Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Authorship of the Psalms
By Michael Heilprin (18231888)
[Born in Piotrków, Poland, 1823. Died at Summit, N. J., 1888. The Historical Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. 1879.]
DAVID, whatever his vices and crimes may have been, was a great monarch. He was brave, energetic, warlike. The consolidation and aggrandizement of his kingdom was his constant aim. He employed in his service men of ability and vigor, created a powerful army, and in Joab possessed a great general. Victory crowned his campaigns. He conquered the future capital of his country, and vanquished the Philistines, the Syrians, Moab, Edom, and Ammon. He promoted the worship of Jehovah, patronized prophets and priests, and paved the way for the erection of the temple of Zion. He founded a dynasty which reigned upward of four hundred years. When this dynasty decayed, he naturally became the great kingly hero upon whom the patriotic and pious looked back with ardent veneration. He became the model king of history, and by his standarda partly fictitious standardthe merits of his successors were measured. His crimes were palliated. His legendary exploits and excellences were epically expanded. Creations of his successors were ascribed to him. Artistic inventions and literary productions of more refined ages than his were attributed to himself or to the singers and poets of his court. He was then not only a great conqueror and ruler: he was a poet and musical genius, an organizer of choirs and inventor of vocal instruments, a composer of hymns and religious instructor. Psalms in which really God-fearing men, on or near the tottering throne of Judah, poured out their feelings of adoration, of gratitude and hope, or of repentance, were inscribed with his name. Each successive generation added to these prayers or psalms of David, until, when the sacred literary collections of Israel were closedcenturies after the extinction of the Davidic dynastytheir number exceeded threescore and ten, according to the superscriptions.
The worthlessness of these superscriptions has been fully established. Nor was it a difficult task for criticism to do it. Not a single one of the psalms ascribed to David contains distinct allusions to events in his life. Hardly any of them agree with his character and disposition as manifested in the historical sketches of the books of Samuel. The sentiments and religious views expressed in all of them are those of a different age. Some refer clearly to times and circumstances other than his .
Yet the traditional image of David created by the main tenor of the psalms marked with his name, by a few higher traits of him discernible in the narratives of the books of Samuel, and by the systematic sanctification of his character in Chronicles, has been so powerful a check in rightly defining his place in the ethical and literary development of his nation that even such critics of our times as Ewald, Hitzig, and Schrader have still accepted his authorship of about a dozen psalms.
Among the very few accepted as Davidic is Psalm xviii., mainly, it must be supposed, on account of its being also incorporated in II. Samuel; for its contents befit neither Davids character nor any situation in his life. The superscription, which states it to have been sung by David on the day when Jehovah saved him from all his enemies and from the hand of Saul, refutes itself, for there was no such day in the life of the Judean king, whose perils, beginning with Sauls hostility, ended only with his life; and the closing words, which speak of Jehovahs kindness to David and his posterity, distinctly enough point to a later king of the Davidic dynasty as author. E. Meier, reviewing this and the other psalms claimed for David by Ewald, reaches the conclusion that there is not a single one in the whole collection which could be ascribed to him on good critical grounds. And the Dutch school of criticism fully indorses this view. Probably not one of the psalms is from Davids hand, says Kuenen. Oort, in showing the impossibility of reconciling the David of Psalms with the David of history, remarks, The superscriptions of the psalms are entirely untrustworthy; and the poems themselves date from periods at which the Israelites had pondered far more deeply upon the nature of true piety, and cherished far other thoughts as to phenomena of spiritual life, than was the case in Davids time. It is highly probable, says Knappert, that not one of the seventy-three psalms that bear his name is really his.
The son of Jesse being thus fairly stripped of his laurels as a psalmist, we may also presume that the psalm-like song given in the twenty-third chapter of II. Samuel does not contain the last words of David, but words of a more righteous later king, to the beginning of which a redactor unguardedly prefixed, by way of explanation, This is the utterance of David, the son of Jesse.