Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Did Peh once come before Ayin in the Hebrew alphabet?

Quite by accident I've come across an outstanding argument by Mitchel First. In brief, he claims that there was a period in Jewish history when peh came before ayin, and that several oddities involving acrostics in Eicha, Mishlei, and Tehillim can be obviated if this is correct. For instance, as we have it the Eishas Chayil

[Samech] makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes. [and]
[ayin] She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come. [and]
[peh] She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

First argues convincingly that the praise is more profound if the peh comes before the ayin yielding:

[peh] She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
[ayin] She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

This is only a small snippet. First's full argument which provides additional examples, and very strong evidence from archaeology can be found after the jump

The Peh/Ayin Order in the Acrostics of the Book of Eichah
by Mitchell First[1]

The first four chapters of the book of Eichah comprise alphabetical acrostics. In the acrostics in chapters 2, 3 and 4, the verses that begin with peh precede the verses that begins with ayin.[2] The Soncino commentary to Eichah remarks: "This unusual order has never been satisfactorily explained." [3] In light of the archaeological discoveriesof recent decades, it is time to provide this explanation.

Preliminarily, it will be noted that the Talmud includes a comment on the unusual order of peh preceding ayin in the book of Eichah. The suggestion is made that it alludes to the sin of the meraglim:[4]

רבא אמר רבי יוחנן אמר בשביל מה הקדים פ"א לעי"ן בשביל מרגלים שאמרו בפיהם מה שלא ראו בעיניהם.

The sin of the meraglim is connected to the ninth of Av in a well-established rabbinic tradition:[5]

But even prior to the archaeological discoveries of recent decades, evidence of peh preceding ayin was found elsewhere. In the Septuagint version of חיל אשת (Mishlei 31:10-31), the translation of the peh verse, פיה, precedes the translation of the ayin verse, עז.[6] The earliest manuscripts of the Septuagint are from the 4th and 5th centuries, hundreds of years earlier than the earliest Hebrew manuscript of Mishlei.

The relevant archaeological discoveries of recent decades from the land of Israel are as follows:

:: It was discovered that in the texts of Eichah from the Dead Sea, the peh verse precedes the ayin verse even in the first chapter.[7]

:: During excavations between Oct. 1975 and May 1976 at Kuntillet 'Ajrud, a site in the northern Sinai,[8] a jar fragment was discovered which included three Hebrew abecedaries in which the peh precedes the ayin.[9] The site dates to a period between the mid-9th and mid-8th centuries and is believed to have been a religious centre in the tribe of Judah, at its border.[10]

:: In 1976, a potsherd was discovered at Izbet Sartah (near Rosh ha-Ayin). The potsherd had five lines of Hebrew[11] writing on it, one of which was an abecedary (written left to right!). In this abecedary, the pehprecedes the ayin. The writing and potsherd date to the 12th-11th centuries B.C.E. Scholars are confident thatIzbet Sartah was an Israelite settlement.[12]

:: In 2005, a Hebrew abecedary inscribed on a stone was discovered at Tel Zayit (north of Lachish). The stone had been used in the construction of a wall belonging to a 10th cent. B.C.E. structure. In the abecedary, the peh precedes the ayin.[13] Most probably, Tel Zayit was within the tribe of Judah in the 10th centuryB.C.E.[14]

The abecedaries mentioned above are the only Hebrew (or Proto-Canaanite[15]) texts of the alphabet in order that have ever been discovered in ancient Israel that date from the period of the Judges and the First Temple that are long enough to span the letters ayin and peh.[16] Peh precedes ayin in every single one.[17]

Abecedaries or other texts of the alphabet in order from other Western Semitic languages[18] have also been found, dating from the late second millenium and early first millenium BCE:

:: Twelve Ugaritic texts include abecedaries, in whole or in part.[19] These are from Ras Shamra (on the Mediterranean coast of North Syria), and date from the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.E.[20] In the several abecedaries that are long enough to span ayin and peh, the cuneiform sign for the ayin precedes the cuneiform sign for the peh.[21]

