The biblical book of Psalms consists of 150 devotional poems, which—according to the Talmud—were composed by ten different authors, most prominent of whom was King David. Based primarily on the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many modern academic scholars have concluded that, while some of the individual psalms might be quite old, the precise selection and ordering that appear in the Tanakh did not emerge until a relatively late date. Instead, they argue, a variety of collections proliferated during the Second Temple period, with overlapping but not identical contents. But a group of researchers based in the Netherlands, who have been subjecting the Dead Sea Scrolls to new forms of technologically sophisticated analysis, have come to different conclusions. Rossella Tercatin writes:
The Dead Sea Scrolls collection presents some 40 scrolls containing the text [of Psalms]. “Some of them are just one tiny fragment; some are collections of many large fragments,” Drew Longacre, [one of the scholars conducting the new research], said. “Maybe fifteen or so are substantially preserved.” . . . The preliminary results of the analysis carried out using paleographic and radiocarbon dating have revealed that some of the scrolls might actually be more ancient than previously thought.
“One of the manuscripts presenting texts in roughly the same order as medieval manuscripts could have been dated as early as the 3rd century BCE, which could be very challenging for those who say that the current Psalter is a much more recent creation,” Longacre said.
Longacre [also] believes that a clear distinction existed between artifacts created for public use and community reading and those manufactured for personal use, a distinction somewhat comparable to the modern difference between a Torah scroll used for public reading in synagogues and a ḥumash, a [printed] book containing the Pentateuch, usually used for learning purposes, or between hardcover and paperback books.
The difference between formal and informal manuscripts also could offer a fundamental key to interpret discrepancies between contradictory versions of the texts, Longacre said.
More about: Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible, Psalms