[Dear Friends, This is the introductory chapter to the forthcoming book on the Mystical Psalm Structures. It was written when I was less familiar with the Qur’an, and so this chapter does not speak as much of the Qur’an as the previous essay. This chapter is longer than the previous essay; future essays posted at this site will be shorter, generally speaking. This essay focuses on the Book of Psalms, which the Qur’an calls the Zabur of Dawood (David). And as I’m somewhat new to computers, I have not yet figured out the spacing of lines on this webpage. I hope to have these things under better control soon. Thank you for reading this. And I would be grateful for your thoughts and suggestions!]
The Mystical Psalm Structures
There are mystical structures hidden in the Book of Psalms.
These structures are beautiful and abound with good news about Humanity, Creation, and God, Allah.
The authors of the New Testament, who are focused, holy, and in dialogue with the Holy Spirit, know about these Mystical Structures that are in the Psalms. And these Psalm Structures are consciously alluded to by the authors of the New Testament on almost every page of the four Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and Revelation—yet these allusions are subtle and hidden. Once the code of the Psalms is broken, however, they are obvious and clearly seen.
Additionally, these mystical structures have connections with other religions, including Islam and Eastern traditions. This might not be expected in Judeo-Christian-Islamic Scriptures, yet they are there, present in the great global traditions and religions, with great clarity. Thus, these new revelations hidden within the Word of God strongly encourage the celebration of all valid religions and ways.
These three facts—1) the existence of these Mystical Psalm Structures, 2) their presence all throughout the New Testament and Qur’an, and 3) their tendrils of connection to other traditions and religions, are immensely important. They will change the ways in which we see religion, the Bible, and dialogue and friendship between religions.
More importantly than this, they will change the ways in which we see Humanity, and the deepening relationship of Humanity and God, as well as the relationship of Humanity with this Earth and Cosmos.
Scope of This Book
This book will present the mystical structures that are hidden in the Book of Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Interestingly, the many individual authors of the 150 Biblical Psalms did not know about these Structures, despite the fact that their individual poem-songs are active parts of these Structures. Perhaps the final group of editors (redactors) of the Book of Psalms knew about these realities, after 90%, or more, of the Book of Psalms had historically come together, which means that these Structures were already set in place and required merely to be completed, at the time that the Psalms arrived at the hands of these final editors.
This book will also show that the authors of the New Testament were knowledgeable and familiar with these entities, and will show how these authors creatively wove these mystical structures into the New Testament. We will consider that perhaps Jesus was the first person-to-person teacher of these Mystical Psalm Structures. Perhaps he taught the earliest Christians about the existence of these mystical realities, and this teaching reached the Evangelists and the other authors of the New Testament.
Additionally, this book will consider the overall message, and other themes, of these Holy Spirit-inspired realities.
Basic Theme of the Mystical Psalm Structures
Are these structures important? If so, why?
In a couple of pages we shall see three of the structures themselves. They are stunningly beautiful in every way. The initial understanding of them is simple, but they reveal more and more to us as we know them better.
In this and in future books, we shall look at the realities that these psalm-pictures point out to us: angels flying, ladders, menorahs, trees, houses, stars, human people, and much more.
The Ladder that is a centerpiece of this book makes another picture: the double-helix of our human DNA, which scientists have recently shown us pictures of, and have decoded.
The artistic interpretations of these beautiful structures are potentially endless.
Yet the meaning of these structures is equally breathtaking.
Uniting these structures hidden in the Psalms, New Testament, and Qur’an, there is one theme, one meaning, that stands out with great clarity: the evolution and growth of humanity, leading to the unification of humanity. (This unification of humanity will be deeper than we can imagine. And very joyful.) This is the principal meaning and significance of these structures, and is even more important than their marvelous mystical appearance.
God loves us.
Allah is for humanity.
God gives us the ability, through our human evolution, to form a human community based on love. Really. In fact, this is the only way humanity will survive. (The Qur’an is full of teachings on evolution.)
Accompanying this description of humanity’s Spiritual evolution is the theme of the empowerment of humanity. As we learn to live as a global community, we shall attain new knowledge, and new kinds of knowledge. This shall be addressed below.
