Q. Some Bibles list the Psalms with its number followed by a number in brackets. What do the bracketed numbers mean?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Ptolemy II (309-246 B.C.) commissioned a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. Legend says he selected 72 Jewish scholars (six from each of the Twelve Tribes), isolated them, and set them to work. To everyone’s amazement, each translation was identical.
These details may be debated, but the result was the Septuagint (Latin for “seventy”) translation of the Old Testament. It corrected a number of errors that had crept into the Hebrew text of the Psalms as a result of poor copying or adapting the texts for liturgical use. Psalms 9 and 10 were originally one poem, while Psalm 144 was really two. To confuse matters further, some psalms repeat others — for example, 14 and 53, and 40, which duplicates parts of 70.
When we read the Psalms — especially a traditional Catholic edition, based on St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation — and see a number in brackets, the bracketed number is directing us to the corresponding Psalm in a translation from the Hebrew text — for example, the Revised Standard Version. If we encounter a reference to a Psalm and cannot locate the passage in our edition of the Bible, looking to the previous Psalm should solve the difficulty.