Book Review: Rick Brannan, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha

Brannan, Rick.  Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha. Lexham Classics; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2017. 193 pp.; Pb.  $14.99  Link to Lexham Press

Rick Brannan, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha, Lexham PressIn his short introduction to this volume, Brannan says the origins of this book came out of his work on the Greek texts behind these works, Greek Apocryphal Gospels, Fragments, and Agrapha: Texts and Transcriptions. While working on that project he began to modernize the translations of the apocryphal gospels which were included in M. R. James’s collection of New Testament apocrypha. Both books have been part of the Logos Library since 2013. The Greek texts are only published electronically at this time. The Greek texts in Logos version are tagged so words are identified and clicking a word will open as appropriate lexicon (BDAG for example). The texts and translations can be synced to appear in parallel columns.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of this book is Brannan’s “reading translation” section. For each item in the collection he includes a typical line-by-line translation with lacunae (gaps in the text) and suggested words in brackets. For his reading translations he smooths out the line-by-line translation into a format which looks like a translation of a complete text. For example, compare the two types of translations for the Greek Gospel of Thomas, saying 3 (p.Oxy 654):

Saying 3: Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,’ the birds of the sky will come ahead of you. But if they say that it is under the earth … the fish of the sea … you. And the kingdom of God is inside of you and outside, whoever knows himself will find this. And when you know yourselves you will see that you are the children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

9    rest.” § Said J[esus, “If]

10  those who lead you [say to you, ‘Behold,]

11  the kingdom is in the sk[y,’ of you will come ahead]

12  the birds of the sk[y. But if they say t-]

13  hat under the earth it i[s …]

14  the fish of the se[a …]

15  … you. And the king[dom of God]

16  inside of you [i]s [and outside, whoever himself]

17  knows this will fi[nd. And when you]

18  yourselves know [you will see that the children]

19  you are of the father of the liv[ing. But if not]

20  you know yourselves, in [poverty you are]

21  and you are pov[erty.” § Jesus says]

The first word of line 9 is the final word of saying two and the reader can see the places where Grenfell and Hunt (the original editors of this fragment) or the updated and revised edition edited by Bhrman and Pleše have suggested words to fill gaps. In every example in this book Brannan has used the most recent edition available.

The first section of the book collects various agrapha, or sayings of Jesus which do not appear in the canonical Gospels. Six of these sayings appear in the New Testament (Acts 20:35; 1 Cor 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:23-25; 2 Cor 12:8-9; 1 Thess 4.15-17). Another six agrapha appear in textual variations. Five of these additional sayings appear in Codex Bezae (Matt 20:28; Mark 9:49; Luke 6:4; 10:16; John 8:7; 10–11) and the sixth is known as “Freer Logion,” Mk 16:14 in Codex Washingtonianus. There are number of sayings drawn from the Apostolic Fathers including Barnabas 7:11; 1 Clement 13:2; 2 Clement 3.2; 4.2; 4.5; 5.2–4; 8.5; 12.2–6; 13.2; 13.4) and two from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (35.3; 47.5). For each of the agrapha Brannan offers a short introduction and a few suggested parallel texts (if any).

The bulk of this book are apocryphal gospels (about half the total pages in the printed edition). Any non-canonical text which has something to do with Jesus is called a gospel. In the examples offered in this collection two are considered infancy gospels (The Protevangelium of James and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas), four are passion gospels (The Gospel of Peter (P.Cair 10759, P.Oxy 4009, and P.Oxy 2949); The Gospel of Thomas (Greek Fragments, P.Oxy 654, P.Oxy 655, and P.Oxy 1), and The Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the Acts of Pilate), including the Descent of Christ to Hell. The collection contains one example of a “post-resurrection gospel,” The Gospel of Mary (P.Ryl 3.463 and P.Oxy 3525). For each of his texts, Brannan has a short introduction and summary of contents and distinctive contributions of the apocryphal gospel. Where possible, he offers a list of potential parallels to the canonical gospels.

The final section of the book collects a number of odds and ends. For each of the fragments included in this section, Brannan provides a description of the text, content highlights and relevance for exegesis. Following this introduction, he offers a “reading translation” and a “line translation” (corresponding to the lines of the papyri fragment). While the latter style is common in this kind of work, the “reading translation” is helpful for understanding the gist of the text.

Fragments included in this volume are:

  • Dura Parchment 24
  • Berol. 11710
  • Cairo 10735
  • Egerton 2 (+ P.Köln 255)
  • Merton 51
  • Oxy 210
  • Oxy 840
  • Oxy. 1224
  • Oxy 5072
  • Vindobonensis G. 2325 (Fayum Gospel Fragment)

The book concludes with a helpful seventeen pages bibliography divided into the categories used in the book.

Conclusion. Brannan’s book gives readers access to a wide range of fragmentary texts which appear in various sources. His reading translations and introductions make this collection a valuable tool for the study of early Christian texts.

One problem: the print copy I reviewed has a 2017 copyright, the electronic version in the Logos Library has a 2013 copyright. The Logos version does not include page numbers. I would like to see Lexham and/or Logos merge these editions so Brannan’s book can be accurately cited.


NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Prayer of Jacob

The Prayer of Jacob only appears in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XXIIb), a fourth century collection. David Aune made the translation appearing in Betz’s The Greek Magical Papyri (p. 261). The version in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha runs 20 lines, in Betz it is 26. Charlesworth states there is no reason to doubt the work was written in Greek, and it is reasonable to assume it was written in Egypt since it “shares ideas with many other Egyptian documents and papyri” (OTP 2:715). For a short introduction to Greek Magical Papyri, see this online lecture by James Davila from April, 1997 at the University of Saint Andrews Old Testament Pseudepigrapha collection.

Ancient magical papyri, The Prayer of JacobIt is difficult to know the goal of this magical text, which is why Charlesworth includes it in his collection of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha despite its presence in Greek Magical Papyri. It does indeed appear to be Jewish. For example, line 17 may allude to Solomon’s request for wisdom: “Fill me with wisdom, empower me, Lord.” God rules over the archangels (line 7) and sits above Sinai (line 8).

The closest to a specific command in the text is line 14: “Make straight the one who has the prayer [fro]m the race of Israel and those who have received favor from you, God of gods.” The verb “make straight (διορθόω) has a medical connotation, as in the binding of broken bones (Hippocrates.Art.38). It is possible then the one who uses this prayer hoped or physical healing. The prayer concludes with the command to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to the north and east.”

As is often the case, Hebrew words appear in this prayer as magical words. Hebrew was respected as having magical powers but usually not understood. Line nine reads “God Abōth, Abrathiaōth, [Sa]ba[ōth, A]dōnai, astra …the L[or]d of all (things).” In line 15 the word Sabaōth is the “secret name of the God of gods.” As Charlesworth comments, “appears often in the Nag Hammadi Codices; viz. it is in the Apocryphon of John, the Hypostasis of the Archons, On the Origin of the World, and the Testimony of Truth. It is also one of the most popular names in the magical papyri.” (OTP 2:722, note q).



Charlesworth, J. H. “Prayer of Jacob OTP 2:715-23.

Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Rist, Martin. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: A Liturgical and Magical Formula.,” JBL 57 (1938): 289–303.

Schewe, Lena M. “Prayer of Jacob,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).



The Prayer of Joseph

This prayer of repentance is only known through three fragments embedded in the writings of Origin. J. Z. Smith described the text as “a tantalizing fragment that has left no discernible impact on subsequent literature” (OTP 2:711).

Although the prayer originally ran some 1100 lines, only nine are now extant. Since the longest fragment appears in Origin’s Commentary on John, the prayer dates before A.D. 231. Origin introduced the text as “an apocrypha presently in use among the Hebrews.” J. Z. Smith thought the parallels with Hebrew and Aramaic prayers suggest a date in the first century (OTP 2:700). After observing the uncertainty associated with this text, Stephen Robinson suggests the prayer was written in the first century in either in Aramaic or Greek by a Jewish author (ABD 3:976). In his Lexham Bible Dictionary article, John Barry suggests the possibility the text may have “gnostic undertones” since Jacob is described as elevated figure with special abilities and knowledge.

