Bibliotheca Sacra 105 (Jan. 1948): 44-55.

                Copyright © 1948 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.    

 

 

Department of

        Semitics and Old Testament

 

ARE THERE MACCABEAN PSALMS

IN THE PSALTER?

 

   BY CHARLES LEE FEINBERG, TH.D., PH.D.

 

Perhaps one of the most important questions in the mat-

ter of dating the Psalter is that of the presence or absence

of Maccabean psalms in the collection. Scholars differ wide-

ly on the subject of such psalms in the Psalter, some finding

a large number, others noting but a handful, while still

others declaring the improbability of any such compositions     

in the Bible. The trend today is clear enough, however.

Rowley notes: "At the beginning of the present century it

was common to hold that a large number of the psalms

was not composed until the Maccabean period. Such a view

made the compilation of the Psalter so late that it could

hardly be supposed that the Temple choirs of the Chron

icler's day could have used this Hymn Book. Today there

is a general tendency to find few, if any, Maccabean psalms,

but on the contrary a good deal of ancient and pre-exilic

material, though it is unlikely that any part of our Psalter

was collected in its present form before the return from the

exile."1

W. T. Davison contents himself with the general remark

that there were probably such psalms.2 Driver proceeds

very cautiously in reviewing the opinions of Olshausen and

Reuss on this type of psalm, and thinks there would have

been more prominent marks of such a period in the diction

and style of the psalms.3 J. M. P. Smith cites the four usual

 

 

1H. H. Rowley, The Re-Discovery of the Old Testament (Phila., 1946),

      p. 246.

2”The Psalms," in J. Hastings, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. IV,

     p. 152, col. 2.

3An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 388.

 

(44)



Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?                 45

 

ones, Psalms 44, 74, 79, and 83, as Maccabean and takes for

granted that the number may be still larger, if the great

events of the Maccabean era find expression in psalms at all.4

Wellhausen did find more than the four psalms just men-

tioned. As for Psalm 44:22 (Hebrew 23), his verdict is

that the Maccabean period is the only period when this hap-

pened.5 Psalm 59:7 (Hebrew 8) speaks of Jerusalem dur-

ing the time of the Maccabean War (167 B.C.). Psalm

61:4, 6 (Hebrew 5, 7) depicts the successes of the Macca-

bees, and these alone can fit the demands of the passage. The

king mentioned is of the Hasmonean dynasty, but is not

Aristobulus I (105/4 B.C.), the son of John Hyrcanus I (135-

105 B.C.) and brother of Alexander Jannaeus (104-78 B.C.).

In Psalm 68:5, 6 (Hebrew 6, 7) the situation is to be com-

pared to I Maccabees 5, and has nothing to do with the de-

liverance from the land of Babylon. In spite of victories,

Wellhausen thinks, such prayers could have been uttered

quite properly; a warlike nation could have utilized such a

petition. Psalm 74:3 is said to be a prayer for the pro-

phetic testimony which would be uttered by a people like

the Jews when being persecuted by the Syrians for the sake

of their religion and distinctive national institutions. Note

such passages as I Maccabees 4:46; 9:27; 14:41; Song of

Azariah 15. Other psalms so treated are 75, 79, 101, 110,

113, and 118. Wellhausen, thus, finds a goodly element of

Maccabean psalmody in the Psalter.6 Cheyne considers the

following as psalms of this period: 20, 21, 33, 44, 60, 61,

63, 74, 79, 83, 101, 108, 115-118, 135-138, 145-147 (?), and

148-150. His method is comparable to that of Wellhausen

before him in that they both judge from internal evidence

almost wholly.7

Briggs treats the four psalms that are usually desig-

nated as Maccabean, namely, Psalms 44, 74, 79, and 83. He

 

 

4The Psalms, p. 241.

5The Book of Psalms, p. 183.

6Op. cit., pp. 183-209.

7The Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter, pp. 112, 116 ff.

