6 February 2022

The Psalms

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me
in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.

— Jesus Christ, told by Luke the Evangelist (Luke 24:44)

The importance of the Psalms was quite hidden for me even several years after I became a Christian. I can recall some brothers who gathered together and studied systematically the Psalms, at the end of the 1990s. I admired these brothers, but I was somehow not enthusiastic enough to join, once in a month, or so.

In this blog entry some mechanical experiments will be shown via the bibref tool. We are interested if the getrefs command can find potential quotations in the New Testament, where the quoted texts appear from the Psalms. To achieve this, we mechanically run the command getrefs SBLGNT LXX n where the number n stands for the given Psalm.


We will collect the longest matches for each psalm. For Psalm 1, the required command will be getrefs SBLGNT LXX Psalms 1. The computation will take a couple of seconds, but for other psalms this may be either faster or slower. (For example, for Psalm 18 I needed about 5 minutes on my 4-years-old laptop.) To save time for you, I performed the commands on my computer for all psalms, it took about 40 minutes (in the native version of bibref, it is significantly faster than the version that runs in your browser), and I created the following table that shows the outputs:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
0 19 131 12 24 19 20 14 120 18 19
1 13 21 10 318 25 282 12 33 74 17
2 13 63 18 20 14 13 16 21 16 15
3 18 97 27 82 18 13 23 22 15 64
4 14 20 19 53 124 13 20 16 17 15
5 38 17 14 17 18 17 19 18 20 15
6 25 14 21 19 18 19 16 18 74 12
7 15 19 18 13 18 14 18 28 15 15
8 14 15 14 23 21 34 13 13 22 21
9 53 14 12 35 134 14 18 15 26 17
10 13 133 20 57 21 25 23 13 23 81
11 20 59 11 17 30 19 22 114 17 11
12 9 20 17 11 14 13 13 16 11 13
13 9 17 14 27 18 13 13 13 15 12
14 15 17 23 14 26 20 14 17 13 15

The table shows the outputs consecutively in all 150 psalms. For example, the entry on line 4, column 5 stands for the output for Psalm 45: the longest maximal extension of the minimal unique passages is 124 characters long. The same output for Psalm 40 (on row 3, column 10) is 64 characters.

Surprisingly, all outputs are at least 9. Their average is about 29.47. Many of them are below the average, but some of them are quite high – for Psalms 2, 8, 14, 16, 45, 95, 102 and 118 the longest literal matches are above 100 characters.

We give two visualizations on this dataset. The first one is a 3D surface plot, provided by the plotly library. The high peaks show those 8 remarkable psalms with the longest matches, but some lower peaks are also nicely visualized.