According to Wikipedia, Jewish tradition divides the book of Tehilim into five sections (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150). This is unsourced there; the references at the bottom of the page include The Jewish Study Bible (which I don't have) and a bunch of non-Jewish sources. I had not heard this idea before seeing a question about it on Biblical Hermeneutics, but Google tells me it's a commonly-held understanding at least among non-Jews.

Is this idea of Jewish origin? If so, what is the source, and what is the purpose of these divisions?


2 Answers 2


Medrash (Tehilim) Shochar Tov says that Moshe gave us the 5 books of Torah and David gave us Tehilim which also has 5 books.


One of the best ways to tell if books are separate is by looking at the divisions in a scroll. Traditionally, a number of lines are skipped in between books to mark a separation (see my discussion here). Looking at the Aleppo Codex yields just that. Here is the end of Psalm 41:

Parchment scroll with two columns of Psalms on it. The right column features one two-line gap, and both columns contain a few other one-line gaps.

You can clearly see the larger gap in the right column.

Textually we find strong conclusive verses placed at the end of each of the books which don't immediately mesh with the preceding lines. Book Two (72:20) even concludes with:

כָּלּוּ תְפִלּוֹת דָּוִד בֶּן-יִשָׁי.‏
The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.

Perhaps this means that historically our Book of Tehillim is a compilation of 5 "Booklets" of Tehillim passed down from/to David and others.

  • Interesting though that the Rambam doesn't mention leaving gaps between books of Tehillim. So perhaps there is some dispute about the nature of the division, but certainly it is a Jewish and Old idea.
    – Double AA
    Dec 18, 2012 at 16:03
  • Thanks for the visual aid! My shul has most or all of Nach on scrolls but I wouldn't have thought to check for this. Dec 19, 2012 at 1:40
  • @Monica I would be surprised if they had any of the Ketuvim aside from the megillot as there isn't much liturgical use for them.
    – Double AA
    Dec 19, 2012 at 1:52
  • I would be too, but since we usually read haftarah from a book, not a scroll, those don't get much use either (but we have them). I don't know the history of these scrolls. Now I'm curious... Dec 19, 2012 at 1:55
  • Re "Textually we find strong conclusive verses...", see pg. 225 of this Christian paper, and footnote 23 (with non Jewish numbering). "In the first place each book seems to end with an appropriate doxology (cf. Ps 41:14; 72:18-19; 89:53; 106:48). It has often been suggested that Psalm 150, or alternatively 146-50, should be seen as the doxology for book 5. "
    – WAF
    Sep 1, 2016 at 14:16

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