Of interest to New Testament studies is the description of Jacob as “firstborn of every living being” in line three of the first fragment:

“I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit. Abraham and Isaac were created before any work. But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

This is remarkably similar to Colossians 1:15, although the Prayer of Joseph uses πρωτογενός rather than πρωτότοκος. But as Smith points out, both usages have their origin in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my firstborn” (πρωτότοκός μου Ισραηλ, cf., 4 Ezra 6:58; Sir 36:17; PssSol 18:4). In addition, this fragmentary text also stats Abraham and Isaac were created before anything else.  In John 8:58, Jesus claims “before Abraham was, I am.” In both Colossians and John, the issue is the pre-existence of Jesus, the Prayer of Joseph may be evidence of some interest among some first century Jews in the pre-existence of patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob.

One additional intriguing element of the first fragment is the re-interpretation of the struggle between Jacob and an angel in Genesis 32:22-32. In that canonical story, the identity of the man who wrestles with Jacob is not at all clear; he is never called an angel, but he seems more than human. When he blesses Jacob, the man says “you have striven with God.” Although this may imply the man was an angel (on an incarnation of God), that is not clear in the text. The Prayer of Joseph identifies the angel as Uriel:

And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Uriel, the angel of God, came forth and said that ‘I [Jacob-Israel] had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.’ He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine. 6I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God. ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God? Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?’ And I called upon my God by the inextinguishable name.”

This angel is one of the archangels, serving as a “chief captain among the sons of God,” but so too is Israel, the “first minister before the face of God.” Uriel appears in Uriel are those found in The Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 72–82) and guides Enoch in several other heavenly journeys (1 Enoch 19:1; 21:5, 9; 27:2; 33:3-4). 1 Enoch 20:2 identifies him as one of the angels ruling over Tartarus. Since Israel overcomes Uriel, Barry suggests this is an allegory for the elevation of Israel (the nation) over all people.


Bibliography: Barry, John D. “Prayer of Joseph” LBD; Newsom, Carol A. “Uriel (Angel),” ABD 6:769; Smith, J. Z. “Prayer of Joseph,” OTP 2:699-714.



Book Review: Thomas R. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter

Schreiner, Thomas R. Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018. 172 pp.; Pb. $16.99  Link to B&H Academic  

Thomas Schreiner has contributed several major works including a Romans commentary in the BENTC Series (Baker Academic, 1998), a New Testament theology and a recent biblical theology of the whole Bible (Baker Academic, 2008, 2013). This new book from B&H is a popular-level work on the often contentious issue of spiritual gifts. The first half of the book is not controversial since Schreiner discusses gifts in general. Most readers will be interested his discussion of prophecy, tongues and cessation of these gifts in chapters six through eleven. Like most cessationists, Schreiner does not deny there are no miracles in the present age and his view of tongues and prophecy does not imply anything about God healing people in the present age (165). However, he argues both prophecy and tongues do not continue in the present time.

The first chapter is a summary of J. I. Packer’s observations of the strengths and weaknesses of the Charismatic Movement. In the following four chapters Schreiner carefully defines spiritual gifts and clarifies what Scripture says about the gifts. He lists the various gifts found in Scripture and offers brief definitions of them, dividing them into “gifts of speaking” and “gifts of service.” The two chapters entitled “Five Truths about Spiritual Gifts” seem like ten more or less random topics; any of these ten observations might have made a short chapter by itself. For example, his discussion of “The Baptism of the Spirit at Conversion” is nearly as long as the other chapters in the book. The section is preceded by a few pages arguing the gifts are giving for the edification of the church and is followed by a section on edification coming through understanding one’s gift. The argument of the book may have benefited by separating the discussion of the baptism of the Holy Spirit into a full chapter since the meaning of this phrase is misunderstood, used and abused in contemporary Christian culture.

