Andrews University Seminary Studies 25.1 (1987) 97-106.

          Copyright © 1987 by Andrews University Press.  Cited with permission.






                                J. BJORNAR STORFJELL

                                      Andrews University



            The psalms scroll which later was to become known as 11 QPsa

was discovered in a cave a short distance to the north of Khirbet

Qumran and ended up in the Palestine Archaeological Museum in

Jerusalem in February of 1956. The scroll was not unrolled until

November of 1961.1 The early reports about this discovery also

indicated the content of the scroll. Among the several psalms which

were represented was the one numbered 151 in the LXX.

            J. A. Sanders provides us with an insight into the prior knowl-

edge of this psalm in Syriac, where it was one of five non-canonical

psalms which were part of a Book of Discipline dated to the tenth

century A.D. They were noted in a manuscript in the Vatican library

in the middle of the eighteenth century and published by W.

Wright in 1887.2 The most interesting work relating to the text of

these psalms appeared in 1930, when Martin Noth not only pub-

lished a collated text of the psalms but also proceeded to translate

three of the five back into Hebrew, which he considered to have been

the original language. The first psalm—the 151st of the LXX and

the topic of this brief study—was not one of the three translated.3

            The 151st psalm of the LXX is essentially the same as the first

of the five Syriac psalms, but there are significant differences between

these and the 11QPsa 151st psalm that seem to indicate a different

textual tradition. Since Noth thought that the Vorlagen of the five

Syriac psalms were Hebrew and since the Syriac and the LXX are

in basic agreement, it is only appropriate to ask a question about


            1 The complete story of the discovery and unrolling of the scroll can be found in

R. de Vaux, "Fouilles de Khirbet Qumran," RB 63 (1956): 573-574; and J. A.

Sanders, "The Scroll of Psalms (11QPss) from Cave 11: A Preliminary Report,"

BASOR, no. 165 (1962), pp. 11-15.

            2 The earliest description by J. A. Sanders appears in "Ps. 151 in 11QPss," ZAW

75 (1963): 73-86. An almost identical account is found in J. A. Sanders, The Psalms

Scroll of Qumran Cave 11 (11 QPsa), Discoveries in the Judean Desert, no. 4 (Oxford,


            3 M. Noth, "Die funf syrisch uberlieferten apokryphen Psalmen," ZAW 48

(1930): 1-23.



98                                J. BJORNAR, STORFJELL


the relationship between the LXX and the 11QPsa. Sanders has

pointed out that in the cases where the Qumran psalms differ from

the MT they also differ from the LXX. It is therefore quite clear

that the LXX cannot be considered a translation of the 11 QPsa

151st psalm.4

            There are a number of possibilities for exploring the poetic

structure of this poem. Sanders chose to use only bicola, fourteen

in all, in his ordering of the psalm.5 He also saw possibilities, of

influences of Orphism in the poem. The introduction of the trees

and the animals enjoying the music of David, but unable to express

their appreciation, appear to have some similarities with the myth

of Orpheus; and David's phrase, "I said in my soul," is seen to be

especially intelligible to the Hellenistic ear.6

            Isaac Rabinowitz early in the debate opposed this position,

which was most strongly defended by Andre Dupont-Sommer.