Seeing the Structures
One can read the Psalms repeatedly and miss these structures. They have remained hidden for millennia. Thousands of holy, intelligent people have memorized the Psalter (Book of Psalms), yet they have not discovered the patterns and structures hidden therein. Although some authors in the last 2000 years have in fact seen these structures, they have intentionally kept them hidden in their own writing, merely giving hints and allusions about these secret marvels.
How the Existence of these Structures Is Conclusively Proven
The existence of these structures is fact, not speculation. From the ‘scientific’ approach of rigorous literary analysis, these structures become apparent by simply noting the repetition of certain words and themes. The repetition occurs within the psalms that form the structures. These kinds of repetition are common techniques employed in literature down through the centuries and around the globe. Placing these structures under critical analysis, the repetition of vocabulary becomes strong evidence confirming their existence. The appendices of the book will furnish copious data to show that the structures are woven into the fabric and bone structure of the Psalter itself.
The video that accompanies this book makes the shapes of the structures graspable in seconds. Both the video and the psalms can then be referred to as often as one desires, to deepen the reader’s understanding of the meaning and beauty of these structures. You might discover new interpretations and facts valid for yourself and others.
The video will be accompanied by simple pictures in these pages of the Introduction. The small numbers are the numbers of the psalms that are the parts of the structures, that build the structures.
Let us turn briefly to these three structures.
The 7 Pillars of Wisdom
Despite the working title of this structure, it can be presented as a single pillar. Perhaps, at the same time, it is a tree, a Cedar of Lebanon:
These 7 Psalms have an unusually high concentration of breathtaking love poetry; these verses of desire also have a significantly high proportion of appearances of the words ‘heart’ and ‘soul’; in the Hebrew they are ‘lev’ and ‘nefesh’, respectively. These nouns are paired with verbs of longing, seeking, yearning: the language of love. Here is a sample of the contiguity of themes in this series; almost all of these selections are from the beginning of each psalm (please note that all these Psalms are multiples of 21):
“You have granted him his heart’s desire.” (‘Desire’ is a noun here, not yet a verb.)
“As the deer longs for streams of running water, so my soul longs for you, God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
“God, you are my God, I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you, in a land parched and weary, without water.”
“How lovely are your dwelling places, YHWH Lord of Hosts. My soul yearns and indeed pines for the courtyards of YHWH; my heart and my flesh cry out to the living God.”
“Glory in the Name of His Holiness; glad will be the heart of those who seek YHWH. Search out YHWH and his might, seek his Presence (face) continually.”
A consummation occurs in Psalm 126. There is also a hint of progeny.
YHWH heals the “broken hearted.” Additionally, YHWH reciprocates the love humanity gives him, and the love becomes mutual: “YHWH desires those who wait for him, those who yearn for his kindness.” Two verses later children appear: “He has . . . blessed your children in your midst.”
This love poetry with its verb-of-longing and noun (‘heart’ or ‘soul’) combination is unique to this series of Psalms in the Psalter. The mathematical probability against this happening randomly is astronomically great. (See also Psalms 37, 73, 119, and 143, where the poetry is more tame and not overtly romantic.)
Themes of these seven Psalms (all multiples of 21) of this structure include:
-The growth of the human person in the course of life
-The strengthening/purifying of desire, eros
-Eros and agape love
-The evolution of humanity as community: an end to wars and conflict; the continued emergence and growth of a global human sister/brotherhood; the development of humanity into a global village
-The evolution of individual humanity into a form of person that is more: loving, strong, intelligent, alive, conscious, and possessed of much greater knowledge about Self, Humanity, God, and Cosmos.
These 7 Psalms also stand in relation to Lady Wisdom. Lady Wisdom is a prominent person of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). She appears especially in Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch.
In the New Testament, Lady Wisdom is said, shockingly, to be a mother to both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (see Luke 7:35). Lady Wisdom dances behind every page of the New Testament, and she may have many connections to the Qur’an. [Appearances of the word “Wisdom” in the Qur’an may be references also to the Bible’s Book of Wisdom, which features Lady Wisdom.]
Lady Wisdom is described with a list of 21 attributes in the Scriptures, including: “ . . . friend to humanity, . . . all-powerful, all-seeing, and penetrating all . . . [She is] mobile beyond all motion.” (Wisdom 7: 22-24) She is also said to be the maker, the artificer, of all things. (Wisdom 7:22) She befriends people who clearly pursue her. She is the “spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of God’s goodness.” (Wisdom 7:26) The fact that her attributes are 21 in number is reflected in the fact that the Psalms of this series are multiples of 21.