Schreiner devotes two chapters to the gift of prophecy. He first defines prophecy as a spontaneous revelation from God rather than “Spirit inspired exegesis.” Prophecy can instruct, encourage or warn God’s people (99). He devotes twenty-one pages to Wayne Grudem’s suggestion that New Testament prophecy is different than Old Testament prophecy, specifically that New Testament prophets like Agabus made prophecies which were fallible. In the case of Acts 21:11, Agabus predicted the Jews would bind Paul, but when he is arrested in Jerusalem it is the Romans who bind him. Grudem considered this a prophecy with an error, although virtually everyone else considers the prophecy accurate, the Jews were responsible for Paul’s arrest even if the Romans did the literal binding of his hands.

Unlike Grudem, Schreiner does not re-define prophecy in order to find a place for it in the church. Instead he argues prophecy in the New Testament is consistent with prophecy in the Old Testament. Prophecy is not some private, internal guidance by the Holy Spirit, but foundational revelation given publicly to God’s people. Schreiner makes significant use of the phrase “foundation of the apostles and prophets” in Ephesians 2:20. If prophecy still exists, then the foundation has not yet been completed (108).

The following two chapters concern the gift of tongues. First, he argues the common distinction between tongues in Acts and tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 is unconvincing. The tongues are the same, but the situation is different: the Corinthian church lacked an interpreter of the tongues. As he argued earlier in the book, spiritual gifts are given to edify the church and edification requires understanding. If the gift of tongues are not understandable, then there is no edification of the church. For Schreiner, biblical tongues is “speaking in other languages” and “those speaking ecstatic utterances do not have the biblical gift of tongues” (132).

The final two chapters deal with the arguments for cessation of the gifts, first by dispensing with an unconvincing arguments and then offering a positive argument for the cessation of gifts. The key problem is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 that “when the perfect comes” tongues will cease. If the “perfect” can be defined as the completed canon or spiritual maturity of the church, then the verse can be used to argue for cessation of tongues. Schreiner argues this is not at all what Paul meant. When Paul said we will see Jesus “face-to-face,” he was referring to the second coming of Christ.

Here Schreiner more or less agrees with a charismatic exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13. Paul is not saying gifts like tongues and prophecy will necessarily pass away at some point prior to the Second Coming, but the need for these particular gifts will cease. Schreiner’s argument for the cessation of gifts is based on his view prophets and apostles were foundational for the church. After the foundational period, Scripture is in the sole authority for the church. Certainly God does miracles in the present age, but Schreiner says “Christians can be as credulous and superstitious as unbelievers” (165). The foundation on which the church stands today is Scripture, not charismatic or ecstatic utterances.

Conclusion. Since this short book on spiritual gifts developed out of Schreiner’s teaching in the church rather than the academy, it is written to a general church audience. Some elements lack the exegetical details expected from a scholar like Schreiner and there are few pointers to more detailed studies (for example, the “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 requires more exegetical nuance than Schreiner is able to provide in this book). Schreiner does not make a distinction between revelatory gifts and other service gifts. He includes revelatory gifts in both his categories (“gifts of speaking” and “gifts of service”). This might have served his purpose since the revelatory gifts (prophecy and tongues) can be associated with the foundation of the church.

Some readers will approach this book with a fairly entrenched view on spiritual gifts and either find it affirming or unconvincing. Schreiner has provided a basic primer on a biblical view of spiritual gifts which will serve well in church Bible studies and small group discussions.



NB: Thanks to B&H Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Prayer of Manasseh

This prayer of repentance is attributed to Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah who is credited with the wickedest reign in the history of Judah (687-642 B.C.) According to 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, late in Manasseh’s reign the king was taken captive by the Assyrians. While in captivity, he remembered his God and prayed to him. No prayer is recorded, but we are told the Lord listened to him and restored him to his kingdom.

There are no Hebrew or Aramaic manuscripts of the prayer, leading most scholars to assume the Prayer was written originally in Greek. David Flusser is the exception to this, as Charlesworth comments in his introduction to the prayer (OTP 2:626, note 17). Flusser argues the Psalm was written in Hebrew and the Greek is a “loose translation.” There are a number of Syriac manuscripts with a number of differences to the Greek version.