Rabinowitz does not see the phrase, "I said in my heart," to be a

particularly Hellenistic construction. Instead, he draws a parallel

with similar introductory formulas used in Eccl 2:1 and 3:17, where

no Hellenistic influence is suggested. Frank Moore Cross has also

dismissed any links to Orphism. He sees in the poem some funda-

mental biblical modes of expression and points out that in Ps 148

nature indeed praises the Lord and that this poem does not step

outside the biblical tradition.7

            Jean Magne has argued for influences of Orphism in the psalm  

but he cannot support the views of Dupont-Sommer regarding

Pythagorean doctrines in, and an Essene origin of, the psalm.8

Magne also notes a chiastic structure of the psalm, 2 2 3 3 2 3-

3 2 3 3 2 2, where 2 stands for a bicolon and 3 for a tricolon. Pierre

Auffret has questioned this chiasmus because of a lack of corre-

spondence in the thematic order of the psalm.9  It is in light of this


            4 Sanders, "Ps. 151," pp. 78-80.  C

            5 Sanders, The Psalms Scroll, pp. 55-56.

            6 Sanders, "Ps. 151," p. 82.

            7 See Andre Dupont-Sommer, "Le Psaume CLI dans 11 QPsa et le probleme de

son origine essenienne," Sem 14 (1964): 25-62; Isaac Rabinowitz, "The Alleged

Orphism of 11Q Pss 28:3-12," ZAW 76 (1964): 193-200; and Frank Moore Cross,

"David, Orpheus, and Psalm 151:3-4," BASOR, no. 231 (1978), pp. 69-71.

            8 Jean Magne, "Orphisme, pythagorisme, essenisme dans le texte hebreu du

Psaume 151?" RevQ 32 (1975): 545.

            9 Ibid., p. 520; and Pierre Auffret, "Structure litteraire et interpretation du

Psaume 151 de la grotte 11 de Qumran," RevQ 34 (1977): 172.


            CHIASTIC STRUCTURE OF PSALM 151             99


disagreement concerning the chiastic structure of the psalm that I

have completed the present brief study.


                            1. The Text and Its Translation


            The Hebrew text of 11 QPsa consists of ten lines, with no

attempt to divide the lines according to any kind of poetic or other

structure. In the translation that follows (on the next page), the

numbers on the left indicate my division of the psalm into cola, a

division which is in basic agreement with the work of Magne. The

three columns on the right indicate organization of content, number

of syllables, and number of stress accents. The introductory line of

the psalm, "A Hallelujah of David, the Son of Jesse," is only a

lengthened form of the introductions found in Pss 146-150. As an

introductory phrase, it is omitted from the poetic reconstruction of

the psalm.


                                    2. Poetic Analysis


            The first two bicola, verse 1, make a clear conceptual unit. In

both cola repetitive parallelism is used, yet the second bicolon is a

progression of thought from the first. The relationship between the

two bicola can best be described as synthetic parallelism.

            The next unit, verse 2, is a tricolon. Sanders used only bicola

in his arrangement. Rabinowitz, J. Carmignac, Magne, and P. W.

Skehan all have a tricolon in this place.10 The verb w'symh, an

imperfect with a waw consecutive, seems to tie the sentence to the

preceding text rather than to begin a new bicolon. When given a

past-tense translation, it also agrees with the verbs in the two first

cola in this tricolon. On the other hand, if the last line of tricolon 2

together with the first line of tricolon 3 were to make up a bicolon,

a future-tense translation would make the most sense. As a tricolon

a thematic whole is allowed to exist: with flute and lyre the psalmist

gave glory.

            Tricolon 3 starts with the phrase, "I said in my soul." This

line introduces what follows, rather than concluding what has


            10 A number of poetic reconstructions of Ps 151 have appeared. For comparative

purposes the following can be consulted: Sanders, "Ps. 151," p. 77; Rabinowitz,

p. 196; Jean Carmignac, "Precisions sur la forme poetique du Psaurne 151," RevQ

18 (1965): 250; Magne, p. 544; and Patrick Wm. Skehan, "The Apocryphal Psalm

151," Bib 25 (1963): 408-409.


100                             J. BJORNAR STORFJELL


                                    PSALM 151 11QPsa


                        First Strophe                                                  Cont    Syll     Acc

1. Smaller was I than my brothers                                        abc      8          3

   And younger than the sons of my father               ac        8          2

   Yet he appointed me shepherd for his sheep                   abc      10        3

    And ruler over his kids.                                                     bc        8          2

2. My hands have made a flute                                             abc      6          3

    And my fingers a lyre,                                                       ac        7          2

   And I have given glory to Yahweh.                                    xyz      8          3

3. I said in my soul,                                                               xyz      8          3

   0 that the mountains would bear witness for me abc      8          3

   And 0 that the hills would tell.                                          ab        8          3

4. The trees have taken away my words                               abc      8          3

   And the sheep my works.                                                   bc        7          2