 

 


46                                            Bibliotheca Sacra

 

does not understand Psalm 44 to be Maccabean, but rather         

a prayer of the nation during exile. Three reasons have

been advanced by the advocates of a Maccabean date for

this psalm.8 (1) There is the reference to the past history           

of the nation in verses 2 to 4 (Hebrew 3 to 5). The dispos-

session of the Canaanites by the people of Israel is spoken of.

Briggs rightly claims that such a reference need not be

placed in Maccabean times, but was suitable at any time

after the event. (2) The stress is laid throughout on faith-

fulness to God and denial of idolatry. Nothing here demands     

so late a date as the Maccabean period. (3) In verse 23

(Hebrew 24) the psalmist cries out concerning "our afflic-

tion and our oppression," which is said to be unsuitable to

a time before Antiochus Epiphanes, 168 B.C. But surely

Israel was persecuted of the surrounding nations, whether

it was in pre-exilic, exilic, or early post-exilic times. As for

Psalm 74, Briggs interprets it also as a prayer of the nation

in exile.9 Psalm 79 is taken to be an original lament over the

destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the desecra-

tion of the sanctuary, and the decimation of the people.

Verses 3 and 12 and parts of verse 10 are said by Briggs

to be "characteristically Maccabean."10 The glosses, again,

are the work of a Maccabean editor, adapting the psalm to

his own day. The last psalm to be studied under this cate-

gory is Psalm 83. He finds this to be an urgent invocation          

of God in Nehemiah's time for deliverance from the con-

spiracy of the neighboring nations against Israel. After

noting that some scholars refer the psalm to the time of I

Maccabees 5, he concludes that there is no evidence for such

a late date.11 To summarize the position of Briggs, we see

that he does not consider the four supposedly unquestioned

Maccabean psalms as belonging to that time, although in

 

 

8C. A. and E. G. Briggs, The Book of Psalms (I.C.C.), Vol. I, pp. 374-

      376.

9Op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 150, 152. In this case, however, he finds glosses from

      a Maccabean editor, although he does not make clear upon what basis

      he discerns such features of the text.

10Ibid., pp. 197, 198.

11Ibid., pp. 217, 219.



Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?                 47       

 

two instances he posits a Maccabean redaction, which ap-

pears to be at least a partial surrender of his position.

Over against those who find Maccabean psalms or Mac-

cabean elements in the Psalter are scholars, like Butten-

wieser, who reject the concept entirely. After surveying

briefly the position of Wellhausen and the change that has

come since-a shift in which some critics suggest that psal-

mody may be as old as the religion of Israel he reminds us         

that these men still maintain the bulk of the Psalter to be

a product of post-exilic times down to the Maccabean age.

He finds fault with such conclusions, because they are based

upon what extraneous sources reveal rather than what the

Psalms themselves make plain regarding their history. The

Psalms themselves, he feels, refute very definitely the pre-

vailing belief in Maccabean psalms.12 He denies Gesenius'

old basis of judgment in the matter as to whether the final          

edition of the different collections and the close of the Old

Testament canon could be dated as late as the Maccabean           

period-and declares that the one really vital and even fun-

damental consideration in the entire discussion of the prob-

lem has been completely overlooked or lost sight of. This

factor is the fact that, during the second quarter of the

third century B.C., Hebrew as a spoken tongue began to

decline and finally died out, being gradually replaced by

Aramaic.13 He presents proof in the matter on the basis of

the Hebrew original of the Wisdom of Ben Sira and the

Book of Daniel. He notes that in Ben Sira the language is          

ill suited to the thought and that, above all, the writing of

Hebrew is very faulty. His work abounds in incorrect usages.    

Schechter has shown that his language is similar to the

language found in the Mishna and the Talmud. On what   

ground are we to account for Ben Sira's inferior Hebrew?

