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The Book of Psalms, a collection of religious poems and songs that forms a fundamental pillar of liturgy and spirituality in the Jewish and Christian traditions, is a treasure trove of wisdom, consolation, and inspiration that has spanned millennia of history. This work reflects the depth of the human search for GOD, to know better one’s origins and especially one’s destination. A collection that presents an extraordinary range of emotions, from deep affliction and despair to high peaks of joy, all compiled to foster the growth of believers. In this short essay, we intend to explore twelve interesting facts about this Book, each of which gives us a unique window into its composition, history, and influence.
1. The Psalms also known as Tehillim
The Book of Psalms (or it would be better to say the collection of Psalms), is called in Hebrew Tehillim. A text small in size but absolutely impressive in importance, holding a special place in the Jewish and Christian library. Its name Tehillim (תהילים), means “praises” and in fact contains many invocations and supplications to GOD. “Psalms,” from the Greek ψαλμοί, means “instrumental music,” and it was the best and also the easiest way to understand, to memorize the Word by praising the Lord.
2. They are attributed to King David
Tradition has long attributed much of the Book of Psalms to King David, called the “sweet singer of Israel” (2Samuel 23:1). This association is based on David’s importance as a historical and spiritual figure in Judaism, as well as his notoriety as a musician and poet. Indeed, nearly half of the chapters of the Psalms are introduced by the words “Mizmor Ledavid” (Song of David) or another verse attributing authorship to David, reinforcing this connection.
However, a closer analysis reveals that the Psalms are actually the result of a collective work and from different eras. While some Psalms are explicitly attributed to David, others bear no specific attribution, suggesting a variety of authors. In addition, some compositions bear the names of other biblical figures such as Asaph, the Sons of Korach, Solomon, and even Moses, indicating a mosaic of voices and influences.
This diversity of authors and periods of composition enriches the complexity and depth of the Book of Psalms, offering a wide range of spiritual and human experiences. Each author contributes his or her own unique perspective and style, reflecting the various facets of the relationship between humanity and the divine. Thus, while the figure of David remains centrally important in the Psalms tradition, the collection is presented as a chorus of diverse voices, each enriching the tapestry of Jewish and Christian faith and spirituality.
3. It is divided into five sub-books
The Book of Psalms is divided into five subbooks, a structuring that reflects and pays homage to the composition of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Five Books of Moses. This parallel is not accidental but intentional, as pointed out by our sages who compare it to the Torah. The Torah, transmitted by the eminent figure of Moses, “the greatest of prophets,” is mirrored by the Psalms, entrusted to posterity through David, “the greatest of kings.” This correlation is mentioned in the Midrash Shocher Tov, which highlights the deep connection between these two central works in the Jewish faith.
This division into five books gives the Psalms an organized structure that reflects not only their religious importance but also their role in building Jewish and Christian faith and practice. Each subbook, while unique, contributes to the thematic and spiritual flow of the entire text, establishing a continuous dialogue between the law of Moses and the expressions of prayer, praise and contemplation in the Psalms. In this way, the Book of Psalms becomes a kind of spiritual echo of the Pentateuch, expanding and enriching the religious experience of believers through centuries of history, prayer and worship.
4. It was sung in the Holy Temple
Before the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the Levites sang and played the music of the Psalms in the holiest partre on Mount Moriah.
The Psalms were used in a specific and systematic way: each day of the week had assigned particular chapters to be recited, as described in Mishnah Tamid 7:4. This allocation was not random, but reflected a deep understanding of the spiritual and liturgical relevance of each Psalm. In addition, there were Psalms reserved for special occasions, such as when the Firstfruits (bikkurim) were brought, a practice mentioned in Mishnah Bikkurim 3:4.
Another moment of great liturgical significance was the Hallel, a set of Psalms 113 to 118, which was sung during the celebration of the Passover sacrifice, as mentioned in Mishnah Pesachim 5:6. This sequence of Psalms, full of praise and thanksgiving, was especially important on holidays and times of joyful commemoration.
The singing of the Psalms in the Holy Temple was not only an act of worship, but a powerful means of spiritual connection with GOD, a way to express the faith and hope of the people.
5. Psalms gave us the Word HallelujahThe Hallel Psalms (meaning “praise”) often contain the word הללוי-ה, meaning “praise to GOD” and later changed to “hallelujah.” The word appears a total of 24 times in the Psalms, all in the last third of the book and never in any other book of Scripture.
