Today, the Jewish world has adopted a popularist - if not theurgical - approach to the Book of Psalms, where the Psalms take on a mystical and almost magical function. However widespread, this is only one facet of a kaleidoscope of multifaceted and divergent methodologies that lie within the rubric of rabbinic Psalm interpretation. This article looks at some of the theology underpinning the essential structures of the Psalms as seen through the eyes of the classical rabbis. The analysis begins with the overall edifice of the Psalter, its division into books and their order, discusses the nomenclature and the aspect of musicology, and rabbinic views concerning their authorship and provenance. The article proceeds to investigate diverse and sometimes mutually-exclusive rabbinic opinions regarding the essential intent, usage and status of the Psalms. In the final analysis, readers are left bewildered as to whether the Psalms hold the key to the secrets of the universe or whether Jews are even allowed to pray by using the Psalms because of their exalted spiritual stature, or on the contrary, whether the Psalms are merely human expressions of prayer and grappling attempts at making sense of a difficult world, and therefore, of diminished and mundane status.
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