Alphabetic Psalms

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Poems of an acrostic formation in which the first letter of the word that begins a line or a couplet or even a strophe follows the succession of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet: 'ālep, bêt, gīmel, dālet, etc. This artificial form is found in Ps 9 (910); 24 (25); 33 (34); 36 (37); 110 (111); 111 (112); 118 (119); and also in Prv 31.1031; Lam 14, and partially (because of the poorly preserved text) in Na 1.28 and Sir 51.1330. Occasionally the poet adds, at the end of the alphabetic series, another verse beginning with the letter pē', as in Ps 24(25); 33(34). With regard to the choice of this letter, P. W. Skehan has pointed out [Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961) 127] the quasi-alphabetic form also of the poems in the Book of Job. The most plausible reason for the device is that it might serve as an aid to memory or some other didactic purpose.

See Also: psalms, book of.

Bibliography: s. holmnielsen, "The Importance of Late Jewish Psalmody for the Understanding of Old Testament Psalmodic Tradition," Studia Theologica 14 (1960) 151.

[r. e. murphy]