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.


Book Review: Joseph Blenkinsopp, David Remembered

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. David Remembered: Kingship and National Identity in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 2013. 219 pp. Pb; $26.00.  Link to Eerdmans

In 2009 Blenkinsopp wrote a short introduction to what he called “early Judiasm” in which he argued that origins of Judaism are to be found in Ezra and Nehemiah. This short book described the return from exile as the real beginning of the Judaism we encounter in the New Testament even if that origin stands on a foundation of earlier stories about pre-exilic Israel.  In his earlier work, Blenkinsopp mainly focused on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, supplemented by 1 Esdras and Josephus.

Blenkinsopp David RememberedBlenkinsopp’s new book studies the same period, but he focuses solely on how the earliest writers of the Second Temple period “remembered David.”  He does not really enter into the discussion of a historical David” nor is he concerned with biblical archaeology for the early monarchy. His task in this book is to trace how the failed dynasty of David was transformed by the post-exilic prophets into a hope for an eschatological restoration of a kingdom to Jews.

After an introductory chapter in which he traces the fall of Judah and the end of David’s dynasty according to 2 Kings and Jeremiah, Blenkinsopp traces the remnants of that line in the early exile (ch. 2-3). In these chapters he argues that while it is possible that the demise of the Davidic line led to interest in a revived Benjamin-Saul dynasty in the early years of the exile, there is very little evidence to support the assertion. The pro-Jeremiah family of Shaphan seems to have had some influence, even to the point as serving as governor until Gedeliah was assassinated, but they fell short of reviving a Davidic kingdom.

Turning to the prophets, Blenkinsopp discusses Deutero-Isaiah’s view of David (ch. 4). There is only one reference to David in Isaiah 40-66, at the conclusion of chapters 40-55 the prophet refers to “tokens of love showed to David.” There are some translation issues with this line, but Blenkinsopp takes this as an allusion to the perpetual covenant offered to the Davidic line in 2 Sam 7. Since the line has come to an effective end, there was a need for re-thinking this “perpetual covenant” in the early post exilic period.  Cyrus, rather than David, will be God’s anointed one.

Chapter 5 focuses on Zerubbabel as the “new David” in the early post-exilic world.  In order to do this, he collects all of the prophetic texts which refer to Zerubbabel in Haggai and Zechariah.  There are quite a few texts that seem to imply that Zerubbabel was seen by these prophets as a kind of “heir to the throne” who was used by the Persians to keep Judea loyal during a particularly stormy period in Persian history.  In fact, it is possible that Zech 6:9-15 is a reference to a secret coronation of Zerubbabel as a new King of Judah.

Beginning in chapter 6, Blenkinsopp connects the post-exilic dream of a restored kingdom to the original stories of David. Beginning as far back as Amos, Blenkinsopp shows that prophetic texts read and reread the story of David in new contexts, finding in David the model for what would become the Messianism of the second half of Zechariah. Whether that represents one or two later prophets is not particularly meaningful to Blenkinsopp’s argument since they both would be among the latest texts in the Hebrew Bible.

In chapter 7, He points out that even the canonical shape of the twelve minor prophets can be seen as implicitly eschatological, looking forward to a reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel. By ending the collection with Malachi’s prediction of the return of Elijah to turn the children back to the fathers, the twelve-book collection anticipates a turning of Israel back to the land and to their first king.

Chapter 8 finishes the post-exilic survey by examining the later Zechariah traditions (Zechariah 10-14). These rather complex chapters are among the latest material in the prophets and consequently have the most detailed messianic hope in the Hebrew Bible. This chapter was the most stimulating for me since Blenkinsopp is doing something of an “intertextual study.” He uses this language several times (p. 154, especially), although there is no effort to define what he means by the term. Essentially, Zechariah finds earlier texts (or traditions) and reuses them in a new context. For this study, these intertextual connections take older texts like the Exodus and Jeremiah and apply them to the current political and religious situation of Judea in the Second Temple period. Since this is a brief study rather than a detailed commentary, Blenkinsopp does not always clearly signal what his intertextual connections are, and when he does, there is no explanation of why he thinks Zechariah used a particular text. For the most part, he may omit this detailed methodological step because of the nature of the book, or because the links are “obvious.”

Blenkinsopp’s final chapter brings his story of David Remembered into the Judaism of the first century as a “resistance movement” to imperial power. When reading the chapter title, I expected to find to sorts of anti-imperial observations that one finds in studies on Revelation or Paul, but that is not the case. He sticks to the texts and avoids the sort of sociological or political agenda that usually plagues anti-imperial studies.

He this chapter begins with a very brief survey of various Second Temple documents, including the Qumran literature and Psalms of Solomon. While there is some allusion to a revival of the Davidic dynasty, it is not as prominent as might be expected and in Qumran it the coming king messiah is subjugated to the coming priestly messiah. After simply observing this as a fact, Blenkinsopp does not every ask why this is the case. Why did most strands of Judaism in the second temple avoid the language of a Davidic messiah or a revived Davidic kingdom?

