I have asked a series of questions recently about the superscripts at the top of the Psalms.* They tend to include technical notes about performance, (possible) allusions to authorship, notation of the context in which they were written, and probably sometimes other things. They seem to be fairly dense with uncertain terminology.

My understanding is that these headings aren’t original to the psalms. They refer to the author in the third person at times, and many of them re-use similar phrases, as if they were added at the same time by the person compiling them. They’re there in the LXX (albeit sometimes oddly translated), so they must be fairly early additions. I realize there is controversy about which psalms were written when, but is there any consensus about when the superscripts (please correct me if there’s a better term) came about?

*I linked to a set of my own questions there because I haven’t found other questions about this on BH.SE. If I've missed any, please add them.

  • If you are referring to such things as "A Psalm of David", Judaism treats these as part of the Psalm itself, which is why our verse numbering often differs from Christian Bibles. To know, for example, whether the Psalm was written by the sons of Korach or King David, for example, is pretty important to appreciating the text. For example, Ps. 3 says that it is a psalm of David when he fled from Absalom, his son. That is very important because it is a psalm praising G-d. David understood that when extraordinary things happened to him, good or bad, it was because G-d was communicating something. – Bruce James Jun 24 '15 at 20:36

There seems to be no consensus as to just when the superscripts were added to the psalms, other than that they were probably not all added at the same time, and that they were not always fixed but evolved, not being considered sacred in the way the psalm texts were.

I looked up Mark S. Smith's paper, 'Taking Inspiration:Authorship, Revelation, and the Book of Psalms', published in Psalms and Practice (edited by Stephen Breck Reid). On page 245, he cites a paper 'Psalm Titles and Misrashic Exegesis' by BS Childs. I do not have access to Child's paper, but Smith quotes him as suggesting that the superscriptions ought to be dated between the Book of Chronicles, which does not cite the superscriptions, and the Cave 11 Psalms scroll which does.

This site dates Chronicles to about 450-400 BCE, but says that earlier and later dates have been suggested. Wikipedia, citing Steven L McKenzie (1-2 Chronicles), says the period 350–300 BCE is most likely.

This site says the Cave 11 Psalms scroll has been dated paleographically to the late Herodian era, that is somewhere between 30 and 50 CE.

On the basis of Childs' research, as cited by Smith, the psalter superscriptions were probable added between 450 BCE and 50 CE. Of course, the LXX version of Psalms may have been written up to 200 years before the later date, but we do not have an early LXX manuscript and can not say how early it included the superscriptions.

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