Acrostic
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ACROSTIC

a-kros'-tik: The acrostic, understood as a short poem in which the first letters of the lines form a word, or name, or sentence, has not yet been proved to occur in ancient Hebrew literature. The supposed examples found by some scholars in Psalm 2:1-4 and Psalm 110:1-4 are not generally recognized. Still less can be said in favor of the suggestion that in Esther 1:20 four words read from left to right form by their initials an acrostic on the name YHWH (compare Konig, Einleitung 293). In Byzantine hymn-poetry the term acrostichis with which our word "acrostic" is connected was also used of alphabetical poems, that is poems the lines or groups of lines in which have their initials arranged in the order of the alphabet. Acrostics of this kind are found in pre-Christian Hebrew literature as well as elsewhere in ancient oriental literature. There are twelve clear instances in the Old Testament: Psalms 25; 34; 37; 111; 119; 145; Proverbs 31:10-31, and Lamentations 1-4. There is probably an example in Psalms 9 and 10, and possibly another in Nab 1:2-10. Outside the Canon, Sirach 51:13-30 exhibits clear traces of alphabetic arrangement. Each of these fifteen poems must briefly be discussed.

Pss 9 and 10, which are treated as one psalm in Septuagint and Vulg, give fairly clear indications of original alphabetic structure even in the Massoretic Text. The initials of 9:1, 3, 5 are respectively 'aleph, beth, gimel; of 9:9, 11, 13, 15, 17 waw, zayin, cheth, Teth and yodh. Psalm 10:1 begins with lamedh and 10:12, 14, 15, 17 with qoph, resh, shin and taw. Four lines seem to have been allotted to each letter in the original form of the poem. In Psalm 25 all the letters are represented except waw and qoph. In 25:18 we find resh instead of the latter as well as in its place in 25:19. In 25:2 the alphabetical letter is the initial of the second word. The last verse is again supernumerary. There are mostly two lines to a letter. In Psalm 34 all the letters are represented except waw, 34:6 beginning not with it, as was to be expected, but with zayin. The last verse is again a supernumerary. Since here and in 25:22 the first word is a form of padhah it has been suggested that there may have been here a sort of acrostic on the writer's name Pedahel pedhah'el, but there is no evidence that a psalmist so named ever existed. There are two lines to a letter. In Psalm 37 all the letters are represented except `ayin which seems however from Septuagint to have been present in the earliest text. As a rule four lines are assigned to each letter. In Psalms 111 are found two quite regular examples with a line to each letter. Psalm 119 offers another regular example, but with 16 lines to a letter, each alternate line beginning with its letter. Vs 1-8, for instance, each begin with 'aleph. In Psalm 145 are found all the letters but nun. As we find in Septuagint between 145:13 and 14, that is where the nun couplet ought to be:

"Faithful is the Lord in his words And holy in his works,"

which may represent a Hebrew couplet beginning with nun, it would seem that a verse has dropped out of the Massoretic Text. Proverbs 31:10-31 constitutes a regular alphabetical poem with (except in 31:15) two lines to a letter. Lamentations 1 is regular, with three lines to a letter Lamentations 2; Lamentations 3; Lamentations 3 4, are also regular with a curious exception. In each case pe precedes `ayin, a phenomenon which has not yet been explained. In Lamentations 2 there are three or four lines to a letter except in 2:17, where there seem to be five. In Lamentations 3 also there are three lines to a letter and each line begins with that letter. In Lamentations 4 there are two lines to a letter except in 4:22 where there are probably four lines. Lamentations 5 has twice as many lines as the letters of the alphabet but no alphabetical arrangement. In Nab 1:1-10 Delitzsch (following Frohnmeyer) in 1876, Bickell in 1880 and 1894, Gunkel in 1893 and 1895, G. B. Gray in 1898 (Expos, September) and others have pointed out possible traces of original alphabetical structure. In the Massoretic text, however, as generally arranged, it is not distinctly discernible. Sirach 51:13-30: As early as 1882 Bickell reconstructed this hymn on the basis of the Greek and Syriac versions as a Hebrew alphabetical poem. In 1897 Schechter (in the judgment of most scholars) discovered the original text in a collection of fragments from the Genizah of Cairo, and this proved the correctness of Bickell's idea and even the accuracy of some details of his reconstruction. The poem begins with 'aleph and has tav as the initial letter of the last line but one. In 51:21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27 the letters mem, nun, `ayin, pe, tsadhe, qoph and resh can be traced at the beginnings of lines in that order Samekh is absent (compare Schechter-Taylor, The Wisdom of Ben Sira, lxxvi-lxxxvii).

