Hebrew Poetry

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Many parts of the Hebrew Bible are written as poetry. One of the the main features of the Hebrew poetry is parallelism of thought. The Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs are almost all poetry. Some of the Prophetic books also have poetic sections. Even the Book of Genesis includes some poems, or songs and they are sometimes called.

Parallellism[change | change source]

Unlike English poetry, and that of many cultures, Hebrew poetry does not rhyme words. Neither is rhythm or meter often used. Instead alternate lines of the poem have a related thought. This is called parallelism. One advantage of this type of poetry is that it is easy to make a translation that keeps the idea or teaching of the original language. That is much more difficult to do if the translation has to make words rhyme or follow a metrical pattern. Several types of parallelism can be found in Biblical poetry. These include:

  • Synonymous parallelism; in this form, the second half line of each verse says much the same thing as the first one, with variations. An example appears in Amos (Amos 5:24)
But let judgment run down as waters,
and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Another example of synonymous parallelism comes in Isaiah (Isaiah 2:4) or Book of Micah (Micah 4:3)

"They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
  • Antithesis is also found; here, the second unit directly contrasts with the first, often making the same point from the opposite perspective. From Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 10:1)
A wise son maketh a glad father,
but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
  • Emblematic parallelism occurs where one unit renders figuratively the literal meaning of another.
  • Synthetic parallelism occurs where the units balance, clause for clause, with one unit building upon or adding to the first. From Psalm 14:2
The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men,
to see if there were any that did understand and seek God.
  • Climactic parallelism occurs where the second unit partially balances the first, but also sums up the thought or completes the series. From Psalm 29:1:
Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty,
give unto the LORD glory and strength.