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This psalm is a description of the invasion of Jerusalem by Pompey. The invading army is foreshadowed by “the blast of the trumpet sounding slaughter and destruction.” Since the sound of destruction is in the holy city of Jerusalem, the writer is crushed by what he heard and becomes physically ill (8:5). The writer sees himself as one of the innocent (8:23) who are devout (8:34).

The writer knows the judgment of God are righteous, so Jerusalem must be worthy of punishment. He lists a series of crimes which provoked the Lord to anger. They sinned in secret underground places provoking the Lord to anger (8:9a), they committed incest (8:9b) and adultery (8:10a). They stole from the sanctuary (8:11, cf. Romans 2:21) and “walked on the place of sacrifice” by entering the Temple with all kinds of uncleanliness (menstrual blood) and defiling sacrifices as common meat (8:12). The writer says they “left no sin undone” and surpassed the Gentiles by profaning the holy places.

I know this isn't what Pompey looked like...Although the writer does not explicitly blame the aristocratic priests for these crimes, it is likely only the priesthood could profane the Temple courts in this way. “Secret underground places” could refer to alternative worship, as it did in Ezekiel 8:7-18. In a vision, Ezekiel digs into the secret places in the Temple to witness the elders of Israel engaged in idolatry. There is little evidence the priesthood permitted idolatry in the Second Temple, so it may be the case the writer is covering the standard sins against God found in the prophets of the Old Testament.

Because of this the Lord sent a “wavering spirit” on the people so that when the Gentiles came to the city they were unable to fight back (8:14-17). Like Isaiah 51:17-23, Israel once again will drink the wine of God’s wrath.

The Lord brought someone “from the end of the earth” to attack Jerusalem. The leaders of Jerusalem met Pompey as if he were the coming messiah. Like Psalm 118:25-26, the leaders welcomed him with joy and blessed him with peace (8:16). Like the coming one in Isaiah 40:3, the leaders made the paths smooth before him (8:17a) and threw open their gates when he arrived (8:17b). This could refer to the machinations of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, rival Hasmoneans who thought Pompey might grant them control of Judah. Although some of Aristobulus’s party wanted to keep Pompey out, “others admitted Pompey’s army in, and delivered up both the city and the king’s palace to him” (Ant. 14.4). Pompey “captured the fortified towers and the wall of Jerusalem” (8:19). According to Josephus:

But there was nothing that affected the nation so much in the calamities they were then under, as that their holy place, which had been hitherto seen by none, should be laid open to strangers; for Pompey, and those that were about him, went into the temple itself, whither it was not lawful for any to enter but the high priest, and saw what was reposited therein, the candlestick with its lamps, and the table, and the pouring vessels, and the censers, all made entirely of gold, as also a great quantity of spices heaped together, with two thousand talents of sacred money. (Jewish War, 1.7.6).

The writer o Psalm of Solomon 8 believed this judgment was just (8:23-32). God is always right in his judgments, so if he allowed the Gentiles to overrun the Temple, then it must be a just judgment. The people had “stiffened their neck” and have therefore drank the cup of God’s wrath 8:14) just as they had when Babylon took the Temple five hundred years before (Isa 51:17-23). Despite the physical distress this invasion caused (8:1-5), the writer praises the Lord for his justice (8:33-34).

There are two things the writer asks from the Lord. First, to turn in mercy and be compassionate on Israel once again (8:27) by bringing together the dispersed of Israel. The Lexham LXX makes this more explicit: “Gather the diaspora of Israel with mercy and goodness.” Second, the writer asks God to no longer neglect (or better, despise) them lest the Gentiles devour the nation “as if there were no redeemer.” Here the writer declares his faith in God as the redeemer of Israel (8:30-31). The same verb is used in Psalms of Solomon 9:1, looking back to the Lord who redeemed Israel out of their slavery, in Isaiah 44:22-24 to describe a coming messianic figure and in Luke 24:21 disciples on the road to Emmaus thought Jesus might “be the one to redeem Israel.” This is another hint of a messianic figure in the Psalms of Solomon.

The title of this short psalm is significant. R. B. Wright translates the Greek title ἐπιστροφῆς as “about restoring” since verses 1-3 call on the Lord to restore his people after a time of discipline. Likewise, Atkinson renders the phrase “of returning” in the NET Septuagint. The Lexham LXX renders the word “on conversion.” In the New Testament the word is rare, only appearing in Acts 15:3 for the “conversion of the Gentiles.”

