Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus

By Michael E. Stone | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirteen
Psalms, Hymns and Prayers

David Flusser

In the literary documents that are discussed in this volume, material of hymnic and liturgical nature is found scattered throughout. These psalms, hymns and prayers are the object of the present survey. The special interest they offer is that we can learn about various types of Jewish piety in the Second Temple period, including that of Hellenistic mystical circles, the Essenes and early synagogal liturgy.

The question, however, is to what extent these texts reflect actual liturgical practice. The majority are prayers put into the mouths of biblical persons who figure in these apocryphal works and it is clear that at least in their present form the primary purpose was not liturgical. Rather, such prayers and hymns were composed by the authors as parts of their literary output. Even in the case of purely hymnic compositions such as the Thanksgiving Scroll from Qumran, it is unlikely that they once formed part of a liturgy and they may rather have been written for studying. However in other cases, e.g. the apocryphal psalms from Qumran and Psalm 151 in the Septuagint, it is very probable that they were written for recitation before a congregation. There are also prayers in the Dead Sea scrolls with clear indications when they were to be said. Thus there is a basic difference between hymns and prayers contained in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and many prayers from Qumran. While the first are literary compositions, at least some of the prayers and psalms from Qumran were actual liturgical texts. Even so, merely ‘literary’ prayers or hymns may often serve as witnesses for liturgical forms in Judaism, because they may imitate current liturgical patterns.

We are thus confronted with a problem of presentation. When the emphasis is on certain types of prayer, we may collect material from the whole range of documents. However when we focus on the prayers and hymns as they are contained in the sources, we have to deal with a variety of genres in each document. Our method will shift between the two viewpoints, according to the interest of the material itself.


Magnificat and Benedictus

A good example of this complex situation is provided by the two hymns included in the Gospel of Luke, namely the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

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