Note that because this word contains the name of GOD, Hebrews does not use it in casual conversation, and the more strict ones do not even spell it by replacing it with GOD (inserting a dash between the letters of the Name).
6. It has 150 chapters
The Book of Psalms, one of the most revered and studied collections in Scripture, has 150 chapters, each representing a distinct Psalm. This count is universally recognized when opening any book of Psalms. However, it is interesting to note a historical peculiarity: the Talmud mentions that there are 147 Psalms, a number that would correspond to the years of the life of Jacob, the common ancestor of all Jews, as cited in the Treatise Sofrim 16. This discrepancy stems from the fact that some Psalms, such as Psalm 1 and Psalm 2, were originally considered a single chapter, a practice that reflects the evolution in the perception and organization of the sacred text over time.
In addition to their structure, the Psalms are known for their deep connection with music. Many of these sacred songs were originally accompanied by musical instruments and were used in various religious rites. This musicality not only enriches their expressiveness, but also emphasizes their function in the context of worship and spiritual celebration.
In addition, the Psalms deal with a range of universal themes, touching on deeply human aspects such as suffering, hope, justice and mercy. This universality makes the Psalms extraordinarily relevant and resonant for all generations and cultures, crossing barriers of time, space and tradition. The Book of Psalms, with its 150 chapters, remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration, consolation and spiritual guidance for countless people around the world.
7. It is the first book of the “Writings”
The Scriptures contain 24 books, which are divided into three parts according to the earliest tradition: Torah (the five books of Moses), Prophets (Neviim) and Writings (Ketuvim). In the standard editions, Tehillim is the 14th in the group and the first in the Writings section.
8. The shortest Psalm is 117
The shortest chapter of the Psalms, it reads as follows:
Praise the Lord, all nations, praise Him, all peoples.For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Hallelujah!
9. The longest Psalm is 119
In the collection of Psalms, each chapter has an average of 17 verses. Standing out among them all for its length is Psalm 119, which spans an impressive total of 176 verses. This particular Psalm is uniquely structured, following the order of the Hebrew alphabet, with eight verses devoted to each of the 22 letters, for a total of precisely 176 (22 letters multiplied by 8 verses). Psalm 119 is notable for its emphasis on the beauty and value of Torah, exploring how it can lift the human spirit beyond the challenges and adversities of life.
10. Several other psalms are in alphabetical order
Three times a day, Jews recite Psalm 145 (known as Ashrei , since it is often preceded by a verse from Psalm 84:5, which begins with this word). Together with Psalm 25, it has a verse for each letter. According to the Sages, stating that regularly guarantees a person’s place in Heaven because it (a) praises GOD with every letter of the alphabet and (b) has the super important request:
Open your hand and satisfy every living being [with] its desire.
An interesting fact concerns Psalm 145: in it we notice the absence of a verse beginning with the Hebrew letter ‘nun’. This peculiarity is related to the meaning of the word “nofel,” which means “to fall,” and which begins precisely with the letter ‘nun. This omission is discussed in detail in the Talmud, in Berachot 4:b.
11. Divisible by 7 and 30
The structure of the standard edition of the Psalms is cleverly divided into seven sections, corresponding to the days of the week, as well as a division into thirty parts, one for each day of the month. This organization is not merely a logistical arrangement, but reflects a deep commitment to daily study and prayer. In particular, monastic orders such as the Benedictines – renowned for being one of the oldest and most influential Christian orders – have adopted the Psalms as the soul of their liturgy. The Psalter, for these monks, is not just a sacred text to be recited, but is the beating heart of their daily spiritual life, a path of meditation and contemplation that is closely interwoven with the rhythm of their day. Through this practice, the Psalms become a constant dialogue with the divine, enriching and deepening their experience of faith and dedication
12. Simple, for anyone
The ability to access the divine Word and Plan is a universal right, transcending the limits imposed by social class or level of education. In the past, especially among those who lacked the ability to read, in-depth Torah study could be arduous. However, understanding and assimilating the Psalms through song proved accessible to all. People from all walks of life found comfort and expression in the Psalms, singing them with tears and love, and through them, expressing their deepest desires and fervent longing to connect with God.
The Midrash relates that King David, in compiling the Psalms, was thinking not only of himself but of every Jew and every possible circumstance of life (Midrash Shochar Tov 18). This universal resonance of the Psalms is what makes them so special: no matter who you are or what situation you find yourself in, the words of the Psalms resonate with the words of your heart and are heard in the heavens. In this way, the Psalms act as a spiritual bridge, uniting the human with the divine in a dialogue of hope, faith and soul-searching.