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Based on the superscriptions and the contents of various psalms, the composition of the Psalter spanned a period of centuries (from Moses through the time of the Babylonian exile and beyond). (Psalm 90, superscription; 126:1, 2; 137:1-3) Just when the arrangement of the book of Psalms came to have the form it has in the Masoretic Text cannot be determined. This includes its being divided into five books ([1] Psalms 1-41; [2] Psalms 42-72; [3] Psalms 73-89; [4] Psalms 90-106 [5] Psalm 107-150). With few exceptions, the order of Psalms 1 through 89 is the same in the Dead Sea Scrolls as in the Masoretic Text. Thereafter the order varies considerably in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, Psalm 119 appears between what are Psalms 132 and 135 in the Masoretic Text.

A scroll from Masada ends with Psalm 150, which would agree with the Psalter of the Masoretic Text. The Septuagint, however, concludes with an additional psalm, which deals with David. In one of the scrolls from the Dead Sea area, two additional psalms include material similar to Psalm 151 of the Septuagint.

In the shorter Septuagint version, David primarily relates particulars about himself. The shortest and youngest of his brothers, he cared for his father’s sheep. With his own hands, he made a musical instrument. God sent his messenger to call him from tending his father’s sheep and anointed him with oil, passing over his handsome and taller brothers. Though the Philistine (literally, allophyle) had cursed him by his idols, David took the warrior’s own sword and beheaded him, removing reproach from Israel.

The superscriptions are ancient, for they are part of the main text of the scrolls that have been discovered in the Dead Sea area. The earliest manuscripts are from the middle of the second century BCE. When the psalms were translated from Hebrew into Greek, the translator or translators no longer understood a number of the expressions appearing in the superscriptions, providing additional evidence respecting their ancient origin.

Consequently, any background information the superscriptions supply is treated like the rest of the text. Whenever the name David, for instance, is found in a superscription, this is reflected in the commentary. Events from his life that may shed light on the words of the various psalms are included.

The underlying basis for the commentary material is the Masoretic Text. Many significantly different readings in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint are included in the commentary or the Notes sections.

Throughout Werner Bible Commentary, the divine name is represented as YHWH. A number of very early Greek manuscripts contain this name in four Hebrew letters, which meant that the reader had to supply the pronunciation. In keeping with this ancient method, no vowels have been supplied, allowing the reader to choose the pronunciation or to substitute Lord or God. (Regarding the divine name, see Psalm 1.)

The poetry of the Psalter consists of rhythm that is achieved through the use of parallel thoughts and expressions. Often the Hebrew text is much shorter and more rhythmic than a translation into another language might suggest. Verbs (particularly “to be” forms), though missing in the Hebrew, are commonly supplied. Comments about the nature of the poetry are not included, as the primary focus of the commentary is to convey the meaning of the thoughts expressed.