It was surely not due to any lack of ability on his part as a           

writer. He was considered by his contemporaries as a man         

 

 

12M. Buttenwieser, The Psalms Chronologically Treated with a New

     Translation (Chicago, 1938), p. 10.

13Ibid., pp. 10-14.

 

 


 

48                                Bibliotheca Sacra

 

of literary ability and attainments, even as the best edu-

cated man of his day, according to the statement of his

grandson in the Prologue to his Greek translation of the

writings of his grandfather. The only possible explanation

of the peculiarity noted, Buttenwieser concludes, is that at

the time of his writing (that is, between 190 and 170 B.C.)

Hebrew was no longer a spoken language but was employed

only as the language of the sacred writings. This position

he says is confirmed by the peculiar structure of the Book

of Daniel, that is to say, its combination of both Aramaic          

and Hebrew. His view holds that the book was written en-          

tirely in Aramaic originally (except for the prayer in 9:4-

19), and was later translated in part into Hebrew. There-

fore, Aramaic was the language of the masses. He con-

tends that the Book of Daniel is proof positive that, at the

time of the Maccabees, Aramaic was the language spoken

by the Hebrew people. His final solution is this the ex-

treme view that half or more of the Psalms are Maccabean

is to be ignored; the moderate view that holds to a small

number does not do justice to the fact that they are of such

high literary quality that their composition can only be

placed in a time when Hebrew literature was still at its

height and not in a time of decadence ; the position that a

few psalms are Maccabean is untenable because the language

is idiomatic Hebrew. Thus, not even any of the third group         

are to be placed so late as the Maccabean era. Buttenwieser

faces the question as to why Hebrew of a good quality could

not be written after the language: was no longer a spoken

one. His answer is that the poems of Jehuda ha-Levi, which

are pointed to as a possible refutation of his position, show

indeed an unnatural Hebrew for the most part and lack that

grand element of spontaneity. Now, whether or not we

feel that Buttenwieser has given us deciding criteria for

judgment in the case, we must admit that his arguments are

worthy of serious consideration. He may not have ac-

counted for all the factors in the discussion, but he has

certainly placed us in possession of a feature that we can-



Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?                 49

 

not afford to overlook. To us his reasoning appears par-

ticularly cogent, for we have been able to test for ourselves

the language of the Psalms or the rest of the Old Testament

with that of the Mishna and Talmud, and we feel his argu-

ments are indeed valid.

Oesterley, in his first work on the Psalms,14 discusses the

question of Maccabean psalms but briefly. He shows how

the lines are drawn among interpreters between Briggs,

Mowinckel, and Kittel, who hold there are a few of them,

and Knabenbauer, Hans Schmidt, Koenig, and Herkenne,

who reject the idea altogether, and Begrich-Gunkel,15 who

think it is very doubtful and do not assign any of the Psalms       

to that age. Oesterley's concluding word is that so-called

Maccabean psalms are capable of a different interpreta-

ton, as shown by Gunkel. He finds it difficult to maintain           

that any of the Psalms are Maccabean in character.16 In his

second work on the Psalter17 Oesterley gives a more extended

discussion of the problem. He begins with the cautious

statement that his considerations will not definitely disprove    

Maccabean authorship and date for any of the Psalms, but          

will suggest that such a date is improbable. Psalm 44:17,

18 (Hebrew 18, 19) is said to be true only of Maccabean           

times, and with reference to the nation (see verses 5 and 9,

Hebrew 6 and 10). In view of I Maccabees 1:11-15, how

can these words apply to Maccabean times? In the Macca-

bees account it is distinctly stated that in those days there          

went out "of Israel apostates." Verse 22 (Hebrew 23) of

the same psalm is said to refer to religious persecution caus-

ing the Maccabean uprising, but one needs only to read

I Maccabees 1:29-63 to catch an altogether different pic-

ture of the root of the contention. No one can question that

Psalm 44 is speaking of persecution, but there is no indi-

 

 

14A Fresh Approach to the Psalms, published in 1937.

