Number of Psalms


I was looking at a Douay-Rheims Bible online, and I saw that it has only 150 Psalms.

Is it standard for Catholic Bibles to include only 150 Psalms?




So does the RSV, the Jerusalem Bible, and many others. How many do you believe it should have? And are there really more books, but rather Pslams divided into more Psalms thus making the verses the same but the numbering different? Please help us understand what you mean. :slight_smile:


Well, Eastern Orthodox Bibles have a 151st Psalm. Also, historically, the Syriac Peshitta had 155 Psalms. (I don’t know if Syriac Orthodox or Assyrians still use 155 today.) These are different Psalms, not just ones that are numbered differently.

I don’t think there should be a specific number of Psalms. Christians have always had slightly different contents in their Bibles.I was just wondering if the Roman Catholic Church exclusively used 150 Psalms.


I see. Thanks for the info. :slight_smile: I don’t know about exclusively using 150 Psalms, but only 150 are in the canon. I have never heard of that there were more than that. I don’t think most Christians in the West have, either, you see. If there’s more material from ancient times that are used, but not in the canon, I can’t see the Church telling us we can’t use them. We can read/pray with anything that is a help to our faith.


Martin Luther included Psalm 151 in his translation of the Bible, so there has been some attraction to it in the West.


The Hebrew Bible in present-day Jewish use, the Tenakh, has only 150 psalms. Were there more than that at one time? If so, do we know when they were cut out, and why?


There seems to have previously been some variation in the Jewish Psalter.

In Hebrew, the standard Masoretic text has 150 Psalms, while the Dead Sea Scrolls contain more than 150.

The Septuagint, used by Greek-speaking Jews and later by Greek-speaking Christians, has the 150 numbered Psalms, and then appends to them an unnumbered 151st Psalm. It titles the Psalm as follows:

This Psalm Is One Written By David’s Own Hand, Though It Is Not Numbered With The One Hundred and Fifty Psalms. Composed When He Fought In Single Combat With Goliath.

So there is a sense in the Septuagint that the translator considered Psalm 151 to be an extra Psalm, written by the Prophet David, but not originally included in the book of Psalms.


Thank you. That’s interesting. If the text survived in Greek only, not Hebrew, that would explain why it’s not in the canon.


Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew, so it exists in Hebrew, though it was lost for a while.

That wouldn’t really relate to inclusion or exclusion from the canon though. The Hebrew versions for most of what Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books were once thought to not exist. (Scholars often assumed they were written originally in Greek, until Hebrew manuscripts started to be found.)


You’re right that at first, there really wasn’t a fixed number of psalms. The surviving text of the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 contains over forty out of the 150 canonical psalms (it’s likely that the others were originally there too) plus eight non-canonical psalms, four/five of which were known previously via translation (Psalms 151 - these are two separate psalms in the Hebrew - 154, 155 plus Sirach 51:13-19, 30) with the remaining three “new” works.

The Qumran Psalms Scroll is significant because while the canonical psalms are there, they aren’t arranged in the order we know today. That, plus the presence of other non-canonical psalms may indicate that at the time the scroll was written (AD 30-50), ‘the Psalms’ was still quite a fluid piece of text. (In fact, a short prose text in the Qumran Psalms Scroll claims that David composed 4,050 songs in total, 3,600 of them psalms!) That, or the scroll isn’t so much a copy of the Psalms but a scroll that happened to contain psalms - kind of like a hymnbook.


Technically, we only have the Hebrew text of Sirach and Hebrew and Aramaic texts of Tobit, two out of the seven deuteros. Wisdom of Solomon and 2 Maccabees were Greek works, the ‘extra’ bits of Daniel and Esther were also likely Greek, and we haven’t found the original Semitic versions of Baruch, 1 Maccabees and Judith yet.

Actually, I’d say the Jews seem to have just simply de facto considered only the 24/39 protocanonicals to be special/sacred/authoritative all along. It’s really likely Christians who invented with the larger ‘Greek canon’ by considering the other Jewish works they encountered to be on the same par as the protocanonical books, an idea which was ultimately accepted by the Church. (At least, we really don’t have any evidence for that once-common idea that Greek-speaking Jews had a different, larger canon than the Palestinian Jews.)

So IMHO the whole issue of the original language a work is composed in is really an explanation that was appended after the fact. Later people noticed that most of the deuteros lack a surviving original Hebrew text and thought that maybe, the lack of a Hebrew text had something to do with their absence in the Jewish canon.

Which I’ll argue probably wasn’t the case. Jews considered the 24/39 books of the Tanakh to be sacred; some other literature were very popular and famous amongst many Jews (such as Sirach or Tobit or 1 Enoch), but the Jews likely never really considered them to be on the same ballpark as the books of the Tanakh. Early Christians who got hold of these books meanwhile never really distinguished between ‘sacred literature’ and ‘popular literature’, so they also began to consider some of these popular Jewish literature to be special/sacred as well.


Ah. Thank you for the extra information about the Dead Sea Scrolls. :thumbsup:


The Jewish Tanakh contains Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings). I think it is generally agreed the Torah and the Nevi’im were fixed by the time of Christ. Indeed, the NT often refers to them.

