Image result for psalms of solomon pseudepigraphaIf 1 Maccabees can be described as pro-Hasmonean propaganda, the Psalms of Solomon vilify the Hasmoneans as corrupt law-breakers who have brought the might of Rome down upon Israel. The eighteen psalms are preserved in both Greek and Syriac manuscripts from the tenth century A.D. but were likely written in Hebrew and date much earlier than the surviving manuscripts since the Psalms were used by the author of 2 Baruch. The psalms refer to an invasion of the land, so they may be dated as early as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but Pompey (in 63 B.C.) and Titus (in A. D. 70) are also possibilities. R. B. Wright gives a range of dates from 70 to 45 B.C. for the dateable Psalms, but since some do not have events which can be dated, they may come from another period and were added to the collection when it reached its final form.

As Brad Embry summarizes, the Psalms of Solomon are “masterfully wrought defense of the Jewish faith in a time of crisis.” Given the range of dates suggested for this literature, this crisis of faith is the failure of the Hasmoneans to rule like proper sons of David. Rather than rule as righteous kings from the Hebrew Bible, they are more like Manasseh or even Antiochus himself!

For example, Psalm 4 condemns of those who sit in the council but are “far from the Lord” and provoking the Lord to anger. This person is eager to take the home of the poor person and to scatter the orphans.

Psalms of Solomon 4:1-2 Why are you sitting in the council of the devout, you profaner? And your heart is far from the Lord, provoking the God of Israel by lawbreaking; Excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone, he who is harsh in words in condemning sinners at judgment.

The word council is συνέδριον (synédrion), translated Sanhedrin in the New Testament. This ruling council has provoked the Lord (4:1 and 4:21). The verb παροργίζω is often used as an explanation for why a great calamity has fallen on Israel. For example, in LXX 2 Kings 23:26, Manasseh provoked the Lord to anger, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. In Daniel 11:36 (OG) with reference to the Antiochus’s action in the temple, provoking the Lord to anger. In t.Levi 3.10, the word refers to the sons of men insensitive to spiritual things and “keep sinning and provoking the anger of the Most High.”

Verses 14-22 is a harsh condemnation of these hypocrites. The writer pronounces curses on the hypocrites (using a series of aorist passive optative verbs), invoking the Lord to make the lives of these people miserable.  For example, verse 18, “May his old age be in lonely childlessness until his removal.”

PsSol 4:20-22 Let crows peck out the eyes of the hypocrites, for they disgracefully empty many people’s houses and greedily scatter (them). 21 They have not remembered God, nor have they feared God in all these things; but they have angered God, and provoked him. 22 May he banish them from the earth, for they defrauded innocent people by pretense.

In contrast to the fate of the hypocrite, the final three verses of the Psalm are a confession in faith in a beatitude form, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord in their innocence, the Lord will save them” (PsSol 4:23-25). The one who is innocent will be saved from these arrogant people.

The writers of the Psalms of Solomon do not see the descendants of the Hasmoneans as the fulfillment of the prophetic hope for a good, righteous shepherd king in the tradition of David. Their protest is against the current regime (whatever the date) is in the tradition of prophetic condemnations of Manasseh in the Hebrew Bible.

How does the contrast between the ideology of 1 Maccabees or 2 Maccabees differ from that of the Psalms of Solomon? Does reading the other Psalms in this collection provide additional evidence of this diversity in the Second Temple period?

 

Bibliography: Bradley Embry, “The Psalms of Solomon and the New Testament: Intertextuality and the Need for a Re-Evaluation.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (2002): 99-136.