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I have kind of a lot of questions here, but hopefully it makes sense what I'm getting at. What is the nature of the Psalter as a whole in terms of how it was meant to be used? I've always assumed that part of their function is teaching, but it's not as if there is a purpose statement attached to them. Are the Psalms meant to be didactic? Or are they simply a collection of Israel's "greatest hits" so-to-speak? Does it vary from Psalm to Psalm?

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I like the idea of the Psalms (or at least some of them) as "good blues songs". ;-) – Jon Ericson Jun 5 '12 at 20:49
According to the answer I gave below we would call 137 either elegiac or historical. However 137 is such a thorny issue in itself that I suggest opening a separate question. – Eli Rosencruft Jun 6 '12 at 16:18
up vote 6 down vote accepted

See this overview from The overview breaks out the Psalms into classes:

  1. Praise
  2. Elegy
  3. Didactic

A more detailed analysis could probably add more classifications such as historical, epic, etc.

Psalms, like Proverbs, is both an accretional work and an anthology. It is a collection by genre rather than by theme, and so, unlike a modern book or anthology, it has no single author, editor, time, place or intent. The psalms were used in liturgy, private devotion, public celebration and other occasions where a short, memorable text that can be easily put to song is required. The oft repeated characterization of the Psalms as "the hymn-book of the Second Temple" is challenged in this article from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Some of the other books of the Bible are also accretional (to varying degrees) and the entire corpus of the Bible is an accretional anthology. The characteristics of accretion and anthology of disparate and sometimes contradictory material are hallmarks of Jewish tradition as epitomized by the OT.

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Thanks for the answer. I definitely see how, for instance, Psalm 1 is didactic. I think you're answering my question (I've already given you my +1), but I've tried to amend my question a bit to clarify what's still fuzzy to me. – Soldarnal Jun 5 '12 at 18:51

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