Since the Prayer is based on Chronicles, it must be dated after the fourth century B.C., but it seems unlikely to have been the product of Christian writers. There are several scholars who think the book was written by the author of the Apostolic Constitution (OTP 2:627), making the date prior to the fourth century A.D. But as Charlesworth says the author “was obviously a Jew.”

The earliest reference to the Prayer is in the third century A.D. Didaskalia, a Christian retelling of 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33. Although this prayer was never part of the Septuagint nor did it appear in it does not appear in Vaticanus or Sinaiticus, it is often included in introductions to the Apocrypha.. The origin of the Prayer is almost impossible to determine in such a short book with no cultural or historical references.

Since the work is based on 2 Chronicles 33 and the psalms of repentance like Psalm 51, the value for New Testament studies is limited. Perhaps a “theology of repentance” could be developed based on this Prayer, Psalm 51 and other Pseudepigrapha books such as Joseph and Aseneth which might illustrate the New Testament idea of repentance and highlight difference between the Jewish idea and the developing Christian view of repentance (if any).

The book is very vivid in its description of repentance. The writer says that he will “bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness” (vs. 11).  The Prayer of Manasseh was collected by Christians along with a number of other biblical prayers and odes. This prayer collection is found in Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) and Codex Turicensis (seventh century).

Because you are the Lord, long-suffering, merciful, and greatly compassionate; and you feel sorry over the evils of men. You, O Lord, according to your gentle grace, promised forgiveness to those who repent of their sins, and in your manifold mercies appointed repentance for sinners as the (way to) salvation.

You, therefore, O Lord, God of the righteous, did not appoint grace for the righteous, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, those who did not sin against you; but you appointed grace for me, (I) who am a sinner. (translation Charlesworth).

Aquinas used the Prayer of Manasseh to argue the sacrament of Penanceis is a necessary condition for all who are in sin (Summa Theologiae, 3a.84.5). Martin Luther told the Duke of Braunschweig he should “in all sincerity genuinely repent,” using “words such as those that appear in the Prayer of Manasseh” (OTP 2:632).



More Psalms of David

Introduction: This collection of non-canonical psalms is not a single book. These psalms appear in the DSS and claim to be “Psalms of David.” One manuscript concludes the collection of psalms with the words ““So ends, by the assistance of our Lord, the writing of the Psalms of the blessed David, the prophet and king, with the five psalms which are not among the Greek or Hebrew numbering. However, as they are said (and) preserved in Syriac so we have copied them for him who desires (a copy)” (OTP 2:624, note v).

Psalm 151

I am using the psalms as they appear in Charlesworth (OTP 2:609-24). Four additional psalms were discovered in the Cairo Genizah and appear in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scripture edited by Bauckham, Davila and Panayotov (Eerdmans, 2013). David deSilva has a short chapter on Psalm 151 in his Introducing the Apocrypha (Baker, 2002). All the sample texts below are from Charlesworth.

The various forms of Psalm 151 and 152 are most interesting because they are early and represent the earliest non-canonical Jewish psalms. The Syriac psalms are found in a twelfth century Nestorian manuscript of the Psalter and the Book of Discipline by a Syrian Bishop Elijah (first half of the tenth century; see Stanley C. Pigué, “Psalms, Syriac (Apocryphal)” in ABD 5:536-7).

Psalm 151. This psalm is found in the LXX, in both Hebrew and Syriac, and in the DSS (11QPsa 151).  The psalm is often included in the Apocrypha (deSilva, 301-3). The psalm is a brief reflection on God establishing David’s kingdom. Like the canonical Davidic psalms this psalm describes the king as a shepherd over the flocks of God. David is contrasted with Saul and his brothers (verses 5-6); they were tall and handsome while David was small and the youngest of the brothers.

Psalm 151:7 But he sent and took me from behind the flock, and he anointed me with holy oil, and he made me leader for his people, and ruler over the sons of his covenant.