But the cognate verb appears in the LXX more than 400 times translating שׁוב, the common word for turning and often used in the sense of turning away from wickedness and back to the Lord. For example, in Jeremiah 2:27 Israel has “have turned their back” on the Lord, but in their times of troubles they will call upon the Lord. In Jeremiah 11:10, Israel has “turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words.” The word also has a positive connotation, the nation can turn back to the Lord. Psalm 126:1 looks forward to a time when the Lord has “restored the fortunes of Israel” (a temporal articular infinitive, Ἐν τῷ ἐπιστρέψαι translating the noun שִׁיבָה, restoration). As a title for this Psalm, ἐπιστροφῆς refers to a future restoration of the “holy inheritance.”

Like several of the canonical Psalms, the writer of Psalm of Solomon 7 thinks the Lord has abandoned his people and allowed Gentile feet to trample his “holy inheritance,” the Temple. This likely refers to the capture of the Temple by Pompey, although the Temple had been desecrated by Gentiles before the Maccabean Revolt. There is not enough in this short Psalm to indicate a date before or after Pompey. In either case, the writer is concerned the Temple will be desecrated by the Gentiles.

While God’s discipline is expected, the writer does not wish to “be turned over to the Gentiles,” something the Lord will not allow (v. 6). Verses 8-9 are critical: the Lord “will have compassion on the people Israel forever and we are under your yoke forever, and under of the whip of your discipline.” This line expresses two important facts. First, the writer believes that God will continue to keep Israel as his people forever. There is no complete rejection of Israel nor will Israel be replaced with some other people (i.e., the church). Like Paul in Romans 9-11 (“has God rejected his people, by no means!”), this writer looks forward to a restoration (or conversion) of Israel in the future. The psalmist makes a confession of faith in verse 8: “the Lord will have compassion on the people of Israel forever”

Second, the writer describes a relationship with God as a yoke (ζυγός) and a whip (μάστιξ). Although this seems quite different than the rather tender metaphor of Israel as God’s sheep, the image of Israel as an unruly animal which needs to be disciplined is found occasionally in the prophets (Hosea 10:11, for example). In the New Testament Peter calls the Law a yoke Israel bears (Acts 15:10) and Paul calls it a “yoke of slavery Gal 5:1), both using the same word (ζυγός).

The image of a yoke is used by Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30. His teaching is like an easy yoke and his burden is light, in contrast to the yoke of the Pharisees. Following command to his followers to take up his yoke, Jesus comes into conflict with the Pharisees over their interpretation of the Sabbath commands (Matt 12:1-14), leading the Pharisees to declare Jesus is empowered by Beelzebub (12:22-37). Jesus then refuses to give the Pharisees any messianic sign other than the sign of Jonah (12:38-45). Jesus declares the Pharisees as wicked as the adulterous generations of their ancestors and in Matthew 13 begins to teach his disciples in parables for the first time.

Although writer of this psalm considers himself and his people living in a time of divine discipline, he still looks forward to restoration of the nation of Israel to a time of divine compassion.

There is nothing in Psalms of Solomon 5 to hint at a date or historical circumstance. The psalm begins with praise to God for his gracious provision during a time of affliction (v. 5). Several times the author describes himself as hungry (v. 8, 10, 11) or in need of kindness (v. 13), but there is no specific historical situation in mind. Most Jews living in the Diaspora would hear their own experience in this Psalm.

In verse 5, Wright translates θλίβω as “persecution in OTP, but the verb does not necessarily connote a religious or political persecution. For example, Paul used the verb in 2 Corinthians 4:8 to describe his own troubles. Sometimes he was persecuted by the Jews or the Romans, but the verb refers to all sorts of troubles he faced. It is tempting hear an echo of the troubles faced by Pharisees under Alexander Jannaeus. Jannaeus arrested 800 of his enemies, many of whom were Pharisees. He crucified these men while he banqueted with his wife and concubines, viewing the executions (Antiq. 13.410-15). Unfortunately there is nothing in the psalm which clearly echoes this event.

