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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254 TH. BOOIJ
As stated before, the text of Psalm 135 is connected to that of
the Songs of Ascents. Psalm 136 again is clearly related to its
predecessor. By their traditional formulations, their â€œtheologicalâ€
slant and concrete historical references 59, Psalms 135 and 136
differ from Psalms 120â€“134 nevertheless. The difference suggests a
difference in usage. While there is reason to believe that the Songs
of Ascents were sung in the ascents to the sanctuary, Psalm 135, in
view of its opening and its ending, and Psalm 136, in view of its
refrain, must be fully liturgical compositions. They were used then
in the festival liturgy as carried out in the temple at the great â€œfeast
of YHWHâ€ (Lev 23,39) 60. The connection between ascent and
temple liturgy, too, is reflected in the texts. Both when the ascent
has ended and when the temple liturgy has started, the worshippers
are â€œstanding in the house of YHWHâ€, that is, in the temple court
(Ps 134,1; 135,2). While still ascending, they taste a thing â€œgoodâ€
and â€œpleasantâ€: fraternal togetherness in Zion (Ps 133,1.3). In the
temple they praise Him who himself is â€œgoodâ€, whose name is
â€œ pleasant â€ (Ps 135,3).
The concluding psalms of praise, although related by their
tenor and content, differ from one another again. In Psalm 135 the
praise of God is denoted by the verbs llh pi. (â€œpraiseâ€, vv. 1, 3,
21) en Ãˆrb pi. and qal (â€œblessâ€, vv. 19-21), both characteristic of
proper hymnic style. Accordingly, the psalm emphasizes YHWHâ€™s
greatness, contrasting it with the idolsâ€™ futility. The verb hdy hi.,
denoting the praise in Psalm 136 (vv. 1-3, 26), is typical of
thanksgiving songs 61. In accordance with this, the psalm emphasizes
what YHWH has done for Israel, confessing his goodness in a
continually reiterated refrain. There can be no doubt that in post-
(hnyÃ§ â€“yawr wnyyh al). Apparently the festal meetings were held not only on the
first day of the festival, but also on following days, excepting sabbath. A
similar situation is supposed in Ps 134,1, stating that YHWHâ€™s â€œservantsâ€
(worshippers) are standing in his house â€œin the nights, by nightâ€ (twlylb).
Consequently, the Songs of Ascents are likely to have been recited on
successive festival days.
For historical references in the Songs of Ascents see Pss 124, 126, 129.
TAYLOR in â€œPsalmsâ€, 694, too, relates Pss 135 and 136 to the temple
liturgy of Sukkoth.
See e.g. Pss 9,2; 18,50; 30,13; also 28,7; 35,18; 42,6.12. See further
CRÃœSEMANN, Formgeschichte, 210-284. The statement also applies to Ps 118
(a liturgical Collective Song of Thanksgiving).