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Degrees, Song of

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(שַׁיר הִמִּעֲלוֹת, song of the steps; Sept. ᾠδὴ τῶν ἀναβαθμῶν, Vulg. canticum graduum), a title given to fifteen Psalms, from 120 to 134 inclusive. Four of them are attributed to David, one is ascribed to the pen of Solomon, and the other ten give no indication of their author. Eichhorn supposes them all to be the work of one and the same bard (Einl. in das A. T.), on the view adopted by many that the indications of authorship in these titles are not trustworthy, since they appear to have been added by a later hand, and in any casp "the very same phraseology would be employed to denote a hymn composed in honor of David or of Solomon" (Marks's Sermons, 1:208-9). The most generally accredited opinion, however, is that some of these hymns were preserved from a period anterior to the Babylonish captivity; that others were composed in the same spirit by those who returned to Palestine, on the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, and that a few refer even to a later date, but were all incorporated into one collection, because they had one and the same character. This view is adopted by Rosenmü ller, Herder, Mendelssohn, Joel Brill; and others. With respect to the term הִמִּעֲלוֹת, or "degrees," a great diversity of opinion prevails among Biblical critics.

1. According to some, it refers to the melody to which the Psalm was to be chanted. Bellermann (Metrik der Hebrier, p. 190 sq.) calls these Psalms "trochaic songs." Luther translates the words "Ein Lied im hohern Chor," thus connecting the Psalm with the manner of its execution; and Michaelis (in Lowth, De Sacri Poesi, p. 511) compares מעלה with the Syriac שכלתא (Scala), which would likewise characterize the metre or the melody (Assem. Bibl. 1:62); but Gesenius (Ephemerid. Hal. 1812, No. 205) denies to the Hebrews any metrical prosody. (See POETRY, HEBREW).

It is thought that the poetry of the Syrians may hereafter throw some light upon this title, as of the eight species of verse which they distinguish, one is called gradus, scala, degrees, like these Psalms, and the name appears to refer to a particular kind of metre (see Ephem. litt. Hal. 1815, No. 11); but what that metre is, and whether it exists in the Psalms bearing this title, we have not yet the means of determining.

2. On slight grounds, also, some refer the name Shir ham-Maaloth song of degrees to the argument of the Psalms, and translate songs of ascent, or odes of ascension, supposing them to have been sung by the Israelites while returning from exile (Ezra 7:9), or on their annual journeys to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the festivals: hence some understand sacred marches, orpilgrim songs; but this would only apply to two of them (Psalms 122, 126). Such, however, is the opinion of Herder (Geiste der hebraischer Poesie), who interprets the title "Hymns for a journey." This view is advocated at length by Hengstenberg (Comment. on Psalms, 3:406, Edinb. ed.), and has been adopted by several later critics.

3. Aben Ezra quotes an ancient authority (so Kimchi, Saadias, Jarchi, etc. explain), which maintains that the degrees allude to the fifteen steps which, in the Temple of Jerusalem, led from the court of the women to that of the men, and on each of which steps one of the fifteen songs of degrees was chanted (comp. Talmud, Middoth, 2:5; Succa, v. 4). Adam Clarke (Comment. on Psalms 120) refers to a similar opinion as found in the Apocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary: "Her parents brought her to the Temple, and set her upon one of the steps. Now there are fifteen steps about the Temple, by which they go up to it, according to the fifteen Psalms of degrees." (See TEMPLE).

4. The most probable interpretation, however, is that adopted by Gesenius (Thes. Heb. p. 1031 sq.), that they are so called from a certain rhythm obvious in several of them, by which the sense, as it were, ascends by degrees or steps, the first or last words of a preceding clause being often repeated at the beginning of the succeeding one (see Jour. Sac. Lit. October, 1854, p. 39 sq.). Thus, in Psalms 121 :

1. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, From whence cometh my help.

2. My help cometh from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

3. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; Thy keeper will not slumber.

4 Lo, not slumber nor sleep will the keeper of Israel.

5. Jehovah is thy keeper, etc.

Compare also Psalms 122:2-9; Psalms 123:3-4; Psalm 124:15; Psalms 126:2-3; Psalms 129:1-2. To the same class belongs also the song of Deborah (Judges 5:3-30). This view is followed by De Wette (Einl. in dos A. T. p. 289) and others. See Tiling, Disquisitio de inscriptione, שַׁיר הִמִּעֲלוֹת (Brem. 1765); Clarisse, Psalmi quisndecim Hammaaloth (L. B. 1819); Sticht, De Psalmis Hammaloth (Altona, 1766). (See PSALMS).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Degrees, Song of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/d/degrees-song-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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