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Psalms of Solomon: Introductory Notes

D. Jongkind (January 2002)


In modern editions of the LXX (e.g. Rahlfs, LXX, 2.471-489), a collection of 18 psalms are included under the title of Psalms of Solomon (PssSol) [although three of the eleven Greek manuscripts give the title as Sophia Solomontos]. This might give the impression that this apocryphon was widespread and often included in the LXX in more ancient times, which was, however, definitely not the case. Though the text became available in 1626, it took till the 19th century before it was seriously studied in Biblical scholarship for the first time.[1] The most accessible ET is by R.B. Wright in Charlesworth (ed.), OTPseud 2.639-670 (Wright is also preparing a new critical edition of the Greek text)..


The PssSol have come down through both a Greek and Syriac version. It has now been demonstrated that, contrary to what was thought during the beginning of the last century, both these versions are independent translations of a Hebrew original.[2] Typical indicators that point towards translational Greek are a simple sentence structure, the absence of a variety of conjunctions, problems translating the tense of Hebrew verbs, and an excessive use of the preposition en.[3]


As the PssSol are a collection of psalms, it is hard to give a definite date for its origin. The collection as a whole is testified from the fifth century onwards but only within Christian transmission. Yet, because the 18 psalms seem to have a uniform transmission history, it is likely that from very early on they were combined in one collection, possibly even from the time of their origin. A difference exists, though, between the Syriac and Greek collections.[4] Whereas in the Greek the PssSol do form a distinct book, in the Syriac tradition they are attached to the Odes of Solomon and are numbered consecutively. An extract from PssSol 16 appears in two Syriac manuscripts containing prayers and liturgical material.

External references

The oldest manuscript reference to the 18 PssSol is found in the Codex Alexandrinus (Vth Cent.). Though the text of the psalms is missing from the codex, the table of contents mentions yalmoi solomwntov ih as the last work after a remark giving the total number of books in the MS, indicating that the PssSol were not regarded as part of Scriptures. We also find a reference to the PssSol in the list of antilegomenona in Ps-Athanasius,[5] and the collection is included in the pseudepigrapha in Anastasius Sinaitia (VII),[6] and in the list of apocrypha by Nicephorus (IX).[7] The oldest Syriac MS is from the VIIth century, but contains only a fragment of the third psalm as a marginal note.

Internal references

The fundamental concern of the psalms is with Jerusalem. The author speaks as Jerusalam in PsSol 1 (1.1, 3), and the second psalm is entitled “Concerning Jerusalem” (cf. also 2.3, 11, 13, 19, 22; 8.4, 15, 17-22; 9.1; 11.1f, 7f; 17.14, 15, 22, 30).[8]. Also PsSol 1.1, 3 [speaking as Jerusalem]; PsSol 2 title [‘concerning Jerusalem’]

In PssSol 2, 8, and 17 we find specific historical references to a foreigner who came to Jerusalem and desecrated the temple. He died in Egypt and his body was lying on the beach. These references fit the Roman general Pompey excellently.[9] He came to interfere in the struggles between the different political factions and invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC and was murdered in Egypt in 48 BC.

i)                     The sinner who broke down the walls (2.1)

ii)                   The defilement of Jerusalem (8.1-22)

iii)                  His shameful death (2.25-29)

 This places Psalm 2, 8, and possibly 17 definitely after this date.[10] Though the PssSol speak of a desecrated temple, no mention is made of a destroyed temple, which places the terminus ad quem at AD 70. However, the vividness with which the time of trouble of the the mid-first century BC is recorded and lamented make a date in the first century BC most likely; the consensus dating is therefore the second half of the first century BC.

                Trafton suggested a similar date for all the psalms because they 'share a common perspective.' However, this may be disputed for Psalm 11, which is based on the 'return from exile' motive, a theme that also occurs in some of the other PssSol.[11] A strong similarity between PssSol 11 and 1 Baruch 5 exists. This relation has been explained in three possible ways: PssSol dependent upon Baruch (Kabasale Mukenge), Baruch upon PssSol (Ryle and James, Wright),  and both derived independently from the OT. Though there is certainly a literary link, there is not a strong link on the verbal level between the two works. This may imply that the connection runs through a form of the Hebrew original of the psalm. If the final redaction of 1 Baruch took place in the middle of the second century BC,[12] than at least the source for one of this PssSol goes back a century earlier than the other ones. If the final version of 1 Baruch originated only in the first century AD, there is no need for an early Vorlage.