:: Among the other Western Semitic languages, i.e., Aramaic, Ammonite, Moabite, andPhoenician, only one abecedary or text of the alphabet in order has been discovered that is long enough to spanayin and peh. This is an 8th cent. B.C.E. inscription in Aramaic from Tell Halaf, a site in northeastern Syria. Here too, ayin precedes peh.[22]

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Now it is time to examine the balance of the alphabetical acrostics in the Bible. Aside from the first four chapters of the book of Eichah, and Mishlei 31:10-31, alphabetical acrostics are found in several chapters of the book ofTehillim: chapters 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 (every letter 8 times), and 145.[23]

In chap. 34 (le-David be-shanoto), verses 17 and 18 have troubled interpreters throughout the ages. In verse 17, we are told:


יז פְּנֵי ה׳ בְּעֹשֵׂי רָע לְהַכְרִית מֵאֶרֶץ זִכְרָם.


Yet immediately following this, we are told:


יח צָעֲקוּ וה׳ שָׁמֵעַ וּמִכָּל צָרוֹתָם הִצִּילָם.


Why should God listen to and save the evildoers, when we have just been told that He wants to cut off their memory from earth?


Based on the archaeological evidence for peh preceding ayin, let us see what happens under the assumption thatpeh precedes ayin here:

יז פְּנֵי ה׳ בְּעֹשֵׂי רָע לְהַכְרִית מֵאֶרֶץ זִכְרָם.


טז עֵינֵי ה׳ אֶל צַדִּיקִים וְאָזְנָיו אֶל שַׁוְעָתָם.


יח צָעֲקוּ וה׳ שָׁמֵעַ וּמִכָּל צָרוֹתָם הִצִּילָם.


The ones whom God listens to and saves are not the evildoers, but the tzadikkim. Suddenly, the sequence of verses makes perfect sense![24]

But what about the acrostics in the rest of the book of Tehillim? Did peh originally precede ayin in Ashrei(Tehillim 145)?[25] Did Tehillim 119 originally have 8 peh verses preceding 8 ayin verses, all of which were later switched?

The response to this is to distinguish between earlier and later books of Tehillim. The acrostics in the book ofTehillim are found only in the first book (9-10, 25, 34, and 37) and the fifth book (111, 112, 119, and 145).[26]A widespread view in modern scholarship is that the first book of Tehillim is the earliest of the books of Tehillim,[27] and that the fourth and fifth books are the latest books.[28]

It is useful to remind ourselves of two verses in the fifth book of Tehillim which strongly suggest that this book is post-exilic:(1) (126:1) בְּשׁוּב ה׳ אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּוֹן הָיִינוּ כְּחֹלְמִים, and (2) (137:1) עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ גַּםבָּכִינוּ בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת צִיּוֹן. Also, although the Talmud[29] attributes the book of Tehillim to David ע"י עשרה זקניםfrom his time and earlier,[30] a different rabbinic tradition includes Ezra as one of the ten authors of Tehillim.[31]

I suggest that the difference in the era of composition of the first and fifth books of Tehillim is reflected in the alphabetical order with which each was composed. The acrostics of the fifth book of Tehillim, of post-exilic origin,were composed with the ayin-peh order. While the acrostics of the first book of Tehillim, composed in the time of David or during the First Temple period, were composed with the peh-ayin order.

Can I prove this?

1. With regard to the acrostic that spans chapters 9 and 10, it only includes the following letters: alef throughgimmel (9:1-7), vav through lamed (9:8–10:1), and kof through tav (10:12-18). But if one wants to take the reasonable approach that there was a complete acrostic here once and that our text of chapters 9 and 10 is faulty,[32] verses 10:7-8 provide some evidence that the peh verse may have preceded the ayin verse in the original text:[33]

ז אָלָה פִּיהוּ מָלֵא וּמִרְמוֹת וָתֹךְ תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנוֹ עָמָל וָאָוֶן.