The Book of Proverbs states that Lady Wisdom has “built her house with 7 pillars.” (Proverbs 9:1) There are 7 Psalms in this series, standing for these 7 pillars.
Solomon, the wise king, pursues Lady Wisdom, and this chase is described in terms that are erotic. The development of true eros happens to be a central theme of these 7 psalms.
We have seen that 21 and 7 are both numbers that are connected with Lady Wisdom. This is reflected in the Pillar: there are 7 Psalms that are multiples of 21.
(These 7 psalms also represent the 7 chakras of various Eastern systems, especially Buddhism and Hinduism. One might not expect to find such things in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic scriptures. Therefore, this and the other structures have great potential for helping inter-religious dialogue in powerful new ways.)
The 7 Pillars of Wisdom shall be discussed further in Chapter 1 of the forthcoming book.
The Mystical Ladder
The Psalms Ladder depicts the unification of heaven and earth, of God and Humanity, of God and all Creation.
[Added note: 150 is meant to be between the two sides, and above them. Right now, in this post, 150 is stuck above the left side. Thanks for your patience!]
Upon this ladder angels ascend and descend in precise choreography. This is revealed by a mathematical formula hidden in the Psalms. The Psalms (shown by their title-numbers) of this structure are multiples of 12 on the left side and the intervening multiples of 6 on the right side. (All 25 Psalms are multiples of 6.)
As with the first structure, the Pillar, there are literary themes that distinguish the Psalms of the Ladder and unite these Psalms into a literary group. This literary solidarity is more important than the numbers and numerical grouping. One literary theme of this body is the cluster of words that orbit around the meeting-place of God and humanity: the temple. The words ‘temple’, ‘sanctuary’, ‘house of God’, ‘holy place’, and ‘dwelling place’ appear with 300% greater frequency in the 25 Ladder Psalms of this series than they do in the other 125 Psalms of the Psalter.
Another literary theme of the Ladder is vertical motion. These Psalms have 270% – 300% more appearances of vertical motion in them than a normal distribution pattern would predict. Concerning extreme cases of vertical motion, such as mountains jumping up and down, the percentage leaps to a 700% greater frequency of this motif in these 25 Psalms than in the other 125 Psalms.
Another literary theme with a surprisingly high number of appearances in the 25 Psalms of the Ladder is the name ‘David’. There are 428% more appearances of this word ‘David’ in this series than the mathematical laws of probability predict for these 25 psalms.
Major themes of this structure include:
-The ups and downs of life and of our human journey
-The healing of our minds and restoration of the human ‘temple’ (the dignity and beauty and intellect of the human person and all humanity)
-The joining, in history, of heaven and earth; or, the transforming of earth into paradise
-A more intimate sharing between God and humanity
-Additional themes concerning ‘heart’ and ‘soul’
This Ladder of Humanity may be the most amazing literary structure in human history. The 25 Psalms that make the ladder show its shape, which is highly organized. But there is another shocking development: a formula hidden in the Psalms reveals plural angels ascending and descending the Ladder in precise elegant flight, in exact choreography. (This matches the texts about Jacob’s Ladder in Genesis 28 and Jesus’ Ladder reference in John 1, which state that plural angels are descending and ascending the Ladder. The scene in Genesis gives almost no information about what the ladder looks like. However, the Ladder hidden in the Psalms is a vibrant picture, with many more details than Genesis 28.) Never before has there been a literary structure that has moving parts, that is alive and in motion! (Again, the forthcoming video shows this motion, as it cannot be graphically presented in print.)
Jesus refers to this Ladder in the first chapter of John’s Gospel (1:51). There, however, Jesus says that Humanity is the Ladder. Humanity is the temple where matter and spirit, heaven and earth, meet most beautifully. Jesus also speaks of the opening of the heavens, which Genesis 28 does not mention (see John 1:51). This portal to heaven implies a greater communication between Humanity and the Divine. We can live more fully, and the Divine helps us.
The Psalms Ladder is the subject of Chapter 2.
The Intertwined Menorahs
These interwoven menorahs depict the happiness of a truly human society.
