The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Psalm structure

Most psalms consist of 3 parts: a superscription, the song itself, and a subscription. Perfect examples of this order may be seen in Hab 3:1-19 and Isa 38:9-20; in these places the psalm is isolated from other psalms -- so there is no question to which psalm the superscription and subscription belong.

The Hebrew text of the Psalms carries no distinctive breaks between the psalms, only a number in the margin; and in the AV translation the mistake was often made of placing the musical direction at the beginning of the next psalm, instead of at the end of the preceding psalm. Consider Psa 68: The superscription is "a Psalm or song of David". ("To the chief musician" belongs to 67.) The subscription is "To the chief musician upon Shoshannim". ("A Psalm of David" belongs to 69.)

A good general rule is that the historical or other introduction belongs to the psalm following it; the musical instruction often appearing at the beginning of a psalm is properly the subscription to the previous psalm.

"The so-called musical titles have come down to us, alike in the Massoretic recension of the Hebrew text (copies c AD 900) and in the Greek and other early versions (codices dating c AD 400) in a form that has, even to the present day, caused great confusion. Yet all down the ages, the Canonical Scriptures have supplied us a psalm, which, standing by itself, claimed to be studied as a model in all its various features, literary and musical. That psalm appears in Hab 3..." (JWT).
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