Verse 7 is a possible echo of Daniel 3:16-18. In that passage Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sentenced by Nebuchadnezzar to be thrown into the fiery furnace. When the king offers them one last chance to worship the image of the king, they reply “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” After describing his afflictions, the writer says “Even if you do not restore us, we will not stay away, but will come to you” (5:7). Like the three young men in Daniel, the writer of this Psalm is willing to suffer affliction and hardship. He knows the Lord may save him, but even if he does not, he will persist in his commitment to his God.

Finally, verses 16-19 are a wisdom saying encouraging moderate living and contentment. Verse 16 begins with a makarism, a “blessed are” saying like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. In this case, the blessed (or “happy”) person is the one God remembers with “moderate sufficiency.” The noun (αὐτάρκεια) refers to contentment with one’s circumstances. BDAG comments the word refers to a “favorite virtue of the Cynics and Stoics.” Paul uses a cognate word (αὐτάρκης) in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul calls his readers to live a quiet life, similar to the Jewish philosopher Philo who said the quiet life was the goal of the righteous: “…while those who pay due honor to excellence cultivate a tranquil, and quiet, and stable, and peaceful life” (Philo, On Abraham, 27). The Testament of Issachar 7 also encourages readers to live a simple life, to work hard and mind your own business.

This Psalm does not argue that the righteous person should live in a state of voluntary poverty. Jesus called his disciples to leave everything behind and follow him (Mark 10:17-31 and parallels). After Pentecost, Jesus’s disciples lived in voluntary poverty (Acts 2:42-47) and the Jerusalem community seemed to have continued to be voluntarily poor for some time. Paul is encouraged to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10), possibly a reference to the Jerusalem community. The letter of James certainly has stern warnings for the rich who overlook the poor.

In contrast to this Christian virtue of poverty, Psalm of Solomon 5:17 says moderate wealth is a good thing if it is accompanied by righteousness since moderate wealth is a gift of the Lord. Those who fear the Lord are happy (εὐφραίνω, the Lexham LXX translates this as “make merry”) with the good things the Lord has given them.

One final note on this Psalm: the final verse refers to the kingdom of God. The “good things” in the first part of the verse are expanded to all Israel. Wright translates the phrase “in your kingdom your goodness (is) upon Israel,” suggesting the implied verb as present tense. The Lexham LXX takes the implied verb as past tense, “your goodness was upon Israel your kingdom.” This translation also ignores the dative phrase “in your kingdom” (ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου). Kenneth Atkinson’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon in the NET understands the optative verb (εὐφρανθείησαν) at the beginning of the sentence is linked to this phrase as well, translating “and your kindness be upon Israel in your kingdom.” The NET puts the phrase into the context of a blessing.

This is not technically a reference to a future kingdom, but the writer of the Psalm is looking forward to a time when those who fear the Lord and are celebrate the good gifts of the Lord share in God’s kindness in his kingdom. There is a hint of eschatological hope in Psalms of Solomon 5:19

Psalm of Solomon 4 is labeled a dialogue (Διαλογὴ) although not in the sense of a conversation between Solomon and the hypocrite. The Psalm stands in the “two ways” tradition. It begins with a stunning condemnation of those who sit in the council but are “far from the Lord” and ends with a blessing on “those who fear the Lord in their innocence” (4:23).

The target of the psalmist are the profane “who sit in the council of the devout” (v. 1). The writer uses the word βέβηλος to describe these people, a word used in the Pastoral Epistles for the “pointless and empty talk” of elderly women (1 Tim 4:7, Titus 1:9). Paul warns Timothy to avoid this kind of frivolous talk (1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 2:16). The psalmist says these people are “excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone else.” They are harsh in their “condemnation of sinners at judgment” (v. 2) and they destroy with “agitating words” (4:12). The psalmist thinks these profane people are trying to impress people with “deeds of ridicule and contempt” (4:7, 19).

The council (συνέδριον) may refer to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Jerusalem. R. B. Wright considers this a strong possibility (OTP 2:655, note c), although the word can refer to any gathered council (a local synagogue, for example). At the very least, the psalmist has in mind aristocratic leadership who abuse their position to enrich themselves by oppression the poor and needy. In this condemnation, the writer stands on the foundation of the Deuteronomy and the Hebrew prophets. For example, this person is eager to take the home of the poor person and to scatter the orphans (4:9-10), reminiscent of Micah 2:1-2. These hypocrites “deceitfully quote the Law” (4:8) and condemn people for the very same sins they practice (4:3).

