Bible Review 17:3, June 2001

It’s Elementary

Psalms 9 and 10 and the order of the alphabet

By John StrugnellHanan Eshel

Psalms 9 and 10 have always been somewhat of a puzzle. The first question is whether they are actually two parts of one long psalm or whether they are two separate psalms. What suggests that they were originally really one piece is that together they form an acrostic poem built with the Hebrew alphabet from aleph (a), the first letter (in Psalm 9:2), to tav (t), the last letter (at Psalm 10:18). That is, in each psalm subsequent verses (sometimes two, three or four lines apart) begin with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The initial letters in Psalm 9 cover the first half of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet, and those in Psalm 10 cover the second half of the alphabet, beginning with lamed (l). Whether, as in a Renaissance sonnet, such acrostics were written as an aid to memory or simply as a framework for the poem, the acrostic format was commonly used in ancient Hebrew poetry.

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