As this rapid survey will have shown, this form of acrostic as employed by Hebrew writers consisted in the use of letters of the alphabet as initials in their order, at regular intervals, the distance between two different letters ranging from one to sixteen lines. Once each letter is thus used three times, in another case eight times. The corruption of the text has in some cases led to considerable interference with the alphabetical arrangement, and textual criticism has endeavored to restore it with varying success.

These alphabetical poems have been unduly depreciated on account of their artificial structure and have also been regarded for the same reason as of comparatively late origin. This latter conclusion is premature with present evidence. The poems in Lamentations undoubtedly go back as far as the 6th century B.C., and Assyrian testimony takes us back farther still for acrostic poems of some kind. Strictly alphabetical poems are of course out of the question in Assyrian because of the absence of an alphabet, but there are texts from the library of Ashur-bani-pal each verse-line in which begins with the same syllable, and others in which the initial syllables read together compose a word or sentence. Now these texts were written down in the 7th century B.C., but may have been copied from far earlier Babylonian originals. There can be little doubt that oriental poets wrote acrostic at an early period, and therefore the use of some form of the acrostic is no clear indication of lateness of date. (For these Assyrian acrostics compare Weber, Die Literatur der Babylonier und Assyrer, 37.)

LITERATURE.

In addition to authorities already cited: Konig, Einl, 58, 66, 74, 76, 399, 404, 419, and Stilistik, etc., 357, Budde, Geschichte der alt-hebraischen Litteratur, 30, 90, 241, 291; article "Acrostic" in HDB (larger and smaller) and Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, and Jewish Encyclopedia; commentaries on Psalms, Nahum, Proverbs and Lamentations; Driver, Parallel Psalter; King, Early Religious Poetry of the Hebrews, chapter iv.

William Taylor Smith

Library

Of the Erythr├Žan Sibyl, who Pointed in a Prophetic Acrostic at ...
... emperor constantine, which he addressed "to the assembly of the saints." Chapter
XVIII."Of the Erythr├Žan Sibyl, who pointed in a Prophetic Acrostic at our ...
/.../pamphilius/the life of constantine/chapter xviii of the erythraean sibyl.htm

The Books of Samuel and Kings.
... the one hundred and nineteenth, and the one hundred and forty-fifth, although they
are written in different metres, have for their [5394] acrostic framework an ...
/.../jerome/the principal works of st jerome/the books of samuel and.htm

Old Testament Hymns
... canticles,[8] while the Greek Church elaborated upon them in formal metrical
compositions, called canons, or groups of odes based upon an acrostic structure, ...
/.../christian hymns of the first three centuries/ii old testament hymns.htm

Index.
... INDEX. A Abraham, [1]213 ff., [2]218, [3]221. Acrostic, [4]288, [5]323 f. Adam,
[6]146, [7]208 f.; life of, [8]195. Age, present and future, the, [9]10 ff. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/deane/pseudepigrapha/index 2.htm

God and the Godly
... They are identical in number of verses and in structure, both being acrostic, that
is to say, the first clause of each commences with the first letter of the ...
/.../maclaren/expositions of holy scripture j/god and the godly.htm

Portrait of a Matron
... portrait. It is an acrostic, and the fetters of alphabetic sequence are
not favourable to progress or continuity of thought. But ...
/.../maclaren/expositions of holy scripture g/portrait of a matron.htm

Eusebius: Constantine. General Index.
... Acheron, [3116]567. Achilles, [3117]577. Acrostic "Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Saviour, Cross," [3118]574. Adrianople, battle of, [3119]418. ...
/.../pamphilius/the life of constantine/eusebius constantine general index.htm

That this Prophecy Respecting Our Saviour was not the Fiction of ...
... 54) clearly does not refer to this acrostic, and contains in itself a plain denial
of prophetic truth in the Sibylline prediction (whatever it was) which the ...
/.../the life of constantine/chapter xix that this prophecy respecting.htm

Or Take the Following Hymn, which Surely Embodies a Noble ...
... Thou, if Thou wilt, canst pardon guilt; Pardon and peace grant Thou, dear Lord.
Amen. Footnotes: [16] In the original the verses form an acrostic on his name. ...
/.../winkworth/christian singers of germany/or take the following hymn.htm

Concerning the Living Soul, Birds, and Fishes (Ver. 24) --The ...
... The fish taken out of the deep, which is fed upon, means Christ, in accordance with
the well-known acrostic of IChThUS. "If," he says in his De Civ. ...
/.../the confessions and letters of st/chapter xxi concerning the living soul.htm

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) A composition, usually in verse, in which the first or the last letters of the lines, or certain other letters, taken in order, form a name, word, phrase, or motto.

