What Is The Book of Psalms About?


The Book of Psalms, often referred to as just Psalms, is found in the third segment of the Hebrew bible, the first book in the “Writings.” The English Psalms derives from the Greek psalmoi, which means instrumental music, encompassing both the words and music. In the Western Christian and Jewish tradition, there are one-hundred and fifty psalms.  Many of the psalms are associated with the name of King David, but contemporary biblical scholars do not acknowledge King David as the author.

Biblical scholar Hermann Gunkel’s groundbreaking study on the Book of Psalms aimed to offer a novel, insightful framework where single psalms could be deciphered – not through examining their literary context in the Psalter, but through compiling psalms of a similar genre from all over the Psalter. Gunkel separated the psalms into five major categories:



Hymns are songs extolling God’s role in history or in creation. The hymns generally begin with a call to praise God, illustrate the reason for praise, and end by repeating the call for praise. There are a number of sub-groups of psalms, including the enthronement psalms and Zion psalms. The enthronement psalms praise Yahweh becoming king, while the Zion psalms celebrate the holy Mount Zion. Gunkel also defined a separate subdivision of eschatological hymns that involve topics of judgment or future restoration.


Royal Psalms

Royal Psalms include psalms that praise marriage, battles and the accession of the king. While the psalms do not identify a particular king, and their source and usage are ambiguous, a number of psalms relate to God’s kingship and may be connected with a yearly ritual whereby Yahweh would be ceremonially reestablished as king.


Communal Laments

Communal laments are psalms wherein the country grieves over a national disaster. Communal laments and individual laments both generally contain the same components, which include:

Addressing God
Depicting the suffering
Denouncing those to blame for the suffering
Asserting innocence or confessing guilt
Appealing for divine intervention
Believing that God has heard the prayer
Hoping for God’s response
A song offering thanks

Typically, the communal and individual types can be differentiated by the particular pronouns used – either “we” or “I.” Yet, it is possible that the “I” may be describing one person’s experience as a reflection of the whole society.


Individual Laments

Individual laments bemoan the suffering of the specific person who voices them. The majority of psalms fall into the individual lament category. These psalms generally begin with an appeal to Yahweh, then the description of suffering and requests for assistance, and typically ending with a statement of conviction. A subcategory of the individual laments is the psalm of confidence, wherein the individual utters confidence in God’s ability to save them from their trials and tribulations.

Individual Thanksgiving Pslams

In individual thanksgiving psalms, the psalmist expresses thanks to God for liberating them from their suffering.

Apart from the five principal categories, Gunkel also identified several other types of psalms, which include wisdom psalms, illustrating the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, and pilgrimage psalms that are recited by pilgrims as they head to Jerusalem. Gunkel also recognized communal thanksgiving psalms, where the entire country gives thanks to God for relief from their misery. Prophetic and entrance liturgies were also identified. There is also a collection of diverse psalms that were not grouped into any one particular genre.

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