15The hyphenation indicates that the former completed the work of the

     latter upon the death of the latter.

16Op. cit., pp. 53, 54.

17The Psalms, in two volumes, which appeared in 1939 and to which we

have referred before this.



50                                            Bibliotheca Sacra

 

cation that it was on so large a scale as the Syrian oppres-

sion of the Jews in the second century B.C. Furthermore,

the Maccabean Wars, except for the initial successes of the

Syrians, were a series of victories for the Jews. The Mac-

cabean date seems to be ruled out by these arguments. With      

reference to Psalm 74, those who hold to the Maccabean

date claim that verses 3 to 9 are to be compared with I

Maccabees 1:38 and II Maccabees 1:8, where the same event

is said to be in view. This is unlikely for several reasons.

In verse 3 of the psalm the temple is in "perpetual ruins,"

and in verse 7 the sanctuary is on fire. Surely there is no

agreement here with what is known of the attack on the

Temple in the time of the Hasmoneans. The Temple was

not in ruins; only the priests' chambers (see I Maccabees

4:38) were pulled down. And in the account of the rededi-

cation of the Temple no word is given us that it was rebuilt.

Nor was the sanctuary set on fire; only the gates were

burned.18 Most convincing of all the arguments that the

account in the Psalms and that in First and Second Macca-

bees do not refer to the same occurrences is that the chief

outrage of the whole desecration, the setting up of an "abom-

ination of desolation" upon the altar, is not hinted at in the

psalm. Would such be the case if the Maccabean incidents

were being paralleled in Psalm 74?19 Some expositors tell

us that the mo'adhe 'el (lx ydfvm) “places of assembly or      

appointed times of God, mentioned in verse 8 refers to

synagogues. The American Standard Version so trans-

lates it in the text, but gives "places of assembly" as a mar-

ginal reading. If the indication is to synagogues, then Mac-        

cabean times must be meant, it is claimed. Archaeology

has thrown convincing light on this question. In the first

place, the synagogues were not called mo`adhe 'el, but the

word for synagogue, then as now, is hakkeneseth (tsnkh),

the same root thought in Hebrew as underlies the Greek 

words found in the term "synagogue." In the second place,

 

18Cf. I Macc. 4:38; II Macc. 1:8; 8:33.

19W. O. E. Oesterlev, The Psalms, Vol. 1, pp. 67, 68.

 


 

Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?                 51

 

the eminent Palestinian archaeologist, Sukenik, an authori-

ty on synagogues in Palestine and the East, has shown by

archaeological evidence that synagogues did not exist in

Palestine as early as Maccabean days. Says he, "It is also

a matter of dispute whether the first synagogues are to be

sought in Palestine or in the lands of the ancient Diaspora.

It may be interesting to note in this connexion that whereas

there is archaeological evidence of the existence of syna-

gogues in Egypt as early as the third century B.C.E., and

in Greece as early as the second century B.C.E., the date of

the oldest remains of a synagogue found in Palestine is not

earlier than the first century C.E.20 In concluding our

discussion of Psalm 74 we note that verse 9 is applied to

Maccabean times, because it states that there was no prophet.

This is just as applicable to most of the post-exilic period.

If this psalm were Maccabean, would it have passed over

in silence the fact that the Syrian power was seeking to

stamp out in ruthless fashion the religion of Israel? Reli-

gion was no secondary issue to any of the psalmists. The

silence of the psalmist on this score is inexplicable if it

were written in Maccabean times. Note also that this psalm

was quoted as a prophecy by the writer of I Maccabees.21

We turn briefly to a consideration of Psalm 83, another

psalm for which a Maccabean date is advocated. A paral-

lelism is said to exist between verses 3 and 4 (Hebrew 4

and 5) of the psalm and the passage in I Maccabees 5:2.

