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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246 TH. BOOIJ
Psalm 122 is supposed to support it. That psalm, however, though
clearly the song of a pilgrim, need not be a song used in pilgrimages.
In fact, singing or meditating pilgrims do not figure in Old
Testament texts. The remaining understanding is that of twl[mh ryv
as â€œprocession songâ€ 24. For the following reasons it is to be preferred
First, processions to the sanctuary, unlike pilgrimages, are
known to have been accompanied by music and singing (see 2
Sam 6,1-5.12-17; Ps 42,5 ; 68,25-27; 100,4; Neh 12,31-43; 1 Chr
13,5-8 ; 15).
Secondly, the Songs of Ascents seem to suit the situation by
their content. In these songs everyday reality meets with the
atmosphere of the cult. Everyday reality is suggested in the images
of daily life, the prose-like use of the tenses, the mostly unofficial
language and forms â€” features serving, moreover, popular
understanding and appreciation. The cultic atmosphere, on the
other hand, is perceptible in words that sound like liturgical
formulas. Psalm 134, closing the collection, ends in a benediction:
â€œ May YHWH bless you from Zion, he that made heaven and earthâ€.
The first part of this benediction (occurring also in Ps 128,5)
reminds one of the priestly blessing in Num 6,24-26 and v. 15a of
the cultic Psalm 115; the second part (also in Ps 121,2 ; 124,8) is
identical with v. 15b of the same psalm. Other such formulaic
sayings are: â€œOur help is in the name of YHWHâ€ (Ps 124,8) ;
â€œ Peace upon Israelâ€ (Ps 125,5 ; 128,6); â€œO Israel, hope in YHWH!â€
(Ps 130,7 ; 131,3). The note of charitable authority, typical of these
elements, can also be heard in the second person verses of Psalm
121, the reassuring conclusion of Psalm 126, and the formula â€œlet
Israel now sayâ€ in Ps 124,1 and 129,1 25 ; the sapiential Psalms 127
and 128 sound it in admonition, benediction and beatitudes. The
linkage of daily forms and images to words of consecration and
friendly authority suits a ritual that, essentially, is a passage from
common reality to the dwelling place of God.
Thus S. MOWINCKEL, The Psalms in Israelâ€™s Worship (Oxford 1962) II,
208 ; L.C. ALLEN, Psalms 101-50, revised (WBC 21; Nashville, TN 2002) 194.
F. CRÃœSEMANN, Studien zur Formgeschichte von Hymnus und Danklied
in Israel (Neukirchen-Vluyn 1969) 166-167, rightly argues that the function of
the formula in these psalms is to be distinguished from that at the beginning
of Ps 118, where different groups are called on to a real â€œsayingâ€.