, because royal psalms would not have been written after the monarchy had ceased to be. The second is the identification of psalms offering unique features of theology or phraseology appropriate to the pre-exilic period. The third is the identification of psalms from which the pre-exilic prophets drew: if a prophetic oracle is genuine to one of the pre-exilic prophets (who can be dated), and that oracle draws on a

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