[pictures to be placed here]
Again, there are literary themes that unite the Psalms of this series. Again, these literary themes are more important than the numbers of the Psalms. The Menorahs celebrate:
-Light (besides being an appropriate theme for candles, light has deep theological meaning in all religions)
-Beatitude (blessedness, true human happiness)
-The birth of children
-Events within the home
-The growth of children and of new generations
-The union of woman and man, of couples in love
-The 3-phase passage from 1) learning basic moral precepts, and then 2) going alone through trials and the dark night of the soul, leading to 3) the re-appropriation of a much deeper relationship with the human family, in new ways. This new deep relationship with all people and things is available to all who want it and work for it.
The Psalms that form this pair of candelabra are the multiples of 8.
The literary theme of ‘light’ appears a disproportionately high number of times in the 18 psalms that make up the menorahs. There are 350% more appearances of ‘light’ and related words in this series than in the other Psalms of the Psalter. Concerning extremely important appearances of the ‘light’ theme, the Psalms that make the menorahs have a 650% greater concentration of thematic words than the other 132 Psalms.
This series has about 300% more appearances of the beatitude word ‘happy’ than probability would predict. There are 9 appearances of the word ashre, or its cognates, in these 18 Psalms, making yet another image of a 9-branch Hanukkah menorah. Jesus’ first public words in the Bible are the 9 Beatitudes. The Hanukkah menorah has 8 candles that represent 8 days of the dedication celebration of the temple, and of the light that lasted 8 miraculous days, when there was only enough sacred oil to last for one day. The 9th candle of the menorah is a movable lighting rod, called a shamash. Regarding the Beatitudes, Jesus gives the first 8 Beatitudes in 3rd person address. The ninth Beatitude is in direct 2nd person address. The Beatitudes are 8 and 1, just like the menorah. The 9th Beatitude is the shamash. Jesus’ first public words of the Bible paint a picture of the Menorahs of the Psalms.
God’s first spoken words of the Bible create light on a cosmic scale. “Let there be light.”
The first spoken word of the Torah is ‘light’. God’s Word is Light.
At his first public appearance in the Bible, Jesus sits on the ground, alighting on the earth. Unlike the two-person meeting atop Mt. Sinai, there is a meeting of all Humanity and the Divine: “His disciples (all of us) came near him.” The Christ gives us a new Torah, the Sermon on the Mount, the rule of Love; Matthew marks the momentousness of this occasion by alerting us to the fact that Jesus is about to say something really important: “And opening his mouth….” (This expression is also applied to Lady Wisdom in the Old Testament on several occasions when She is about to teach.) The first words of the New Torah are, again, light—a light that must be discovered by us. The Beatitudes are the Menorahs. The unfathomable light, heat, and energy of the Big Bang have been delivered directly to humanity in family-sized candles.
Additionally, the 1st and the 8th Beatitude are in part identical. The 1st Beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The 8th Beatitude is, “Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This makes the first and last of the 8 third-person Beatitudes a pair: also, they are matched as the first and last branches of the 9-branch menorah, as the shamash, the 9th branch, is often placed in the center. Additionally, they are marked as additions to the original 7-branched menorah, which the Romans removed from the temple in 70 C.E. (The Arch of Titus in Rome, near the Coliseum, has a famous relief of this event.) Thus, the 1st and 8th branches of the beatitudes represent not merely the 9-branch menorah, but they also represent the continuing growth of the Menorah of Humanity, of the Body of Humanity, the growing Child of God, the Body of Christ. Today, the Growing Menorah of Humanity has billions of beautiful branches, and is a wondrous vine over all the earth.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking directly to us, today: “And opening his mouth, he taught them . . . ”
Right after the Beatitudes commence the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus celebrates the revelation of the menorahs, and of humanity: “You are the light of the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a candle puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand (the Greek word ‘luxnian’ of this Gospel verse translates the Hebrew word ‘menorah’!), and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5: 14-15).”
