mode that one would expect in an alphabetical acrostic would be 22 verses
each beginning with letters of the alphabet running consecutively from
aleph to vav in the conventional order. Surprisingly,
we find in Scripture only two occurrences that meet these criteria:
Proverbs 31:10-31 and Lamentations 1.
1 and Psalms 9-10 have acrostics so mutilated and truncated that the
traces of an alphabetic "order" go unnoticed by most readers.
As for Lamentations 2 and 4, each consists of 22 verses; however, they
have the peculiarity of transposing the ayin ()
and the peh ().
Lamentations 3 has 66 verses constituting a triple acrostic with the
same curious transposition.
Psalms 37, the successive letters head each alternate verse instead
of each consecutive verse, while in Psalms 111 and 112 they head each
half-verse. The acrostic art reaches its ultimate expression is Psalms
119 (the longest chapter in the Bible), which consists of 22 stanzas,
each with 8 verses for each consecutive letter of the alphabet.
145, which is recited in our prayers thrice daily, more frequently than
others, comes close to fitting the "normal" mode except for
its lack of a nun ()
verse. (Incidentally, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Psalms Scroll
do have such a verse. The Scroll reads ).
article, however, will focus on the two remaining biblical acrostics
which have, so far, been unmentioned: Psalms 25 and 34. These two psalms
share an interesting peculiarity. Each has an acrostic with the vav
verse omitted and with a peh ()
heading the final verse. This raises two questions: (1) Why do they
omit the vav? (2) Why do they conclude with a peh verse?
for the first question, the omission of the vav is quite understandable
as there is a paucity in Hebrew of basic words beginning with this letter.
Excluding proper names (such as Vashti, Vaizatha, etc.), one would be
hard put to find even three words in biblical Hebrew that begin with
the letter vav. All the acrostics in the Hebrew Bible and almost
all in our liturgy (and they are numerous) use the vav with some
artificiality usually a conjunctive vav or a vav consecutive.
There are just hardly any basic words beginning with that letter.
for the second question, regarding the supernumerary peh, this
writer, after searching the literature without finding any satisfactory
explanation, proposes the following solution. The key to solving this
puzzle is to be found in the fascinating phenomenon of ATBaSH (),
which is a code where the first letter of the alphabet is represented
by the last, the second letter by the second to the last, and so on.
(This is very much the same as if one were to devise a code in which
A=Z, B=Y, etc., and then name the code AZBY.)
ATBaSH device is to be found in the Book of Jeremiah where in 25:26
and 51:41 the word Sheshach is an ATBaSH cryptogram for Babel, and 51:1
Lebkamai is an ATBaSH cryptogram for Kasdim (Chaldea). It appears that
the psalmist (or psalmists) of chapters 25 and 34, having omitted the
vav, now compensate for this omission by concluding with a peh
which is, of course, a vav in the language
still remains the question: Why did the psalmist place the peh
at the end of the acrostic, instead of the beginning of verse six, replacing
by the method of ATBaSH the letter vav? The answer seems to me
that this would constitute a violation to the integrity of the Hebrew
alphabet, much more so than the omission of a letter.