Date of translation

The translation of the psalms into Greek is most often placed in the first-century AD. The historical references were still relevant and understandable for the Jews in the diaspora and the text is free from Christian interpolations, which might suggest a date when Christianity was not yet widespread. No date is suggested in the literature for the Syriac translation.

Authorship and Origin

The collection of 18 psalms became known as the Psalms of Solomon, possibly under influence of 1 Kings 4:32. It is however not certain if they were written as pseudepigrapha or that the name of Solomon got attached to the collection later on, for example at the occasion of the translation.

                The perspective of the psalms betrays the original milieu in which the psalms originated. The "we" are described as the o9sioi (9:3), dikaioi (3:3), and a)kakoi (12:4), in contrast to the dragon (Pompey, 2:25) and the Gentiles who trampled the sanctuary of the Lord (2:3). God allowed the Gentiles in because of the wickedness of the sons of Jerusalem (2:3). PssSol 17 launches an attack on the monarchy of the Hasmoneans (17:5-9) who were rewarded 'according to their sins', an expression also used for the sons and daughters of Jerusalem in PssSol 2:16. A picture is set up of the devout over against the unfaithful who include both the gentile invaders as well as certain groups within Israel. Traditionally this was interpreted as the Pharisees / Sadducees contrast, since the discovery of the Qumran documents this identification with the Pharisees is seen as less secure as it can be any conservative religious (Essene) group.


The titles of the Eighteen Psalms:


1: No Greek Title                                                                   A Psalm of Solomon

2: Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn : peri\ Ierousalhm                      A Psalm of Solomon Concerning Jerusalem

3. Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn : peri\ dikai/wn                           A Psalm of Solomon Concerning the Righteous

4. Dialogh\ tou= Salwmwn : toi=v a0nqrwpare/skoiv          A Conversation of Solomon with Those Trying to

                                                                                                Impress People

5. Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn                                                     A Psalm of Solomon

6. 0En e0lpi/di : tw=| Salwmwn                                                In Hope. Of Solomon

7. tw=| Salwmwn : e0pistrofh=v                                            Of Solomon. About Restoring

8. tw=| Salwmwn : ei0v nei=kov                                               Of Solomon. To Victory

9. tw=| Salwmwn : ei0v e1legxon                                            Of Solomon. For Proof

10. 0En u3mnoiv : tw=| Salwmwn                                             A Hymn of Solomon

11. tw=| Salwmwn : ei0v prosdoki/an                                    Of Solomon. In Anticipation

12. tw=| Salwmwn : e0n glw&ssh| parano/mwn                      Of Solomon. About the Tongue of Criminals

13. tw=| Salwmwn yalmo/v : para/klhsiv tw=n dikai/wn    Of Solomon. A Psalm: Comfort for the Righteous

14. 3Umnov tw=| Salwmwn                                                 A Hymn of Solomon

15. Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn meta\ w)|dh=v                                A Psalm of Solomon with Song

16. 3Umnov tw=| Salwmwn : ei0v a0nti/lhyin o9si/oiv     A Hymn of Solomon. For Help for the Devout

17. Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn meta\ w)|dh=v : tw=| basilei=         A Psalm of Solomon, with Song, to the King

18. Yalmo\v tw=| Salwmwn: e1ti tou= xristou= kuri/ou          A Psalm of Solomon About the Lord Messiah



Some Aspects of the Theology of PssSol


It is probable that the PssSol have attracted most attention because of the articulated messianism of PssSol 17 and 18. The Messiah is depicted as the Son of David who, foreknown and raised up by God,[13] will gather a holy people and will purge Jerusalem. However, the outlook is not limited to just Israel, but encompasses all nations. He will judge all of them, he will rule over all of them and he will be compassionate over all who give him reverence. The reason for his success is not his reliance upon horse and rider and bow, but his hope in the Lord. The appointed day when the Messiah will reign is called the day of mercy (e0leov).

Righteousness and Justification

dikaiosunh: 1.2f; 2.15; 4.24; 5.17; 8.6, 24-26; 9.2, 5; 17.19, 26, 40; 18.7f.

dikaiov: 2.18, 32, 35; 3 [title]; 3.3-7; 4.8; 5.1; 8.9; 9.2; 10.3, 5; 13.7-11; 14.9; 15.6f; 16.15

dikaiow: 2.15; 3.5; 4.8; 8.7, 26 [passive: 8.23; 9.2]


Judgment and Sins

God disciplines the righteous and judges the sinner. The following passage from PssSol 3 gives a good insight into the theology on this:


3 The righteous remember the Lord all the time,

                by acknowledging and proving the Lord's judgments right.

