Psalm 151 is the name given to a short psalm that is found in most copies of the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. The title given to this psalm in the Septuagint indicates that it is supernumerary, and no number is affixed to it: "This Psalm is ascribed to David and is outside the number. When he slew Goliath in single combat.
The Eastern Orthodox Church accepts Psalm 151 as canonical. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and most Jews consider it apocryphal. However, it is found in an appendix in some Catholic Bibles, such as certain editions of the Latin Vulgate, as well as in some ecumenical translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version.
For many years scholars believed that Psalm 151 might have been an original Greek-language composition by the compilers of the Septuagint. However, evidence of the Hebrew origin of Psalm 151 has been found at Qumran
. Scroll 11QPs(a), dating from the first century AD
, contains two short Hebrew
psalms which scholars now agree served as the basis for Psalm 151. One of these Hebrew psalms, known as "Psalm 151a", is reflected in verses 1–5 of the Greek Psalm 151, while verses 6 onward are derived from the other Hebrew psalm, known as "Psalm 151b". The composer has brought the two Hebrew psalms together in a manner that significantly changes their meaning and structure, but the influence of the Hebrew originals is still readily apparent.
From the NET Bible Notes:
As it stands in the Greek text this apocryphal psalm celebrates David’s rise from humble beginnings to become a famous figure in ancient Israel. After describing David’s boyhood life as a shepherd and his surprising selection by the Lord (vv. 1-5), this psalmist emphasizes David’s role as a hero responsible for the defeat of the giant Goliath who mocked the Israelite army (vv. 6-7). As such the psalm assumes familiarity with and draws ideas and phraseology from certain portions of biblical material (e.g., 1 Sam 16-17; Ps 78:70-72; 89:20; cf. 2 Sam 6:5; 2 Chr 29:26). Although in the early part of the twentieth century H. B. Swete had to acknowledge that “there is no evidence that it [i.e., Psalm 151] ever existed in Hebrew” (H. B. Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 253), we now know from the Dead Sea scrolls that this psalm did in fact exist in Hebrew and was actually a part of the psalter used by the Qumran community. Psalm 151 appears along with a number of canonical and non-canonical psalms in 11QPsa, a first century A.D. scroll discovered in 1956. (The editio princeps of this manuscript first appeared in J. A. Sanders, “Ps. 151 in 11QPss,” ZAW 75 : 73-86, and was slightly revised in J. A. Sanders, ed., The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa), DJD 4, 54-64. On details of translation, structure, and meaning of this psalm see especially the following: P. W. Skehan, “The Apocryphal Psalm 151,” CBQ 25 : 407-09; W. H. Brownlee, “The 11Q Counterpart to Ps 151,1-5,” RevQ 4 : 379-87; J. Carmignac, “La forme poétique du Psaume 151 de la grotte 11,” RevQ 4 : 371-78; J. Carmignac, “Précisions sur la forme poétique du Psaume 151,” RevQ 5 : 249-52; J. Strugnell, “Notes on the Text and Transmission of the Apocryphal Psalms 151, 154 (= Syr. II) and 155 (= Syr. III),” HTR 59 : 257-81; I. Rabinowitz, “The Alleged Orphism of 11QPss 28 3-12,” ZAW 76 : 193-200; A. Dupont-Sommer, “Le Psaume CLI dans 11QPsa et le problème de son origine essénienne,” Semitica 14 : 25-62. On the Qumran evidence for the Psalter in general see the following: P. W. Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms, STDJ 17 [Leiden: Brill, 1997].)
In the Qumran Hebrew scroll Psalm 151 actually consists of two separate poems that have been brought together; they are now known as Psalm 151A and Psalm 151B (which is only partially preserved). The Hebrew form of the psalm is thus quite different from that known previously through Greek, Latin, and Syriac translations. In some ways the Greek version of Psalm 151 does not seem to make good sense, and the Hebrew text provides a basis for a better understanding what transpired in the creation of the Greek version. It appears that two earlier psalms have been brought together in the Greek version in such a way that their original structure and even meaning have been modified to a significant degree. In comparison to the Hebrew text Sanders regards the Greek text of this psalm to be in places “desiccated,” “meaningless,” “truncated,” “ridiculous,” “absurd,” “jumbled,” and “disappointingly different,” all this the result of its having been “made from a truncated amalgamation of the two Hebrew psalms” (see J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, 94-100). The present translation is based on the Göttingen edition of the Greek text, but with attention given especially to the Qumran evidence and to the Syriac translation. (The Leiden edition presents two Syriac texts for this psalm, the first being that of a number of west Syrian liturgical Psalters, and the other being that of certain east Syrian biblical manuscripts. References to the Syriac translation in the present notes have the second of these two Syriac texts in view.)
The title of the psalm claims that it was written by King David
after his battle with Goliath
. The text expresses how David was the least of his brothers, and yet God chose him to be anointed king. It goes on to commemorate how David cut of the head of Goliath with the Philistine's own sword, after killing him with his slingshot.
At the beginning of his first address to his Council of State, Emperor Haile Selassie
recited this psalm in total.