Verses 6 to 8 (Hebrew 7 to 9) in the psalm give the names

of the enemies of Israel: Edom, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the

Hagarenes, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, and

Assyria also. God is besought to make them like the whirl-

ing dust and the stubble (verses 13-17, Hebrew 14-18), but

no indication is given us that these enemies were all de-

feated. Conversely, the account in I Maccabees 5:3-68 (es-

pecially verses 63 and 64) is a long recital of the victories

 

 

20E. L. Sukenik, Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece (the Schweich

      Lectures of the Bridsh Academy, 1930), 1934, p. 1.

21I Maccabees 7:17.



52                                            Bibliotheca Sacra

 

of Judas Maccabaeus and his followers. With such funda-

mental difference how can they both speak of the same

series of events?

Several additional observations of a general character

are adduced by Oesterley22 to show the improbability of any

of the psalms being written so late as this period, and we

deem these arguments to be particularly pertinent and ger-

mane to the problem. First, Hellenizing tendencies do not

argue for Maccabean times, because Hellenistic influence

were exerted among the Jewish people for some time before    

this. Second, the mention of Hasidim in some of the psalms

and I Maccabees does not prove a decisive factor in the ques-

tion. The manner of the mention of them in I Maccabees

reveals that they had been in existence for some time. Last-

ly, it is well known that the Maccabean Wars, lasting from

the persecution of, Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 B.C. to the

rededication of the temple in 164 B.C., were quite favorable

to the Jews. Is it reasonable to hold that the despairing

character of the "Maccabean" psalms would have been ap-

propriate in the worship of the Temple in the following half

a century, a period of successive Jewish triumphs? If      

these psalms had already been in the Psalter, their con-

tinued use along with the penitential and plaintive psalms

would be a commonplace of the worship of the Temple, and

for the latter psalms no Maccabean date is proposed. Ar-

chaeology has taught us to pay attention to what is called

Sitz im Leben (situation in life, or life situaton) of the Old

Testament writings. These alleged Maccabean psalms fit

poorly with times of great victory and conquest; they should

have been of a joyful character considering the glorious

character of this period in Jewish history which is com-

memorated to this day among the Jewish people in the Feast

of Dedication. Since the so-called Maccabean psalms speak

of the destruction of the temple, of religious persecution, to

what can they refer if not to the Maccabean Wars? The

question is in point, although difficult to answer. Because

 

 

22The Psalms, Vol. I, p. 69 ff.

 

 



Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?                 53

 

we have scant sources of information for Jewish history

during the fourth and third centuries B.C., Oesterley is of

the opinion that the writers of the psalms in question may

have had certain historical events before them, the data of

which have not come down to us.23 He suggests one possi-

bility:  in 351 B.C. Phoenicia revolted against Artaxerxes III

Ochus, the Persian king, an uprising which was not put down

for three years. Information from the historians Eusebius

and Schiirer shows that all of Syria was involved, and Egypt

is also found as an interested participant. The Jews, hav-

ing sided with the revolters, suffered greatly when the Per-

sians gained the advantage. The Temple in Jerusalem could

have fared no better than the temples of Egypt and the

other revolting countries. The Persians were known to com-

mit such sacrilege in their wars. Thus, the desecration of

the temple in 167 B.C. is not demanded as the background         

for these psalms. We suggest that the destruction of the

Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. cannot be ruled out

as a possibility for the background of these psalms.24

Peters, arguing at length from the liturgical character of

the closing sections of the Psalter, decides that a date be-

tween 280 and 180 B.C. saw the completion of the Psalter.

In view of this conclusion he holds that Maccabean psalms        

are "quite impossible." He finds not one in the entire      

Psalter, for the collections were closed before that period.

He does not deny revisions in the Psalms after their compi-

lation, but he feels this would not be radical nor extensive,

in the light of II Maccabees 2:13, 14. His treatment of

Psalm 150 is interesting. He notes here that we have the

same names for instruments employed from the earliest

times, unlike the names used in the Book of Daniel. He

takes this as a proof against the possibility of Maccabean

 

 

23The Psalms, Vol. I, pp. 72, 73.

