Twelve Psalms (50, 73–83) refer to Asaph in their titles. They are widely regarded by scholars as a coherent group of Psalms written in reaction to the exile of 586 BCE, though Psalm 50 seems out of place. According to Chronicles, Asaph had responsibilities for the Ark (1 Chronicles 15:17, 19; 16:37) and for the music used in the Temple (1 Chronicles 6:39; 16.5, 7; 25:6, 9; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15; Nehemiah 12:46) in the reign of David. He is also twice spoken of in prophetic terms (1 Chronicles 25:2 ‘Asaph who prophesied’; 2 Chronicles 29:30 ‘the words of Asaph the seer [ḥazon]’). There are no references to him elsewhere, and the predominance of references in Chronicles and Nehemiah (composed after 400 BCE), with no parallels in the earlier books of Kings, suggests evidence of the reading back into earlier history of a functionary who was in reality of some standing in the post-exilic service of the restored Temple.

The family of Asaph

Additional references to the family of Asaph cover similar ground. They appear in the service of the Temple (1 Chronicles 9:15; 26:1; 2 Chronicles 29:13) and its music (1 Chronicles 25:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 35:15; Ezra 2:41; 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; 11:22; 12:35; specifically leading ‘thanksgiving in prayer’ in Nehemiah 11:17). One descendant is presented as prophesying under the spirit of God (2 Chronicles 20:14-17).

Other references

Two other, presumably unrelated, individuals of the same name are cited: Asaph the scribe in 2 Kings 18:18, 37 = Isaiah 36:3, 22, and Asaph the ‘keeper of the king’s forest’ in Nehemiah 2:8.

The Hebrew root ’sp is associated with ‘binding’, ‘gathering’ or ‘harvesting’, which might suggest the English name Gatherer for Asaph.

Further reading

Firth, D. G. “Asaph and Sons of Korah.” Pages 24-27 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Edited by Tremper Longman III & Peter Enns. A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press, 2008.