Degrees, Songs of

(shir ha-ma`aloth; Septuagint ode ton anabathmon; Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) canticum graduum, the Revised Version (British and American) "a song of ascents"): The title prefixed to 15 psalms (Ps 120:1-7 through 134) as to the significance of which there are four views: (1) The Jewish interpretation. According to the Mishna, Middoth 2 5, Cukkah 51b, there was in the temple a semi-circular flight of stairs with 15 steps which led from the court of the men of Israel down to the court of the women. Upon these stairs the Levites played on musical instruments on the evening of the first day of Tabernacles. Later Jewish writers say that the 15 psalms derived their title from the 15 steps. (2) Gesenius, Delitzsch and others affirm that these psalms derive their name from the step-like progressive rhythm of their thoughts. They are called Songs of Degrees because they move forward climactically by means of the resumption of the immediately preceding word. But this characteristic is not found in several of the group. (3) Theodoret and other Fathers explain these 15 hymns as traveling songs of the returning exiles. In Ezr 7:9 the return from exile is called "the going up (ha-ma`alah) from Babylon." Several of the group suit this situation quite well, but others presuppose the temple and its stated services. (4) The most probable view is that the hymns were sung by pilgrim bands on their way to the three great festivals of the Jewish year. The journey to Jerusalem was called a "going up," whether the worshipper came from north or south, east or west. All of the songs are suitable for use on such occasions. Hence, the title Pilgrim Psalms is preferred by many scholars.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.


John Richard Sampey

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