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Asbury Bible Commentary – E. Classifications
E. Classifications

E. Classifications

Several terms in the superscriptions seem to designate either psalm types or collections or both. The mizmôr, “psalm,” is the most common designation for these works, appearing on sixty-one songs (e.g., 3-6), including five that also carry the designation šîr. The LXX translation with psalmos reflects the understanding that these songs are to be sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. This may well preserve an important distinctive of the mizmôr, since the verb to which the name is related deals especially with singing accompanied by musical instruments.

The šîr, “song,” names the next most common psalm type in the Psalter (e.g., 65-68). Frequently used with mizmôr, (e.g., 66 and 75) to describe a psalm, the differentiation between the two escapes us. Combined classifications like the “Song of Zion” (137:2), “Song of Ascents” (120-34), and “Song of the Temple of Yahweh” (1Ch 6:31 [MT v.16]), which focus on acts or places of worship, could indicate the šîr specifically as a “cultic (temple) song” (Kraus, 21-22).

The miktām (16; 56-60). This word's meaning is obscure. The earliest versions connected the title with inscription, perhaps connecting this song type to related written artifacts in the temple or in the liturgy. All are Davidic songs related to the need for deliverance.

The maśkîl has generally been connected with didactic or wisdom categories due to the related verb's meaning of being and acting prudently or skillfully. The contents of the thirteen poems thus designated do not seem to support this view (32, 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142). 2Ch 30:21-22 adds the concept of art to intellect in this term and perhaps points to the nuance “art song” (Kraus, 25-26).

The šiggāyôn (Ps 7) is most likely a lamentation or similar stirring song form, judging from the content of this psalm and the word families to which the name can be related.

The tep̱illâh, “prayer song,” is the most common type of psalm found in the Psalter. It dominates Books 1 and 2, which still close with the note, “The ‘prayer songs’ of David son of Jesse are ended” (72:20). Psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, and 142 carry superscriptions that indicate that they are prayer psalms. In addition Ps 72:20 applies this name to an entire collection of “prayers of David” now incorporated in Book 2 of the Psalter (Pss 42-72). In this more general sense, tep̱illâh better than any other description found in the Psalter describes the majority of psalms that are first and foremost “prayers.”

The word tehillâh, “praise song” or “hymn,” belongs to the word family known in the nearly universal loan-word hallelujah. An unusual plural form of this designation came to be used by the Hebrew- and Aramaic-speaking traditions as the title for the entire Psalter (see Ps. 0:1).