Psalm 19: A Sabbath Song

in Vetus Testamentum
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The author of Psalm 19 consciously reflects on the cosmology in Genesis 1 and associated traditions. This reflection involves how the psalmist conceives of the sun, including the celestial feature’s personal nature, responsibility in the cosmic order in terms of calendrical regulation, and its deliberate obedience in the fulfillment of its cultic task. The sun’s obedience serves as a model for sacerdotal devotion, and, just as importantly, allows for the human priest to fulfill his own obligations vis-à-vis properly-timed observance of cultic activities. Of primary importance in all of this, whether at the celestial level or the human level, is the centrality of septenary Sabbath observance, which the sun is charged to mark and the righteous Yahweh devotee is charged to observe. Its importance is implicitly signaled by the psalmist, as it is in Genesis 1: by seven-fold repetition (of Yahweh’s name), and by cryptic allusion (the אות in שׁגיאות).

Vetus Testamentum

A Quarterly Published by the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament




Julian Morgenstern, “Psalms 8 and 19A”, HUCA 19 (1945), pp. 491-523 (506-516); Christoph Dohmen, “Ps 19 und sein altorientalischer Hintergrund”, Bib 64 (1983), pp. 501-517; O. Loretz, “Psalmenstudien III”, UF 6 (1974), pp. 175-210 (186-87); Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59: A Continental Commentary (Minneapolis, 1993), pp. 268-269; John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 1, Psalms 1-41 (Grand Rapids, 2006), p. 285.


D. J. A. Clines, “The Tree of Knowledge and the Law of Yahweh (Psalm XIX)”, VT 24 (1974), pp. 8-14; Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50 (WBC 19; Waco, 1983), pp. 177-184; Grund, Die Himmel erzählen.


Leslie C. Allen, “David as Exemplar of Spirituality: The Redactional Function of Psalm 19”, Bib 67 (1986), pp. 544-546; James Luther Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter”, JBL 106 (1987), pp. 3-12; Alan Lenzi, “The Metonic Cycle, Number Symbolism, and the Placement of Psalms 19 and 119 in the MT Psalter”, JSOT 34 (2010), pp. 447-473; Dieter Böhler, “ ‘Der bestirne Himmel über mir und das moralische Gesetz in mir’? Was betrachtet der Sänger von Ps 19?” BZ 54 (2010), pp. 82-93.


Cooley, Poetic Astronomy, pp. 277-283, 313-220.


Cooley, Poetic Astronomy, pp. 289-292. For the Second Temple period, see Ben-Dov, Head of All Years, pp. 25-28.


See, for example, Phillipe Guillaume, “Genesis 1 as Charter of a Revolutionary Calendar”, Theological Review 14 (2003), pp. 141-148, and “Tracing the Origin of the Sabbatical Calendar in the Priestly Narrative [Genesis 1 to Joshua 5],” JHS 5 [2005] n.p., [accessed 30 May 2012]). I remain unconvinced of Guillaume’s suggestion that the Sabbath Calendar ultimately has an origin in Zoroastrian religion. See also Cooley, Poetic Astronomy, pp. 313-20 (especially pp. 314 and 319).


Böhler, “Der bestirne Himmel über mir”, p. 90. See also Clines, who argued that the psalm drew primarily from Gen 1-3 for its inspiration (Clines, “The Tree of Knowledge”).


Thus, Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 80-81; Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41) (Grand Rapids, 2011), pp. 472-473.


E.g., Albani, “Das Werk seiner Hände”, p. 239; Robert B. Coote, “Psalm 19: Heavenly Law and Order,” in Douglas R. McGaughey and Cornelia Cyss Crocker (eds.), From Biblical Interpretation to Human Transformation: Reopening the Past to Actualize New Possibilities for the Future. Essays Honoring Herman C. Waetjen (Salem, 2006), pp. 79-99 (98).


Otto Schoeder, “Zu Psalm 19”, ZAW 34 (1914), pp. 69-70; Lorenz Dürr, “Zur Frage nach ser Einheit von Ps. 19”, in Anton Jirku (ed.), Sellin-Festschrift: Beiträge zur Religionsgeschichte und Archäologie Palästinas (Leipzig, 1927), pp. 37-48; N. Sarna, “Psalm XIX and the Near Eastern Sun-god literature”, Papers of the Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies I (1975), pp. 171-175.


Goldingay, Psalms, p. 289.


For example, Albani, Astronomie un Schöpfungsglaube, p. 319; Coote, “Psalm 19: Heavenly Law and Order”, pp. 79-89; William P. Brown, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor (Louisville, 2002), pp. 99-100.


Cf., Albani, “Das Werk seiner Hände”, pp. 249-251.


Fishbane, Biblical Text and Texture, p. 87. See also Seybold, Die Psalmen, p. 87; Ross, Commentary, p. 469. Böhler, on the other hand, does note the sevenfold repetition of the divine name, and he also offers some speculation as to its significance: a full septenary count indicates the full presence of Yahweh (“ ‘Der bestirne Himmel über mir”, p. 91).


Fishbane, Biblical Text and Texture, p. 86.


Thus, HALOT pp. 1412-1413, following THAT 2, p. 871. In contrast, as Milgrom defines it, “the performer of שׁגה [the corresponding verbal root of שׁגגה] is conscious of his act (drinking wine, making love or crossing hills) but not of its consequences” (“The Cultic שׁגגה”, p. 118). Coote, on the other hand, reads שׁגיאות, not as a label on a particular variety of sin, but as a reference to the planets who, unlike the stars, do not follow a straight path (“Psalm 19: Heavenly Law and Order”, pp. 92-93, note 53). While I obviously disagree with his understanding of the term, he is right that the psalmist is, in fact, concerned with celestial activities because it effects his own well-being.


Milgrom, “The Cultic שׁגגה”, p. 120 note 25.


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