The Syriac version (5ApocSyrPs 1a) has enough similarities to 11QPsa that it is clear they are related, but it is much shorter, as if it is a summary form of the Hebrew version. Of note is the description of Samuel as “an angel,” although it is possible this is a metaphoric use of the term, as in a messenger. As in Hebrew and Greek, the idea of messenger and angel may very well be the same word in Syriac. A second fragment of the Syriac psalm appears in OTP containing only two short lines describing the victory over Goliath. These two lines appear in the LXX version (not included in OTP since it is in the apocrypha). See this post by Peter Flint at Bible Odyssey for the full text of Psalm 151 and here for Psalm 151 in the Latin Vulgate.

Psalm 152. This psalm is only known in Syriac (5ApocSyrPs 4). The psalm is David’s prayer to God when he and his flock were attacked by a lion and wolf, although it is possible the attack is a metaphor. David may be referring to those who have rebelled against him later in his career. On the other hand, it may simply be created to fill in the details of David’s boast that he has already killed a lion and bear in 1 Samuel 17:34-36.

Psalm 152:4-5 Spare, O Lord, your elect one; and deliver your holy one from destruction; so that he may continue praising you in all his times, and may praise your magnificent name. 5 When you have saved him from the hands of destroying death, and when you have rescued my captivity from the mouths of beasts.

David describes his situation as being desperate: he is on his way to Sheol by the mouth of a lion and asks the Lord to send a redeemer to lift him up from the gaping abyss.

Psalm 153. This short psalm is only known in Syriac (5ApocSyrPs 5) and appears to be another version of the Hebrew Psalm 151 or perhaps a sequel or second stanza. In this case David praises the Lord because he has been saved from the hand of the lion and wolf – the Lord sent his angel to close their gaping mouths (cf. Dan. 6).

Psalm 154. Of this collection of psalms, this psalm “most closely aligns with the thoughts of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (OTP 2:617). 11QPsa 154 (Hebrew) and 5ApocSyrPs 2 (Syriac) generally parallel with the Hebrew being the original. The psalm is not Davidic but claims to be a prayer of Hezekiah when the Assyrians had surrounded Jerusalem. The Psalm title is late and confused since it also says Hezekiah is entreating the Lord to make Cyrus allow the people to return home, an anachronism of several hundred years. Of interest in this psalm is the call to live a separate life (associate yourself only with the good, verse 3).

Psalm 154:12-15 From the openings of the righteous ones is heard her voice; and from the congregation of the pious ones her song. 13 When they eat with satiety she is cited; and when they drink in association together. 14 Their meditation is on the Law of the Most High; their words to announce his power. 15 How far from the wicked ones (is) her word; from all haughty ones to know her.

While this idea is Pauline (1 Cor. 5:10, for example), it is also very much like the Qumran community. The righteous eat together in association (verse 13). The assembly is to announce to the simple the Lord’s salvation, power of the Lord, to recount his many deeds.

Psalm 155. This psalm also appears to have been a Hebrew original (11QPSa 155) translated into Syriac (5ApocSyrPs 3). The Syriac header from a late manuscript associates the psalm with Hezekiah’s prayers during the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 19:14-19), but other than the request for the Lord to listen to the prayer, there is very little in Psalm 155 which alludes to 2 Kings. The Psalm shares a similar style with Psalm 154 (short lines with less elegant poetry). The final line in the Syriac form of the Psalm calls on the Lord to “save Israel, your elect one; and those of the house of Jacob, your chosen one,” reflecting a theology of Israel’s election in the Second Temple period.

More Noncanonical Songs of David

Four additional Songs of David were published in More Noncanonical Scripture (edited by Bauckham, Davila and Panayotov (Eerdmans, 2013). Geert Wouter Lorein and Eveline van Staalduine-Sulman provide the introduction and translation for the songs.

