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Many of the Psalms feature the word "selah" which as I understand is a musical or liturgical term. When the Psalms are read aloud, how should selah be uttered? I've heard it both said aloud, or left as a pause for empahsis.

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How would you feel about migrating this question to Biblical Hermeneutics? There are probably two aspects to this: one is the original Hebrew usage to which the Jewish expertise on that site might be able to speak to better. The other is how it is/can be used in contemporary Christian worship. If you really want to focus on the latter we can certainly keep it here, but we should probably tweak the question a little to focus less on the "truth" of the matter and more on gathering information on how Christianity handles this. –  Caleb Apr 15 '13 at 9:16
    
@Caleb This question is about how the Psalm should be read for presentation, not really the intricacies of the meaning of the word. I think that means it goes here, but I'm not sure how to tweak it. You're welcome to have a go if you've got ideas. –  C. Ross Apr 15 '13 at 12:05
    
It would actually be a duplicate at BH.SE anyways: Translation of "Selah" (סֶלָה‎) –  maj nem ɪz dæn Apr 15 '13 at 15:11

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Roger Ellsworth in "Opening Up the Psalms" says not to pronounce the word:

The word ‘Selah’ appears seventy-four times in forty psalms. This word signifies a pause or interlude. It may have been used to inform musicians to change instruments or to call for both musicians and listeners to ponder the truth that had been sung. In the public reading of the psalms, we honour each ‘Selah’, not by actually saying the word, but rather by pausing.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary has a really good summary. Key points:

  1. The original meaning has been lost
  2. It has been translated as "Interlude" or "Pause and Reflect"
  3. It could be a voice signal for louder or raised - in any event, it would be like 'crescendo' or 'rotando' - some form of musical notation.
  4. Martin Luther, in particular, thought this a signal for deeper meditation.

SELAH Selah (selâ), appearing 71 times in 39 psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3 as a marginal note, is likely a musical instruction. With few exceptions, the term is used in psalms that have titles. The majority of the titles identify the psalms containing Selah with David or the Levitical singers, and about 75 percent of the titles also make reference to the “musical director” or “choirmaster” [Superscriptions].

Translated “interlude” in the LXX, the original meaning is unclear. The three basic interpretations focus on the root sll “lift up”; slh “repetition”; and the Aramaic root ṣl’, “to bow” or “to pray.” Thus, interpreters have suggested that Selah might call for the instruments to enter, raise the pitch or volume, affirm what has been said, or serve as a breath marker.

In addition to suggestions that Selah might signal raising the voice, changing the voices, or increasing the volume, scholars have offered other possibilities. It could be a unit marker in some contexts, as in the paired Psalms 9 and 10. Selah appears at the ends of Psalm 9:16 and 20, marking off verses 17–20 as a unit, almost exactly in the center of the two psalms when they are read as one (Tate, 2004:410–11). Michael Goulder (103–5) has offered the suggestion that it means “recitative,” marking a pause at which there should be the recitation of a prayer or story from Israelite tradition (68:7, 19, 32). Martin Luther referred to Selah as a sign that we are to think more deeply and at greater length what the words to which it is attached mean to say. He called Selah “a punctuation mark of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we find it in the Psalter, the Holy Spirit wants us to pause and ponder; there he wants to touch and enkindle our heart for particularly deep meditation” (Luther, 1956:37).

References: Craigie, 2004:76–77; Goulder: 103–5; Luther, 1956:37; Tate, 2004:410–11.

Finally, The Eerdmann's Dictionary of the Bible points out:

  1. The 'pause' translation came from the LXX.
  2. Some scholars via Jerome have suggested it derives from "forever":

Selah (Heb. selâ) Likely a musical or liturgical notation, occurring 71 times in 39 Psalms and 3 times in the psalm of Hab. 3. In the LXX Selah is rendered as Greek diápsalma (“pause in singing”), suggesting some type of caesura. According to the Targ., followed by Jerome, the term means “forever” or “everlasting.” Perhaps this was a directive to insert a benediction, refrain, or prayer collect at that point. Proposals based on etymology include “voice modulation,” “increase in volume,” “prostration,” and “prayer ritual.” Others have suggested that the consonants of Selah form an acronym for “voice modulation” or “repetition.” Gerald M. Bilkes

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In Hebrew, the word Selah (סלה) means "forever". For example, the end of Psalms 3 reads in Hebrew:

לַיהֹוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה עַל עַמְּךָ בִרְכָתֶךָ סֶּלָה:‏

Which can be translated as

It is incumbent on God to save, and it is incumbent on your nation to bless you forever.

Since, as you mentioned, it could also have some kind of musical/rhythmic meaning, I would assume that the best way to recite it would be untranslated in order to capture all of the different meanings.

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What translation are you using? KJV simply transliterates it as "Selah." I don't think any lexicons state that it means "forever" which is normally "olam." –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Apr 14 '13 at 18:51
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81, that's actually my own translation, so the translation itself should not be considered authoritative. I was just giving an example. I'll add a source for that definition to the answer. –  Daniel Apr 14 '13 at 20:19
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 "l'olam" is another word for "forever", as you mentioned. –  Daniel Apr 14 '13 at 20:21

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