The second section of the chapter surveys the presentation of the Maccabean revolt and the various messianic pretenders in Josephus.  While there is nothing new in the material, Blenkinsopp does observe that it is remarkable that there is no Davidic monarchy at all in the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean dynasty or any of the messianic pretenders. In fact, it is only in the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus that there a revival of David’s kingdom is particularly prominent. Again I am left wondered why Jewish Christianity developed a Davidic messiah while other forms of early Judaism did not.

Conclusions. I found Blenkinsopp’s book fascinating, especially since I have an interest in how later writers use and reuse earlier traditions.  I think the survey might have been improved with more attention to Davidic Messianism in the Psalms. While there is a short section on David’s relationship with the worship of the Second Temple, it seems to me that the final form of the Psalter provides another line of evidence for the development of the idea of the return of the Davidic kingdom.  I also notice that there is little in this book on Joel, arguably the last of the prophets.  I suspect this has to do with the lack of specific mention of David in that prophet, but as a late prophetic voice, I expected to see more from that prophet. Most New Testament readers will find his few pages on Jesus disappointing – the book feels like it building up to a grand conclusion in Jesus the son of David, but the gospels are dispatched in a few pages.

Nevertheless, David Remembered provides a good survey of the development of the Davidic Messiah from the exile to the first century. It is good to see a kind of thematic biblical theology that extends into inter-canonical literature. While the book focuses more on the earliest days of the Second Temple period than the first century, it provides an excellent introduction to the Messianism of the Second Temple period.

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

2 Samuel 23 and the Tel Qeiyafa Ostracon

In my last post I commented that 2 Sam 23 is a “wisdom psalm” and quite similar to Proverbs 31:1-9, the Sayings of King Lemuel.  The content of both songs is similar, being advice from an older, wiser person on how to be a successful king.  Both include the name of the king and his father and both are described as “oracles.”  The word translated oracle in different in Prov 31:1, but the sense of the same.  The word translated “Massa” in older translations ought to be read as a noun, מַשָּׂא, “pronouncement.”  The word is used frequently in Isaiah (13:1, 14:1, 17:1, 19:1, 21:1, cf. Hab 1:1) to introduce a prophetic oracle.  Isaiah 17:1-3 uses both terms to describe the prophetic speech.

A potential problem for this being an authentic Psalm of David is that Wisdom is thought to me a later development in the history of Israel.  While few these days would argue that Wisdom is entirely post-exilic, a text like 2 Sam 23:1-7 is suspect because it has so many elements of wisdom.  David, it is thought, did not create this sort of literature, it comes from a later time when the kingdom was more established.  However, a recent discovery may indicate that Wisdom as a genre appeared quite early in Israel’s history.

In 2008 an ostracon was discovered at Tel Qeiyafa, a military installation near the Elah Valley, more or less along the border between Judah and the Philistines.  (For details on the Ostracon, visit the Qieyafa excavation blog.)  The sherd has been dated to the late 11th or early 10th century B.C.  If this dating is confirmed, this would be the oldest Hebrew text ever found.  While this makes the ostracon extremely significant, the content of the text is extremely important because it resonates with biblical texts which claim to reflect the same period.

William Shea offers a unique translation of the text which recognizes that some of the letters are in fact pictograms.  His suggested translation of the first twos lines is a command to the king to “not make two servants of the judge and the prophet” (604).  He suggests that the text was “written in a time of transition” from local judges and prophets to kings. These lines would be advice to a king to not usurp the tradition roles of the judges or the prophets. As Shea puts it, the judge and the prophet may have diminished in authority when the monarchy was established, but they were to continue “independent of the king” (610).

There are other suggested readings of the text, some differing a great deal from Shea’s reconstruction.  For example, Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa (see also this press release) has also studied the text closely.  He renders the second and third line as“judge the slave and the widow and the orphan and the stranger.”  This translation is remarkably similar to Prov 30:9, “open your mouth and judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.”  2Sam 23:3 indicates that the king who “rules justly” will be like the morning sun for his people.  Despite the variety of suggested reading of the ostracon, they all sound like advice to the king, whether that advice sounds like the voice of a prophet or a sage.

After reading 2 Sam 23:1-7 and Prov 31:1-9, I would suggest that whatever the Tel Qeiyafa Ostracon is, it represents advice to a young king on how to rule wisely.  Perhaps there was a sub-genre of wisdom literature which might be called “Advice to a Royal Heir.”  Certainly 2 Sam 23:1-7 and Prov 30:1-9 reflect  similar style and content, perhaps the Tel Qeiyafa Ostracon should be included in this category as well.

Bibliography: William H. Shea, “The Qeiyafa Ostracon: Separation of Powers in Ancient Israel,” Ugarit-Forschungen 41 (2009): 601-10.

