Selah (/ˈslə(h)/; Biblical Hebrew: סֶלָה, romanized: selā) is a word used 74 times in the Hebrew Bible. Its etymology and precise meaning are unknown, though various interpretations are given.

It is probably either a liturgical-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, with the meaning of "stop and listen." Another proposal is that selah can be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm.[1] It can also be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.

It should not be confused with the Hebrew word sela' (סֶלַע) meaning "rock".


This word occurs 71 times in 39 of the Psalms, and three times in Habakkuk 3: altogether 74 times in the Bible.[2] It is found at the end of Psalms 3, 24, and 46, and in most other cases at the end of a verse, the exceptions being Psalms 55:19, 57:3, and Habakkuk 3:3, 9, 13.

At least some of the Psalms were sung accompanied by musical instruments and there are references to this in many chapters. Thirty-one of the thirty-nine psalms with the caption "To the choir-master" include the word selah.



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 it as διάψαλμα (diapsalma, or "apart from psalm") — a word as enigmatic in Greek as is selah in Hebrew. The Hexapla simply transliterates it as σελ (sel).[3] Aquila,[3] Jerome, and the Targum translate it as "always", and in Jewish liturgy the word is used to mean "forever" (notably in the second to last blessing of the Amidah).[3]

According to Hippolytus, 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.[4] Against this explanation, Baethgen notes that selah also occurs at the end of some psalms.[5]

"Sela" on a tympanum of St Nicholas Church, in Stralsund, Germany

Modern (1900s)Edit

Imperative: "lift up", "exalt"; pauseEdit

One proposed meaning assigns it to the root סלל, as an imperative that should properly have been vocalized סֹלָּה, sollah.[6] 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. Similarly, another opinion understands selah being held to be a variant of the verb shelah (meaning "pause"). But as the interchange of shin (ש) and samekh (ס) is not usual in Biblical Hebrew, and as the meaning "pause" is not 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.[7]

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (2006) states 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 also 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.[8]

Marker between paragraphs or of a quotationEdit

Heinrich Grätz argues that selah introduces a new paragraph, and also in some cases a quotation (e.g., Psalms 57:8-12 from 108:2-6). The fact that the term occurs four times at the end of a Psalm would not weigh against this theory. The Psalms were meant to be read in sequence, and, moreover, many of them are fragments; indeed, Psalms 9 and 10 are considered one psalm in the Septuagint; the Septuagint also omits the word διάψαλμα (diapsalma, "pause") at the end of Psalms 3, 24, 46 and 68.[9]

B. Jacob concludes (1) that since 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.[10]

Other proposalsEdit

Another interpretation claims that selah comes from the primary Hebrew root word salah (סָלָה), meaning "to hang," and by implication "to measure (weigh)".[11]


The term selah is used by the Czech philosopher John Amos Comenius (1592–1670) at the end of his book Kšaft umírající matky, Jednoty bratrské. Likewise, selah appears several times in the Wanderer and Shadow's song in Among the Daughters of the Desert from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Eliphas Levi (1810–1875), in his work "Transcendental Magic", says "Selah! Fiat! So mote it be!" at the end of one of his magical invocations of the elemental spirits.

Rastafari usageEdit

Selah is used in Iyaric Rastafarian vocabulary. It can be heard at the end of spoken-word segments of some 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 also the word's similarity with the incarnated god and savior Selassie (Ethiopia's former emperor Haile Selassie).[citation needed]

Art and popular cultureEdit

Film and televisionEdit

  • 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".
  • In the 1975 John Huston film The Man Who Would Be King, Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) punctuates his royal proclamations with "selah."
  • Selah was defined to mean 'pause and consider' in Babylon 5 episode "Deconstruction of Falling Stars."[12]


  • The variation "seyla" is used in Battletech as a ritual response during Clan ceremonies.[13]


  • Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson commonly used the word to end articles and personal letters. 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.
  • Furman Bisher, the former sports editor and columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for decades signed off his columns with "Selah."
  • The word is used often by political columnist and blogger Ed Kilgore at the close of a day's postings.