Verses 3-5 and 9-13 list out the offenses of these profane council members. Some of these refer to their judgments in the assembly. In 4:3 their hand is the first against a condemned man, they are zealous to render a harsh judgment. This cruelty is mentioned by Josephus. He described the high priest Ananus as “a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews” (with reference to the execution of James, Ant, 20.9.1, cited by Wright). This zeal is also clear from the New Testament both in the execution of Jesus and Paul’s zealous activity on behalf of the Sanhedrin (Acts 8:1-3, Gal 1:13-14).  Other offense may be standard attacks on one’s enemies. For example, eying women indiscriminately (4:4, 5b) and swearing falsely when signing contracts (4:4).

The psalmist calls upon God to judge the hypocrites (4:6-8, 14-22). He calls on God to expose their hidden deeds to ridicule and contempt (4:7-8) and to drive these profane men out of the “presence of the righteous” (4:8).

Like the canonical Psalms, the writer of this psalm calls on God to destroy the hypocrite (employing a series verbs in the optative). Like Psalm 109:6-15, this profane man is to have no legacy: “May his old age be in lonely childlessness until his removal” (4:18). Like a criminal the psalmist calls on God to judge the hypocrite like a criminal, “May the flesh of those who try to impress people be scattered by wild animals, and the bones of the criminals (lie) dishonored out in the sun. Let crows peck out the eyes of the hypocrites, for they disgracefully empty many people’s houses and greedily scatter (them).” That an enemy of God would become “food for the birds” appears in Psalm 79:2, but also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

Ultimately, this psalm calls on God to separate the hypocrite from the devout. The verb used in 4:24 (ἐξαίρω) has the sense of driving someone away from a group. Paul used the verb in 1 Cor 5:13 when he demands the Corinthians drive out the incestuous young man. This theme of separating the righteous from the unrighteous is common in the teaching of Jesus, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds the righteous and unrighteous (Matt 13:24-30). At the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse, the sheep are separated from the goats (Matt 25:31-46).

The final three verses are a confession in faith in a beatitude form: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord in their innocence, the Lord will save them” (4:23-25). The form of the saying in 4:24 is identical to the beatitudes in Matthew 5 (using μακάριος in a verbless clause), but the form appears in the Hebrew Bible as well.

Once again the Psalms of Solomon resonate with the New Testament, especially with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew. Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matt 23) and warns his followers they will need to deal with these hypocrites until the end of the age when God will separate them from the righteous.

This psalm reflects a “two ways” ethic found in Second Temple wisdom literature. Building on the covenant renewal in Deuteronomy 30:11-20, there are only two ways the people can go, either toward life or toward death. If Israel follows the Law, they will be blessed and have peace and material prosperity. However, if they do not follow the Law, they will be cursed and not experience peace and prosperity. Psalm 1 contrasts two kinds of people, the righteous person and the sinner. The righteous is like a tree planted beside water (prosperous and bearing fruit), but the sinner is like a bush growing in the desert, barely surviving and never bearing fruit.

The Psalmist contrasts the righteous (3.3-8) with the sinner (3.9-12). The righteous man has confidence in God and constantly searches his house to remove unintentional sin. He atones for ignorant sin by fasting and humbling his soul.

Psalms of Solomon 3.5-8  The righteous stumbles and proves the Lord right; he falls and watches for what God will do about him; he looks to where his salvation comes from. 6 The confidence of the righteous (comes) from God their savior; sin after sin does not visit the house of the righteous. 7 The righteous constantly searches his house, to remove his unintentional sins. 8 He atones for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and humbling his soul, and the Lord will cleanse every devout person and his house.

In verse 8, the Lord cleanses “every devout person” (ὅσιος). R. B. Wright comments this noun is related to the Hasidim (οἱ Ασιδαῖοι), the righteous ones who supported the Maccabean revolt (1 Macc 2:24, 7:13) but broke with the Hasmoneans and likely developed into the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. Perhaps this is a hint of the origin of the Psalm. Early studies of the Psalms of Solomon identified the author(s) as either Pharisees or Essene and Wright’s introduction in OTP leans that direction.

