Ask a Scholar

Asaph and the Psalms by Aubrey Buster

Q. Some of the psalms have the word or person Asaph at the beginning. What and/or who is Asaph?

A. Asaph was a prominent Levite singer and seer in David’s court and was the son of Berachiah of the tribe of Levi. (1Chr 6:39, 1Chr 15:17, 1Chr 15:19; 1Chr 16:4-7; 2Chr 29:30). He is the ancestor of the Sons of Asaph, one of the great family guilds of temple musicians.

Asaph is featured prominently in Chronicles. He is described as the chief of the Levites appointed to minister before the ark of the Lord, and he and his brothers are appointed to sing the songs of thanksgiving to the Lord (1Chr 16:4-7). His description as a seer (2Chr 29:30) also suggests a connection with cultic prophecy. Asaph’s descendants formed an important guild of temple singers in the reconstruction following the exile. In Ezra 2:41 and Neh 7:44, the temple singers are simply referred to as the “sons of Asaph.” It is also an Asaphite, Uzzi, who is established as the overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem during the temple’s reconstruction (Neh 11:22-24).

The importance of Asaph and his descendants in the cult probably contributes to the preservation of the psalms bearing their name. Twelve psalms (50, 73-83) are introduced with the phrase le’asaf in the superscription. This phrase, most often translated in English “of Asaph,” can indicate authorship: that it was Asaph himself or one of his descendants who wrote these psalms. It can also indicate a group of psalms associated with Asaph and his family, or psalms that are sung in the style associated with Asaph’s guild of musicians. For further discussion of the themes of the collection, see M. J. Buss, “The Psalms of Asaph and Korah,” Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963): 382-91.

Aubrey Buster, "Asaph and the Psalms", n.p. [cited 16 Oct 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/asaph-and-the-psalms

Contributors

Aubrey Buster

Aubrey Buster
Ph.D. Student, Emory University

Aubrey Buster is a PhD student in Hebrew Bible at Emory University.

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

An inspired message related by a prophet; also, the process whereby a prophet relates inspired messages to others.

The addition of a title or subtitle in an ancient work; see especially the designation of certain types of psalms in the book of Psalms.

1Chr 6:39

39and his brother Asaph, who stood on his right, namely, Asaph son of Berechiah, son of Shimea,

1Chr 15:17

17So the Levites appointed Heman son of Joel; and of his kindred Asaph son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari, their kindred, Ethan son of Kushaiah;

1Chr 15:19

19The singers Heman, Asaph, and Ethan were to sound bronze cymbals;

1Chr 16:4-7

4He appointed certain of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.5Asaph was the chie ... View more

2Chr 29:30

30King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladne ... View more

1Chr 16:4-7

4He appointed certain of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.5Asaph was the chie ... View more

2Chr 29:30

30King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladne ... View more

Ezra 2:41

41The singers: the descendants of Asaph, one hundred twenty-eight.

Neh 7:44

44The singers: the descendants of Asaph, one hundred forty-eight.

Neh 11:22-24

22The overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani son of Hashabiah son of Mattaniah son of Mica, of the descendants of Asaph, the singers, in char ... View more

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.