ח יֵשֵׁב בְּמַאְרַב חֲצֵרִים בַּמִּסְתָּרִים יַהֲרֹג נָקִי עֵינָיו לְחֵלְכָה יִצְפֹּנוּ.

2. With regard to the acrostic of chapter 25,[34] verses 15-16 present no difficulty in their present order:


טו עֵינַי תָּמִיד אֶל ה׳ כִּי הוּא יוֹצִיא מֵרֶשֶׁת רַגְלָי.


טז פְּנֵה אֵלַי וְחָנֵּנִי כִּי יָחִיד וְעָנִי אָנִי.


But the verses can be read just as well in the peh-ayin order.


3. With regard to the acrostic of chapter 37, this is an acrostic where the ayin section, and the ayin section alone,is missing.[35]

But close examination of the verses reveals that the section for the samech is unusually long.[36] This strongly suggests that there was an ayin verse here once, some of whose words are preserved in the samech verse.[37] Of all 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, why is it that a textual problem arises in the context of the ayin verse? Probability strongly suggests that it has something to do with the peh-ayin order. Is it too bold to suggest that a scribe of the Second Temple period, familiar with the ayin-peh order from his time, was copying from a text which had the older peh-ayin order, and became confused?

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Based on the cumulative evidence, it seems obvious that the translators of חיל אשת into Greek were copying from a Hebrew text which had the peh verse before the ayin verse.[38] Let us take a closer look at the key verses in חילאשת:

כד סָדִין עָשְׂתָה וַתִּמְכֹּר וַחֲגוֹר נָתְנָה לַכְּנַעֲנִי.


כה עֹז וְהָדָר לְבוּשָׁהּ וַתִּשְׂחַק לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן.


In the traditional order, the women of valor laughs to the last day because she makes cloaks and sells them, delivers belts to the merchant, and is clothed with might and splendor. But if the order here was peh-ayin, the reason she laughs to the last day would also be based on her חכמה and חסד:


כו פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ.


כה עֹז וְהָדָר לְבוּשָׁהּ וַתִּשְׂחַק לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן .


A much more profound statement!


Some scholars have argued that chapters 30-31 of Mishlei are of post-exilic origin.[39] They are the latest chapters in the book and are not even attributed to Shelomo.[40] (Chapter 30 is attributed to Agur son of Yakeh, and chapter 31 is attributed to king Lemuel.) But if 31:10-31 follows the peh-ayin order, this suggests that at leastthis poem dates from the First Temple period, and that perhaps chapters 30 and 31 do as well.

-------

As stated above, every known Hebrew abecedary from the period of the Judges and the period of the FirstTemple has the peh preceding the ayin (if it is long enough to include these letters).


The above analysis of the Biblical acrostics suggests that this was not just a variant order, but that it was the only order used in Israel in the period of the Judges and the First Temple. This order is reflected in the acrostics in theolder section of Tehillim (i.e., first book), the acrostic at Mishlei 31:10-31, and all the acrostics in the book of Eichah. [41]

This study began with a technical observation about the acrostics in the book of Eichah. It led to insights into the authorship of the books of Tehillim and Mishlei, and into the history of the alphabet.[42]

 I will leave it to someone else to consider its impact in the field of gematria!

Select Bibliography:

A. Demsky, "A Proto-Canaanite Abecedary Dating from the Period of the Judges and its Implications for the History of the Alphabet," Tel Aviv 4 (1977), pp. 14-27.

A. Demsky and M. Kochavi, "An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges," BAR, Sept.-Oct. 1978, pp. 23-30.

P.Gaebelein, Jr., "Psalm 34 and Other Biblical Acrostics: Evidence from the Aleppo Codex," Maarav 5-6 (Spring, 1990), pp. 127-43.

