Fifteen of the 150 psalms found in the Bible — Psalms 120-134 — are labeled “a song of ascents”. The English translation accurately reflects the Hebrew שיר המעלות, which means simply a song of ‘going up’. The question occupying many commentators has been, going up WHAT?

Some commentators have suggested the reference is geographical. Jerusalem is up on the hills and we go uphill to get to it. This is not accurate geographically, however.  Jerusalem is lower than the area around it. Gilo and the Hebron hills to the south are higher than the city, as are the ridge of Samuel’s tomb and the hills of Benjamin to the north.

One in fact goes DOWN to the city from its surroundings, not up. The psalm which most accurately reflects the geography of Jerusalem is therefore Psalm 121, “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills.” Anyone standing in the City of David will immediately see that he is surrounded by hills higher than his place.  So the geo -graphical explanation will not work.

An exact reproduction of Psalm 133,  “a song of ascents”, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and encased in a beautiful transparent plastic case, is available at Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author:  Walter Zanger