But Charlesworth adds a paragraph to the introduction warning against labeling the Psalms as either Pharisaic or Essene because so little is known about the Pharisees prior to A.D. 70 (OTP 2:642, see note 8). Since some scholars have claimed the Psalms of Solomon were written by Pharisees, a paragraph like PsSol 3.5-8 is used to develop the views of the Pharisees. But as Charlesworth comments, this is a kind of circular reasoning. Neither Anthony J. J. Saldarini (Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society, Eerdmans 2001) and the collection of essays edited by Jacob Neusner  Bruce D. Chilton (In Quest of the Historical Pharisees, Baker, 2007) make little or no reference to the Psalms of Solomon.

But the description of the devout in this section does resonate with the New Testament. The author of this Psalm says the righteous person (δίκαιος) is not sinless. They stumble, but they know their salvation comes from the Lord. They are constantly looking for unintentional sins and fast in order to “atone for sins of ignorance.” Here the verb ἐξιλάσκομαι is used.

The word does not appear in the New Testament, but the cognate ἱλάσκομαι is used in Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The tax collector is devastated by his own guilt and cries out to the Lord, “have mercy (ἱλάσκομαι) on me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In the Parable, the Pharisee boasts in his fasting and careful tithing, but the tax collector “having been made righteous” (a participle from δικαιόω). Someone who had Psalm of Solomon 3:5-8 in mind would have expected the Pharisee to have received mercy since he was carefully examining his life in order to “remove unintentional sins.” Yet Jesus reverses that expectation and the sinner receives mercy and went away from the Temple having been made righteous (δεδικαιωμένος).

Although it is impossible to state dogmatically this Psalm reflects the attitude of the Pharisee in the early first century, it does resonate with the Pharisee of Luke 18.

Psalm of Solomon 2 is a lament for Jerusalem after Pompey captured the city in 63 B.C. Although his name is not specifically mentioned, the author of the psalm clearly has Pompey in mind. He is called an “arrogant sinner” who brought battering rams against the walls of the Temple (2:1). According to Josephus, the city surrendered to the Romans but the Temple itself was captured. Pompey therefore brought “mechanical engines, and battering-rams from Tyre” (Antiq. 14.4.2).

Once inside the Temple, “They trampled it down (καταπατέω) with their shoes in arrogance” (PsSol 2:2). This description is a possible allusion to 1 Maccabees 3:51, “Your sanctuary is trampled down (καταπατέω) and profaned, and your priests mourn in humiliation” (RSV). In verse 19, the arrogant Gentiles dragged the beauty of the Temple “down from the throne of glory.” According to Josephus, Pompey entered the Temple and “saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests” (Antiq. 14.4.2).

PsSol 2:20-21 alludes to Isaiah 3:24 by personifying Jerusalem as a beautiful woman who has gone into mourning: “She put on sackcloth instead of beautiful clothes, a rope around her head instead of a crown. She took off the wreath of glory which God had put on her; in dishonor her beauty was thrown to the ground.” Since Isaiah was looking forward to the fall of Jerusalem Babylon is the “arrogant sinner” who desecrated the Temple. The writer of this psalm once again sees the Jerusalem of his day as a ravished, enslaved woman driven into exile.

Like 1 Maccabees, the author of this psalm blames the disaster on the “sons of Jerusalem” who have profaned (μιαίνω, 1 Macc 1:46, 63) and defiled (βεβηλόω, 1 Macc 1:43) the holy place with lawless acts. Although this lawlessness is not defined, verses 11-13 describe the sons and daughters of Jerusalem as prostitutes, a common metaphor for idolatry in the Old Testament. Psalm of Solomon 8 has an extended condemnation of the priesthood in control of the Temple, “plundered the sanctuary of God” (Ps.Sol 8:12).

Based on these observations, it is not difficult to see why some scholars thought this description referred to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “arrogant sinner” who profaned the Temple. His audacity is well-known from Daniel 11 and it led to the Maccabean Revolt. In this view, sons of Jerusalem who were established by the gentiles (2:11-14) are the Hasmoneans. Even if the arrogant sinner is Pompey, then the sons of Jerusalem are still the last of the Hasmoneans, perhaps even Herod the Great (who certainly can be described as committing lawlessness). It is also possible Herod the Great is the psalmist’s target, if the desecration of the Temple is Herod’s extensive expansion of the Temple courts. However, the judgment on the arrogant sinner in verses 26-27 does not resonate with Herod’s death.