M. Kochavi, "An Ostracon of the Period of the Judges from 'Izbet Sartah," Tel Aviv 4 (1977), pp. 1-13.

G.W. Nebe, "Alphabets" in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, vol. 1, pp. 18-20 (2000).

R. Tappy, P. McCarter, M. Lundberg and B. Zuckerman, "An Abecedary of the Mid-Tenth B.C.E. from the Judaean Shephelah," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Nov. 2006, pp. 5-46.

Z. Meshel, Kuntillet 'Ajrud: A Religious Centre from the time of the Judaean Monarchy on the Border of Sinai, Israel Museum Catalogue no. 175 (1978).


[1] I would like to acknowledge Sam Borodach and Rabbi Mordy Friedman for their thoughts and assistance over the years on this topic.


[2] In chap. 3, each letter is repeated three times.


[3] Comm. to Eichah 2:16. This commentary was published in 1946. See also the EJ entry, Acrostics (2:229), which refers to a "curious but unexplained" transposition of ayin and peh.


[4] This explanation is recorded in the Talmud at San. 104b, and twice in Eichah Rabbah (comm. to Eichah 2:16 and 3:46). But it does not explain why the first chapter is in the regular order. The Maharsha (comm. to San. 104b) suggests that the first chapter was kept in the regular order to prevent someone from claiming (as I will shortly!) that peh preceding ayin was the standard order at the time of Eichah. See also Siftei Chachamim to Eichah 2:16.


[5] See M. Taanit 4:6.


[6] See E. Tov, "Recensional Differences Between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint of Proverbs," in H.W. Attridge et al., Of Scribes and Scrolls: Studies on the Hebrew Bible, Intertestamental Judaism, and Christian Origins Presented to John Strugnell(1990), p. 53.


[7] See Discoveries in the Judean Desert, XVI, p. 234. This volume was not published until 2001.


With regard to the second and third chapters of the book of Eichah, the Dead Sea scrolls only include verses 2:5 and 3:53-62.The peh preceding ayin order is confirmed in the Dead Sea material from the fourth chapter, although it is very fragmentary. SeeDiscoveries in the Judean Desert, III, pp. 176-78. (This volume was published in 1962.)


[8] The site is about 50 km. south of Kadesh Barnea.


[9] The find is described only briefly in the catalogue published by Z. Meshel, Kuntillet 'Ajrud: A Religious Centre from the time of the Judaean Monarchy on the Border of Sinai, Israel Museum Catalogue no. 175 (1978). The catalogue includes a photo of the jar fragment at p. 11 (Heb. section). The abecedaries on the jar fragment are transcribed, among other places, in F.W. Dobbs-Allsopp, et al, Hebrew Inscriptions: Texts from the Biblical Period of the Monarchy with Concordance (2005), p. 294. A sketch of these abecedaries is found at A. Lemaire, Les écoles et la formation de la Bible dans l'ancien Israël , p. 27.


[10] This is the view of Meshel, who was in charge of the excavations. Another scholar believes the site to have been primarily a way station for travelers. See J. Hadley, "Some Drawings and Inscriptions on Two Pithoi from Kuntillet 'Ajrud," Vetus Testamentum 37, 2 (1987), p. 184. Phoenician inscriptions were also discovered at the site, evidence that it was used by a diversity of peoples.


[11] Technically, I should call the writing "Proto-Canaanite." Proto-Canaanite is the name the scholars give to this alphabet. It is only because scholars are confident that Izbet Sartah is an Israelite settlement that I can call this writing "Hebrew." The same issue arises with respect to the find at Tel Zayit. See below, n. 14.


[12] For example, the site contains the typical Israelite storage pits, and the structure of the house in the area where the potsherd was found is similar to the structure at other Israelite settlements. See M. Kochavi, "An Ostracon of the Period of the Judges from 'Izbet Sartah," Tel Aviv 4 (1977), p. 3, and A. Demsky and M. Kochavi, "An Alphabet from the Days of the Judges," BAR, Sept.-Oct. 1978, p. 24. Kochavi writes that identification of Izbet Sartah as an Israelite site "is not open to question." (Kochavi directed the excavations at Izbet Sartah.) The Philistine site of Aphek was to the west of Izbet Sartah.