5. For who can tell,                                                               ab        4          3

   And who can speak,                                                            ab        5          2

   And who can recount my works?                          abc      9          3


                                    Second Strophe

6. The Lord of all saw,                                                          abc      6          2

   God of all, He heard,                                                          abc      8          3

   And He has heeded.                                                            ac        5          2

7. He sent His prophet to anoint me;                                   abc      6          2

   Samuel to make me great.                                     bc        8          2

8. My brothers went out to meet him;                                 xyz      8          3

   Handsome of form,                                                            ab        4          1

   And handsome of appearance.                                           ab        6          1

9. Tall in their height;                                                            ab        8          2

   Handsome with their hair.                                     ab        7          2

   Them did Yahweh God not choose.                                  xyz      9          4

10. But He sent and took me from behind the sheep,        abc      13        4

   And anointed me with holy oil.                                         def       10        3

   And He appointed me leader for His people,                  abc      10        3

   And ruler over the sons of His covenant.             bc        8          2


            CHIASTIC STRUCTURE OF PSALM 151             101


preceded. In the reading of lw' I have followed Cross and taken this

as an exclamatory particle rather than as a negative.11  The alterna-

tive reading—"The mountains do not bear witness for me, And the

hills do not tell"—does not, however, change the overall intent of

this portion of the psalm. An argument could be made for retain-

ing that reading since it leads naturally into bicolon 4. There I

have taken the disputed word ‘lw and read it as the verb "to take

away."12 Bicolon 4 is then parallel in thought to tricolon 3. The

first strophe ends with tricolon 5, which forms a conceptual unit.

            The second half of the psalm is by structure a mirror image of

the first half, the whole being a structural chiasmus. As I have

already mentioned, Magne has seen this chiasmus, but his main

concern was an investigation of the Hellenistic influences in the

psalm. The whole second half of the psalm is a continuous narra-

tive in poetic style with an internal chiasmus.

            Tricolon 6 is a conceptual unit which flows into bicolon 7,

constructed in synonymous parallelism. My reading of verse 6

differs considerably from the reading of Sanders, who combines

verses 5 and 6 as follows:

            For who can proclaim and who can bespeak

                        and who can recount the deed of the Lord?

            Everything has God seen,

                        everything has he heard and he has heeded.13


            Rabinowitz has a syntax which seems easier to support. He

reads, "The Master of the universe was; the God of the uni-

verse. . . . "14 In Sanders's sentence the direct object is definite,

hkwl. The word occupies the same place in the bicolon and both

times without the sign of the definite direct object. The particle ‘t

occurs four times in this psalm and one would expect it preceding

a definite direct object.

            It is true that in verse 7 the word nby'w seems to be the direct

object of the verb slh, and since it is definite it should have the sign

of the definite direct object preceding it. If the second half of


            11 Cross, p. 70.

            12 Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti

Libros (Leiden, 1958), p. 705.

            13 Sanders, The Psalms Scroll, p. 56.

            14 Rabinowitz, p. 196.


102                             J. BJORNAR STORFJELL


bicolon 7 were not there, one could easily make the word "prophet"

the subject in the sentence and read: "His prophet stretched out to

anoint me." But the next half of the bicolon will not allow this

because here Samuel is seen as the direct object of some previous

verb, and the context most easily makes that verb slh. The structure

of this verse is different from the structure of verse 6. The difference

is that in the second colon of verse 7 the sign of the definite direct

object is present. There is no main verb in this colon, but this

second colon is strongly connected with the first half of the verse.

The definite direct object of the whole sentence consisting of the

bicolon is the second colon, and it is accompanied by the sign of

the definite direct object.

            Tricola 8 and 9 form an internal chiasmus. By emphasizing

the chiastic structure, I can avoid calling the first line of tricolon 8

and the last line of tricolon 9 a split bicolon.

            The last two bicola of the psalm show no technical difficulties.

They are quite regular in their synthetic and repetitive parallelism,


            The tabulation of the syllable count and the stress accents does

not add significantly to a poetic analysis of the psalm. At least in

this case, such means were not considered important in terms of the

poetic outcome. It appears to have been more important to follow

the classical poetic style of Hebrew literature, where parallelism in

its varied applications predominates.


