Lamentations 1:1, Lamentations and the Hebrew Alphabet

How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!

//So begins the book of Lamentations, an appropriately named treatise. It’s a five chapter lament, written poetically … so poetically, in fact, that it’s impossible to properly translate to another language.

You see, the whole book is an acrostic. There are 22 verses in the first chapter, and each one starts with a unique letter, stepping through the Hebrew alphabet … Alef, Beit, Gimel, Dalet, Hei … through the final letter, Tav, which begins the final verse.

Chapters two, four, and five follow the same pattern: 22 verses stepping through the alphabet. But the middle chapter is even more amazing: It is a triple acrostic! There are 66 verses, and the verses start with Alef, Alef, Alef, Beit, Beit, Beit, Gimel, Gimel, Gimel and so on through the final letter.

You may be aware that the Bible was never divided into chapter and verse in the original Hebrew and Greek. Such divisions are entirely artificial in our current-day translations. This makes this one book of the Bible even more special, because it provides us important clues for the study of ancient Hebrew metric. For once, we really do know where the verses begin and end!

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2 Comments

  1. Ray Vincent

    Many thanks for this insight. However, I don’t see it applying to chapter 5. The verses there seem to start with random letters. What went wrong? Or am I missing something?

  2. Lee Harmon

    uh-oh, you are absolutely correct, Ray! I should have kept reading, verified the claim all the way through. While chapter five follows the poetic style and has 22 verses, it isn’t an acrostic. Thanks for correcting me!!

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