4 The righteous does not lightly esteem discipline from the Lord

                his desire is (to be) always in the Lord's presence.

5 The righteous stumbles and proves the Lord right;

                he falls and watches for what God will do about him;

                he looks to where his salvation comes from.

6 The confidence of the righteous (comes) from God their saviour;

                sin after sin does not visit the house of the righteous.

7 The righteous constantly searches his house,

                to remove his unintentional sins.

8 He atones for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and humbling his soul

                and the Lord will cleanse every devout person and his house.


God's discipline of the righteous is a recurring theme throughout the PssSol and is applied both to the individual (PssSol 13, 14:1-3) and the whole nation (7:6-10). Therefore, Jerusalem's problems can only be explained because of their sins, 'I said, They directed their ways in righteousness' but 'God exposed their sin in the full light of the day' (PssSol 8:6, 8, also e.g. 1:7).

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[1] The most accessible Greek text (Rahlfs, LXX, 2.471-489) is based on the work of O. von Gebhardt, Psalmoi Solomontos: Die Psalmen Salomos, zum ersten Male mit Benutzung der Athoshandschriften und des Codex Casanatensis (TU 13.2; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1895), who produced a critical text based on eight manuscripts [DIV: 7 TEX 13]

[2] That the Syriac is an independent translation of the Hebrew is argued by Trafton, though with reservations, but confirmed confidently by Ward. Joseph L. Trafton, The Syriac Version of the Psalms of Solomon: A Critical Evaluation, Society of biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Studies Series 11 (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1985). Grant Ward, A philological analysis of the Greek and the Syriac texts of the Psalms of Solomon [Dissertation] (Temple University, 1996).

[3] Full discussion in H.E. Ryle and M.R. James, Psalms of the Pharisees (Cambridge: University Press, 1891), lxxvii-lxxxvii.

[4] Two Syriac MSS contain all 18 PssSol, three others only fragments. We have 11 Greek MSS, all nearly complete. R.R. Hann, The Manuscript History of the Psalms of Solomon (SCS 13; Chico, CA: Scholars, 1982).

[5] Synopsis Sanctae Scripturae, Ta men oun antilegomena thv Palaiav proeipomen men kai proteron wv esti Sofia Solomwntov kai Sofia Ihsou uiou Surax kai Esqhr kai
 Ioudiq kai Twbit sun ekeinoiv de kai tauta hriqmhntai Makkabaika biblia d Ptolemaika
Yalmoi kai Wdh Solomwntov Swsanna Tauta ta antilegomena thv Palaiav Diaqhkhv
Migne, PG 28, 432.

[6] Appended to Quaestiones et Responsiones, text in B.F. Westcott, A general survey of the history of the canon of the New Testament 7 ed (London; New York: Macmillan, 1896), 567-68.

[7] Text in Westcott, Canon, 569-71.

[8] There is a strong self-definition as “Israel” (7.8; 8.26, 28, 34; 9.1f, 8, 11; 10.5-8; 11.1, 6-9; 12.6; 14.5; 16.3; 17.4, 21, 42, 44f; 18.1, 3, 5) over against the gentiles ethne (1.8; 2.2, 6,19; 7.3, 6; 8.23, 30; 9.2, 9; 17.14f, 22, 29).

[9] Other candidates have been suggested, but the identification with Pompey is now undisputed.

[10] A variety of alternative additional background settings for Psalm 17 have been proposed, e.g. the Parthian invasion of Palestine, 40 BC (J. Tromp); the siege of Jerusalem by Herod Great and Sosius (Roman general), 37BC (K. Atkinson).

[11] Viteau dates this psalm 63-60 BC, admitting that he does not know a happy political event that could trigger such an outburst of joy as found in this song (Les psaumes de Salomon: introduction, texte grec et traduction, Documents pour l'étude de la Bible [Paris: Letouzey et Ane, 1911], 42).

[12] André Kabasele Mukenge, L'unité littéraire du livre de Baruch, Etudes bibliques ; nouv. sér., no 38 (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1998), 431.

[13] Horbury sees here a reflection of the belief of the 'spiritual,' pre-existent aspect of the Messiah (Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ [London: SCM Press, 1998], 97-98).