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Hebrew poetry has a certain rhythmical flow, a rise and fall (arsis and thesis), versicular and strophic divisions, also occasional alliterations and rhymes, and especially a correspondence of clauses called parallelism, but no regular system of versification, as we understand it. It is not fettered by mechanical and uniform laws, it does not rest on quantity or syllabic measure, there is no equal number of syllables in each line or verse, nor of lines in each stanza or strophe. It is a poetry of sense rather than sound, and the thought is lord over the outward form. It differs in this respect from classical, modern, and also from later Hebrew poetry.*

This freedom and elasticity of Hebrew poetry gives it, for purposes of translation, a great advantage above ancient and modern poetry, and subserves the universal mission of the Bible, as the book of faith and spiritual life for all nations and in all languages. A more artificial and symmetrical structure would make a translation a most difficult task, and either render it dull and prosy, by a faithful adherence to the sense, or too free and loose, by an imitation of the artistic form. Besides it would introduce confusion among the translations of different Christian nations. The Iliad of Homer, the Odes of Horace, Dante's Divina Comedia, Petrarca's Sonnets, Milton's Paradise Lost, Göthe's Faust, could not be translated in prose without losing their poetic charm, yea, their very soul. They must be freely reproduced in poetic form, and this can only be done by a poetic genius, and with more or less departure from the original. But the Psalms, the Book of Job, and Isaiah can be transferred by a good and devout scholar, in form as well as in substance, into any language, without sacrificing their beauty, sublimity, force, and rhythm. The Latin, English, and German Psalters are as poetic as the Hebrew, and yet agree with it and among themselves. It is impossible not to see here the hand of Providence, which made the word of truth accessible to all.

The few acrostic or alphabetical poems can hardly be called an exception, viz., Pss. XXV., xxxiv., xxxvii., cxi., cxii., cxix. and cxlv., the Lamentations, and the last chapter of Proverbs (xxxi. 10 sqq.). For the alphabetical order is purely external and mechanical, and at best only an aid to the memory. Pss. cxi. and cxii. are the simplest examples of this class; each contains twenty-two lines, according to the number of the Hebrew alphabet, and the successive lines begin with the letters in their regular order. Ps. cxix. consists of twenty-two strophes, corresponding to the number of Hebrew letters; each strophe begins with the letter of the alphabet, and has eight parallelisms of two lines each, and the first line of each parallelism begins with the initial letter of the strophe. The remaining four acrostic Psalms are not so perfect in arrangement.

Many attempts have been made by Jewish and Christian scholars to reduce the form of Hebrew poetry to a regular system, but they have failed. Josephus says that the Song of Moses at the Red Sea was composed in the hexameter measure, and the Psalms in trimeters, pentameters and other metres. But he and Philo were anxious to show that the poets of their nation anticipated the Greek poets even in the art of versification. Jerome, the most learned among the Fathers (appealing to Philo, Josephus, Origen, and Eusebius for proof), asserts that the Psalter, the Lamentations, Job and almost all the poems of the Bible are composed in hexameters and pentameters, with dactyls and spondees, or in other regular metres, like the classic poems, and points also to the alphabetical arrangement of Pss. exi., cxii., cxix., cxlv., and the Lamentations. Among later scholars some deny all metrical laws in Hebrew poetry (Joseph Scaliger, Richard Simon); others maintain the rhythm with

* Delitzsch (Com, on the Psalms, Leipz., 1867, p. 17) says: “Die althebräische Poesie hat weder Reim noch Metrum, welche beide erst im 7 Jahr. n. Chr. von der jud. Poesie angeeignet wurden." But afterwards he qualifies this remark and admits that the beginnings of rhyme and metre are found in the poetry of the O. T., so that there is an element of truth in the assertion of Philo, Josephus, Eusebius and Jerome, who find there the Greek and Roman metres. Ewald (1. c., p. 104) denies the existence of rhyme in Hebrew poetry; yet the occasional rhymes and alliterations in the song of Lamech, the song of Moses, the song of Deborah, etc., can hardly be merely accidental.

out metre* (Gerhard Vossius); others both rhythm and metre (Gomarus, Buxtorf, Hottinger); others a full system of versification, though differing much in detail (Meibomius, Hare, Anton, Lautwein, Bellermann); while still others, believing in the existence of such a system, in whole or in part, think it impossible to recover it (Carpzov, Lowth, Jahn, to some extent also Herder and Wright). Ewald discusses at great length the Hebrew rhythm, verses and strophes, also Hebrew song and music, without making the matter very clear. Merx finds in the Book of Job a regular syllabic and strophic structure, eight syllables in each stich or line, and an equal number of stichs in each strophe, but he is obliged to resort to arbitrary conjectures of lacunæ or interpolations in the masoretic text.