24True, Psalm 74:9 would appear to militate against this position, but it

     is susceptible of explanation if we understand the language as that of

     despair over the complete destruction about them.

25J. P. Peters, The Psalms as Liturgies, p. 72.

 

 


 

 

54                                            Bibliotheca Sacra

 

psalms in the Psalter or of any thoroughgoing revision at

so late a date.26

Welch handles the question of the Maccabean psalms in

a rather summary way. Says he, "Duhm does not hesitate

to carry its final composition into the time of the Macca-

bees. Others seek a date for a large number of the psalms

in the years between the return from exile and the Macca-

bean rising. The latter period certainly has one great ad-

vantage to commend it for such a purpose. Since nothing

is known about Israel's inner life then, it is possible to put         

into those years anything we find it inconvenient to place

elsewhere."27

By way of summarization of some of the findings on the

subject of Psalter dating, we had occasion to present evi-

dence28 that, as far as dating the Psalms was concerned, the

terminus a quo is pre-exilic times. This conclusion agrees       

with the whole history of the Hebrew people and their re-

ligious background, the prominence of David in the monar-

chy and worship of Israel, and with the requirements of the

Temple ritual. As to the terminus ad quern of Psalter dat-

ing, there has been quite a radical change, and for that rea-

son we have dwelt on that phase of the problem. For-

merly it was common practice to point out certain psalms

as Maccabean in date, and some went to great lengths in

the matter, assigning quite a large number to such a late

date. One of the chief criteria for such judgment was the

mention of a king. Since the bulk of the Psalter was placed

in post-exilic times (and wrongly, we believe), even late

post-exilic times, there seemed but one propitious time in

which to place these psalms that; speak of a king, namely,

the Maccabean era when the Jewish people had their own

rulers after breaking the yoke of Greco-Syrian oppression.

Now, scholars like Gunkel and Mowinckel, on the basis of

 

26Op. cit., p. 494.

27The Psalter in Life, Worship, and History, pp. 96, 97.

28See our article in Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 104 (Oct.-Dec., 1947), pp. 426-



Are There Maccabean Psalms in the Psalter?     55

 

archaeological evidence, place such psalms in pre-exilic times

with quite a good bit of confidence. Furthermore, the argu-

ments for Maccabean dates drawn from internal references

have been shown to be susceptible of entirely different in-

terpretations. We conclude that there are no psalms which

can be dated so late as the Maccabean age.

 

Dallas, Texas

 

 

"Where a doubt may reasonably exist as to which of two 

or more explanations of a word or phrase is the best, the

interpreter should place them together before the reader and

state his reasons for preferring the one which he has con-

cluded to adopt. If he thinks he can offer something better

than what has been proposed before, he should not hesitate

to do so. But there are two errors of frequent occurrence

in writings of this nature which he should carefully en-

deavor to avoid. While he manifests his respect for the

genius and labors of his predecessors by accrediting as far

as practicable each valuable explanation to its original au-

thor, he should disdain the cheap triumphs to be gained by

elaborately confuting their palpable mistakes. Again, a

profound regard for truth, while it incites him to spare no          

labor in investigating and weighing every particular that

may promise to throw additional light on the subject of his

researches, should cause him to keep a jealous guard against

that natural vanity which prompts many to attach an undue

and even exclusive value to their own conjectures, though

they may have nothing but their novelty to recommend

them. Another rule which the interpreter of the Old Tes-

tament in the present state of Biblical criticism should adopt

is that, of a close adherence to the Masoretic text. That

this text is wholly free from errors no honest and well-in-

formed critic will assert; nevertheless the absurdity of setting

up the authority of the Septuagint or any other version in

opposition to it as a whole has been too well exposed to be

now entertained for a moment. "-Bibliotheca Sacra, May,

1848.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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            3909 Swiss Ave.

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Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu

            Thanks to Becky Acton for help with proofing.