The preposition (l-) used with the proper name in all of these notations has many meanings, including “to,” “for,” “from,” “about,” and “by (in the sense of authorship).” The common superscription, “to/for the director of music,” apparently uses this preposition (l-mnṩḥ) to assign archival responsibility. The closest literary parallel to these l-noun notations is found in the tablets from Ugarit, the coastal city destroyed about 1250 b.c. whose written remains have shed significant light on Canaanite and Israelite culture. There, tablets recording mythological and epic poems carry similar superscriptions, lb'l and lkrt. In these cases the notation seems to designate either the content of the tablets—“about Baal” or “about Keret” or perhaps an archival-literary location, “belonging to the Baal/Keret cycle”—not authorship.
Thus the original meaning of these notations is open to question. David, famous for his artistic gifts, may well be the author of numerous poems in the Psalms that bear his name and that do not. But most of what we know of authorship of temple literature in the ancient Near East would lead us not to expect single authorship. It is possible that no single explanation will cover them all. Some “Davidic” poems, for example, may originally have been composed not “by David” but “for David” or “for the Davidic (King).” Whatever their original sense, they stand now as authorship notes in light of which the poems are to be read. It is possible that at this point the Hebrew hymnic tradition differs from its Ugaritic (and Akkadian as well) counterparts. The use the final editors of the Psalter have made of these tags and other features of the superscriptions, using them to group materials and to define seams [i.e., boundaries] in collections, even influencing the perspective from which the poems are to be read, is of even greater import than their original meaning.
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