I really don’t think the Kethuvim was fixed yet. After all, the Christian didn’t make the Septuagint. It had previously been translated, and I believe it reflected at least some Jewish corpus that was held in high regard. Also, in Ethiopia, where Judaism was strong, but somewhat isolated from the rest of the Jewish community, the Jewish canon is also bigger. I suspect the narrower canon of 24/39 books took hold early among most Hebrew-speaking Jews in Palestine, but was slower to be accepted among the rest of Jews (and as I said, Ethiopian Jews never adopted the narrow canon at all).

That said, in all honesty, AFAIK, the 24/39 books are the traditional canon of Christians too. The other books have always been included in the Bible and considered inspired/authoritative, but they were never officially canonised. That’s why Catholics had to officially fix the Deuterocanon in reaction to Protestantism. In Eastern Christianity it still isn’t really fixed, and can vary a little from location to location.



I really don’t think the Kethuvim was fixed yet. After all, the Christian didn’t make the Septuagint. It had previously been translated, and I believe it reflected at least some Jewish corpus that was held in high regard.

Well, sure, in one sense Christians did not make the Septuagint, if by that you mean the actual translations. However, I’ll argue that our modern understanding of ‘the Septuagint’ is actually a Christian construct. Heck, the term ‘Septuagint’ is even a Christian creation.

I’ve mentioned this in other threads, but strictly speaking, that old legend about the seventy-two translators originally only involved the Greek translation of the Torah. However, the early Christians tweaked the story; they claimed that the seventy-two (sometimes rounded to seventy) translators actually translated all of the sacred Jewish literature into Greek. They began to call this supposed translation/s ‘the version of the Seventy’ - versio septuaginta in Latin.

You might say that it’s partly the early Christians’ fault why the definition of ‘Septuagint’ is kind of fuzzy, because they really applied this term to the Greek translations of OT books that they commonly encountered and used. Depending on who you ask, it can either mean:

(1) The earliest Greek translation of the Torah only. This definition of ‘Septuagint’ is more faithful to the original version of the legend. The other earliest surviving translations of OT books are given a separate category: ‘Old Greek’ or OG.
(2) The Greek Torah + ‘Old Greek’ translations. This is the more common definition nowadays; when many people say ‘Septuagint’ it’s usually shorthand for this, the earliest surviving translations of OT books (in contrast to the later Greek translations/versions like Aquila’s or Theodotion’s.)
(3) The Greek translations used by early Christians, irregardless of whether they are the earliest versions or not. For example: early Christians generally preferred Theodotion’s Greek version of Daniel over the earlier (Old Greek) version of the book. As per definition (3), you might consider Theodotion’s Daniel to also be a ‘Septuagint’ version.

Also, in Ethiopia, where Judaism was strong, but somewhat isolated from the rest of the Jewish community, the Jewish canon is also bigger.

There’s still much that we don’t know about the Ethiopian Jewish canon (since there’s still very little research done in that area), but I wouldn’t hold my breath about it.

The Ethiopian Jewish canon considers the Orit (the Torah + Joshua-Judges-Esther) to be of utmost importance; all the other OT books are secondary. On the third tier are the works which are influential but not really ‘scriptural’; these tend to be the more recent works composed or adopted by Ethiopian Jews. (The latest of these works actually date from the 18th century!)

Now from what I’ve read, there’s really been some sort of interchange between Ethiopian Christians and Ethiopian Jews; in fact, the majority of Ethiopian Jewish literature actually seem to have reached Ethiopian Jews via Christian sources. That’s why on that third tier you have works such as the Te’ezaza Sanbat, which was originally a 15th century Christian homily. Christian stuff - material from the homilies of Jacob of Sarugh - actually show up in these Ethiopian Jewish works.

IMHO that could explain why Ethiopian Jews have a rather ‘Septuagintal’ canon and use works such as Enoch and Jubilees (works which early Christians were familiar with and used). Ethiopian Jews could have simply been influenced by their Christian neighbors who were using these books.* In fact, some argue that much of the distinctive customs of the Ethiopian Jews were not really ancient, but actually reached them in the Middle Ages via the Ethiopian Orthodox. Given how close the two communities historically were, my idea wouldn’t be too far-fetched, I think.

In fact, it might even solve the dilemma of why the Ethiopian Jews have Enoch and Jubilees, works which were only written in the 3rd-2nd century BC, and why they are so distinctive when Yemenite Jews (who practice Rabbinic Judaism) are just close by (just a short boat ride away).

  • There was in fact a story that a renegade Christian monk named Qozmos wrote out the Orit for the Ethiopian Jews who rallied under him in the 15th century; up until then Ethiopian Jews never seem to have possessed a written Scripture but were a non-literate culture. In fact, it was really in the 15th century onwards that Ethiopian Jewish literature began to flourish.

I suspect the narrower canon of 24/39 books took hold early among most Hebrew-speaking Jews in Palestine, but was slower to be accepted among the rest of Jews (and as I said, Ethiopian Jews never adopted the narrow canon at all).

This is actually related to the idea of an ‘Alexandrian canon’ existing side-by-side with the Palestinian canon. The problem with that idea is that there’s simply not enough evidence for the idea that the geographical separation between Palestinian and Alexandrian Jews was paralleled by a division on linguistic and theological lines. In fact, the evidence seems to point the other way, to Diaspora Jews having the same de facto canon as Palestinian Jews and being more conservative than their Palestinian counterparts.

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