Considering the reference to the death of Pompey in 2:26-7, it seems more likely the author of PsSol 2 intentionally calls to mind the devastating loss of the Temple in 586 B.C. as well as the arrogance of Antiochus to describe a more recent desecration of the Temple, that of the Romans in 63 B.C. Biblical texts often look back to the events of the past to describe the realities of the present, so it is no surprise this anonymous author builds his psalm on the same model.

Like a biblical psalm, the author addresses God and calls on him to exact vengeance on the arrogant sinner who trampled the sanctuary. God ought to act quickly to repay their arrogance.

Psalm of Solomon 2:25-27 And I did not wait long until God showed me his insolence pierced on the mountains of Egypt, more despised than the smallest thing on earth and sea. 27 His body was carried about on the waves in much shame, and there was no one to bury (him), for he (God) had despised him with contempt.

The dishonorable death of the arrogant sinner seems to be a clear allusion to the assassination of Pompey in 45 B.C.

Cassius Dio, Roman History 42: Although he had subdued the entire Roman sea, he perished on it; and although he had once been, as the saying is, “master of a thousand ships” he was destroyed in a tiny boat near Egypt and in a sense by Ptolemy, whose father he had once restored from exile to that land and to his kingdom… Thus Pompey, who previously had been considered the most powerful of the Romans, so that he even received the nickname of Agamemnon, was now butchered like one of the lowest of the Egyptians themselves.

The final verses of the psalm are a confession of faith in the Lord (2:33-37). The Lord has mercy on those who fear him. The Lord will distinguish “between the righteous and the sinner” and “repay sinners forever according to their actions.” Knowing God had brought Pompey to a dishonorable end would be of great comfort to the readers of this psalm. If God has acted in history to bring down a tyrant like Pompey, then he will again bring down the present tyrant.

 

The collection known as the Psalms of Solomon are among the more important pieces of literature in the expansions collection since they are the reflections of “devout Jews to the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century B.C” (OTP 2:640). The eighteen psalms are preserved in both Greek and Syriac manuscripts dating as early as the tenth century A.D. The eighteen Psalms of Solomon are mentioned in canon a list the fifth century A.D. Codex Alexandrinus, although the text of the Psalms are missing from that codex. The psalms seem to have been used by the author of 2 Baruch, implying they were written before the end of the first century. The psalms refer to an invasion of the land, so they may be dated as early as Antiochus IV Epiphanies, but Pompey (in 63 B.C.) and Titus (in A.D. 70) are also possibilities. Herod the Great is also a possibility although he was not exactly an invader from a foreign land when he took Palestine by force in the mid-30s B.C.

The consensus view, however, is that the invader in the Psalms of Solomon is Pompey. This implies a date after 48 B.C. since PsSol. 2.26-27 alludes to the assassination of Pompey. While on board a ship near Egypt, he was beheaded and his body thrown overboard.

PsSol 2.26-27 And I did not wait long until God showed me his insolence pierced on the mountains of Egypt, more despised than the smallest thing on earth and sea. 27 His body was carried about on the waves in much shame, and there was no one to bury (him), for he (God) had despised him with contempt.

R. B. Wright therefore suggests a range of dates from 45 to 70 B.C. for the datable Psalms. Since some do not allude events which can be dated, they may come from another period and were added to the collection when it reached its final form.

The Psalms of Solomon refer to people who call themselves “the pious” or “the righteous” who have fled to the desert. The temptation to identify the group as Essene ought to be resisted since the desert is often a place of refuge in the biblical material. If Roman invasion is the occasion of the Psalms, the invasion is blamed on the rivalries of the Hasmonean priests (Hyrcanus II, Aristobulus II, and Antigonus). They are blamed for defiling the sacrifices (2:1-3) and laying waste to the throne of David (17:6). The Hasmoneans are therefore corrupt and illegal kings.

The usual polemic accusations are made (immorality, breach of purity, theft, etc.)  The righteous have suffered, but they have not been destroyed. They are waiting for God’s judgment which will vindicate their suffering, although it may not be in this life. E. P. Sanders considered this as a rather vague belief in an afterlife (Sanders, Judaism, 454). In PsSol. 3:11 “The destruction of the dead is forever and he will not be remembered when God visits the righteous. This is the share of the sinners forever, but those who fear the Lord shall rise up to eternal life and there life shall be in the Lord’s light, and it shall never end.” Notice the righteous will rise to an eternal life of some sort. (John Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 143 also lists 13:11, 14:3, 15:13 and 16:1-3 as implying an afterlife.)

