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The Psalms in Chronicles

April 27, 2008

Read “Psalms in chronicles” by Ralph W. Klein online here.

While we have learned much in the last century about the forms and the social setting of the psalms, it remains a fact that we know very little about how the Psalter was used in public worship before the rise of the synagogue. The proposals made in the middle of the last century about a covenant renewal festival in ancient Israel (by Artur Weiser in the Old Testament Library commentary on the Psalter), an enthronement festival of Yahweh (Sigmund Mowinckel, in numerous publications), or a festival celebrating the kingly rule of Yahweh (Hans Joachim Kraus in Biblischer Kommentar) have largely passed into the history of prior scholarship leaving few sure results in their wake. That some psalms were used to accompany a sacrifice (Ps 50:24) or that others were used as entrance liturgies (Psalms 15 and 24) or in the course of pilgrimages or processions (Psalms 120-134) is true, but these contributions to our understanding of how psalms were used in public worship remain fairly rudimentary. Suggestions within psalms, such as “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar” (Ps 118:27) or exhortations to perform music, such as “Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our festal day” (Ps 81:4) provide limited access to how psalms were actually used.

But there is one book within Scripture where psalms are used in a liturgical context, namely Chronicles, and 1 Chronicles 16 and 2 Chronicles 6 in particular, where selections from well-known psalms accompany the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem and the dedication of the temple. These too are limited pieces of evidence, because we do not know with any certainty whether David’s transfer of the ark was subsequently observed liturgically or in a procession that recited these psalms (but see Psalm 132), but we do have examples here of how psalms were interpreted or reapplied in late Persian times. One supposes that the Chronicler’s assignment of psalms to these liturgies did not strike his readers as absurd.

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