It is not clear how early the book of Psalms became 'canonical' in its present form. The presence among the Dead Sea Scrolls of Psalter manuscripts differing in arrangement from our Psalter may indicate that the order of the Psalms was still not fixed in the first century BCE, though some scholars argue that these manuscripts are selections, arranged for liturgical use, from a book that was already fixed (see the discussion in Sanders 1992:842-3). In either case it is likely that most Jewish communities by this time would have recognized 'the Psalms', with whatever variations of detail, as Scripture. Probably this had been so for several centuries. The Psalter is often described as 'the hymnbook of the second temple', and it seems from 1 Chronicles 16 that excerpts from it were already a familiar part of worship in the fifth century. Just as all law was attributed to Moses, and all wisdom to Solomon, so psalmody came to be ascribed to David; and this had the effect (or was the result) of placing the composition of Psalms firmly in the past—just like law and wisdom.

By New Testament times the Psalms had become a book of religious teaching, their character as address to God submerged under the idea that they were God's address to his people. Thus, in the New Testament, Psalm texts can be read in the same way as prophecy (Acts 2:25-8), while Philo uses them as teaching about the spiritual life. Thus the Psalms became one of the 'foundation documents' of Judaism—no longer a collection which could be added to freely, but a complete and self-contained work from a past age. The book contained 150 Psalms, and it is interesting that though these are counted differently in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin traditions, care is taken to ensure that the total remains the same, by combining and/or subdividing various Psalms. (The LXX's Ps. 151 is a later text which never formed part of the collection.)

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