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Hebrew Poetry

Hebrew Poetry

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Published by Randy Neal
This is a review of an article on the topic of Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature.
This is a review of an article on the topic of Hebrew Poetry and Wisdom Literature.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Randy Neal on Sep 05, 2011
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01/15/2013

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Hebrew PoetryArticle from The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, K-QBy John R. Neal
 This dictionary article on “Hebrew Poetry” is thorough but arranged ina format that is easy to read and follow. The author begins by stating thatthe Hebrew poetry makes up one-third of the entire Hebrew Bible, anastonishing fact that shows the need to understand the workings of poetry. The books of “Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Obadiah,Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah are poetic in their entirety.”
1
Onenormally thinks of the poetic books being limited to Psalms, Proverbs, andSong of Songs, but this is an incorrect view of Biblical poetry. One must alsotake into consideration the fact that many books in the Old Testamentconsist of some type of poetic material (some extensive, while some just afew verses): Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 and 2Samuel, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. There are only sevenbooks which “contain no poetic lines” whatsoever: Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra,Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, and Malachi (according to Gottwald).
2
There isalso poetry in the Deutrocanonical books (Apocrypah/Pseudepigrapha). Yetthe form of Hebrew poetry can also be found in the New Testament (the firstchapter of Luke and the book of Revelation). Even Jesus’ teachings, whilenot perhaps poetic, is based firmly upon the Old Testament Wisdom tradition
1 George Arthur Buttrick, Gen. Editor. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, E-Q. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), s.v. “Hebrew Poetry,” by Norman K. Gottwald, 829.2 Ibid.
 
(especially seen in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7). This article gives a brief history of interpretation of Hebrew poetry andshows that, except for just a few Jewish interpreters, no one reallyinvestigated the form and function of poetry in the Old Testament until the18
th
century. In 1753, Bishop Robert Lowth (a lecturer at Oxford) publishesin Latin his
Lectures on the Sacred Poetry 
(translated into English in 1815).Lowth throws out trying to equate Hebrew poetry with classical Greek onLatin poetry rules and examines Hebrew poetry at face value. What Lowthdiscovers is the “counterbalancing of verse members, to which he appliedthe technical term
 parallelismus membrorum
(“parallel of members”).
3 
Lowth examines the different types of parallelism in the Hebrew Bible withgreat success (he would devout five lectures to “prophetic poetry,”especially from the book of Isaiah).
4
In this article, Gottwald lists some six types of Hebrew parallelism. There is (1) synonymous parallelism (where a line states the “same thoughtin successive stichs”). (2) Antithetic Parallelism “balances the stichs throughopposition or contrast in thought. (3) The synthetic or formal parallelism“balances stichs in which the second element advances the thought of thefirst.” (4) Emblematic parallelism uses simile or metaphor. (5) StairlikeParallelism “is the repetition and advance of thought in successive stichs,often involving three or more stichs.” (6) Inverted or chiastic parallelism
3 Ibid, 830.4 Ibid.
 
“involves the inversion of words or terms in successive stichs.”
5
Gottwaldalso states that the different “possibilities of parallelism are greatlymultiplied” when corresponding “between distichs (external parallelism),which supplements the correspondence between stichs (internalparallelism).
6
Gottwald also includes a study of poetic meter, poetic techniques, andlooking at the Genre and Life Situation. One aspect that some scholarsdisagree over is how to determine meter. Gottwald states that “meter isdetectable mainly by analogy with other poetry and by implication from thebalanced lines.”
7
A particular stress pattern is based upon the suppositionthat stress is to be given to each “major word” within a distich or tristich. Yet the metric theory is based upon the Masoretic accents in the text “ratherthan on any intrinsic evidence from biblical Hebrew.” Each word in a line isgiven one stress. The meter/stress patterns very, but the common pattern of a six-stress distich in Isaiah, Job, and Proverbs is 3+3 meter. At times thesense of a passage requires six stress line (a tristich) with a 2+2+2 pattern. The most common meter in Lamentation and the Psalms of lament (includinglaments in the prophets) is 3+2 meter (the so-called Lament or Qinahmeter). Gottwald also compares similarity of Hebrew poetry with hercounterpart in Canaanite literature (Ugarit) and Babylon.
8
In the section on Poetic Techniques, he deals with: (1) Alliteration –
5 Ibid, 830-833.6 Ibid, 833.7 Ibid, 834.8 Ibid.

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