Exploring the Echoes of Ancient Hebrew Psalms Divisions in Greek Psalter Manuscripts

Ryan Sikes
November 15, 2023

My doctoral research investigates the stichographic divisions found in early Greek Psalter manuscripts in order to examine the extent to which these divisions preserve an ancient Hebrew tradition of unit delimitation.[1] This study aims to determine the value of these Greek stichographic divisions for the exegesis of Hebrew Psalms, so that scholars can make critical use of these divisions in their lineation of the Hebrew text.

The process of lineation, vital for understanding Hebrew poems and developing theoretical models for Biblical Hebrew Poetry, is a topic of considerable debate among scholars. Consider, for example, two possible ways of delimitating the poetic lines in Ps. 11[10]:5.

  • Option 1[2] — יהוה צדיק יבחן | ורשע ואהב חמס שנאה נפשו     
  • Option 2[3] ואהב חמס שנאה נפשויהוה צדיק יבחן ורשע

The first option is represented in the Masoretic accents and pausal forms (יִ֫בְחָ֥ן). The second option is represented in the Septuagint, not only in the stichography of the manuscripts but in the syntax of the translation itself:

  • κύριος ἐξετάζει τὸν δίκαιον καὶ τὸν ἀσεβῆ | δὲ ἀγαπῶν ἀδικίαν μισεῖ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ ψυχήν.

This variability is not unique to this verse; numerous other verses in the Psalter show similar disparities, influencing both syntax and semantics. While recent trends in the study of Biblical Hebrew Poetry might eventually provide some clarity with regard to some of these issues, a consensus on both the nature of the line in Biblical Hebrew Poetry and the line structure of specific Biblical Hebrew poems remains elusive.[4]

Faced with the subjective nature of lineation, a growing number of scholars have turned to the textual traditions of the Bible for guidance.[5] Among these old traditions, manuscripts of the Septuagint have an important place. The oldest complete copy of the book of Psalms (in any language) is the Greek manuscript Codex Sinaiticus, and this manuscript has a clear stichographic format; every line in the Book of Psalms is unambiguously delimited. Many of the other early Greek Psalms manuscripts also indicate stich divisions. What is the value of these stichographic divisions for the exegesis of Hebrew poems? Might they serve as a guide to lineation? The answers to these questions depend on the extent to which these divisions preserve an ancient Hebrew tradition of unit delimitation. If these Greek manuscripts preserve something of a Hebrew tradition, then they have the potential to shed light on the structure of Hebrew poems and to advance the study of Biblical Hebrew Poetry.

Recent scholarship increasingly supports the idea that the stichographic systems in early Greek Psalms manuscripts, to some extent, preserve a pre-existing Jewish tradition.[6] The debate incorporates several types of evidence: (1) Manuscript analysis, including the consistency of stichographic systems and indications of copying from other stichographic manuscripts; (2) Testimonies of church fathers; (3) Comparative analysis of Greek manuscripts, particularly contrasting later Christian with earlier Jewish versions; (4) Comparisons between Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Each evidence type is crucial, yet no comprehensive synthesis of these diverse lines of evidence exists in current scholarship. Furthermore, some of these lines of evidence are still under-researched, such as systematic comparisons of line divisions in Greek Psalms manuscripts with those in the lineated Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, and comparisons with the divisions in the Masoretic text, including accents and pausal forms. A thorough investigation and integration of these evidence types could significantly clarify the extent to which early Greek Psalms manuscripts reflect an ancient Hebrew tradition.

My research investigates the depth to which stichographic systems in early Greek Psalm manuscripts embody a longstanding tradition. This inquiry necessitates a thorough analysis of how these manuscripts demarcate stichoi.[7] Such an analysis must also consider stichography in other Greek manuscripts from the same era, including both non-Psalmic Septuagint manuscripts and non-biblical manuscripts containing poetic texts.

The perspectives of contemporary scholars, such as Jerome, Origen, Hesychius, Eusebius, and Gregory of Nazianzus, who have explicitly commented on the stichographic arrangements of their Psalm manuscripts, are invaluable to this study. Their insights pave the way for a comprehensive comparison of the stichographic subdivisions in early Greek Psalm manuscripts, using the Codex Sinaiticus as a reference point. This comparison aims to discern the extent to which these divisions reflect a shared tradition.

