Allen S. Maller

“To David God gave Psalms” to resonate universally and emotionally

The Qur’an states: “And We have preferred some prophets over others, and We gave (Prophet/King) David, Psalms.” (17:55) and “David! We did indeed make you a viceregent [khalîfah] on earth: so judge [rule] between men in truth [and justice]…” [38:26] and Qur’an 4:163 again states “and to David We gave Psalms.”

The Zabur/Book of Psalms is the third of the five longest books in the Hebrew Bible: Jeremiah (33,002 words), Genesis (32,046 words), Psalms (30,147 words), Ezekiel (29,918 words) and Exodus (25, 957 words). There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms; 73 by David, plus 12 by Asaph, David’s worship leader, and 11 by three repentant descendants of Korah’s family (Torah Numbers 16:1-50), 5 by other writers and about 50 nameless Psalms.

The Talmud names David and ten other authors: “David composed the book of Psalms with ten other elders (two of them non-Jews): Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heiman, Yedutun, Asaph, and three sons of Korach.” (Bava Batra 14b.)

Thus the book of Psalms has more authors than any other single book in the Bible, which is only to be expected because every Christian and Jew needed the ability to express and articulate both supplication and thanksgiving, from those desperately seeking help from the one God of all humanity; to those expressing joy and gratitude to the one God who created the universe. These varied prayers have over the centuries frequently flowed from faithful hearts and minds.

The book of Psalms is the only book in the Bible that is actually written to God and is both God speaking to us and also God giving us a way to speak to Him. Prophet Jesus quoted from Psalms more often than from any other book in the Hebrew Bible. So there were as many as 50-60 different prophetic authors included in the Book of Psalms it would be as the Qur’an states (40:78): “We already sent messengers before you (Prophet Muhammad). We have told you the stories of some of them, while others We have not.”

It is narrated from Abu Dharr that one day he asked the Messenger of Allah: How many prophets are there in all? He replied: One hundred and twenty four thousand. He then asked: How many of them were messenger prophets? He replied: Three hundred thirteen from the above group. He asked: Who was the first of them? He replied: Adam…The first prophet among Bani Israel was Musa and the last of them was Isa; and they were in all six hundred (Jewish) prophets.” (Biharul Anwar, Vol. 11, Pg. 32.)

The Zabur (Arabic: زبور) according to Islam is the holy book of Dawud (David), one of the three holy books revealed by Allah before the Quran, alongside the Tawrat (Torah) of Musa (Moses) and the Injil (Gospel) of Īsā (Jesus). (Qur’an 4:163, 17:55 and 21:105)

The Zabur is a collection of 150 Hebrew hymns and songs originally written to be sung during worship in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and often called Dawud’s Zabur (Psalms of David). This does not imply that David wrote all of the Zabur, because the Zabur itself names several other Jewish prophets and holy men as having contributed to it; but more of the Zabur is attributed to David than to anyone else.

The Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel, expresses beautiful poetic prayers and sacred songs; and also gives the believers of the three Abrahamic monotheistic religions a non-polemical way of understanding the Islamic concept of Tahrif, a term originating in the Qur’an. In its verbal form it indicates an accusation hurled four times (2:75; 4:46; 5:13; 5:41) against those Jewish leaders who quote their Scriptures wrongly out of context.

However, a distinction was made early in standard Tafsir (commentary); and especially in Islamic polemical books, between tahrif al-lafz and tahrif al-ma‘na, the first referring to actual textual distortion or corruption, the second referring only to distorted interpretations of uncorrupted texts. Jews and Christians vehemently deny that their sacred texts have been intentionally changed to omit references to Prophet Muhammad; although they do admit that there are minor textual differences in various ancient versions of their ancient sacred texts.

Psalm 72 shows evidence of tahrif that we can all agree upon. Psalm 72 which is attributed to Prophet Solomon not Prophet David, ends: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen. This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” (72:18-20)

Yet there are a several additional Psalms of Prophet David in the second half of the Book of Psalms/Zabur, other authors are also mentioned, and almost 50 Psalms have no name at all attached to them. So it is clear that the order of the Psalms has changed, and Psalms from other God inspired writers have also been added.

The Dead Sea scrolls found stored in the Qumran caves are a collection of 800-900+ texts, containing many ancient Biblical texts; which are the oldest Biblical texts in the world: 29% (223) of them are Biblical texts; and 39 of the 223 are manuscripts of Psalms. They were written during the three centuries prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The first 90 psalms are in the same order as Jews and Christians use today; but the remaining 60 psalms differ in their order from those used since the fourth century. Most Muslims would consider this to be Tahrif, Christians and Jews consider this minor variations. Both sides are correct.

For example, Psalm 67, a short psalm song with a responsive chorus; begins with some phrases from the Blessing given by the Priests in the Jerusalem Temple (and is still used in every synagogue to this day) which is found in the Torah of Moses (Numbers 6:24-26). “The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: The Lord bless you and protect you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace! Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.’” That Prophet Aaron’s priests were chosen to bless people in God’s name is endorsed in other places in Biblical literature (Deuteronomy 10:8; 21:5) In fact, kohanim (descendants of Prophet Aaron’s priests) continue this practice, using the cited formula, to the present day.

This is the New International Version Translation (In Hebrew texts 67:1-7 is numbered 67:2-8)
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—
2  so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy  for you rule all peoples with equity
   and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
6 The land yields its harvest; our God blesses us.
7 May God still bless us, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

The term zabur is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew zimrah (Hebrew: “song, music.”) It, along with zamir (Hebrew: “song”), and mizmor (Hebrew: “psalm-song”) are derivatives of the Hebrew verb meaning: “sing, make music.”) Several of the 150 psalms of the Zabur were sung during different daily or holy day prayers in the Jerusalem Temple, and are still sung or chanted in Jewish synagogues and Christian Churches throughout the world today. Thus the Psalms reflect all the varied incidents that can happen in life, both to the individual and to the whole Jewish nation.

Psalm 37, is the only psalm that is directly referred to in the Qur’an. It states: “We have written in the Zabur (Psalms) after the reminder [of Musa] that ‘My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.’” (Qur’qn 21:105) This verse is a close parallel to five verses in Psalm 37, ascribed specifically to David, which states that believers should not lose hope and despair; because eventually goodness always overcomes evil; and God’s “righteous servants shall inherit the earth.”

According to Psalm 37 the “righteous servants [who] shall inherit the earth.” are:
For those who are evil will be destroyed; but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. 37:9
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. 37:11
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; Those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. 37:21-2
Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. 37:28-9
Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land. 37:34

This shortened version of psalm 37 could be read at an Al-Jamuah (Muslim Friday service) or a Shabbat (Jewish Holy Day) table:
“Do not fret because of the wicked; nor be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon wither like grass, and fade like green herbs.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Be patient and wait for the Lord; do not be vexed by the prosperous who scheme
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him who will act.
God will make your vindication shine like light, and the justice of your cause like noonday.
Be still before the Lord, wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
Over those who carry out evil devices… but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.  Yet a little while, and the wicked will be gone; look diligently but they will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant well being.
The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving;
for those blessed by God shall inherit the land; but those cursed by God shall be cut off.
Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever.
For the Lord loves justice; and will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.
Wait for the Lord, keep God’s way, God will exalt you to inherit the land;
and you will look on the destruction of the wicked.
The rescue of the righteous is from the Lord who is their refuge in a time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and rescues them; rescues them from the wicked,
and saves them, because they take refuge in God.”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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