Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) consists of 150 mizmorim, most likely compiled (and perhaps even entirely written) by King David. The mizmorim are not in chronological order following the events that inspired them, as is clearly seen from their introductions. (Although I have not ruled out the possibility that they are in chronological order of their composition.) Let us assume that they are not just randomly permuted, but rather grouped in their specific order for a reason (or many reasons) realating to their content.

What are good (preferably medieval) sources that consistently discuss the order of the mizmorim? To be clear: I am looking for Jewish sources and commentaries that discuss reasons for the juxtapositions of the chapters in Tehillim.

  • According to the gemara in Bava Batra, David did not write sefer tehillim. Other than that, good question! – Baal Shemot Tovot Mar 29 '12 at 19:32
  • 2
    @l': huh? דוד כתב ספר תהלים ע"י עשרה זקנים (Bava Basra 14b, bottom) - i.e., he incorporated in it the compositions of ten other sages (both earlier than him and contemporaries - Rashi ד"ה על ידי עשרה זקנים) and his own. – Alex Mar 29 '12 at 19:46
  • @Alex right, he compiled it. – Baal Shemot Tovot Mar 29 '12 at 19:49
  • 2
    @l', I wrote that he compiled it and perhaps wrote all of it to allow for the position of Meiri and the like. Even according to Chazal, he at least wrote most of it. – jake Mar 29 '12 at 19:54
  • @Alex I've read somewhere but can't remember that there were 10 different people who wrote the actual Perakim. – Hacham Gabriel Jun 18 '12 at 23:25

I don't think there's any one-size-fits-all answer. But let's start with the first few chapters:

Meiri writes that the first and second chapters are juxtaposed (actually, the Gemara, Berachos 10a, states that originally they were one chapter) because, having pointed out that those who follow Hashem have it good and those who disobey Him are "like a leaf driven by the wind" whose "way is lost" (1:4, 6), David continues by rhetorically asking why the "kings of the earth" - those who are successful materially - don't realize this.

The Gemara there then explains, taking ch. 2 as referring to the war of Gog and Magog, that ch. 3 follows next in order to highlight the similarity between their rebellion against Hashem and Avshalom's rebellion against his father.

Meiri then suggests that ch. 4 was also written during Avshalom's rebellion. I've also seen an idea (might have been in Daat Mikra, but I'm not sure) that there is a thematic connection between 3:6 and 4:9, in both of which David expresses his confidence that Hashem will protect him when he sleeps, and also with 4:6, "Say it in your hearts upon your beds." So those two are kind of the equivalent of the nighttime Shema - indeed, in Nusach Ashkenaz ch. 3 is said then. Next, then, comes ch. 5, which is a morning prayer ("Hashem, in the morning may You hear my voice" - v. 4).

  • 2
    First, although Meiri does note that there are those who give the explanation you summarized in your first paragraph, al derech hapshat the second mizmor is referring to something else entirely, as he goes on to explain. Second, although I appreciate the sources linking together the first few chapters of Tehillim, I was really looking for a source that systematically explains the juxtapositions throughout the entire sefer. – jake Mar 29 '12 at 20:46
  • @jake: true about your first point - I missed that he was quoting someone else and that he understands it differently. Re your second point - as I said, I rather doubt that there is such a systematic exposition anywhere (although I'd love to be proved wrong); I think that any such explanations are going to be sort of ad-hoc (somewhat like Rambam's explanations of why the masechtos are in the order that they are). – Alex Mar 30 '12 at 0:55

By the way, tosafos in Pesachim 117a have a different number if perakim in tehillim. They also say that it makes no sense that a mizmor would have 2 peukim; yet we have perek 117 that has 2! It is probable that the tos' had 117 as part of another mizmor. futhermore, see the first tos' yeshanim in yevamos, who has tanach in a different order than we do. and also see shabbos 55b in the gilion hashas who lists all places where the gemara has a different girsa of a pasuk that we do.

  • This seems like more of a comment than an answer... – jake Mar 29 '12 at 20:47
  • true, sorry about that. my point is that there may not me a conclusive order at all. except where we know that there is, like the first two the gemara says that they are together. – moses Mar 29 '12 at 20:50
  • 2
    Forgive me for not welcoming you before. So welcome to judaism.SE and thanks for the insight. You also might want to register your account. (In fact, your name being quite common around here, I'm not entirely sure that this is your first account here, in which case, you should consider merging your previous account(s).) Also, note that in the question, I stated the assumption that Tehillim is ordered non-randomly, but rather with a purpose in mind. You are free to disagree, but I would prefer an answer that conforms to that assumption. – jake Mar 29 '12 at 20:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .