About the Book
The book of Psalms, also known as the Psalter, is really a collection of books each of which ends with a short doxology or hymn of praise. This is very clear to anyone who looks closely at the arrangement of the psalms. The editors of the New American Bible have indicated this order by adding subdivisions within the text itself. “The First Book—Psalms 1–41 ” ends with a doxology in 41, 14 ; “The Second Book—Psalms 42–72 ” ends with 72, 18–20 ; “The Third Book—Psalms 73–89 ” ends with 89, 53 ; “The Fourth Book—Psalms 90–106 ” ends with 106, 48 ; “The Fifth Book—Psalms 107–150 ” ends with an entire psalm of praise, Psalm 150 .
There is evidence within the book of Psalms itself that our present anthology was composed of even earlier collections. Several psalms, found principally in the first book, are attributed to David. This may account for the popular, but probably not historically accurate, tradition that David himself wrote most of the psalms. Several psalms in the second and third books are ascribed to Korah and Asaph, the two great guilds of temple singers during the period of the Second Temple (confer 1 Chr 6, 33ff; 25, 1f ). These groupings may have been the original collections around which other psalms clustered. Finally, the fifth book is made up of a number of Songs of Ascent and psalms of praise known as Hallel or the Hallelujah collection.
These collections have another distinguishing characteristic. They vary in the preferred name for God. Yahweh (translated LORD) is generally used in the first, the fourth, and the fifth collections. This has led some to refer to them together as the “Yahwist Psalter.” The name Elohim (translated “God”) is preferred in the second and third books. Together they are sometimes called the “Elohist Psalter.” Many scholars believe that Elohim is a substitution made by a postexilic editor who wished to show reverence for the divine name (Yahweh) by avoiding its use.
All of these various collections overlap, and so it is difficult to identify precisely the original groupings. It is enough to know that the final compilers had an array of psalms from which to choose. The presence of psalmody in places other than the Psalter (for example, the Song of Moses in Ex 15 and the Song of Deborah in Jgs 5 ) indicates that there were many more psalms current in ancient Israel than have been included in the Psalter.