                                         3. Commentary


            This psalm is a concrete narrative-type poem in classical

Hebrew poetic style. It sings about the election of David to the

monarchy of Israel. The parallel biblical passage is the brief

account found in 1 Sam 16:1-13.


Date of the Psalm

            The question of interpretation is complicated by the difficulty

of arriving at a certain date for the writing of the psalm. Robert

Polzin has pointed out that the lack of agreement regarding the

reading of the psalm should make us cautious when "using lin-

guistic arguments based on controverted interpretations to estab-

lish a date for this composition."15


            15 Robert Polzin, "Notes on the Dating of the Non-Massoretic Psalms of

11QPsa," HTR 60 (1967): 475.


            CHIASTIC STRUCTURE OF PSALM 151             103


            The questions of date and interpretation are closely connected

in the case of this psalm. If one accepts the validity of Orphic

influences in the psalm, it becomes difficult to accept the date

suggested by W. F. Albright, the seventh-sixth century B.C.16 The

Psalm does not truly reflect the typical poetic style of Qumran.

Since the classical poetic style probably went out of use in the post-

exilic period, the poem could be dated to the sixth century B.C. or

earlier on stylistic grounds.17 The argument of poetic style should

be allowed its proper weight in the determination of a date for the

psalm. Cross argues for a date in the Persian period, based on

orthographic survivals," and strong reasons for a later date have

been advanced by Sanders.19

            Sanders has pointed out "that at Qumran David was con-

sidered the author of the psalter."20 But it must also be pointed out

that in spite of Polzin's caution, there are some phrases which

make an early date difficult. These are 'dwn hkwl and bny bryt.

The first phrase has been demonstrated to be post-biblical. It is

found in Syriac, Palmyrene, the Babylonian Talmud, the LXX

(Job 5:8), and Ben Sira (36:1). The second phrase is one of the best

known from the Qumran literature. It is found in Rabbinic litera-

ture, the Odes of Solomon (17:15), and the NT (Acts 3:25).21 The

expressions would make it difficult to hold to an early date unless

one sees such expressions as an attempt to establish legitimacy for

the Qumran community. If a late date is accepted, that does not

have to mean that Hellenistic influences are operative. The lan-

guage used is biblical, both in content and in expression, even

though some idioms used are of post-biblical origin. I would allow

poetic style to be the weightier argument in establishing a date for

the psalm. A linguistic stratigraphy with a terminus post quem in

the Hellenistic period would be very difficult to establish. The

document in its present form dates to this period, but its date of

authorship is probably sixth century.


            16 W. F. Albright in correspondence cited in Sanders, The Psalms Scroll, p. 54.

            17 For a thorough discussion of Hebrew poetic style, see Wilfred G. E. Watson,

Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, JSOT Supplement Series,

no. 26 (Sheffield, Eng., 1984).

            18 Cross, p. 70.

            19 Sanders, The Psalms Scroll, pp. 62-63.

            20 Ibid., p. 64.

            21 See the discussion in Polzin, p. 475, n. 33.


104                             J. BJORNAR STORFJELL


Analysis of Thematic Chiasmus

            In a psalm which has a chiastic structure one would expect

also to find a thematic chiasmus. As has been mentioned above,

Auffret argued against a structural chiasmus because of a lack of a

thematic correspondence. On the other hand, when a structural

chiasmus can be detected as in this psalm, that structure should be

allowed to assist and shape the understanding of the thematic

content of the poem. Thus, it is quite proper to look for the

thematic correspondents which may not be evident at first. The

chiastic structure becomes the mandate for understanding the corre-

sponding components in the poem.

            First an overview of the psalm: The narrative of the first

strophe poses all of the questions which are then answered or

contrasted in the second strophe. Verse 1 speaks about the size and

age of David in comparison to his brothers and about his appoint-

ment to the work of shepherd. The counterpart is found in verse 10,

which contrasts the facts that size and age are not criteria for being

appointed to the position of leader over Israel. Of the two bicola in

verse 1, the first one corresponds with the last one in verse 10. One

could therefore argue for separating these verses into two verses

each, thus giving the psalm a total of twelve verses.22 But there is

an inner cohesiveness in these two verses which ties them together

into units. The second bicolon of verse 10 makes use of the same

verb and nearly all the nouns of the second bicolon in verse 1.

