Selah (// or // with pronounced audible H; Hebrew: סֶלָה, additionally transliterated as selāh) is a word used 74 times in the Hebrew Bible—seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. The meaning of the word isn't known, though various interpretations are given below. (It shouldn't be confused with the Hebrew word sela‘ (Hebrew: סֶלַע) which means "rock", or in an adjective form, "like a rock", i.e.: firm, hard, heavy.) It is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like "stop and listen." Selah can additionally be used to indicate that there's to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm. The Amplified Bible translates selah as "pause, and think of that." It can additionally be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.
At least a few of the Psalms were sung accompanied by musical instruments and there are references to this in a large number of chapters. Thirty-one of the 39 psalms with the caption "To the choir-master" include the word selah. Selah might indicate a break in the song whose purpose is similar to that of Amen (Hebrew: "so be it") in that it stresses the truth and importance of the preceding passage; this interpretation is consistent with the meaning of the Semitic root ṣ-l-ḥ additionally reflected in Arabic cognate salih (variously "valid" [in the logical sense of "truth-preserving"], "honest," and "righteous"). Alternatively, selah might mean "forever," as it does in a few places in the liturgy (notably the second to last blessing of the Amidah). An Additional interpretation claims that selah comes from the primary Hebrew root word salah (סָלָה) which means "to hang," and by implication to measure (weigh).
Its etymology and precise meaning are unknown. This word occurs 71 times in 39 of the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk 3: altogether 74 times in the Bible. It is found at the end of Psalms 3, 24, and 46, and in most additional cases at the end of a verse, the exceptions being Psalms 55:19, 57:3, and Hab. 3:3, 9, 13.
The significance of this term was apparently not known even by ancient Biblical commentators. This can be seen by the variety of renderings given to it. The Septuagint, Symmachus, and Theodotion translate διάψαλμα (diapsalma, or "apart from psalm") — a word as enigmatic in Greek as is selah in Hebrew. The Hexapla simply transliterates σελ. Aquila, Jerome, and the Targum translate it as "always." According to Hippolytus (De Lagarde, "Novæ Psalterii Græci Editionis Specimen" 10), the Greek term διάψαλμα signified a change in rhythm or melody at the places marked by the term, or a change in thought and theme. Against this explanation Baethgen ("Psalmen," p. 15, first ed. Göttingen, 1892) notes that selah additionally occurs at the end of a few psalms.
An alternate interpretation is that "Selah, [celah], is from the primary Hebrew root word [calah] which means 'to hang,' and by implication to measure (weigh). This is readily understood because in Biblical history, money, food and additional valuables were 'weighed' by hanging or suspending them on a type of balance (the equivalent of our measuring scale) to determine their value." This implies a possible meaning is an instruction to measure carefully and reflect upon the preceding statements.
E. W. Bullinger believes selah is a conjunction linking two verses (or thoughts, or Psalms) together either in contrast, further explanation, or to mark a cause/effect relationship.
Another meaning is given by assigning it to the root, as an imperative that shouldn't properly have been vocalized, "Sollah" (Ewald, "Kritische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache,"p. 554; König, "Historisch-Kritisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache," ii., part i., p. 539). The meaning of this imperative is given as "Lift up," equivalent to "loud" or "fortissimo," a direction to the accompanying musicians to break in at the place marked with crash of cymbals and blare of trumpets, the orchestra playing an interlude while the singers' voices were hushed. The effect, as far as the singer was concerned, was to mark a pause. This significance, too, has been read into the expression or sign, selah being held to be a variant of "shelah" (="pause"). But as the interchange of shin ש and samek ס isn't usual in Biblical Hebrew, and as the meaning "pause" isn't held to be applicable in the middle of a verse, or where a pause would interrupt the sequence of thought, this proposition has met with little favor. Though there aren't any official cases of evidence to support this claim, it is reported in various cities in the middle east, that the word selah originates in Syrian Aramaic as a word reserved for prayer as a praise that's used exclusively for praising God and is the highest form of praise man is able to give.
