Hebrew Poetry – Parallelism Form Part II

Parallelism in Psalms

In the last post, we entered into the realm of Hebrew poetry, and specifically into parallelism. We learned about the two easiest forms, synthetic and antithetic,  and how to recognize them. This post furthers the investigation, delving into two more forms that are a bit more complicated and identifying them will take a little extra effort.

Today’s Fact about Hebrew Poetry

It is estimated that about one-third of the Old Testament is poetic. Psalms, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, most of Job, a large portion of the prophetic literature and many of the passages in the narrative of the Old Testament are written in poetry.

This is a fair chunk of scripture – and for the most part the poetics are not read as much as prose because people don’t think it is important to understand poetry. I think the real problem is that poetry takes work on the part of the reader to understand.

A second and perhaps more tragic fact is that people do not feel they need to understand it because it has little value, other than words strung together in a pretty way. They think that because it is poetry it is fiction and there is no fact associated with it.

This is simply not true.  A historical account of a battle may be narrated in prose and in poetry.  While the account of that same battle differs in language, the fact is that they are about the same battle and that the poetic is just as true as the prose. The style, the language and most likely the focus of the writing has changed, but it is still the same battle and those facts have not changed.  By “focus of the writing” I mean that the narrative may be chronological, whereas the poetry might focus on the spectacle of the fighting.

Author Tim Chaffey has written a great paper about parallelism in Hebrew poetry and in it he describes an error that old earth creationists are making. Check out the end-notes for the web address and then head over to the website and read the paper. 1

Additional poetic passages can be found in the Apocrypha and writings that are not a part of the approved body of scripture, such as in parts of the pseudepigrapha and in the writings of the Qumran Sect.

Parallelism doesn’t have to be only a poetic device. Many of the sayings of Jesus are given in the parallelism form, even though it is prose.

Two More Forms

Formal Parallelism is sometimes called Synthetic Parallelism. I think the term synthetic parallelism is more descriptive of what we are looking for in this form.

At our level of involvement, we will go with a simple description of synthesis: the thought in the first stich is carried on and completed in the second stich. It is neither repetition using different terms (synonymous) nor is it contrasting (antithetic) in nature. The requirements to earn this title are more complicated. Here are some examples:

The Lord looks down from heaven
upon the children of men, (Psalms 14:2a)

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
there is none that does good. (Psalm 53:1)

In his days may righteousness flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more (Psalm 72:7)

Thou dost guide me with thy counsel,
and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory. (psalm 73:24)

There is a balance of the two clauses, but the correspondence between them as we have seen in the two earlier forms just isn’t there. The balance is emphasized by a clearly marked break between the two stiches and the correspondence is found in the rhythm or meter of the verse. 2

Climactic Parallelism has the characteristics of the formal and the synonymous combined. Here are two examples, followed by a short description of what is happening with climactic parallelism and then I have give two more examples.

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength . (Psalm 29:1)

Pray to your Father who is in secret:
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6b)

Notice that in both examples, the second stich echoes a part of the first stich (synonymous), but then continues the thought, adding to it and carrying it forward to a fuller and more complete sense (formal).

Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the king of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7)

But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)

I hope this has given some insight into these two forms of poetic parallelism. There are a few more things we need to look at, but that will be coming up in a later post.

Thank you for reading and God Bless!

1 Chaffey, T. (2012, July). Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry Demonstrates a Major Error in the Hermeneutic of Many Old-Earth Creationists [12 pp.]. Answers Research Journal, 5, 115-123. Retrieved 12 October 2012, from: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v5/n1/hebrew- parallelism
2 May, H.G., & Metzger, B.M. (Eds.) The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. (1977). New York: Oxford University Press.


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