[b-hebrew] Acrostic Psalms

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Wed Nov 29 05:46:00 EST 2006

On 29/11/2006 04:38, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> On 11/29/06, Bryant J. Williams III wrote:
>> Dear Peter, Yitzhak, et al,
>> I wonder if the acrostic Psalms are early enough to indicate the separation
>> or non-separation of sin and shin? It is apparent that most of the Psalms
>> are Pre-exilic to Exilic (Post-exilic?) and that they may give some
>> indication of the debate on the alphabet. Besides inscriptions wouldn't
>> Hebrew poetry retain early grammar and syntactical features to help in this
>> debate?
> An acrostic psalm like Psalm 119 interchanges the Shin and Sin in the 21st
> position.  However, why do you think that the acrostic would necessarily
> place together verses that begin with the same phonetical variants as opposed
> to the same graphical letter?
It is of course proof, if any were needed, that at the time these psalms 
were written Hebrew was written in a 22 letter alphabet, and not (as I 
suggested to Karl concerning the Torah) in an Egyptian or proto-Sinaitic 
type script with more than 22 letters. But then it is already well known 
that by the late monarchy period Hebrew was written with 22 letters, and 
I don't think anyone dates these acrostic poems much earlier. But 
acrostics are of course based on letter forms, not on pronunciations.

I note the following from Peter Craigie's excursus on acrostic psalms 
(p.129) in his Word commentary on Psalms 1-50:

"In almost every case the alphabetic sequence is followed carefully (Pss 
37, 111, 112, 119) and the apparent omission of a letter (and its unit) 
can sometimes be restored on the basis of manuscript evidence or the 
versions (e.g. Ps 145). Pss 25 and 34 pose a problem in the absence of 
the /waw/ and the addition of a פ [pe]-unit at the end. It is probable 
that the two psalms reflect a particular stage (or deviation) in the 
history of the alphabet, in which consonantal /waw/ had been repressed 
and replaced by a secondary /pe/ at the end of the alphabet, for which 
there are analogies in the derivation of Greek letters from the cursive 
Phoenician script..." I note that Psalms 25 and 34 (also Psalm 37 which 
is a complete acrostic and Pss 9-10 which form a modified acrostic, see 
below) are titled "for David". So, if we give any credence to such 
titles, we might conclude that this alphabet with no waw but an extra pe 
was in use in David's time; but then we might have to judge Psalm 37 as 
a later or modified composition - could the textually doubtful repeated 
YPL+M in the over-long v.40 be a trace of an original extra pe section?

Craigie continues by discussing the modified acrostic in Pss 9-10, in 
which dalet and mem are missing, nun, samekh and tsayin are "restored", 
and ayin and pe are reversed.

Craigie also mentions the "Proto-Canaanite" abecedary text from Tel 
Aphek in Israel (p.130). "If this abecedary is Israelite, as seems 
possible, it provides further indication of the abstract knowledge of 
the sequential alphabet in Israel from a very early date, namely the 
time of the Judges", and also might be a small hint of a paper trail 
showing us the alphabet in which the Torah might originally have been 

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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