The Mystery of the Secret Psalm

Qumran, where the Secret Psalm was discovered
When the sages of Yavneh codified and canonized the Hebrew Bible in the early centuries of the Common Era, which version did they hold in their hands? How did they decide what would be included in the canon, and would thus become mankind’s ultimate, defining treatise and codex for eternity?

Scrolls of biblical books were written ever since the days of Ezra and the introduction of universal education. Thus, it is not unreasonable to assume that a variety of manuscripts of each of the books of the bible were available to the sages, who then set about sifting what was to be accepted into the canon, and what was to remain external to it; which edition of which manuscript was to be considered suitable, and which was not. Perhaps there were sections of one manuscript and portions of another that were combined to become a book or a chapter in a book.

In truth, we don’t really know what they held in their hands. But we do have traditions, and from those we learn how the Hebrew Bible came into existence.

That was all well and good until the middle of the twentieth century, when Bedouin shepherds discovered in a cave at Qumran in the Judean desert, a treasure that would become known popularly as the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The immeasurable value of this incalculable treasure was to be revealed and become apparent as more and more scrolls were discovered and deciphered by scholars from all over the world.

The most ancient original hand written scrolls of large portions from the Bible and the Apocrypha were now in the hands of modern scholars, and for the first time since the Bible was canonized, it was now possible to compare the canon with other texts that existed at the time of its establishment.

By the end of the twentieth century all the biblical scrolls had appeared in print or had been submitted for publication. About a quarter of the scrolls found in the Judean Desert - 220 out of 900 - are considered “biblical” scrolls because they contain texts that are found in the Hebrew Bible. Of those 220 scrolls, the Biblical book most represented is the Book of Psalms.
Why is that? Why was the Book of Psalms more popular than any other book? Is it because the Qumran community may have been heavily populated by Priests and Levites? Could the Book of Psalms have been especially popular due to its usage in liturgy and prayer? Might it have been simply a hymnal?

The Book of Psalms as canonized by the sages of Yavneh in the Hebrew Bible is comprised of 150 Psalms. The Book of Psalms in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, contains 154 Psalms. The extra four are accounted for in the Apocrypha. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that they were known to the learned men of Yavneh, but a decision was taken by the sages to leave these out of the canon.

However, in Qumran, the archeologists came across another 3 Psalms that were not in the Septuagint either, along with a prose paragraph which appears to be an archival stock-list of the number of Psalms written by David. The finding of these raises a plethora of questions.

Who wrote these extra four pieces? Why do they appear in the Qumran scrolls within the context of the Book of Psalms while they are missing from both the Canonical version as well as from the Septuagint? Does the fact that these extra Psalms were found in more than one location at Qumran mean that they were in common usage at the time? If so, why are they not dealt with in any form by the sages of Yavneh? Is it possible that the sages of Yavneh were not aware of this version of the Book of Psalms? Could it be that the physical distance between Yavneh and the Dead Sea was the reason that these scrolls were unknown at Yavneh? Or was it perhaps that the distance between Yavneh and the Dead Sea was an ideological one? Were the scrolls found at Qumran perforce written there or might they have been written somewhere else, in Jerusalem perhaps, and then brought to Qumran? Might this have been a purposeful political decision taken in a manner to ensure that the works of the Qumran scribes are forever lost to history seeing as the residents of the Qumran sect were not looked upon favorably by the rabbinic leadership?

The questions far outnumber the answers, and we’ll probably never find a complete solution.

However, the beauty of the psalmist’s words need no longer be kept from public eyes. The time is here for these hidden, beautiful and poetic sacred treasures to be revealed publicly so that all those who “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” can enjoy the immortal words of the unidentified, unknown and hidden psalmist.

The Secret Psalm – A Love Poem to Jerusalem, as we have come to call it, has been known to scholars and archeologists since the mid-20th century, but has never been popularized and has never made its way into the public plaza. The scholar James A. Sanders named this psalm “Apostrophe to Zion” – a psalm and poem addressed to an absent Jerusalem. Other authorities have called it The Alphabetical Psalm to Zion.

The author is away from his beloved holy city, but pines and yearns for it, describing in rapturous poetry Jerusalem’s beauty, its citizens and the promise of its future.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” indeed. The unknown psalmist does just that in the most exquisite and affectionate language.

You can order a fine art print recreation of the original Secret Psalm as it was inscribed by the anonymous psalmist on specially manufactured acid-free archival paper and even on parchment. The Secret Psalm can also adorn your home, office or place of worship beautifully sculpted in stone and/or glass.

We are so happy to share with you the sacred beauty of The Secret Psalm, this magnificent ancient Love Poem to Jerusalem.

The Secret Psalm Productions, 
P. O. Box 1223, Efrat 90435, Israel.

Tel: +972-52-348-5443 Fax: +972-2993-1462