These four songs may have been part of a larger liturgical collection, but only these four survived in the Cairo Genizah in a tenth century manuscript. Despite this, many consider these psalms to come from a much earlier period, possibly the Qumran community. As Lorein and van Staalduine-Sulman comment, this is possible but no definitive proof exists for these Psalms originating with the Qumran community. In fact, the eschatological use of David in the psalms seems to point more toward the Targum and early rabbinic writings than Qumran (MNS, 261). Nevertheless, As Lorein and van Staalduine-Sulman conclude an origin for these psalms in the later-Qumran period “seems a valid option” and suggest these psalms were among the manuscripts discovered at Qumran about A.D. 790 and were taken to the Qaraite community in Cairo around A.D. 800.

David Flusser published a translation of these Psalms and concluded the way David is portrayed has some affinity with the world of the Essenes, the universal tone “accords better with the environment which produced the Biblical Antiquities” (Judaism and the Second Temple Period I, 282).

These psalms make use of earlier canonical psalms as well as prophetic material for example, in 1:14-23 (note the Roman numeral refers to the column rather than the psalm).

Psalm I.14-23 You prophesied by Your spirit through the mouth of Your servant for I have brought nigh the end and You will no longer delay it. 15 From the beginning You swore to David Your servant and You anointed Jesse’s root with Your mercy. 16 You sustained his arm with Your holiness, for he established Your praise up to the ends of the earth. 17 You established his name as a pillar of the world, and as a repairer of a breach and as a re-builder of ruins. 18 The rejected cornerstone, which the builders rejected, rose to be the head of all nations. 19 You made him inherit turban and crown with joy and You called out his name to be praised among all nations. 20 Righteousness and justice You have multiplied in his days and well-being and blessings without number. 21 All the righteous chosen ones shout for joy before Your face, for they rejoice in the <de>sirable la<nd>. 22 By his mouth You sanctified the great Name, and all day long he recites Your powerful songs I 23 You made his greatness (as) the great number of all angels’ and You appointed him king of all nations for ever.

David is called “your servant” and the Root of Jesse, both are messianic titles, Isaiah 11:1 combines a root from the stump of Jesse and the Spirit of the Lord. In I.17 the Davidic figure repairs the ruins, a likely allusion to Isaiah 58:12. In I.18 there is a clear allusion to Psalm 118:22: “the rejected cornerstone, which the builders rejected, rose to be the head of all nations.”  In Isaiah 28:6 the Lord himself is a crown of glory for his people, in I.19 the Davidic figure inherits a crown with joy which causes the nations to praise him. Likewise, Isaiah 62:2 the messianic figure will be a “crown of beauty” and royal diadem in the hand of God. In the second psalm, the Davidic figure is a “light for the nations” (2:8) Isa 42:6, Luke 2:31-32, Acts 13:47).

In the third song, the Davidic figure “heals the brokenhearted and binds up the bones of the oppressed, he turns mourning into gladness trembling and fear into great forms of trust.” (IV.1-2). Healing the brokenhearted appears in Psalm 34:18 and 147:3, but also in the good shepherd passage in Ezekiel 34:16 where the Lord himself will shepherd his people and will “bind up the injured.” Turning “mourning to joy” is language drawn from Jeremiah 31:13, a text Johan alludes to in John 16:20.

These examples serve to show the writers of these liturgical psalms used the expectation of an idealized Davidic king who would in some way restore God’s rule to Israel. The nations will acknowledge this Davidic ruler and it will be a time when God’s people will magnify the glory of the Lord in their camps and all idolatry will disappear from the people of the Lord (II.16-19). If it is the case these psalms pre-date the first century, they are more evidence the early Christian movement resonated with Second Temple Judaism as the described Jesus as the son of David and the good shepherd who turned mourning into joy (Matthew 5:4; 9:15; 11:17-18).



Flusser, David, “The Apocryphal Psalms of David,” pages 258-82 in Judaism and the Second Temple Period I: Qumran and Apocalypticism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007.

Lorein, Geert Wouter; Staalduine-Sulman, Eveline van, “A song of David for each day: the provenance of the Songs of David” Revue de Qumran 22 (2005): 33-59.