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  • Psalms Dwelling Together in Unity: The Placement of Psalms 133 and 134 in Two Different Psalms Collections
  • Ryan M. Armstrong

Recent scholarship has devoted much attention to the arrangement of the MT of the book of Psalms (here referred to as the MT Psalter). The differing arrangements found among the Dead Sea Scrolls have raised many questions. Scholars are not in agreement as to the reasons behind the ordering of the psalms at Qumran, but several theories have emerged. In the following investigation, I will not propose a new theory but will trace redactional activity in two specific psalms—Psalms 133 and 134—in two different arrangements.

These two psalms offer a unique opportunity for those seeking to understand the history of books of Psalms, as these psalms stand at the end of the Ascents collection. Regardless of whether the individual Ascents psalms predated the collection, it is clear that the collection served as a source that was shared by both the MT Psalter and 11QPsa. An examination of variations in the Ascents collection allows one to see how psalms fit within larger redactional schemes. Psalms 133 and 134 function in what has come to be known as the “shaping” of the MT Psalter, but they also play a key role in the shaping of 11QPsa. [End Page 487]

I. Psalm 134 and the Structuring of the Psalters

From Gregory of Nyssa to Claus Westermann, interpreters have raised questions about the arrangement of the Psalms.1 The discovery of 11QPsa raised new questions, as it contained what James A. Sanders called “larger-unit variants to the Psalter itself.”2 I will now examine how Psalm 134 functions within the structuring of both the scroll and the MT Psalter.

The Structures of the Psalters

In order to understand the structure of 11QPsa, one must take into account some relevant information from the findings in the Judean Desert. More Qumran manuscripts have been found containing Psalms than any other book.3 Thirty-six scrolls have been found at Qumran that may be called “Psalms scrolls,” meaning that they contain primarily psalms.4 Three other Psalms scrolls have been found at Naḥal Ḥever and Masada. Several more scrolls have been found in the Judean Desert containing material from the MT Psalter, although they are not necessarily “Psalms scrolls.”5 The scrolls are, with few exceptions, quite fragmentary. Only twenty-four psalms are not extant in the scrolls, although it is likely that they were included but have not survived.6

An interesting study was conducted by Gerald H. Wilson, who came to a rather plausible conclusion that superscriptions and postscripts were an important tool used to group psalms together and to transition between groupings in the MT Psalter. He found that the fivefold division is inherent in the Psalter itself and that Psalms 1–89 (Books I–III) function as a literary unit dealing with issues from the exilic period, while Psalms 90–150 (Books IV–V) deal with postexilic issues.7 This [End Page 488] literary division is upheld by the findings in the Judean Desert. The large majority of scrolls in the Judean Desert contain material from either Books I–III, or Books IV–V, but not both. Only five extant Psalms scrolls contain material from both of these segments, 1QPsa, 4QPse, 4QPsf, 11QPsb, and 11QPsd.8

The evidence suggests that Psalms 1–89 (or thereabout) formed a fixed unit before Psalms 90–150 were fixed.9 In all thirty-nine of the Psalms scrolls, only two have been found that differ in order from the MT Psalms 1–89, 4QPsa and 4QPsq.10 This contrasts greatly with the ordering of Psalms 90–150, which is rather inconsistent. Only two scrolls from the Judean Desert, MasPsb and 4QPso, can truly be said to support the order of the MT Psalms 90–150.11 In fact, at least three scrolls support a specific alternative arrangement—4QPse, 11QPsa, and 11QPsb.12 In this essay, the alternative arrangement will be called the 11QPsa Psalter because 11QPsa is the scroll containing the most preserved material...


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