Thijs Booij, «Psalms 120–136: Songs for a Great Festival.», Vol. 91 (2010) 241-255
Psalms 120–134, the 'Songs of Ascents', are a functional unity. In early rabbinical tradition concerning the Great Hallel, they seem to be linked with Psalms 135 and 136; in the texts themselves this connection is quite clear. The Songs, as a collection, and the two psalms of praise apparently stem from the later post-exilic period, when they were used during the festival of Sukkoth. The Songs were recited in processions to the sanctuary; the psalms of praise were part of the liturgy proper.
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PSALMS 120â€“136 : SONGS GREAT FESTIVAL
or features of them may be found. Ps 120,1 and Ps 129,1-4 recall
the Individual Songs of Thanksgiving; Ps 126,4 would fit into a
Collective Song of Prayer; Psalm 130 resembles, in some degree,
an Individual Song of Prayer. But none of the traditional types is
there in authentic or complete representation. Also, apart from
Psalm 132, the texts are much shorter than psalms on average.
Numerically they are a tenth part of the Psalter, in total length less
than a twentieth.
So far, formal aspects of the texts have been considered. Two
features seem to be typical of their content. First, there is a notable
preference for scenes from daily life: slaves watching their
masterâ€™s gesture (Ps 123) ; people sowing and reaping (Ps 126) ;
men discussing at the city gate (Ps 127) ; children sitting around
the table (Ps 128) ; an infant at rest with its mother (Ps 131).
Secondly, some terms, relevant to the community and its well-
being, are found in remarkable frequency: â€œIsraelâ€ nine times (and
that in eight psalms), â€œZionâ€ seven times (seven psalms),
â€œ Jerusalem â€ five times (three psalms), â€œblessâ€ / â€œblessingâ€ (Ãˆrb
pi., pu. / hkrb) nine times (five psalms), â€œpeaceâ€ (Î¼wlv) seven
times (four psalms) 12.
2. Songs of Ascents
Obviously, given the special character of Psalms 120-134, it is
important to understand the term heading them, twl[mh ryv (once
twl[ml ryv) 13. The following interpretations may rank as the most
In the Book of Psalms as a whole (about 23 times the size of Pss 120-
134) â€œIsraelâ€ is found 62 times (38 psalms), â€œZionâ€ 38 times (31 psalms),
â€œ Jerusalem â€ 17 times (11 psalms), Ãˆrb pi., pu. / hkrb 63 times (38 psalms),
Î¼wlv 27 times (19 psalms).
Because twl[mh ryv can be taken as â€œSongs of the twl[mâ€ (see Ps 137,3 ;
also Mishnah Sukkah 5,4), the title may originally have related to the
collection as a whole. Later on then, when the collection was incorporated in
the psalter, the title was added to the separate psalms. Cf. W. GESENIUS â€“
E. KAUTZSCH, HebrÃ¤ische Grammatik (Leipzig 281909) Â§ 124r, 127e.
For more data see L.D. CROW, The Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134).
Their Place in Israelite History and Religion (Atlanta, GA 1996) 3-25;
M.D. GOULDER, The Psalms of the Return (Book V Psalms 107-150) (JSOTSS
258 ; Sheffield 1998) 20-24.