What is unique in the Psalms of Solomon is a much more robust view of the Messiah. In Psalm 17 the messiah is described as a new Davidic king who “will destroy the lawless nations.” The twelve tribes of Israel will be restored to the land and the Gentiles will come from the ends of the earth to see the glory of the messiah.

Psalm 17 is the most important for New Testament context since it serves as an indication of messianic expectations which were current only shortly before the time of Jesus. Rome is viewed as a foreign invader who will be removed when the messiah comes. If these sorts of messianic expectations were popular in Galilee in the 20’s A.D. then we have good reason to read Jesus’ teaching as intentionally messianic and we are able to understand some of the confusion and disappointment among the Jews who heard him teach. One might speculate as to the motives of Judas for betraying Jesus. If Judas was thinking something like what we read in PsSol. 17 then it is possible he was trying to “force Messiah’s hand” into striking out against Rome and the Temple establishment. Jesus seemed to be claiming to be the Messiah, but he did not seem to be the Davidic messiah expected in Psalm 17.

From an ethical perspective, the Psalms have a very high view of proper behavior and morality, despite only mentioning the Law in 4:8 and 14:1-3. One must live a life pleasing to God. This requires confession of sin and humble acceptance of God’s discipline (3:4; 10:2; 14:1; OTP 2:645). This is similar to Hebrews 12, which describes God’s discipline as that of a good, heavenly father.

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.

The Jewish diaspora begins as early as 722 B.C. when Assyria destroyed Samaria and deported some of the population to other Assyrian cities. For Judah, the exile began before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Babylon began deporting key people to Babylon to help integrate Jews in the empire.

trumpet-zionThe scattering of the Jewish people throughout the world is the foundation for the hope or restoration to the land in the future as the twelve tribes of Israel. The Diaspora will eventually come to an end, the land will be repopulated, Jewish cities will be rebuilt and the people will worship God in Jerusalem.

During the exile many Jews living outside the land looked forward to a time when God would gather the twelve tribes from the nations and return them to the Land. For example, the Psalms of Solomon were written sometime between dates from 70 to 45 B.C. and reflect the thinking of “devout Jews to the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century B.C.” (OTP 2:640; Trafton, “Solomon, Psalms of” in ABD 6:115-117).

PsSol 11:1-3 (OTP) Sound in Zion the signal trumpet of the sanctuary; announce in Jerusalem the voice of one bringing good news, for God has been merciful to Israel in watching over them. 2 Stand on a high place, Jerusalem, and look at your children, from the east and the west assembled together by the Lord. 3 From the north they come in the joy of their God; from far distant islands God has assembled them.

PsSol 17:28-31 (OTP) He will distribute them upon the land according to their tribes; the alien and the foreigner will no longer live near them. 29 He will judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness. 30 And he will have gentile nations serving him under his yoke, and he will glorify the Lord in (a place) prominent (above) the whole earth. And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was even from the beginning, 31 (for) nations to come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, to bring as gifts her children who had been driven out, and to see the glory of the Lord with which God has glorified her.

Notice in these two examples the children of Zion are gathered from the four corners of the world back to mother Zion (recalling Isaiah 54). This “signal trumpet” sounds from the Temple and is an announcement of “good news” since the Jews living in the Diaspora will once again live in the land. In fact, the land will be divided into tribal divisions as it was in Joshua first took the land, but they will be ruled by a son of David (17:21) who will smash the nations (17:23-25) and Israel will once again be a holy people (17:26). Jerusalem itself will be holy, but the Gentile nations will come from the ends of the earth to offer worship (17:31).

Even Philo of Alexandria expected the Diaspora to return to the Land of Israel. In the following example, diaspora Jews will suddenly be restored to freedom at the sound of a signal. Masters will be so surprised at the sudden change they will set their Jewish slaves free. These claves will return to a land which is abundant in wealth and agricultural prosperity.

Philo, Rewards, 164 For even though they may be at the very extremities of the earth, acting as slaves to those enemies who have led them away in captivity, still they shall all be restored to freedom in one day, as at a given signal; their sudden and universal change to virtue causing a panic among their masters; for they will let them go, because they are ashamed to govern those who are better than themselves.