There are many places in the New Testament where these Psalm Structures are referred to, either specifically or generally.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus goes out of his way to mention the “Book of Psalms,” and “David,” the fabled author of the Psalms (Luke 20:41-44). The author of Luke’s Gospel also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, where in Chapter 1 the “Holy Spirit,” “David,” and again the “Book of Psalms” are mentioned together and connected with each other. These two statements by the author of Luke-Acts are the first times in history that the Psalms are referred to as a ‘book’, as a cohesive literary unit. The resurrected Jesus mentions the Psalms in conjunction with both the Torah of Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). The Gospels abound with references to these Psalm Structures, which will be considered in greater depth in these chapters and in forthcoming books. The Qur’an quite happily discusses, repeatedly, the Torah, Prophets, Book of Psalms, and Gospels.
The Interwoven Menorahs shall be addressed in Chapter 3.
Once a person becomes familiar with the Psalms and the Psalm Structures, the pictures and video become less important. The reader has made them her/his own.
More Proof of these Structures
All three of these structures have numerous literary patterns that exist within them; these literary motifs are important thematic word-groups that appear with 200-700% greater frequency, or even higher, in the Psalms that make up these structures than in the other Psalms of the Psalter. This is huge initial corroboration of the existence of these Structures. The themes themselves are much more important than the initial fact of corroboration. The Appendices shall provide the scientific data.
Once the structures are seen, grasped, thought with, and experienced more deeply by the reader, the need for corroboration disappears, and the Psalm Structures take off and fly on their own.
However, more corroboration from other great writers also exists, hiddenly and plentifully. Let us turn to some of the Spiritual authorities of the last two millennia who have known about these realities.
Hidden Appearances of these Structures
In Subsequent History and Writing
There are at least 15 people in the last 2000 years of Christian Tradition who know about these structures. Yet, as if they are of a single mind, all the authors allude clearly to these structures, in secrecy. They intentionally place a veil over the Structures that they refer to. However, once you have broken the initial codes of the Psalm Structures, you can clearly see that these Structures are repeatedly being referred to by these great later spiritual writers.
Beginning in the Desert of Egypt
There seems to be a family tree of people who know about these Psalm Structures. After the writers of the New Testament, perhaps the earliest line of knowledgeable human continuity about these patterns appears in the Egyptian desert.
With Constantine, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, and even became fashionable. The Christian Church emerged from centuries of persecution, to suddenly become mainstream. Although there is much good about this development, in some places the faith no longer had the same fire of conviction that it had had when it was continually underground and on the run. Some rugged and spiritually thirsty women and men sought out the solitude of the desert regions of Egypt (and many other places of the Eastern Mediterranean, Arabia, and Persia, such as modern-day Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Greece, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran) to pursue a more Gospel life. Egypt registered an absolute flowering of great spiritual souls.
These spiritual giants were ascetical, living in challenging desert conditions with little food and water, yet they were women and men of great charity and compassion. They developed hearts of gold, hearts of true humanity, as Ezekiel speaks of. They would have the New Testament memorized in a short time, and with a few more years in the desert, the Old Testament as well. They chanted all 150 Psalms every day [ ! ], and had the Psalter by heart very quickly.
These spiritual troopers also had very serious battles with demons. One of the reasons one goes to the desert is to battle demons. The work that they did is helping our world today, in numerous ways.
And some of them, possibly very many, knew of the mystical Psalm Structures.
St. Anthony the Great of Egypt, the prototype and the first of the great desert monks, knows about them. In the first saying of the Apophthegmata, Anthony quietly refers to these three Psalm Structures in one brief paragraph. (The Apophthegmata is a collection of the sayings of the great Egyptian desert monks.)
(St.) Evagrius Ponticus, who was born in Constantinople and moved to Egypt, is another who knew of these structures. His wonderful slim book, 153 Chapters on Prayer, is a running hidden commentary on the Psalm Structures.
Egyptian monasticism had much influence on both Eastern and Western Christian monasticism. In the East, St. John Climacus and many authors of the Philokalia read the Desert Mothers and Fathers and knew of these Psalm Structures. (The Philokalia is a collection of holy writings by great spiritual masters of Eastern Orthodox Chrisianity. The word ‘Philokalia’ means ‘love of good’.) These writers have enriched many people, not least in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. In the West, St. John Cassian was an important bridge-person who brought the lives and the teachings of the Egyptian spiritual masters to many later people through his two influential works, the Conferences and the Institutes. One of the people who benefitted from this sharing of knowledge is St. Benedict.
