Taken together, Psalms 9 and 10 form an imperfect acrostic, but it is not clear whether they were originally a complementary pair (as in the Hebrew) or a single poem (as in the Latin Vulgate). What may have once been an acrostic appears in Nahum 1, but it is the subject of much reconstruction and controversy.In addition to these alphabetical poems, some scholars find royal names in certain “Maccabean” psalms: Shimon (Simon) in the first four verses of Psalm 110 and Yannai (Alexander Jannaeus) in Psalm 2. Samuel Sandmel (The Hebrew Scriptures: An Introduction to Their Literature and Religious Ideas [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978], p. 240) calls this exegesis “tortured”; and A. Cohen (The Psalms [London: Soncino Press, 1945], p. 371) says the “alleged discovery” should be dismissed as “fantastic.”The name YHWH, otherwise lacking in the Book of Esther, is said to be hidden at the head of the four sequential words yavo ha-melek we-haman ha-yom, “Let the king and Haman come today” (Esther 5:4).

Patrick W. Skehan has explicated a number of “alphabetizing” poems with 22 lines, corresponding to the number of letters in the alphabet. While not acrostics, they frequently use a small set of letters to introduce stanzas, to group ideas and to mark logical divisions; for example, three stanzas beginning with aleph and three beginning with lamed in Proverbs 2:1–11 and 12–22; aleph, he and ayin groupings in Job 9:2–4, 5–7, 8–10 and esp. 13–24. See Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 1 (1971). Also see Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, The Forms of the Old Testament Literature 13 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), pp. 23–28, 52–57.


See Skehan, “The Acrostic Poem in Sirach 51:13:30, ” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), pp. 387–400; Skehan and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira, Anchor Bible 39 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987), pp. 574, 576–577.


See, for example, Murphy, Wisdom Literature, pp. 115–116.


A detailed discussion of the poetic techniques in each psalm is found in Amos Hakham, Sefer Tehillim (The Book of Psalms), 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1984). For the metrical structure of biblical acrostics, see David Noel Freedman, “Acrostics and Metrics in Hebrew Poetry,” in Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy: Studies in Early Hebrew Poetry (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1980), pp. 51–76, and “Acrostic Poems in the Hebrew Bible: Alphabetic and Otherwise,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48 (1986), pp. 408–431.


For instance, W. Stewart McCullough and William R. Taylor, “Psalms,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, 12 vols. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), vol. 4, headnotes to Psalms 9, 25, 34, 111 and 145.


M. O’Connor, “Epigraphic Semitic Scripts,” in The World’s Writing Systems (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), ed. Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, pp. 89–92. See also David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), p. 202.


Mitchell Dahood, Psalms III, Anchor Bible 17A (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), p. 336. See also Skehan, “The Structure of the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy (34:1–43),” in Studies, p. 75 n. 16; and Wilfred G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 26 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), pp. 8, 191.


Dahood, Psalms I, Anchor Bible 16 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), p. 54.


Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, p. 198.


Freedman, “Acrostic Poems,” p. 409. Ancient editors, of course, also made emendations—and mistakes. In a Qumran manuscript, Psalm 145 contains a verse for nun, “Faithful ne’eman is God in all his words…”; and this verse appears in many translations. But Hakham (Sefer Tehillim, vol. 2, p. 579) believes the verse is not original. It uses Elohim as the divine name, whereas the rest of the psalm uses YHWH.


Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), p. 113.


R.B.Y. Scott, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Anchor Bible 18 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965), p. 186.


Dahood, Psalms I, p. 205.


McCullough and Taylor, “Psalms,” p. 12.


McCullough and Taylor, “Psalms,” pp. 622–623.


Samuel R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1897; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1972), p. 457.


Charles T. Fritsch and Rolland W. Schloerb, “Proverbs,” in Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, p. 954, headnote to 31:10–31: “By this device the writer may be indicating that he is dealing exhaustively with the subject in an orderly way.”

In fact, Patrick Skehan has argued in a number of studies that even the alphabetic number 22 was recognized as a sign of completeness and became an organizing principle for poems (see the references in n. 1). Freedman (The Unity of the Hebrew Bible [Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1991], pp. 81–82) sees alphabetic numbers playing an organizational role in the overall structure of the Hebrew Bible.


Skehan, Studies, p. 74, esp. n. 13.


Jacob Shachter and H. Freeman, Sanhedrin (London: Soncino Press, 1961), pp. 711–712. See also Meir Zlotowitz, Eichah (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1976), p. 85. For a discussion of the missing nun verse in Psalm 145, see Maurice Simon, Berakoth (London: Soncino Press, 1959), pp. 14–15; this brief discussion is explicated in Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Tehillim (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1987), p. 1694.


Ronald Knox, The Old Testament, vol. 2 (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950).


Herbert Bronstein and Albert H. Friedlander, trans., The Five Scrolls (New York: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1984).


Bronstein and Friedlander, The Five Scrolls, pp. 250–251.


Freedman, Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy, p. 8.