The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayers, songs of praise, lament and thanksgiving. The Psalms are poetry and are generally are classified into several major groups: Laments, thanksgiving, praise, wisdom, pilgrimage, and worship. There are individual and communal psalms of petition and thanksgiving. The book of Psalms had a long time of compilation. It is difficult to date many of the Psalms.Some Psalms are traditionally ascribed to David. Often a Psalm will have a superscription which is not part of the Psalm but is a note about the Psalm (often we don’t know exactly what the note is trying to tell us) or instructions for musicians. It may be helpful to think of the book as an anthology which was compiled over a very long time.
The name of the book “Psalms” comes from the Greek title of the book, Psalmoi, which means songs played on a stringed instrument. Many of the Psalms were initially meant to be sung. The name of the book in Hebrew is Tehillim, which means “praises”. In the Jewish scriptures the Psalms are part of the “Writings”.
The book of Psalms is divided into five parts in imitation of the five books of the Torah. Each of the five books ends with a doxology. Because of the books long and complex history, scholars have also found signs of earlier collections within the Psalms. There are psalms attributed to the Korahites and to Aseph. There are the psalms of ascent.
The Psalms are often called the hymn book or prayer book of Israel. Jews and Christians have prayed and sung these psalms for thousands of years. The Psalms show us, as individuals and as communities, how to pray and praise and lament.They console and challenge us. Even though the words of a Psalm may be thousands of years old, the emotions are as current as today.
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of the Psalms
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Clifford, Richard, “Psalms” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Stuhlmueller, Carroll, “Psalms” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
McCann,Jr, J. Clifton “Psalms”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 3, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.