The Biblical Songs were all composed in March 1894, while Dvorák was in the United States. It is thought that the composer's turn to religious subjects was a reflection of his homesickness -- he had been in America for a year already -- and also an expression of sorrow over the recent deaths of a number of fellow composers, including his friend Tchaikovsky. Dvorák composed relatively little religious music, and was not entirely comfortable writing it, but the texts of the Biblical Songs were perfectly suited to his expressive needs, and he completed them quickly and with relative ease.
Dvorák chose the texts himself from the Book of Psalms, selecting verses from 13 different psalms. Musically, the songs reflect a number of different influences, including the Negro spirituals to which Dvorák had been exposed while in America. The songs contain a blend of pentatonic and conventional diatonic progressions, with some complex modulations that serve to dramatize the text; almost all of the 10 songs are slow and contemplative in nature. The composer orchestrated the first five songs of the set in 1895, and the remaining songs were orchestrated by V. Zemánek for their publication in 1929. Interestingly, these songs have been both lauded as Dvorák's best, and criticized as his worst: those who praise them songs claim that they are works of great religious sincerity, while others see them as overly conventional, too simplistic, and lacking in variety when performed as a set.