Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms

From Saadiah Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra

By Uriel Simon
Translated by Lenn J. Schramm

Subjects: Judaica, History
Series: SUNY series in Judaica: Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion
Paperback : 9780791402429, 364 pages, December 1990
Hardcover : 9780791402412, 364 pages, January 1991

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Table of contents


Chapter One: Saadiah Gaon: The Book of Psalms as a Second Pentateuch

I. The Rhetorical Thesis: Commandment and admonition phrased as prayer and petition

II. The Polemical Motive: An attack on the Karaite order of prayer and support for the Rabbanite prayerbook

III. The Ritual Thesis: The five-fold condition

IV. The Exegetical Application: Radical reinterpretation

V. Polemic and Truth: To what extent is Saadiah's approach to Psalms anchored in his thought?

Notes to Chapter One

Chapter Two: The Karaite Approach: The Psalms as Mandatory Prophetic Prayers

I. Salmon ben Yeruham: The Psalms as prophetic prayer for all ages: Monarchy, Exile, and Redemption

II. Yefet ben 'Ali: The Psalms as prophetic prayers, perfect in form and content

Notes to Chapter Two

Chapter Three: Moses Ibn Giqatilah: The Psalms as Non-prophetic Prayers and Poems

Notes to Chapter Three

Chapter Four: Abraham Ibn Ezra: The Psalms as Prophetic and Sacred Poetry

I. Abraham Ibn Ezra's two commentaries on Psalms

II. Echoes of Ibn Ezra's predecessors in his commentaries on Psalms

III. The prologue to the First Introduction: The musical and thematic superiority of the Psalms as divine songs

IV. The First Inquiry: Who wrote the Psalms?

V. The Second Inquiry: Who edited the Book of Psalms?

VI. The Third Inquiry: Are the Psalms prayers or prophecies?

The answer of the introduction: Prophetic prayers
The answer in the body of the commentary:
Prophetic prayers with abundant theological lore

VII. The Fourth Inquiry: Editorial matters—the order of the Psalms and the terms used in their headings

The five books of psalms in comparison to Iberian anthologies
Two different explanations of the problematic term mizmor
Two explanations of la-me nasseah
The enigmatic expressions in the superscriptions as melodic indications

Notes to Chapter Four



Ibn Ezra's introduction and commentary on Psalms 1-2: The "First Recension" (Hebrew and English) Ibn Ezra's introduction to the standard commentary: The "Second Recension" (Hebrew and English)

Index of Citations

Index of Names and Topics


Uriel Simon describes the fascinating controversy that raged from the tenth to the twelfth centuries regarding the theological status and literary genre of the Psalms. Saadiah Gaon, who initiated the controversy, claimed that the Psalter was a second Torah—the Lord's word to David—and by no means man's prayer to God. Salmon ben Yerucham and Yefet ben Ali insisted on the Karaite view that the Book of Psalms was the prophetic common prayerbook of Israel. Totally opposing both of these concepts, Rabbi Moses Ibn Giqatilah regarded the Psalms as non-prophetic prayers authored by different poets, beginning with David and ending with the captive Levites in the Babylonian exile. Finally, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra reverted to the belief held by the Talmudic sages—that the Psalms were Israel's divinely inspired and most sacred poetry.

The book also includes the full text of a previously unknown introduction to Ibn Ezra's lost commentary on the Psalms, which is much more elaborate and revealing than the introduction to his familiar classical commentary.

Uriel Simon is Professor of Bible and Co-director of the Institute for the History of Jewish Bible Research at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He is the author of Abraham Ibn Ezra's Two Commentaries on the Minor Prophets.