St. Benedict and Western Monasticism
In the Western Church, St. Benedict is the founder of monasticism’s main orders. The Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists, Camaldolese, Olivetans, and other orders still subscribe to the Rule of St. Benedict, which Benedict wrote 1500 years ago. Novices study it very closely. It is read aloud during meals in the refectory (monastic dining room). This brief document is a treasury of Wisdom. And it is chock full of subtle references to the mystical Psalm Structures. In Chapter 7 of the Rule, Benedict paints a picture of the Ladder of these Psalm Structures! He then places a thin protective veil over the Ladder to hide it again, by renaming it the ‘12-Step Ladder of Humility’. He does this while planting many other clues pointing to the presence of the Psalm Structures. We will explore this more in Chapter 2 below.
Some people, perhaps many, in these early monastic communities knew of the Structures in the Psalms.
1000 years after Benedict, the Carmelites form another branch on the tree, another branch of the vine. St. Teresa of Avila, a giant contemplative and Doctor of the Church, and her friend, St. John of the Cross, both knew of these Psalm Structures, as did their immediate predecessor, Francisco de Osuna. Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet was a beloved book to St. Teresa and St. John. This is another book that contains hidden information about the Psalm Structures.
St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, knew the Psalm Structures, as did St. Bonaventure of the Franciscans.
Hadewijch, a holy woman who lived in the Flemish lowlands and who was a Beguine mystic, may have known. St. Hildegard of Bingen may have known.
Julian of Norwich, the holy hermitess and author in England, may have known.
There is work to be done in this field. More than 100 Christian authors in the last two millennia use a ladder-pattern in their writings. It is possible that many of these authors are conversant with the Psalm Structures. A tremendous amount of research remains to be done in many matters connected with the discovery of the Psalm Structures.
These many later authors who quietly talk about these marvelous realities expand our knowledge of these structures and give us instruction about how they should be understood, and worked with, prayed with.
The authors who say the most about these structures are (St.) Evagrius Ponticus, St. Benedict, St. John Climacus, and St. Roberto Belarmino. Belarmine, a cardinal of Capua, lived a very active life as a church administrator and leader and yet always sought prayer and time for reflection and Lectio Divina, and for his own spiritual writing. His 17th-century work, The Mind’s Ascent to God on the Ladder of Created Things, reveals knowledge of the Psalm Structures. St. John Climacus (whose name means ‘John of the Ladder’), St. Bonaventure and St. Robert Belarmine are part of a tradition of great spiritual writers whose works are in the form of a ladder, and whose works abound with subtle references to the mystical Psalm Structures.
Background on the Psalter
The Psalms are poem-prayer-songs. They can be prayed, chanted, and sung by individuals or groups. The content of the Psalms captures about everything we can experience on the roller-coaster of life: happy and sad times, both for communities and for a person; devastations of war, and family growth; wisdom lessons of history, and sudden inspiration; pain and desperation in sickness, and thanksgiving for recovered health; profound awareness of sin, and the seeking of forgiveness; painful lack of understanding, and sudden comprehension; deep gratitude, and exquisite love poetry.
There are many good introductory books on the Psalter.
Let’s consider its quality as a book: The Book of Psalms should be the least organized book in the Bible. It came together like geographical land masses, newer layers atop previous layers. Many smaller, earlier collections are within the final version of the book. One does not read a songbook for its plot; rather, one chooses a few of its hymns and takes them to a liturgy, practice, or performance.
Yet (setting aside the Psalm Structures) there is at least a touch of overall order to the Psalms. There are sad songs mostly in the first three parts, while happy songs comprise the majority of the final two parts.
The very beginning of the Psalms teaches how to live wisely and make strong choices (Psalms 1 and 2). The end of the Psalter is a growing crescendo of praise, celebration, and happiness (Psalms 146-150). The first word of the very first Psalm is ‘blessed’, or ‘happy’, and promises to bring the student of the Psalms to the state of beatitude portrayed in the final Psalms.
More mysterious is the process by which these 150 poem-prayer-songs became the Psalter, the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Thousands of psalms were ‘in the air’ during the Second Temple Period (late 6th century B.C.E. – 70 C.E.), during which centuries the earthly life of Jesus occurred.
How did these particular 150 Psalms become the Book of Psalms of the Bible?
