PsalmNumbering

PsalmNumbering

From: epothier@lynx.dac.northeastern.edu (Edward Pothier) NUMBERING SYSTEMS FOR PSALMS AND PSALM VERSES Edward L. Pothier (June 1983, Modified May 1993) Numbers, numbers everywhere, but they’re not always consistent.

One of the difficulties for beginning students of the Psalms (and perhaps still an annoyance for more advanced students) is that there are two systems for numbering the psalms and also two systems for numbering verses within a psalm. Psalm numbering differences are often treated in books on the Psalms, but verse numbering differences are almost never explained or tabulated. Remember that verse numbers are later additions, not in the original texts, and are supposed to be an aid in referencing!

I. DIFFERENCES IN PSALM NUMBERING

The difference in psalm numbering was formerly a more serious problem when Catholic Bibles used a numbering system based on the Latin Vulgate (in turn based on the Greek Septuagint, LXX). The Greek numbering system differs in many psalms from the Hebrew numbering system due to different grouping of psalms. Sometimes two psalms in the Hebrew numbering are counted as one in the Greek system, and sometimes one is the Hebrew is split into two in the Greek. As can be seen in the table below, THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE PSALTER THE HEBREW PSALM NUMBER IS ONE GREATER THAN THE GREEK NUMBER. HEBREW GREEK DIFFERENCE (HEBREW-GREEK) 1-8 1-8 0 9/10 9 0/+1 11-113 10-112 +1 114/115 113 +1/+2 116 114/115 +2 -> +1 117-146 116-145 +1 147 146/147 +1 -> 0 148-150 148-150 0 More recent translations of the psalms done under Catholic

auspices (Jerusalem Bible [JB] and New American Bible [NAB]) use the Hebrew numbering, unlike older Catholic versions. The JB retains the old Greek number to the side, but the NAB has no indication of the older Catholic numbering except in some footnotes. The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) also leaves out its predecessor’s marginal Greek/Latin psalm numbers.

II. DIFFERENCES IN PSALM VERSE NUMBERING

Of course in the psalms which are split or combined as described above, the verse numbering comparisons would be chaotic. In this section only the Hebrew psalm number (now used in even Catholic translations) will be used.

In the Hebrew Bible most of the psalms have a superscription or title. These superscriptions, while not part of the original text, reflect later traditions about origin or use. In the Hebrew Bible verse 1 starts at the beginning of the superscription.

Most English translations (e.g., RSV, JB, NRSV, NIV) include the superscription but start verse numbering only at the psalm proper. The New English Bible (NEB) omits the superscriptions with an explicit statement in its “Introduction to the Old Testament”. The REB, however, has re-introduced them (without verse numbers). The Good News Bible (GNB) includes the titles in footnotes.

The New American Bible (NAB) is consistent in following the Hebrew text by including the superscription (when present) and starting the verse numbering at the start of the superscription. The Jewish Publication Society’s TANAKH also starts numbering with the superscription.

In many psalms, therefore, the verse numbers in almost all English translations differ from those of the Hebrew text and the NAB. A purely mechanical classification of psalms based on the versification of the superscriptions (as found in the NAB) results in four classes.

  1. “NO SUPERSCRIPTION” (Orphan psalm) 34 psalms: 1, 2, 10, 33, 43, 71, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99, 104, 105, 106, 107, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 135, 136, 137, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150.
  2. “SHORT SUPERSCRIPTION” (Superscription takes less than a full verse) 53 psalms: 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 32, 35, 37, 50, 66, 72, 73, 74, 78, 79, 82, 86, 87, 90, 98, 100, 101, 103, 109, 110, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 138, 139, 141, 143, 144, and 145.
  3. “NORMAL SUPERSCRIPTION” (Superscription takes full first verse) 59 psalms: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 30, 31, 34, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 68, 69, 70, 75, 76, 77, 80, 81, 83, 84, 85, 88, 89, 92, 102, 108, 140, and 142.
  4. “LONG SUPERSCRIPTION” (Superscription takes two full verses!) 4 psalms: 51, 52, 54, and 60.

Classes 1 and 2 (a total of 87 psalms) are transparent as far as superscriptions are concerned. The verse numbering in most English translations will agree with the Hebrew and the NAB. In class 3, however, the verse numbering in most translations will be 1 lower than the Hebrew and NAB. In the few psalms of class 4 they will be 2 verses behind.


  • Edward L. Pothier epothier@lynx.dac.northeastern.edu =
  • Physics Department / Northeastern University =
  • Boston, MA 02115 =
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