Also noteworthy in this abecedary is that the het precedes the zayin. Demsky (pp. 17-18) provides grounds to suspect that this was a scribal slip. But interestingly, this same order is also found in the Tel Zayit abecedary.


[13] This abecedary departs from the traditional order in three other instances: 1) vav precedes he, 2) het precedes zayin, and 3)lamed precedes kaf. (As to the last, there is evidence that the author of the abecedary realized that this was a mistake.)


[14] See R. Tappy, et al, "An Abecedary of the Mid-Tenth B.C.E. from the Judaean Shephelah," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Nov. 2006, pp. 6-7, 22, and 42. The authors write (p. 22) that in the tenth century, "the stratigraphic and cultural history of the site seems to be parallel closely that of nearby Lachish...with both sites maintaining their principal cultural affinities with the highlands to the east and serving as borderland settlements that marked the westernmost Judahite frontier." As to the script, the authors write (p. 5): "The Tel Zayit abecedary represents the linear alphabetic script of central and southernCanaan at the beginning of the first millenium B.C.E., a transitional script that developed from the Phoenician tradition of the early Iron Age and anticipated the distinctive features of the mature Hebrew national script."


[15] See above, n. 11.


[16] Other First Temple period Hebrew texts of the letters of the alphabet in order have been found, but they are much shorter. For example, אבגדה was found incised on one of the steps of the palace at Lachish. Other finds in ancient Israel include: אבגד, וזחט,וזח, זחט, and קר. Most of these are collected in A. Lemaire, Les écoles et la formation de la Bible dans l'ancien Israël (1981). For additional references, see M. Haran, "On the Diffusion of Literacy and Schools in Ancient Israel," Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, vol. 40 (1988), p. 86. Some see the letters אבג on the Gezer Calendar, but the identity of the third letter is disputed.


[17] As indicated in the text, these abecedaries come from different regions in ancient Israel. They do not just reflect one local custom.


[18] Semitic languages are traditionally divided into three branches: Eastern, Western, and Southern. The Eastern Semitic languages (i.e., Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assryian) were written in Sumerian cuneiform, which was not an alphabetic cuneiform script. Southern Semitic languages (i.e., South Arabian, Ethiopian, and Arabic) have an entirely different alphabet order. Interestingly, an abecedary in cuneiform which follows the South Semitic alphabet order was found in Beit Shemesh. It dates from the 13th cent. B.C.E.


[19] See P. Craigie, Word Bible Commentary, Psalms (vol. 19), p. 130.


[20] See J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, pp. 29-30.


[21] The Ugaritic abecedaries were written in an alphabetic cuneiform script. For an illustration of one of these Ugaritic abecedaries in which ayin precedes peh, see Naveh, p. 30.


Note that "o" precedes "p" in English today, which also reflects this order.


[22] See R. Degen, "Ein aramäisches Alphabet von Tell Halaf," in R. Degen, W. Müller & W. Röllig, Neue Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik, vol. III, 1978, pp. 1-9. (The article in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls which I listed in the bibliography states that the peh precedes the ayin in this inscription, but this is a mistake.)


For references to shorter texts of the alphabet in order that have been discovered in Aramaic and the other Western Semitic languages from the early first millenium BCE, see A. Lemaire, "Abécédaires et exercises d'écolier en epigraphie nord-ouest-sémitique," Journal asiatique (1978), pp. 225-228. See also Semitica 28 (1978), pp. 7-10, and Semitica 32 (1982), p. 33, no. 16.


[23] It has also been suggested that a partial alphabetical acrostic is found at the beginning of Nachum chap. 1. It is too vague to comment upon further. There are no alphabetical acrostics in the Torah.


