This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.
Song of Ascents is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134 (119–133 in the Septuagint and the Vulgate), that each starts with the ascription (Hebrew: שיר המעלות, Shir Hama'aloth). They are also variously called Gradual Psalms, Songs of Degrees, Songs of Steps or Pilgrim Songs.
Four of them (122, 124, 131 and 133) are claimed in their ascriptions to have been written by David, and one (127) by Solomon, the rest being anonymous. Some modern scholars do not believe that these ascriptions can be taken literally, although they give evidence that helps in dating of the Psalms and identifying their original use.
The probable origin of this name is the circumstance that these psalms came to be sung by the people on the ascents or goings up to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (Deuteronomy 16:16) or by the kohanim (priests) as they ascended the steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
They were well suited for being sung, by their poetic form and the sentiments they express. "They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e., repetition], and by their epigrammatic style.... More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful."
The liturgical use of these psalms came into Christianity through its Jewish roots. The form of the Scriptures used in the Early Church, at least so far as the Hebrew Bible was concerned, was primarily the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, these psalms are numbered 119–133.
Many early hermits observed the practice of reciting the entire Psalter daily, coenobitic communities would chant the entire Psalter through in a week, so these psalms would be said on a regular basis, during the course of the Canonical hours.
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