Seriously, learn your alphabet, King David.

With my last post we looked at the way Hebrew poetry sometimes uses the Hebrew alphabet, beginning each line of a poem or song with consecutive letters of that alphabet. These poems or songs are called alphabetic acrostics, and show up a lot in Psalms, most of Lamentations, and once in Proverbs. Some folks also point to Nahum 1, but it's a little weird.

Nahum 1. Not unlike your relationship status.

Today I want to talk about something cool that happened with an acrostic in Psalms.

That's the nerdiest sentence I've ever written.

Actually, probably not. So that's embarrassing... anyway...

Psalm 145 is a psalm of praise to God. It's grand and majestic in its description of the works and character of God as understood by ancient Israel. And it even does this in the form of an acrostic. Verse 1 begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, verse 2 begins with the second letter, and so on.

Well, until you get to verse 14.

Verse 14 should begin with the Hebrew letter nun. Phonetically, nun is kind of like the English letter n. But when we get to verse 14, it just isn't there. Verse 14 begins with a samek, the letter after nun. The Psalmist (it's attributed to David) skipped the nun. For this reason, Psalm 145 only has 21 verses instead of the expected 22 (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet).

The one on the left is a nun. The one on the right is a samek. So now you can practice writing some Hebrew letters. Like all the cool kids do.

What happened? Was this just a mistake? "Whoops. Forgot the nun. Oh well, I'm gonna keep going."

Maybe the Psalmist just couldn't think of a word. "Let's see... nun... nun... nun... I got nothing. Screw it. I'm just moving on to samek."

Dude. Just go to Psalm 119. There are 8 verses in a row that start with a nun! You don't need to steal a whole verse, just grab one of the nun words and let it kick start you inspiration.

Nope. No nun verse. Well, no nun verse in the Hebrew Bible.

You may not know this but our English translations are based on much more than just the Hebrew Bible. In fact, what Christianity likes to call the Old Testament is based on a whole lot of ancient copies of the Hebrew scriptures written in different languages. Some of the most important manuscripts are in Hebrew, of course.

Eventually though, the language of the world was Greek, so the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (they called it the Septuagint), and there are important Greek manuscripts that help us in translating the Hebrew Bible into English. Some of these Greek manuscripts are quite a bit older than some of the best Hebrew manuscripts.

A little later, the language of the world was Latin, so yes, there are Latin manuscripts too, and there are even other languages as well. Unfortunately, what we don't have are any original manuscripts. In other words, there are no first editions of any of the books of the Bible.

The Septuagint (that's the Greek one) includes the nun verse. Right where you'd expect to find it. Here it is in English, from the NRSV:

 The LORD is faithful in all His words,
and gracious in all His deeds.

This verse also showed up in one obscure Hebrew manuscript of the Psalms from the Middle Ages, but that wasn't very convincing. All other Hebrew manuscripts didn't include it. Just the Greek.

Until one day in 1947, when a bunch of shepherd boys found some old scrolls hidden in caves near the Dead Sea. When I say old, I mean ancient. Some of these scrolls were copied down 150-200 years before Jesus was born. That's way older than any other Hebrew manuscripts available at the time. Archaeologists, biblical scholars, and shepherd boys went crazy and searched all the caves in the area. They found more scrolls. They found pieces of scrolls. Thousands of pieces. But in the midst of all of it they found a scroll that included Psalm 145. Guess what? Yep. It included the nun verse.

So today, lots of English translations include it. You'll find it at the end of verse 13 in the NIV, the NRSV, and the NLT, for example. You won't find it in the King James though, or even the New King James. They're just stubborn. The English Standard Version is a new translation a lot of folks like. It includes it, but it's set off in brackets. Come on, ESV. Make a commitment.

So, what's the payoff? Who really cares? Does it matter? The verse was missing a while, and now it's back. All is well.

Maybe. But what about folks who talk about the "Inerrant Word of God?" I mean, if you compare Psalm 145:13 in the NIV with Psalm 145:13 in the KJV, one of them is... errant, right?

I've taken enough of your time today. Let's talk about this soon. In the meantime, you should google biblical inerrancy.


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