Our considering this question will be helpful even if it does not yield any certain results. The Psalms are from different centuries and various places of the Eastern Mediterranean, Palestinian, Israelite, and Arabian areas. Although the text of Scripture attributes many of them to David the King, he is probably the author of none of them in actuality. (Still, the character of David is an important facet of the world of the Psalms.)
Let’s look at some of the parts of the final version of the Psalter: The ‘Sons of Korah’, a liturgical temple body, wrote a block of Psalms. Asaph and his wisdom students have written a group of them with much depth. There are later collections of ‘Hallel’, or rejoicing, Psalms. Psalm 72, less than halfway through the Psalter, celebrates the idyllic Solomonic/Davidic kingdom, and concludes, “ended are the prayers of David son of Jesse.” The book once finished here. But history marched forward, the kingdom was crushed, and the Israelites were hauled off into slavery in Babylon. The center of the Psalter wrestles with the struggle to incorporate the shock and horror of the Babylonian Captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem into the faith, and into their self-understanding. There are then ‘enthronement’ Psalms that celebrate not the earthly king, but rather the coming of YHWH God as king over a unified humanity and cosmos. A block of 15 ‘songs of going up’ seems to celebrate pilgrimage.
With these many collections were many groups of editors (redactors) who sewed together these collections at various times. Yet there was not one, single group of editors responsible for the entire shape of the Psalter—too much of the formation of the Psalter happened before or after any particular group of editors.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran verify the theory that there was not a single main group of editors who shaped the entire Psalter. Some experts date the Dead Sea Scrolls to about 100 B.C.E., although the age of various scrolls could vary considerably. In this collection are found many scrolls of psalms. Roughly the first half of each psalter from Qumran is identical with the first half of the Book of Psalms as we have it today. However, the second halves of the psalm scrolls at Qumran show extremely different, varying versions of the second half of the psalter. There are psalms that appear in some scrolls and not in others, and there is a variety of different orders for the psalms in the second half of each of the Qumran psalters; there are also psalms that are not part of the Scriptures as we have them today. So it seems that, about 100 B.C.E., the first half of the Psalter was de facto, then later canonically, ‘set in place’, while the second half of the psalter was completely unsettled, in a state of flux. Some scholars consider that the final shaping of the Book of Psalms occurred as late as 80 C.E., due west of Jerusalem on the shores of the Mediterranean. But it must be emphasized that at this point in history there is precious little knowledge about the coming together of the Psalter: hopefully, archaeology, scholarship, and more helpful shepherds (such as the Bedouin who found the caves with the hidden scrolls at Qumran, and the shepherds who found the Nag Hammadi scrolls) will give us new information as we proceed.
What we can say is this: too many historical locks have been put into place to allow for one group of editors to have shaped the entire Psalter. Too much of the shaping of the final form of the Book of Psalms happened before or after any single period of time in which a single group of editors worked.
This said, a question becomes apparent: How did these structures get into the psalms?
Are these structures in the Psalms by coincidence? Or are they the proof of a higher intelligence? Are they proof of the existence of the Divine? Are they proof of the existence of God/Allah?
It is clear that these structures, the most marvelous literary structures in history, are proof of the existence of God. Nobody knows exactly how many authors of the Psalms there were. Somewhere between 50 and 100 different authors seems a safe guess. And nobody knows how many editors of the various collections of Psalms that went into the final version of the Book of Psalms there were.
What I propose is that the Psalms are a model. They are a model of humanity working together with God. Every author and every editor of the Psalms may have had a very close relationship with God. Every author following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as best as they can, every editor discerning very carefully what is the Will of God—all these people working in different centuries and different locations—all these people’s various actions and writing were all orchestrated by the One Holy Spirit.
Hence, we have been given the greatest and most fabulous literary structures in human history. Structures with moving parts, angels flying, stars, trees, human families, vineyards, lit candles.
Humanity is entering a new era. The model of the many authors and editors of the Psalms is an example for us as we enter this new era. The model of the human and divine cooperation and co-agency is a model for us to consider deeply as we move into this new era with a God who wants to share far more with us.
And it is a model of religious cooperation that moves beyond religious borders. Here is an example of what this means:
-The Psalms were written possibly exclusively by ancient Israelite authors. Yet it is likely that not one of these authors knew about the Psalm Structures!
