14 Facts About the Book of Psalms
1. Tehillim Is Also Known as Psalms
Tehillim, a book slim in size but towering in importance, has a special place in the Jewish library. Its Hebrew name, Tehillim (תהילים), means “praises,” and it contains many praises and supplications to G‑d. In English it is known as “Psalms,” from the Greek ψαλμοί, which means “instrumental music.”
2. It Was Compiled By King David
Much of the book was composed by King David, referred to as the “sweet singer of Israel.”1 Indeed, nearly half of its chapters are preceded with “Mizmor Ledavid” (“A Song to David”)2 or another opening line ascribing it to David. Some are unattributed, while some have the names of others such as Asaph,3the Sons of Korach,4 Solomon,5 and Moses.6The Talmud tells us that David composed it using the output of 10 Elders, only some of whom are named in the Book of Psalms.7
3. It Is Divided Into 5 Sub-Books
The Book of Psalms is divided into five smaller sections (“books”). Our sages compare it to the Torah, which also contains five books (hence the name, Five Books of Moses). The Torah was transmitted by Moses, “the greatest of the prophets,” and we received the Psalms via David, “the greatest of the kings.”8
4. It Was Sung in the Holy Temple
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Levites would sing and play music. What would they sing? Psalms. There were special chapters for each day of the week,9 as well as Psalms reserved for when the First Fruit (bikkurim) were brought,10 and other special occasions. And of course there is the Hallel(Psalms 113-118), which was sung when the Passover sacrifice was brought.11
5. It Gave Us the Word Hallelujah
The Psalms of Hallel (which means “praise”) often contain the word הללוי-ה, which means “praise G‑d” and has been mangled into “hallelujah” in English. The word appears a total of 24 times in Psalms, all of them in the final third of the book, and never in any other books of Scripture.
Note that since this word contains the name of G‑d, Jews do not use it in casual conversation.
6. It Has 150 Chapters
Open any book of Psalms and you can easily count that there are 150 individual Psalms. Interestingly enough, however, the Talmudtells us that there are 147 Psalms, corresponding to the years of the life of Jacob, the common ancestor of all Jews.12This discrepancy is because there are certain Psalms (such as Psalms 1 and Psalms 2) which were originally considered a single chapter.
7. It Is the First Book in “Writings”
The Hebrew Scriptures contain 24 books, which are divided into three parts: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Prophets (Neviim) and Writings (Ketuvim). In the standard editions, Tehillim is the 14th of the bunch and is the first in the section of Writings.