Philo, Rewards, 168 And when they come cities will be rebuilt which but a short time ago were in complete ruins, and the desert will be filled with inhabitants, and the barren land will change and become fertile, and the good fortune of their fathers and ancestors will be looked upon as a matter of but small importance, on account of the abundance of wealth of all kinds which they will have at the present moment, flowing forth from the graces of God as from ever-running fountains, which will thus confer vast wealth separately on each individual, and also on all the citizens in common, to an amount beyond the reach even of envy.

It is this age of prosperity the Jews will look for as they return from the Exile. These eschatological expectations increase throughout the period and have a profound influence on the material found in the New Testament.

But to what extent are these hopes a kind of fantasy for people living in distant lands hoping for a restoration of the “good old days”? Or, are these the hopes of Judeans now living in a barren and oppressed land, people who are looking forward to a future liberation? Is this kind of hope a form escapism? Or more troubling, have Christians transformed some of these Jewish hopes for restoration into a hope for heaven?

 

That John announced the Kingdom of God was near seems clear, but what the crowd made of this announcement is less obvious. The hope of the Hebrew Bible prophets is for the restoration of the nation after the long period of punishment. A repeated theme in the prophets is of God’s desire to restore his people after a period of discipline.  This is not the “end of the world” in the sense of a destruction of this universe but rather a renewal of all things to the way God had intended it in the first place. The Jews of the first century would not be looking for the “end of the world” as much as a “this world” time of shalom, peace and prosperity. Wright suggests this restoration included a resurrection of the nation based on Ezekiel 37 (NTPG, 286).

As with the other elements of John’s sermon, the source of this hope of restoration of the kingdom is to be found first in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, but also in the massive literature post-dating the Hebrew Bible. The idea of restoration and the themes of Messiah and persecution are expanded and developed in this period by a variety of writers, each contributing to the messianic worldview of the first century. For example, in the Psalms of Solomon, Messiah will come and purge Jerusalem from Gentiles (17:22-23), destroying them with the word of his mouth (cf. Rev 19). Messiah will distribute the land to the twelve tribes of Israel and he will judge the nations (17:30-31). Messiah will not bring about salvation for Gentiles, at best, they will be allowed to admire the glory of Jerusalem from a distance.

The fact that John the Baptist was gathering large crowds was enough to bring him to the attention of the Herodian government. It was his specific critique of Antipas which was the cause of his arrest and eventual execution. Josephus makes it clear that John was arrested because he was attracting large crowds. For Herod, John’s ethical teaching was not a problem (after all, likely the same sort of preaching came from Pharisee or Essenes).

Like the prophets of the Old Testament. it was John’s political comments which brought him into conflict with Herod Antipas.  John was similar to other messianic pretenders mentioned by Josephus: Judas the Galilean (Antiq. 17.10.5, 18.1.6), Simon (Antiq. 17.10.6) and Athronges (Antiq. 17.10.7). Each of these popular leaders rose from humble origins with royal ambitions to gather a following. Each causes trouble for the Romans, resulting in their death.  Athronges, for example, had four brothers which he considered as a core for his “kingdom.” He eventually gathered a large number of people, organized them into a militia and commanded them as a king. This band even attacked Romans at Emmaus and captured food and weapons, killing forty Roman foot soldiers. Josephus uses similar language to describe John the Baptist’s following. Athronges ruled his followers as a king and everything depended on his decision. This is remarkably similar to Josephus’ description of John the Baptist:  because of John’s eloquence, Herod feared they would do anything he commanded them.

There are, however, some significant differences between the preaching of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible and John the Baptist. John never uses the stereotypical phrase, “thus says the Lord.” His preaching seems to be by his own authority, perhaps giving rise to the thought that he might be the Messiah himself. While Luke’s version of the sermon has a universal tone (both Jews and Gentiles can be saved), both the Psalms of Solomon (PsSol 2:2, 19-25, 7:1-3, 8:23, 17:13-15) and the Qumran literature (1QM 1.4-9, 14.17-18) are looking forward to the punishment of the gentiles, not their eventual salvation.

John is therefore a “classic prophet” of Israel whose message brought him into conflict with the political powers of his day (Herod Antipas) as well as the religious establishment (Pharisees). If John is functioning as a “classic prophet,” how does his ministry “prepare the way” for Jesus as Messiah?  In what ways will Jesus  following in John’s footsteps?

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Christian Theology

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