Grätz argues that selah introduces a new paragraph, and additionally in a few instances a quotation (e.g., Psalms 57:8 et seq. from 108:2 et seq.) The fact that the term occurs four times at the end of a Psalm wouldn't weigh against this theory. The Psalms were meant to be read in sequence, and, moreover, a large number of of them are fragments; indeed, Psalm 9 is reckoned one with Psalm 10 in the Septuagint, which omits διάψαλμα (diapsalma) additionally at the end of Psalms 3, 24, 46 and 68 B. Jacob (l.c.) concludes (1) that after no etymological explanation is possible, selah signifies a pause in or for the Temple song; and (2) that its meaning was concealed lest the Temple privileges should be obtained by the synagogues or perhaps even by the churches.
BDB shows that the main derivation of the Hebrew word selah is found through the fientive verb root סֶ֜לָה which means "to lift up (voices)" or "to exalt," and additionally carries a close connotational relationship to the verb סָלַל, which is similar in meaning: "to lift up" or "to cast up." The word סֶלָה, which shifts the accent back to the last syllable of the verb form, indicates that in this context, the verb is being used in the imperative mood as somewhat of a directive to the reader. As such, perhaps the most instructive way to view the use of this word, particularly in the context of the Psalms, would be as the writer's instruction to the reader to pause and exalt the Lord.
Selah is used in Iyaric Rastafarian vocabulary. It can be heard at the end of spoken-word segments of a few reggae songs. Its usage here, again, is to accentuate the magnitude and importance of what has been said, and often is a sort of substitute for Amen. Notable, according to Rastafarian faith, is additionally the word's similarity with the incarnated God and saviour Selassie (Ethiopia's former emperor Haile Selassie).
Furman Bisher, the former sports editor and columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for decades signed off his columns with "Selah." The same is often done by political columnist and blogger Ed Kilgore at the close of a day's postings.
In Predator 2, just before being killed by the predator, the Jamaican drug lord King Willie says, "His foundation lie in the holy mountain" before pausing and adding "Selah."
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson commonly used the word to end articles.
"Selah" appears several times in the Wanderer and Shadow's song in "Among the Daughters of the Desert" from Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra."
- "Selah!" is used at the end of the second part (titled Dimanche) of Conversations dans le Loir-et-Cher by French writer Paul Claudel (1935).
- Selah is the last word in Anita Diamant's book The Red Tent and in Edward Dahlberg's Because I Was Flesh, and according to Charlotte Chandler additionally the last word Groucho Marx chose for the extensive biographical work she did with him.
- Katherine Kurtz uses it in a few of her Deryni novels, including The King's Justice (1985); it is among the acquired Eastern influences on the ritual practises of Deryni at King Kelson's court, largely brought by Richenda, Duchess of Corwyn, after her marriage to Duke Alaric Morgan. It is additionally the last word in Gilbert Sorrentino's novel Little Casino (2002), probably in homage to Dahlberg.
- In Hunter S. Thompson's collected works "Songs of the Doomed," "The Proud Highway: Saga of A Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955-1967," and Fear and Loathing in America: the Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, The Gonzo Letters Volume Two 1968-1976 the word Selah is used frequently in letters and diatribes written from the 1960s to the 1990s. The word is used similarly to the word allora in Italy.
- It is akin to Kurt Vonnegut's use of the phrase "So it goes" in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. It is the first word of the third line of Wallace Stevens' poem "The Dove in the Belly."
- It is used by famous Czech writer and philosopher John Amos Comenius at the end one of his books (Ksaft).
- "Selah" is the name of a song by R&B/Hip-Hop artist Lauryn Hill.
- Selah was defined to mean 'pause and consider' in Babylon 5 episode "Deconstruction of Falling Stars."
- "Selah" is the title of a miniature for trio (flute, clarinet and piano) by Argentinean composer Juan Maria Solare.
- The variation "seyla" is used in Battletech as a ritual response throughout Clan ceremonies.
- In the 1975 John Huston film The Man Who Would Be King, Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) punctuates his royal proclamations with "selah."
Characters named Selah appear in
- George Elliot Clarke's long narrative poem Whylah Falls
- the film The Book of Eli
- Shane Jones's first novel Light Boxes
- Charlaine Harris's novel Dead as a Doornail
- Virginia Hamilton's novel The House of Dies Drear
- Raymond Barfield's novel The Book of Colors