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Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are almost identical with little differences.

Why is the same psalm repeated?

Are these psalms composed by the same author?

(EDIT: I already asked this same question in Christianity.SE and I'm asking here again because I believe that the users here have better knowledge on the subject and have different approaches to the issue)

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Both psalms are attributed to David in the opening line. Some psalms are attributed to others however (like the children of Korach). Perhaps you could rephrase the title of your question. Are you asking if at one point they were the same psalm and two different versions made it into the Tanach? –  A L Aug 26 '13 at 5:25
    
If it's relevant to what you're asking, I'd also note that there are other examples in Tanach of mostly, but not entirely, identical verses (including those attributed to the same person) such as Ezra 1:3 vs 2 Chronicles 36:23 or 2 Kings 25 vs Jeremiah 52. –  A L Aug 26 '13 at 5:31
    
Also, Rashi (I think) says Psalm 14 prophetically talks about the destruction of Solomon's temple and Psalm 53 speaks of the second temple. –  A L Aug 26 '13 at 5:33
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Let's begin with authorship. Both psalms include the header "לדוד", which many believe points to authorship by David. However, merely the header by itself is no proof that David actually wrote the psalm. First, "לדוד" could mean anything: "by David", "for David", "about David", or even "in the style of David". Second, we do not know who appended the headers onto the psalms and whether or not they knew or had a tradition regarding the authorship of the individual psalms. So let us put that aside as not real evidence either way.

Looking at the similarity between the two psalms, I see three ways to go:

  1. The psalms are almost identical. Therefore, they must be one and the same. It is not news to us that slight differences in texts creep up after centuries of copying, especially texts used for prayers like psalms. So we'll say that these two psalms are really the same psalm but one is earlier, and hence "less corrupted" than the other. Now the game becomes to figure out which is more "original".
  2. The psalms almost identical, but not quite. Why would the same author write practically the same psalm twice? More likely that a later composer used the earlier psalm and changed it a bit to fit his own meaning and whatever he was referring to in the psalm. Thus, they are two separate psalms written by two separate authors at two separate times. Now the game becomes to figure out what each psalm is about and what the differences mean.
  3. Same as number 2, but instead of saying that a later author changed the text of an earlier author, why not say that the same author changed his earlier composition to have it refer to different circumstances? So now we have one author of both psalms.

Options 2 and 3, although differing in the textual history of the psalm, both answer your question: "Why is the same psalm repeated"? Answer: It was intentionally "re-written" to address a different topic. Although there are only minor differences, these differences are important enough to make it a separate psalm. The compiler of the Book of Psalms then included both of them as they are two psalm about two different things.

Option 1, on the other hand, leaves us with your question. Why is the psalm repeated if it is indeed the same psalm with only textual variants?

A more critical scholar, like Rabbi Zvi Perez Chajes (in the Psalms volume of Avraham Kahane's "Tanach im Perush Mada'i"), would answer that the five books of the Psalms were compiled separately by different editors, then later combined together. Both book one and book two of Psalms included slightly different variants of this same psalm, and now we have two versions of it in the same book.

A more traditional scholar, like Professor Feivel Meltzer (in "P'nei Sefer Tehillim"), takes a different approach as follows: Although the two psalms are one and the same, and the textual variants evolved as normal textual variants, psalms are prayers of the people, and in the minds of the people, the differences mean different things regardless of the original author's intention. So the compiler included both because the differences between them are meaningful as they were understood by the people as prayers.

Prof. Meltzer's theory now leads us back to the game of option 2 and 3. How do we understand the difference between the two psalms? [Just now, instead of asking "What did the author mean?", we ask, "How did the people understand this as a prayer?"] As @Ephraim pointed out, Rashi understands them as referring to the first and second temples. Others understand that one is about evildoers and corrupt persons in general, while the other refers to a more specific evil personality, such as Sennacherib. Or one is about Jewish sinners and the other is about gentile oppressors. Whatever it may be, there is a reason why both psalms are included as separate psalms.

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Rashi wrote the following in his commentary on Ps. 14:

David recited two psalms in this Book, in one manner [with almost identical wording]: the first one concerning Nebuchadnezzar and the second one (ch. 53) concerning Titus. In this one, he prophesied concerning Nebuchadnezzar, who was destined to enter the Temple and to destroy it, with not one [man] of all his armies protesting against him.

(Translation from chabad.org)

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Is there any other source (Torah, Oral tradition, etc.) which says that David foresaw the destruction of the Temple? –  Mawia Aug 27 '13 at 4:20
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related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/15215/759 –  Double AA Aug 27 '13 at 15:24
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