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Many of the Psalms begin with some variation of:

מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד
LXX: Ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ
ESV: A psalm of David

However, as mentioned in Part (2) of this answer about Psalm 72:20, the translation of the lamed preposition (or the Greek dative) as an attribution of authorship is not obvious. In fact, 72:20 uses a construct noun to denote a genitive relationship: תְפִלּ֑וֹת דָּ֝וִ֗ד ('prayers of David') which seems (in my very limited understanding of the Hebrew language) like a more natural way to indicate this. If 72:20 is understood to refer to the same relationship as the superscripts (as it apparently is at least in that answer), though, perhaps they are interchangeable in this context.

Are there other examples (within or outside of the Psalms) of the lamed preposition used to indicate a relationship that clearly is one of authorship? Or other examples using a lamed to connect a person to a text in some other relationship? How should it be understood and translated in the Psalms?


† Seventy-three by my count and wikipedia. Although all v.1 in Hebrew, about half of them are not included within the versification system of the English.
‡ I presume, based on the fact that it’s next to דָּ֝וִד without a preposition, although I think this is identical to the would-be absolute form, which doesn’t elsewhere occur in the plural.

  • Of note is Radak's interpretation of Psalms 110:1 - "A Psalm ABOUT David ...". Obviously this translation seems inconsistent, to serve to counter the messianic tones of the passage. – elika kohen Nov 17 '17 at 4:49
  • @DerÜbermensch I suppose something contemporary with the Psalms (better: with these superscripts) would be most relevant. – Susan Nov 14 '18 at 1:54
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While reading links to add to this question, I ran across Gesenius’ explanation (§129 c.), which seems to be too much of an answer to incorporate into the question. I therefore offer it as an answer, although I have a sense that it’s up for disputing, and I’d love to see other answers incorporating more recent scholarship.

Gesenius labels this lamed auctoris, which apparently has a close parallel in Arabic. The idea is that if מִזְמוֹר (psalm) and דָּ֝וִד (David) were in a construct relationship, the determinacy of the latter (a proper noun, see Gesenius §125d) would force the former to be also determinate, 'the psalm’.1 Because none of the psalms is the psalm of David,2 Hebrew avoids the construct chain and instead expresses the genitive 'by circumlocution' using a lamed preposition.

This also nicely satisfies my curiosity about the difference between the superscriptions and Ps.72:20. The latter does use the construct relationship (תְפִלּ֑וֹת דָּ֝וִד, 'the prayers of David'), thereby making the nomem regens ('the prayers') definite. This is appropriate because it is plural, and it does indeed refer to the corpus of 'Davidic' psalms.

Although I don’t see that any other examples of the lamed auctoris in the Hebrew bible are offered, Gesenius does provide a list of references where the lamed is used similarly to denote a genitive relationship due to the pairing of an indefinite noun with a definite (proper or articular) genitive:

  • 1 Sam 16:18 ['בֵּן לְיִשַׁי‎ a son of Jesse (בֶּן־יִשַׁי‎ would be...the son of Jesse)']
  • Gen 14:18, 36:12, 41:12
  • Num 16:22, 27:16
  • 1 Sam 17:8, 2 Sam 19:21

According to this analysis, then, מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִ֑ד does (or at least can) mean 'Psalm of David' in the sense of authorship.


1. A standard rule. Quoting GKC §125a.: 'Determination may be effected either by prefixing the article...or by the connexion of the noun (in the construct state) with a following determinate genitive...'

2. This isn’t actually as obvious to me in Hebrew as it is in English. If determinacy entails the 'one-and-only' sense that the English 'the' seems to convey here, it would indeed be inappropriate, but my sense is that the Hebrew wouldn’t necessarily mean that. This is up for discussion.

  • I feel there might be an equivocation between the common English understanding of the "Possessive Genitive", (as in cases of inanimate objects), and the specialized form of the "subservient genitive" in Hebrew - which each of those examples seem to fall under. The "subservient genitive" is an expression of a "Master / Servant" relationship, where someone's service is "unto" or "for" their "master". This is often conflated with the basic genitive (objectification, possession) which doesn't connote benevolence. The interesting part is the implication about David and his father's relationship. – elika kohen Nov 17 '17 at 5:04

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