Assuming that a common tradition is discerned, the study then seeks to identify the manuscript(s) that most accurately preserve this tradition, while concurrently assessing the stichographic divisions in Rahlfs’ edition. Following the elucidation of the Greek tradition, the study shifts its focus to the potential Hebrew underpinnings. To this end, I plan to juxtapose the stichographic divisions found in the most representative Greek manuscripts against three distinct streams of Hebrew tradition: the Dead Sea Scrolls[8], the pausal forms in Masoretic manuscripts, and the Masoretic accents.

The final aspect of this research will scrutinize psalms where Greek and Hebrew traditions present divergent line divisions (e.g., Ps. 11[10]:5). The objective here is to ascertain which tradition’s division is more historically authentic in each instance of discrepancy, offering new insights into the evolution and interpretation of these sacred texts.

[1] I am enrolled in a PhD program at Columbia International University in South Carolina under the mentorship of Dr. Peter Gentry. I am beginning research this semester (Fall 2023), and I hope to conclude research in 2026. Any and all feedback on this post is appreciated and can be sent to

[2] Cf. NIV, ESV, NET, CEV, JPS85, LUT, NGÜ, ELB, TOB, PDV2017, NFC, BDS, RVR95.


[4] E.g., Emmylou Grosser, Unparalleled Poetry: A Cognitive Approach to the Free-Rhythm Verse of the Hebrew Bible, Cognition and Poetics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023).

[5] See e.g., The Pericope Series. One of the distinctives of the new Hebrew Bible edition, Biblia Hebraica Quinta, is that the stichography of the poetic books is based on the Masoretic accents.

[6] Cf. Alan Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 362 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016); Peter Gentry and John Meade, “MasPs-a and the Early History of the Hebrew Psalter,” in From Scribal Error to Rewriting: How Ancient Texts Could and Could Not Be Changed, ed. Anneli Aejmelaeus, De Septuaginta Investigationes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020); Raymond de Hoop and Paul Sanders, Have a Break: Colography and Accentuation in the Hebrew Bible, forthcoming, §1.6.; Tommy Wasserman and Andreas Märs, “Traces of Singing: The Continuity between Greek Jewish and Christian Psalms,” in Song, Prayer, Scripture: Aspects of the Use of the Book of Psalms from the Hebrew Bible to the 21st Century, LHBOTS (London: T&T Clark, forthcoming). For a contrary position, see Silviu Tatu, “Graphic Devices Used by the Editors of Ancient and Mediaeval Manuscripts to Mark Verse-Lines in Classical Hebrew Poetry,” in Method in Unit Delimitation, Pericope (Boston: Brill, 2007).

[7] At this point, I intend to analyze the following manuscripts: Ra A, Ra B, Ra S, Ra R, Ra 1219, Ra 2013, Ra 2014, Ra 2019, Ra 2025, Ra 2027, Ra 2029, Ra 2037, Ra 2039, Ra 2042, Ra 2045, Ra 2046, Ra 2049, Ra 2050, Ra 2051, Ra 2054, Ra 2055, Ra 2059, Ra 2060, Ra 2064, Ra 2067, Ra 2070, Ra 2073, Ra 2077, Ra 2082, Ra 2090, Ra 2094, Ra 2108, Ra 2110, Ra 2113, Ra 2117, Ra 2122, Ra 2149, Ra 2150, Ra 2151, Ra 2157, Ra 2158, Ra 2160, Ra 2162, Ra 2165, Ra 2172, Ra 2178, Ra 2182, Ra 2198, Ra 2218, and Ra 2227. I also intend to give some attention to the earliest manuscripts of the LXX daughter versions.
[8] 1QPsa, 3QPs, 4QPsb, 4QPsc, 4QPsd, 4QPsg, 4QPsh, 4QPsl, 4QPsw, 5QPs, 8QPs, 11QPsa, 11QPsb, 5/6 HevPs–Se4Ps, MasPsa, MasPsb