[24] The Daat Mikra commentary is even willing to consider the possibility of re-ordering these verses.


The suggestion that these verses need to be re-ordered was made long ago. See, e.g., S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 346 (4th ed., 1892; Driver probably made this suggestion in the first edition, published in 1891, but I have not seen the first, second or third editions), and J. Wellhausen, The Book of Psalms, Critical Edition of the Hebrew Text, p. 81 (1895) (citing the German Bible scholar Hermann Hupfeld, 1796-1866). More recently, the suggestion that these verses need to be re-ordered is found in the EJ entry, Acrostics (2:229). Within rabbinic tradition, there are early sources which interpret verse 18 as relating back to the prayers of the tzadikkim. See the Baraita of 32 Rules in Midrash ha-Gadol, Genesis, p. 38, and R. Saadiah Gaon, Emunot ve-Deot (end of the 4th treatise). But these do not suggest that the verses need to be re-ordered.


[25] One reason this seems unlikely is that the ayin and peh lines in Tehillim 145 seem to be parallel to the following lines inTehillim 104:


כז: כֻּלָּם אֵלֶיךָ יְשַׂבֵּרוּן לָתֵת אָכְלָם בְּעִתּוֹ.


כח: תִּתֵּן לָהֶם יִלְקֹטוּן תִּפְתַּח יָדְךָ יִשְׂבְּעוּן טוֹב.


[26] The fifth book comprises chaps. 107-150.


[27] The first book comprises chaps. 1-41. With the exception of chaps. 1, 2, 10, and 33, all have captions connecting them to David. (Of the 109 psalms in books II through V, only 18 have captions connecting them to David.) Almost certainly, the reason such a caption is lacking in chap. 10 is that it was once united with chap. 9. (These two chapters are united in the Septuagint.) As to chap. 33, it has a Davidic superscription in the Septuagint. The entry "Book of Psalms" in the EJ includes the following statement: "the earliest collection is undoubtedly Book I, or rather Psalms 3-41 within it."


It should also be mentioned that verse 72:20, at the conclusion of book II, reads: כלו ישי בן דוד תפלות .


The EJ entry "Book of Psalms" suggests that some of the books of Psalms were originally independent collections, as it is hardly conceivable that an editor who was aware of the 18 psalms attributed to David in the subsequent books would have written כלו ישי בן דוד תפלות in chap. 72. See EJ 13:1308.


[28] See, e.g., EJ 13:1308-1310. A widespread view is also that the division between books IV and V is artificial. See, e.g., EJ13:1308.


[29] Baba Batra 14b.


[30] Adam, Malkitzedek, Avraham, Moshe, Heman, Yedutun, Asaph and three sons of Korach.


[31] See Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:4 (and the comm. of מהרז״ו), Kohelet Rabbah 7:19, and Yalkut Makhiri to Psalms (beginning).Some have argued that the inclusion of Ezra in these sources is so anomalous that it must be an erroneous reading. (The קול יפה to Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah suggests emendation to עירא, based on 2 Sam. 20:26.) But since Ezra is included as one of the ten in several different sources, and Yalkut Makhiri is generally viewed as preserving reliable texts (see EJ 16: 706, and Daat Mikra, intro. to Tehillim, pp. 12-13), there is no reason to reject the present texts.


[32] P. Craigie, Word Bible Commentary, Psalms (vol. 19), p. 129, points out that the acrostic that spans chaps. 9 and 10 is much less even with respect to the average unit length for each section than are the other acrostic psalms in the Bible. This also suggests that the acrostic is textually corrupt.


[33]The suggestion that פיהו was the first word of the peh verse, and עיניו the first word of the subsequent ayin verse has been made by many. See, e.g,, C.A. Briggs and E.G. Briggs, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms(International Critical Comm.), vol. 1, p. 70 (1906).


