Psalm 23

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Illustration from "The Sunday at Home", 1880

In the 23rd Psalm (Greek numbering: Psalm 22) in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the writer (David) describes God as his Shepherd. The text, beloved by Jews and Christians alike, is often alluded to in popular media and has been set to music many times.

Shepherd theme[edit]

Psalm 23 portrays God as a good shepherd, feeding (verse 1) and leading (verse 3) his flock. The "rod and staff" (verse 4) are also the implements of a shepherd. Some commentators see the shepherd imagery pervading the entire psalm.

J. Douglas MacMillan argues that verse 5 ("Thou preparest a table before me") refers to the "old oriental shepherding practice" of using little raised tables to feed sheep.[1] Similarly, "Thou anointest my head with oil" may refer to an ancient form of backliner – the oil is poured on wounds, and repels flies. MacMillan also notes that verse 6 ("Goodness and mercy shall follow me") reminds him of two loyal sheepdogs coming behind the flock.[2]

In Jewish tradition[edit]

The first verse of the psalm as well as a long tradition ascribe authorship to King David, said in the Hebrew Scriptures to have been a field shepherd himself as a youth.

Psalm 23 is traditionally sung by Jews in Hebrew at the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. It is also sung during the Yizkor service. Sephardic and some Hassidic Jews also sing during Friday afternoon services and as part of the Sabbath night and day meals. It is read at a cemetery funeral service instead of the traditional prayer during Jewish holidays.

The standard Hebrew text of the Bible used in Judaism is the Masoretic text standardized between the 7th and 10th centuries CE.

In Christian tradition[edit]

Psalm 23 is often referred to as the Shepherd's psalm

For Christians the image of God as a shepherd evokes connections not only with David but with Jesus, described as "the Good Shepherd" in the Gospel of John. The phrase about "the valley of the shadow of death" is often taken as an allusion to the eternal life given by Jesus.

Orthodox Christians typically include this Psalm in the prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist.

The Reformation inspired widespread efforts in western Europe to make biblical texts available in vernacular languages. One of the most popular early English versions was the Geneva Bible (1557). The most widely recognized version of the psalm in English today is undoubtedly the one drawn from the King James Bible (1611).

The psalm is a popular passage for memorization and is often used in sermons.

Metrical versions[edit]

Eastman Johnson's 1863 painting "The Lord is My Shepherd".

An early metrical version of the psalm in English was made in 1565 by Thomas Sternhold. Other metrical versions to emerge from the Protestant Reformation include those from The Bay Psalm Book (1640)[3] and a version influenced by Sternholm published in the Scottish Psalter (1650).[4] The latter version is still encountered, with modernized spelling, in many Protestant hymns. Other notable metrical versions include those by George Herbert, Philip Sidney, and Isaac Watts.[3]

A metrical version of the psalm is traditionally sung to the hymn tune Crimond, generally attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine.[5] This version, with its opening words "The Lord's My Shepherd", is probably the best-known amongst English-speaking congregations. Other melodies, such as Brother James' Air or Amazing Grace, are also used. Other tunes sometimes used include Belmont, Evan, Martyrdom, Orlington, and Wiltshire.[6]

Use in funerals[edit]

In the 20th century, Psalm 23 became particularly associated with funeral liturgies in the English-speaking world, and films with funeral scenes often depict a graveside recitation of the psalm. Official liturgies of English-speaking churches were slow to adopt this practice, though. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England has only Psalms 39 and 90 in its order for the burial of the dead, and in the Episcopal Church in the United States, Psalm 23 was not used for funerals until the 1928 revision of the prayer book.

Musical settings[edit]

Liturgical and classical[edit]

Songs[edit]

Recitation[edit]

Use in popular media[edit]

Other notable uses[edit]

Verses from Psalm 23 have been used following widely-perceived tragic events: three prominent examples include the recital of the psalm in Todd Beamer's phone call made in Flight 93 during the September 11th attacks and the 9/11 Address to the Nation

Media[edit]

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02:47 Orchestral arrangement 5 Verses with intro

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02:36 Orchestral arrangement 5 Verses with intro

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References[edit]

  1. ^ J. Douglas MacMillan, The Lord of Shepherd. (Bryntirion: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1988), 78.
  2. ^ MacMillan, 82
  3. ^ a b Smith Creek Music: 'Psalms Compared: Psalm 23', retrieved 2007-08-05. (no public access!)
  4. ^ Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases at CCEL
  5. ^ "Crimond". Center for Church Music - Songs & Hymns. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  6. ^ [1] Cyberhymnal
  7. ^ a b BBC h2g2 Psalm 23
  8. ^ Together with Psalm 43 and Psalm 150 in an a capella setting for mixed chorus written in 1954. Dixon, Joan (1992). George Rochberg: A Bio-Bibliographic Guide to His Life and Works. Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, p. 175.
  9. ^ The Miklós Rózsa Society Website
  10. ^ Blotner, Linda Solow (1983). The Boston Composers Project: A Bibliography of Contemporary Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, p. 547.
  11. ^ "Settings of: Psalm 23". ChoralNet. Retrieved 2012-02-25. 
  12. ^ . Novello & Co Ltd. #NOV290116.  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]

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