3. Hebrew Poetry

A. Poetry in general

  • Poetic form: Allen p.28
  • The nature of poetry: Allen p.41-50
    • unfortunate that some Bible paraphrases remove much of the poetry
  • Misconceptions in poetry
    1. The idea that literal meaning and poetic meaning are somehow opposed
      • We use poetic language all the time in everyday speech, even something as mundane as a sports commentary
      • “the bases are loaded”, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings”
    2. The notion that poetry is always imprecise and ambiguous

B. Parallelism

(Much of this section is borrowed from Ross)

  • The basic feature of biblical poetry is the recurrent use of a relatively short sentence-form that consists of two (or more) brief clauses:
    By day the LORD sends forth his love /

    and at night His song is with me. (Psalm 42:9)
  • The clauses are regularly separated by a slight pause, for the second part is a continuation of the first and not a completely new beginning.
  • On occasion, four parts may form the line.
  • The relationship between the parts of a line is called “parallelism”.

C. Types of Parallelism

  • Robert Lowthe is the man credited with the “discovery” of biblical parallelism (in 1753).
  • He distinguished three types: synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic.
  • The third category, “synthetic,” became sort of a catch-all for what would not fit the others.

1. Complete Parallelism

  • Every single term or thought unit in one line is parallel to an equivalent term or unit in the other line.
    • Find an example in Psalm 6
  • Complete parallelism can be subdivided into:
  1. Synonymous Parallelism
    • where the thought is repeated by the second line in different but synonymous words.
      Then Israel / came / to Egypt; /

      Jacob / sojourned / in the land of Ham. (Ps. 105:23)
    • The order of the parallel terms need not be the same in both lines;
    • Find another example in Psalm 6
  2. Antithetical Parallelism
    • balances the parallel lines through the opposition or contrast of thought, as in 90:6:
      In the morning / it flourishes / and is renewed; /

      in the evening / it fades / and withers.
    • Any in Psalm 6 ? What about Psalm 18 ? Ps 126
      • (see Psalm 18:18)
  3. Emblematic Parallelism
    • one of the parallels is literal, the other a simile or a metaphor
      As a father / pities / his children, /

      so the LORD / pities / those who fear Him. (Ps. 103:13)
    • see also Psalm 18:16
  4. Inverted or Chiastic Parallelism
    • strictly speaking a form of synonymous parallelism;
    • the main difference is that the order of the terms is inverted, like a mirror image
    • A clear example is found in Isaiah 11:13b:
      Ephraim / shall not be jealous of / Judah, /

      and Judah / shall not harass / Ephraim.
    • These are not always complete or perfectly balanced
    • Another example from Isaiah 1:18
      Though be your sins
      as scarlet
      as snow they shall be as white
      Though they         be        red
      as crimson,
      as wool
      they shall be.

2. Incomplete Parallelism

  • This type of parallelism is very frequent with many variations.
  • Only some of the terms are parallel
  1. Incomplete Parallelism with Compensation
    • only some of the terms are parallel e.g. Psalm 6:1
    • but each line has the same number of units (usually clear in English, but clearer in Hebrew).
      You will destroy / their offspring / from the earth,
      and their children/from among the sons of/men. (21:11)
    • A variation of this is the so-called step-parallelism, or climactic parallelism
      • the thought is developed by repetition and extension, as in 29:1,2:
        Ascribe / to the LORD / O sons of / the mighty One,
        Ascribe / to the LORD / glory / and strength,
        Ascribe / to the LORD / the glory of / his name;
        Worship / the LORD / in holy / array.
  2. Incomplete Parallelism
    • one line is longer than the other, as in 6:2 (MT 6:3):
      O LORD, / rebuke me / not in your anger, /

      nor chasten me / in your wrath.
    • On occasion Lowthe’s old category of synthetic parallelism may be helpful.
    • In that type the second part further develops the first:
      For the LORD is a great God,
      and a great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3).

3. Formal Parallelism

  • Not really parallelism
  • the second colon simply continues the thought of the first
    I have set / my king /

    on Zion / my holy hill. (Ps. 2:6)

4. External parallelism

  • the correspondence occurs between successive verses, as in Isaiah 1:3:
    The ox / knows / its owner,
    and the ass / its master’s / crib; /

    but Israel / does not / know,
    my people / does not / understand.
  • see also Psalm 6:1,2