Psalm 151

Psalm 151 is a short psalm found in most copies of the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. The title given to this psalm in the Septuagint indicates that it is, and no number is affixed to it: "This Psalm is ascribed to David and is outside the number. When he slew Goliath in single combat". It is also included in some manuscripts of the Peshitta. The psalm concerns the story of David and Goliath.
The Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the Coptic Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic Church and the Indian Orthodox Church accept Psalm 151 as canonical. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and most Jews consider it apocryphal. However, it is found in an appendix in some Catholic Bibles, such as certain editions of the Latin Vulgate, as well as in some ecumenical translations, such as the Revised Standard Version. Psalm 151 is cited once in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Breviary, as a responsory of the series from the books of Kings, the second in the Roman Breviary, together with in a slightly different text from the Vulgate.

Dead Sea Scrolls discovery

For many years scholars believed that Psalm 151 might have been an original Greek composition and that “there is no evidence that Psalm 151 ever existed in Hebrew”.
However, Psalm 151 appears along with several canonical and non-canonical psalms in the Dead Sea scroll 11QPs, a first-century AD scroll discovered in 1956. The editio princeps of this manuscript was first published in 1963 by J. A. Sanders. This scroll contains two short Hebrew psalms which scholars now agree served as the basis for Psalm 151.
One of these Hebrew psalms, known as “Psalm 151a”, is reflected in verses 1–5 of the Greek Psalm 151, while verses 6 onward are derived from the other Hebrew psalm, known as “Psalm 151b”. The composer of the Greek Psalm has brought the two Hebrew psalms together in a manner that significantly changes their meaning and structure, but the influence of the Hebrew originals is still readily apparent. In some ways the Greek version of Psalm 151 does not seem to make good sense, and the Hebrew text provides a basis for a better understanding of what transpired in the creation of the Greek version. In comparison to the Hebrew text Sanders regards the Greek text of this psalm to be in places “desiccated”, “meaningless”, “truncated”, “ridiculous”, “absurd”, “jumbled”, and “disappointingly different”, all this the result of its having been “made from a truncated amalgamation of the two Hebrew psalms”. On details of translation, structure, and meaning of this psalm see especially the works of Skehan, Brownlee, Carmignac, Strugnell, Rabinowitz, Dupont-Sommer, and Flint.


The title of the psalm states that it was written by David after his battle with Goliath. The psalm assumes familiarity with and draws ideas and phraseology from elsewhere in the Bible.

I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house;
I tended my father’s sheep.
My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.
And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord Himself; it is He who hears.
It was He who sent His messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with His anointing oil.
My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the LORD was not pleased with them.
I went out to meet the Philistine,
and he cursed me by his idols.
But I drew his own sword;
I beheaded him, and took away disgrace from the people of Israel.

Armenian liturgy

Psalm 151 is recited each day at Matins in the Armenian Church in a sequence of biblical poetic material which includes canticles from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms 51, 148-150, and 113. The Armenian version of Psalm 151 is close to the Septuagint, with some variation. Where verse 2 in Greek reads αἱ χεῖρές μου ἐποίησαν ὄργανον οἱ δάκτυλοί μου ἤροσαν ψαλτήριον "My hands made an instrument, my fingers fashioned the lyre," the Armenian has, Ձերք իմ արարին զսաղմոսարանս եւ մատունք իմ կազմեցին զգործի աւրհնութեան "My hands made the lyres and my fingers fashioned the instrument of blessing." A second notable departure of the Armenian is verse 6. The Greek has καὶ ἐπικατηράσατό με ἐν τοῖς εἰδόλοις αὑτοῦ "and he cursed me through his idols"; the Armenian reads եւ նզովեցի զկուռս նորա “and I cursed his idols.”

English translations

Besides being available in Orthodox or ecumenical editions of modern translations since 1977, there are a number of English translations now in the public domain. William Whiston included it in his Authentic Records. It can be found in the LXX translations of Charles Thomson and Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, and Adam Clarke's commentary. It is included in Sabine Baring-Gould's Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, William Digby Seymour's Hebrew Psalter, and William Ralph Churton's Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scriptures. William Wright published a translation of the Syriac in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, June 1887, and A. A. Brockway published a translation from the Coptic in the January 27, 1898, New York Times.

Cultural influence

At the beginning of his first address to his Council of State, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia recited this psalm in total.
The TV show Touched by an Angel, Season 5, Episode 9 is titled "Psalm 151" with a song sung by Wynonna Judd called 'Testify to Love'. In the episode she composes the song for her dying son.
In 1993, Péter Eötvös composed "Psalm 151 – In Memoriam Frank Zappa" for solo or four percussionists.
Christian rock band Jacob's Trouble wrapped up their 1989 Door into Summer LP with track 11, "Psalm 151."
Rock artist Ezra Furman included a self-penned song entitled Psalm 151 on his 2018 LP Transangelic Exodus although admitting later he was unaware of Psalm 151's existence
The song "My Favorite Mutiny" from the album "Pick A Bigger Weapon" by The Coup contains the lyric, "Tryin' to find Psalm number 151".


Works cited