Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood


Did David Write the Psalms?

posted by Jana Riess

psalms_david.jpg

Short answer: no. Read on if you want to know why.

Some Jewish and Christian traditions consider David the author of the Psalms, possibly all 150 but especially numbers 3 to 41, which are thought to comprise a collection. (They are all psalms of the individual rather than the community.) David is also credited as the author of Psalm 51 and 138-145, among others. Since David is identified as a musician and a singer in several places in the Samuel narrative, the attributions made a kind of sense.

But there are serious problems with this theory. UC Berkeley Hebrew professor Robert Alter says, “The Davidic authorship enshrined in Jewish and Christian tradition has no credible historical grounding. It was a regular practice in the later biblical period to ascribe new texts to famous figures of the past.” (The Book of Psalms, xv)

The superscriptions that precede each psalm (e.g. “To the leader: A Psalm of David”) were added much later, even centuries after David’s death, as a way to honor Israel’s most famous king. The Hebrew preposition “l” can, like many Hebrew words, mean a variety of different things. Often translated “of,” it can also mean “to” or “for” (a Psalm for David) or “in the manner of” (a psalm that’s like something David might have written if he were still with us; R.I.P.). In any case, the New Interpreters’ Bible commentary says that such superscriptions “do not identify the author of these compositions, but rather indicate that the psalm is to be associated with these figures in some fashion.” (p. 308)


Psalm23.jpg

Is Psalm 51 less beautiful, or less powerful an expression of human sorrow for sin, just because David didn’t write it himself after sleeping with Bathsheba and then ordering the murder of her husband? Of course not. Yet many people continue insisting that David was the author of the Psalms. In the one – one! – lesson devoted to the Psalms in the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual, the manual explains that “many were written by David.” There is simply no evidence to support that. While some seem to be contemporaneous with David’s time period or slightly later (they assume, for example, that there is a temple in Jerusalem), others (like 137) are clearly later, even postexilic.

Alter concludes by saying that it’s possible, though unlikely, that David wrote one or two of the psalms. In the end, the poems “were produced by many different poets over half a millennium.”

Reent Twible chapters:

#Twible Ps 9: Thx, G, for destroying the wicked & saving the poor. But can you hurry up the justice thing a little? No pressure, but . . .

#Twible Ps 10: G, bring that giant ear closer to earth to hear the cries of those in pain. You are going to smite the wicked, right? RIGHT?

#Twible Ps 11: G’ll rain fire & sulphur on the wicked, & there won’t even be enough wicked folk left to make a reality show about it on MTV.

#Twible Ps 12: A Psalm according to the Sheminith. I could tell you what a Sheminith is, but the word sounds way cooler w/ a little mystery.

#Twible Ps 13: Where r u, G? I’ve been looking all over. R u dissing me? My life sucks. I need to vent, & u r AWOL. Some friend. How long?

#Twible Ps 14: Fools say in their ?s that there’s no God. G retorts that basically everyone’s an idiot. G’s in one of his moods, see.

#Twible Ps 15: G’s peeps are honest (check), hate evil (check), & don’t slam their neighbors (check). They also never lend money at interest. Oops.

Follow the Twible daily on Twitter with @janariess.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marty

    So you’re willing to ignore thousands of years of Church tradition and the Bible’s own attribution of many psalms to David just because this Hebrew professor said David didn’t write the Psalms? I’m sorry, but I fail to see where he set forth his evidence. I guess you just somehow forgot to include that in this article. It is sad to see gullible people who are so anxious and ready to oppose the truth of God’s Word.

  • http://www.biblicalreader.com/btr/Who_Wrote_the_Psalms_of_David.htm Tim Royal

    See this link for a more scholarly alternate opinion. Interesting that the UC Berkeley professor states that there is no historical evidence for Davidic authorship. Actually the superscriptions do count as evidence along with the accounts in Samuel. There are no manuscripts extant, no matter how ancient, which do not say “ledawid” above the psalm/hymn in the 73 attributed to David. Though he is correct that they represent weaker evidence, the fact is that there is even less evidence to claim they are not his other than higher criticism’s critiques and higher criticism’s weaknesses are well documented by this point. Basically everyone has an opinion and none have any indisputable authority. Church and Judaism’s traditions dating back far closer to the actual writings carry far more legitimate weight than a scholar musing 3 millennia later IMHO. A more honest response is “I don’t know, but choose to believe this_________.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Tim Royal
  • Pingback: On the Malleability of Gold Plates: Mormonism and Modern Biblical Scholarship

  • Sam

    There is hardly any evidence of David’s existence as king, so why should we believe that his writings would have survived? If poetic expressions could have survived, why not other details? The fact of the matter is that no one knows who write the books of Moses and many others for example the books of Samuel; it is clear these books are narrated by a third person.
    This does not mean believers should no longer appreciate the power of the message, because faith in God is about Belief and not physical evidence.

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