[34] This acrostic is missing bet, vav and kof. The oldest acrostics that we have, the ones in the first book of Tehillim, are the ones whose texts have been less well preserved. The acrostics in the fifth book of Tehillim, by contrast, since they are likely post-exilic, are preserved completely (including each letter eight times in chap. 119), except for the missing nun verse in chap. 145. This suggests that chap. 145 never had a nun verse, and that the nun verse found in the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Psalms text (see J.A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, p. 66) is a later addition.


It is noteworthy that both Psalms 25 and 34 are missing a vav verse and add a verse beginning with peh at the end. This suggests that both were authored by the same author, or at least in the same period.


The absence of a vav verse may reflect a stage in the history of the alphabet in which vav was not viewed as a consonant. See P. Craigie, Word Bible Commentary, Psalms (vol. 19), p. 129. An 8th or 7th century B.C.E. Aramaic text from Deir 'Alla (the Biblical Succoth, on the east bank of the Jordan River) records the following sequence of letters: aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet, zayin, andhet. Possibly, heh and vav were left out here because they were not considered consonants. See J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij,Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla, pp. 267 and 285.


[35] The fact that Psalm 145 lacks a nun verse is well-known, as the Talmud (Ber. 4b) comments about it. To my knowledge, there are no comments in the Talmud or other classical rabbinic sources about the missing verses in the other Psalms.


[36] It spans three verses, while the sections for all the other letters span only one or two verses. Note also that the Septuagint version of the samech section is even longer, as it includes an additional phrase not found in the Hebrew. (In the Septuagint manuscripts, there are different versions of the additional phrase.) The observation that the samech verse in chap. 37 is unusually long and that there was once an ayin verse here was made long ago. See, e.g., S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 368 (4th ed., 1892), and J. Wellhausen, The Book of Psalms, Critical Edition of the Hebrew Text, p. 82 (1895).


[37] But none begin with ayin.


[38] Unfortunately, we have no Dead Sea text of Mishlei chap. 31.


The Greek translation of Mishlei differs in many other ways from the Masoretic text. It has been argued that the Greek translation was based on a different rescension altogether. See E. Tov, "Recensional Differences Between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint of Proverbs," in H.W. Attridge et al., Of Scribes and Scrolls: Studies on the Hebrew Bible, Intertestamental Judaism, and Christian Origins Presented to John Strugnell (1990), pp. 43-56.


[39] See, e.g., S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 406:


By the addition, at a still later date, of c. 30, 31:1-9, and 31:10-21,


all doubtless of post-exilic origin, the Book of Proverbs finally


reached its present form.


[40]Compare the first verse of the book, which tells us that what follows are the proverbs of Solomon, and verse 25:1 (introducing chaps. 25-29): "These also are proverbs of Solomon, which were copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah."


[41] The comments of the author of the EJ entry "Book of Lamentations," in his attempt to date the various chapters of the book, are worth noting (10:1374):


Certainly none of the chapters can postdate Cyrus' proclamation of 538... since none of the hope which it engendered is reflected in the book.


[42] An issue I did not address is what caused the peh-ayin order to arise, given that the earliest abecedaries (Ugaritic, 14th -13thcenturies B.C.E.) record an ayin-peh order. I can only speculate that the order of all the letters may not have been completely fixed in earliest times, and perhaps the peh-ayin order was not merely a later development. (There are now two ancient abecedaries in which the het precedes the zayin.) One scholar has noted that in an early stage, the letters ayin and peh had a similar form (at least in some regions). This resemblance could have caused a fluidity or confusion about their order. See Give Ear to My Words: Psalms and other poetry in and around the Hebrew Bible: essays in honour of Professor N.A. van Uchelen, ed. J. Dyk, p. 192.


Another issue I did not address is what led Hebrew to revert to the ayin-peh order in the post-exilic period. A good guess is that the ayin preceded the peh in the Aramaic alphabet in use in Babylonia, and this led the scribes who returned to adopt this order for Hebrew.

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