  • "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).
  • The writer Robert Ruark used the word 'Selah' to finish an educational exclamation by the Old Man in the second chapter of his book 'The Old Man's Boy Grows Older'.
  • Journalist, author and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser used selah occasionally in The Flashman Papers, a celebrated historical fiction series published between 1969 and 2005.
  • 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 also the last word Groucho Marx chose for the extensive biographical work she did with him.
  • Katherine Kurtz uses it in some of her Deryni novels, including The King's Justice (1985); it is among the acquired Eastern influences on the ritual practices of Deryni at King Kelson's court, largely brought by Richenda, Duchess of Corwyn, after her marriage to Duke Alaric Morgan. It is also the last word in Gilbert Sorrentino's novel Little Casino (2002), probably in homage to Dahlberg.
  • In poet Julia Vinograd's American Book Award-winning collection of poems, "The Book of Jerusalem", each poem is followed by "selah".[14]
  • In the humorous essay "New Days in Old Bottles," by Robert Benchley, the narrator ends with the paragraph "Life and the Theatre. Who knows? Selah."[15]
  • Selah! appears in the final stanza of Geoffrey Hill's poem "History as Poetry": 'The old / Laurels wagging with the new: Selah!'
  • Amen! Selah! ends pronouncements in several stories of Sholem Aleichem, such as Dreyfus in Kasrilevka and Modern Children

Characters named SelahEdit

Characters named Selah appear in:


Visual artsEdit

Institutions named SelahEdit

  • The Selah Workshop of the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, Galilee, Israel [23]
  • Selah: The Israel Crisis Management Center, helps "immigrants [to Israel] struggling with tragedy"[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hobbins, John F. "Selah in the Psalms".
  2. ^ "\'Selah\': It Appears 74 Times In The Bible But What Does It Mean?". Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  3. ^ a b c AlHaTorah Concordance: סלה
  4. ^ De Lagarde, "Novæ Psalterii Græci Editionis Specimen" 10
  5. ^ "Psalmen," p. 15, 1st ed. Göttingen, 1892
  6. ^ Ewald, "Kritische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache," p. 554; König, "Historisch-Kritisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache," ii., part i., p. 539
  7. ^ "Selah", in Jewish Encyclopedia. Re-accessed 28 November 2021.
  8. ^ Brown, F., S. Driver, and C. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.: Peabody, MA, 2006. p. 699
  9. ^ Grätz, H., "Kritischer Commentar zu den Psalmen", i. 93 ff., quoted in "Selah", Jewish Encyclopedia. Re-accessed 28 November 2021.
  10. ^ B. Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift" xvi (1896), p. 129 ff., quoted in "Selah", Jewish Encyclopedia. Re-accessed 28 November 2021.
  11. ^ Tony Warren. "What Does Selah Mean". The Mountain Retreat. Archived from the original on 2008-09-15. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
  12. ^ "Babylon 5 episode".
  13. ^ "Clan Glossary". 12 January 2012.
  14. ^ Vinograd, Julia, The Book of Jerusalem, Bench Press, 1984.
  15. ^ Benchley, Robert, Chips Off the Old Benchley, Harper & Row, 1949, pp. 158-64.
  16. ^ Video on YouTube[dead link]
  17. ^ "JESUS IS KING / Kanye West". Tidal. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  18. ^ Mehta, Adi (October 25, 2019). "Yeezus Turns to Jesus: Kanye West Preaches the Gospel on 'Jesus Is King' Album". Entertainment Voice. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  19. ^ Dellatto, Marisa (August 29, 2019). "Kim Kardashian teases possible new Kanye West album". New York Post. Archived from the original on June 29, 2020. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  20. ^ "Juan María Solare" (PDF). p. 30. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  21. ^ "SANFORD BIGGERS: SELAH - Exhibitions - Marianne Boesky". Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  22. ^ Cunningham, Vinson (2018-01-08). "The Playful, Political Art of Sanford Biggers". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  23. ^ homepage and blog
  24. ^ Selah: The Israel Crisis Management Center