2 Samuel 23:1-7 – An Oracle of David, Son of Jesse

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

2 Samuel 23:1   Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel…

This song is described as an oracle, usually associated with a prophet.  But it also a wisdom psalm.  The song is quite similar to Proverbs 30, the Sayings of King Lemuel.  In that case, the words are described as advice given to him by his mother prior to becoming king. The content of both songs is similar, being advice from an older, wiser person on how to be a successful king.

The heading for this song describes David with three titles:

The man whom the Lord raised on high.  The verb is passive, God is the subject.  As we have seen frequently in this series, David always attributes his rise from a young shepherd to the king of Israel to the power and guidance of God.  To be “raised on high” was a major theme of the previous Psalm in 2 Sam 22.   David was a the lowest point imaginable and the Lord lifted hum out of the pit and raised him to a high, level, and safe ground.

The anointed one of God.  This is a theologically packed title, one which will develop into the idea of messiah. By the time of the New Testament, Messiah is the title of the coming deliverer who will restore David’s kingdom to Israel.  At this point in history, however, to be the “anointed of God” is to be specially chosen by God for a particular task, in David’s case, to be the ruler of a united Israel. While a literal anointing with oil is part of the coronation of a king, it is possible that David also has in mind the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.  When David was anointed as king in 1 Sam 16 he in fact received the Holy Spirit and was from that time on guided and led by God’s Spirit.

The “Sweet Psalmist of Israel.”  The ESV does a good job with the noun נָעִים (na’im)which has the connotation of pleasant or delightful. Frequently this is in the context of music which praises God (Ps 81:3, 135:3, 147:1) or wisdom (Prov 22:18, 23:8, 24:4).  The NIV (1984) has “singer of songs,” the TNIV has “the hero of Israel’s songs,” although I cannot understand why they chose “hero” for this noun.  The cognate verb can mean “be friendly with” or even “good to the taste” and the cognate adjective is usually translated “sweetness” or “charm” (נַעַם, but this form does not appear in the Hebrew Bible).

But this is not music alone, he is the sweet singer (זָמִיר) of Israel.  David is described as the one who created songs for the nation’s worship.  This may have been intentional since one factor in creating a national spirit is to use music.  There are certain songs, even styles of songs which are a part of a nation’s psyche.  John Philip Sousa strikes a patriotic chord for most Americans.  Think of the National Anthem scene in Casablanca.  Music can create nationalism.  David uses music strengthen Israel’s national story, although it is his version of that story!

Just as music has the power to unite a people, so too it instructs.  Human minds are wired to remember lyrics set to pleasant melodies.  (How many songs can you recall compared to scripture?  My guess is most people my age know more lyrics to Margaritaville than scripture.)  David created a body of music which not only supported a developing nationalism, but also a particular view of God.  He is different than the gods of the Canaanites.

2 Samuel 22:30 – By my God I can Leap over a Wall

2 Sam 22:30 is a particularly vivid image: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.” This verse might be the Hebrew Bible’s version of “I can do all things through Christ,” since David expresses the idea that the for the one who is rescued and vindicated by God and walking in the light which God provides (verse 29), he can do remarkable things indeed!

To “run against a troop” means that in the strength of the Lord David is able to stand up to an entire army himself. This is not far from his own experience with Goliath, and in 2 Sam 23:8-39 there are several stories of David’s soldiers who did in fact stand up to a large enemy force by themselves, super-human feats which can only be credited to the power of God. In 23:11, for example, Shammah defends a field against the Philistines single-handed.  In 23:18, Abishai slays 300 Philistines with his spear.

Likewise, to “leap over a wall” is a feat of incredible strength which goes beyond a human’s ability.

The Gates of Arad

This is not a fence or wall between two properties, this is a major city wall, perhaps 20 feet tall and heavily guarded. David entered Jerusalem through the water system, narrow and dark caves.  But in the Lord he is able to hurdle the defenses of the enemy as if they are nothing at all.  This photograph shows the reconstructed walls of Arad, a citadel in a hill in the southern part of Judah’s territory.  I show it as an example of the kind of wall David is referring to in this Psalm.  He is not leaping a short fence or jumping something which is humanly possible.  To leap over the wall of the enemy’s city is impossible physically — only by the power of God can David do “all things.”

There are other military metaphors in this section which describe David as an excellent warrior because the Lord rescued him.  For example, he runs like a deer (34), he breaks bows of bronze (35), he “consumed” his enemies (39), he grinds his enemies to dust (43).  All of these images ought to be take together to show that David is the ultimate victor.  He was a man drowning in the chaotic waters of the Sea, about to be dragged down to Sheol itself, yet the Lord rescued him, put him in a safe place, and made him to be his king forever (50-51).

David’s whole life is an example of this transformation from a young boy to warrior, from enemy of the state to King of Israel.  Looking back over the years, undoubtedly David saw his life as proof that the Lord was at work – David himself could not take credit for anything he did!