-Only the Christian Scriptures and Christian authors have shown conscious knowledge of these mystical realities. Today, a Christian author is giving you this information of the structures whose genesis lies within the Hebrew scriptures.
-Without the ancient Israelites, and without the millennia of Christians, we would not know about these wonders.
-What more, these Psalm Structures are may be more present within the Qur’an than in the New Testament! The Qur’an is overflowing with references to the Psalm Structures!
-Further, these structures leap over the confines of orthodoxy and make connection with the spiritual traditions of Eastern ways.
-So today, we can say:
-Yes to the Jew, Yes to the Christian, and Yes to the Muslim.
-Further, can say: Yes to the Buddhist, Yes to the Hindu, Yes to the Taoist, Yes to the Shaman, Yes to Native People, Yes to Zen, Yes to Ba’hai. Maybe God is like this, teaching us how to live in harmony, with unexpectedly amazing results.
Some Theology of the Psalter
The Psalms have been grouped into 5 books. These book divisions are presented in, and are part of, the text of the Scriptures.
This 5-book division echoes the division of the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch, or the 5 Books of Moses) into 5 books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. (For the Jewish people the Torah is the ‘highest’, holiest part of scripture.)
The Torah is the word of God handed down. God gave it down to Moses on the mountaintop. Moses brought it down, and gave it down to the people. Each generation since has handed it down to the next, until today.
The 5 books of the Psalter reverse this process, pushing against it. The Psalms cry, shout, pray, and question up to God. Humanity is a child, God’s the parent. The Psalms are like a child learning how to engage in meaningful conversation with an adult. Yet God is not merely an adult: God is God. We are communicating with the Creator of the Cosmos. We are also becoming more similar to God’s divine being. Psalm 8 celebrates a young humanity wondering with amazement that humankind is just “a little less than God.” We must be meant to participate ever more deeply in God’s own creative energies. Already, in the world, we are co-creators with God, wielding more power in the shaping of the world than ever before, and hopefully learning how to care for the environment. The Psalm Structures all indicate the possibility of collaboration, or even union, of the Human and the Divine.
The gematria, or numerical value, of the Hebrew word sulam, ‘ladder’, and Sinai, the mountain of the receiving of the Torah, are equal. Perhaps this means that the Psalter and the Torah are to be read as equally important, as two parts of the same process of communication.
The function of the Ladder in the Psalms demonstrates this clearly. Angels are going up and down. There is increasing activity between earth and heaven. Heaven and Earth are capable of becoming unified. God, it seems, wants to leave heaven and come to earth. (This is already prefigured in the YHWH enthronement psalms of Book IV of the Psalter.)
Humanity and the Cosmos and God are meant to come together and live in unimaginable understanding, intimacy, harmony, and joy.
Human Love and Sexuality
Themes of sexuality are constantly appearing in these structures. The pillar of the first structure, the male sexual organ, goes with the Ladder of the second structure, the female sexual organ. And the angels’ up-and-down flight represents sex. The main numbers of these two structures are 21 and 12. Two and one. One and two. Three is born. Childbirth is a central theme of the menorahs of the third structure. The theme of sexuality is handled in a manner both playful and quite serious in the structures. These things will be considered primarily in the final chapter.
Another tremendously important theme regarding woman and men is the repairing, for the first time, of relations between us. It involves women and men learning how to thrive together, how to really love each other and work together. This is part of our becoming a ‘city built on the hill’. This is how humanity is going to enter a new era of unprecedented growth, peace, and happiness.
Related to this is the integration of every human psyche, the reconciliation and powerful cooperation between anima and animus. A person becoming fully alive. St. Iranaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
The Midrash Tehillim, a very old commentary on the Psalms, indicates that there is something of immense power and importance hidden in the Psalter, and records a heavenly voice that warns an inquisitive ancient rabbi away from “disturbing that which slumbers.” Now, however, it is time to bring these marvels to the light for all to see.
[There is also the aforementioned system of 7 chakras in the psalms, as well as ‘eastern’-like teachings of non-duality. There are striking parallels between one of the structures and a genre of Taoist art, as both depict graphically the human body’s central role in religious growth, and the relationship of the human body (microcosm) to the universe (macrocosm). All of these multi-tradition similarities will be helpful for inter-religious dialogue.]
There are many more things in the Book of Psalms.
Copyright © 2015 Richard Murray