2. (n.) A Hebrew poem in which the lines or stanzas begin with the letters of the alphabet in regular order (as Psalm cxix.). See Abecedarian.

3. (n.) Alt. of Acrostical.

Thesaurus
Acrostic (2 Occurrences)
... See Abecedarian. 3. (n.) Alt. of Acrostical. Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
ACROSTIC. a-kros'-tik: The acrostic, understood as ...
/a/acrostic.htm - 15k

Lamentations (6 Occurrences)
... same letter. The fifth is not acrostic. Speaking of ... a chapter. The first 4
are marked by the acrostic use of the alphabet. In addition ...
/l/lamentations.htm - 20k

Verse (5 Occurrences)
... Psalms 34:1 By David; when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove
him away, and he departed.Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem, with each verse ...
/v/verse.htm - 8k

Alphabet (2 Occurrences)
... of a radical higher criticism, for there are more than a dozen passages in the Old
Testament composed on the principle of the alphabetical acrostic (Pss 111 ...
/a/alphabet.htm - 24k

Starting (34 Occurrences)
... (BBE). Psalms 34:1 By David; when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who
drove him away, and he departed.Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem, with each verse ...
/s/starting.htm - 17k

Nahum (3 Occurrences)
... evidence is slight. The artificial character of acrostic poetry is generally
supposed to point to a late date. Hence, those who ...
/n/nahum.htm - 21k

Proverbs (11 Occurrences)
... Nucleus 3. A Body of Solicited Counsel 4. Some Left-over Precepts 5. The Hezekian
Collection 6. Words of Agur 7. Words of King Lemuel 8. An Acrostic Eulogy of ...
/p/proverbs.htm - 43k

Lemuel (3 Occurrences)
... lemu'el, or lemo'-el): A king whose words, an "oracle (taught him by his mother),"
are given in Proverbs 31:1-9; and possibly the succeeding acrostic poem (31 ...
/l/lemuel.htm - 8k

Insane (10 Occurrences)
... Psalms 34:1 By David; when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove
him away, and he departed.Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem, with each verse ...
/i/insane.htm - 9k

Feigned (8 Occurrences)
... Psalms 34:1 By David; when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove
him away, and he departed.Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem, with each verse ...
/f/feigned.htm - 9k

Bible Concordance
Acrostic (2 Occurrences)

Psalms 34:1 By David; when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he departed.Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem, with each verse starting with a letter of the alphabet (ordered from Alef to Tav). I will bless Yahweh at all times. His praise will always be in my mouth.
(WEB)

Psalms 145:1 A praise psalm by David.This is an acrostic psalm, with every verse (including the second half of verse 13) starting with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I will exalt you, my God, the King. I will praise your name forever and ever.
(WEB)

Subtopics

Acrostic

Related Terms

Lamentations (6 Occurrences)

Verse (5 Occurrences)

Alphabet (2 Occurrences)

Starting (34 Occurrences)

Nahum (3 Occurrences)

Proverbs (11 Occurrences)

Lemuel (3 Occurrences)

Insane (10 Occurrences)

Feigned (8 Occurrences)

Tav (2 Occurrences)

Extol (23 Occurrences)

Poem (6 Occurrences)

Pretended (9 Occurrences)

Consecutive (2 Occurrences)

Acsah (5 Occurrences)

Alef (1 Occurrence)

Samaritan (8 Occurrences)

Across (172 Occurrences)

Exalt (56 Occurrences)

Psalm (213 Occurrences)

Hebrew (37 Occurrences)

Drove (89 Occurrences)

Including (90 Occurrences)

Sirach

Lips (199 Occurrences)

Abimelech (63 Occurrences)

Poetry

Text (5 Occurrences)

Commentaries

Pentateuch

Anem (1 Occurrence)

Monthly (11 Occurrences)

Sodomite (1 Occurrence)

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