“David, the Teenager” could be the title of the “extra psalm,” Psalm 151.
Psalm 151 is not found in the Hebrew Bible but appears in the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The psalm introduces David as the youngest among his brothers, the shepherd of his family’s flocks and an able musician. It praises him as one elected and anointed by the angel (in Hebrew, “messenger”) of the Lord and a national hero. For legend recalled David defeating Goliath (prototype of the archenemy of Israel) in single combat (1Sam 17:17-54). The psalm concludes in David’s words:
"But I, having drawn the dagger from him, I beheaded him and removed reproach from Israel's sons." (NETS)
Some scholars compare this description of David in Psalm 151 to the Greek hero Orpheus, who charmed animals with his music. Others say that it portrays David as some kind of exorcist—by playing the lyre, David could appease the evil spirit that tormented King Saul (1Sam 16:23). Other commentators highlight David's heroic victory with a sling and a stone over Goliath the giant, the Philistine champion.
People always want to know more biographical details about their heroes. Psalm 151 draws on tales of the adolescent David told in the first book of Samuel of the Hebrew Bible. It is an interpretation of David’s story that had particular resonance during the second century B.C.E.—the time of the Maccabees, when Israel was struggling under the oppressive Seleucid Empire. It reminded the listeners of another unlikely hero who succeeded against overwhelming odds.
Relevant heroes of the past become mirrors for the ideals of later generations. By the second century B.C.E. there is no need to invoke the Orpheus story to find a satisfactory interpretation of Psalm 151. The psalm recounts the David story to provide hope to the Jews living during the time when Judas Maccabeus and his brothers led a revolt against a powerful conqueror. The Maccabean revolt echoed heroic deeds of the past as "an unlikely story of a small band of brothers who turn aside the might of the Seleucid army and restore sovereignty to the land of Israel” (Gager, p. 45). Psalm 151 may date to that Maccabean time. However, a few decades ago scholars discovered a Hebrew psalm that represents an expanded (and perhaps even earlier) version of Psalm 151 among the Dead Sea Scrolls. David's exploits provided the ideal background for the colorful Messianic expectation that adapted itself to a variety of historical and social circumstances.
Natalio Fernández Marcos is research professor in the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, Madrid (Spain). He is author of Biblia Hebraica Quinta. 7 Judges (2011). The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Versions of the Bible (2009). Scribes and Translators: Septuagint and Old Latin in the Books of Kings (1994), and Septuaginta. La Biblia griega de judíos y cristianos (2008).
A collection of Jewish texts (biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian) from around the time of Christ that were preserved near the Dead Sea and rediscovered in the 20th century.
A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.
Religious practitioner(s) trained to cast out demons.
A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.
The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."
An uprising led by the priest Mattathias against the Hellenizing agenda of Aniotchus IV Epiphanes. It turned into full-scale war with Judah Maccabee taking the reins and paving the way for the Hasmonean dynasty.
In Greek mythology, a legendary poet and musician.
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