            Verse 2 continues the narrative of verse 1. It speaks about what

David has done, and the continuation from the shepherd scene of

verse 1 indicates that it is while doing the work of a shepherd that

he has made the instruments which he used to give glory to

Yahweh. It seems quite natural that one who works as a shepherd

should find his joy in giving glory to someone other than himself.

Contrasted with verse 2 is verse 9. The focus has changed. to the

brothers of David who, relying on their natural stature and hand-

some appearance, were not chosen by God. The fact that they were

not chosen implies that they really expected to be. The other-

centeredness of David is contrasted with the self-centeredness of his


            The genius of the chiastic narrative poem is that it makes

sense as a continuous account, while at the same time also making


            22 Magne, p. 544, has divided the psalm in this way.


            CHIASTIC STRUCTURE OF PSALM 151             105


sense in its chiastic structure—unit with corresponding unit. Thus

verse 3 continues the story of the first two verses. David is the

shepherd whose virtues remain unknown, yet they have been

observable; but in the mountains and the hills there was none who

could testify in his behalf. The corresponding verse 8 continues the

contrast of David with his brothers. While David longs for some-

one to testify on his account, his brothers rely on their physical

appearance. Internal and external virtues are contrasted.

            In verse 4 the wilderness isolation theme is continued and an

element of despair is introduced. All of David's work has been in

the presence of the trees or nature and the sheep that have taken

away his words and his work. And at the same time that despair

becomes evident in verse 4, the corresponding verse in the chiastic

structure, verse 7, introduces hope. Again contrasting themes are

used to intensify the answer to the problem posed in verse 4.

            The climax of the psalm is reached in verses 5 and 6 and was

already anticipated in the previous verse. The despair introduced in

verse 4 is heightened in verse 5 with a series of three questions of

"who." These three questions are answered in verse 6 with "The

Lord, ... God of all, . . . He.... " This is at the same time both

the conclusion and the center of the poem.

            Within the second strophe there is a smaller chiasmus in verses

8 and 9, where the first line in verse 8 corresponds to the last line in

verse 9. It is not only a thematic chiasmus but also a structural one.

Respectively, the two tricola have the first and the last lines as

variants, as shown by the content indicators xyz,ab,ab : ab,ab,xyz.

            The whole poem can be seen as a chiastic envelope which

reads as five sets of corresponding verses. It can also be read as a

continuous complete narrative.


                                          4. Conclusion


            Psalm 151 from 11QPsa is basically the same as Ps 151 in the

LXX, but there are distinct differences which preclude the latter's

being a direct translation of 11 QPsa 151. Several possibilities have

been explored in terms of structure and origin of the psalm. Orphic

influences have been seen as possibilities by Sanders, and as direct

influences by Dupont-Sommer, Magne, and others. Rabinowitz and

Cross, to mention only two scholars with a different view, have

argued against Orphic influences and for biblical modes of expres-

sion and thinking.


106                             J. BJORNAR STORFJELL


            The question of date and authorship is not easily answered.

Strong arguments can be found for a late date in the Hellenistic

period, for a little earlier in the Persian period, or for as early a

date as that of Albright in the seventh-sixth century B.C. I have

chosen a date in the sixth century because of the poetic style used.

            This essay has dealt with the chiastic structure of the psalm, a

structure noted by Magne and disputed by Auffret. The chiasmus is

not limited to the structural composition of the psalm, but includes

the thematic elements also. The corresponding units in the psalm

follow mostly a contrasting-of-ideas approach, but the climax of

the poem is found in making God the answer to three desperate

questions of "who." By using a chiastic structure which relies on

stark contrasts, this narrative is in fact able to discuss and provide

answers to some abstract philosophical questions. Those questions

dealing with ideas and concepts are not removed from the concrete

situation of personal experience, even the experience of herding







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