The conceded and most marked feature of Bible poetry is the parallelism of members, so-called. It consists in a certain rhythmical and musical correspondence of two or more sentences of similar or opposite meaning, and serves by a felicitious variation to give full expression and harmony to the thought. The parallel members complete or illustrate each other, and produce a music of vowels and consonants. Paralellism reflects the play of human feeling, and supplies the place of regular metre and rhyme in a way that is easily understood and remembered, and can be easily reproduced in every language. Ewald happily compares it to "the rapid stroke as of alternate wings," and "the heaving and sinking as of the troubled heart."

There are different forms of parallelism, according to the nature of the internal relation of the members. The correspondence may be either one of harmony, or one of contrast, or one of progressive thought, or one simply of comparison, or of symmetrical structure. Since Lowth, it has become customary to distinguish three classes of parallelisms: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic or constructive. The majority belong to the third class, and even those which are usually counted as synonymous, show more or less progress of thought, and might as well be assigned to the third class. A large number of parallelisms cannot be brought under either class.

1. SYNONYMOUS parallelism expresses the same idea in different but equivalent words, as in the following examples:

PS. VIII. 4.

Ps. XIX. 1, 2.

Ps. CIII. 1.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man that Thou visitest him?

The heavens declare the glory of God:
And the firmament showeth His handiwork.

Day unto day uttereth speech:

And night unto night proclaimeth knowledge.

Bless the Lord, O my soul:

And all that is within me, bless His holy name.

These are parallel couplets; but there are also parallel triplets, as in Ps. i. 1:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly:

Nor standeth in the way of sinners,

Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Similar triplets occur in Job iii. 4, 6, 9; Isa. ix. 20.

Parallel quatrains are less frequent, as in Ps. ciii. 11, 12, where the first member corresponds to the third, and the second to the fourth:

All metre is rhythm, but not all rhythm is metre, as Augustine says (De musica).

Lowth is the author of a more fully developed system of parallelism and its various forms. But the thing itself was known before under different names. Aben Ezra calls it duplicatio (45), Kimchi: duplicatio sententiæ verbis variatis. See Delitzsch, 1. c. p. 18. Rabbi Azariah, and especially Schöttgen (Hora Hebraicæ, Vol. I. 1249-1263), as quoted by Prof. Wright (Smith's Dict. of the Bible, III. 2557), seem to have anticipated the main features of Lowth's system. Parallellism is also found among oʻher Shemitic nations, in Old Egyptian poetry, and among the Chinese.

Ps. XXXVII. 9.

When the two members are precisely the same in word and sense, they are called identic parallelism; but there are no cases of mere repetition, unless it be for the sake of emphasis, as in Isa. xv. 1; Ps. xciv. 1, 3.

2. ANTITHETIC parallelism expresses a contrast or antithesis in sentiment:

Ps. 1. 6.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

PROV. X. 7.

PROV. XII. 10.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

So great is His mercy towards them that fear Him.
So far as the East is from the West,

So far has He removed our transgressions from Him.

Hos. XIV. 9.

Evil-doers shall be cut off:

But those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.

The memory of the just is a blessing;

But the name of the wicked shall rot.

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast,
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them;
But the transgressors shall fall therein.

3. SYNTHETIC or CONSTRUCTIVE parallelism. Here the construction is similar in form, without a precise correspondence in sentiment and word as equivalent or opposite, but with a gradation or progress of thought, as in Ps. xix. 7-11; cxlviii. 7-13; Isa. xiv. 4-9. We quote the first:

The law of Jehovah is perfect, converting the soul:

The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart:

The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes.

The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring forever:

The judgments of Jehovah are truth, they are righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, and much fine gold:
And sweeter than honey, and the honey comb.
Moreover, by them is thy servant warned:
In keeping of them there is great reward.

To these three kinds of parallelism Jebb (Sacred Literature) adds a fourth, which he calls introverted parallelism, where the first line corresponds to the last (fourth), and the second to the penultimate (third), as in Prov. xxiii. 15, 16. De Wette distinguishes four, slightly differing from Lowth, Delitzsch six or eight forms of parallelism, as we have already seen in the remarks on the Proverbs.

The pause in the progress of thought determines the division of lines and verses. Hebrew poetry always adapts the poetic structure to the sense. Hence there is no monotony, but a beautiful variety and alternation of different forms. Sometimes the parallelism consists simply in the rhythmical correspondence of sentences or clauses, without repetition or contrast, or in carrying forward a line of thought in sentences of nearly equal length, as in Psalm cxv. 1–8.

Not unto us, Jehovah, not unto us,

But unto Thy name give glory,

For Thy mercy,

For Thy truth's sake.
Wherefore should the heathen say,
"Where is now their God?"
But our God is in the heavens;
All that He pleased He has done.
Their idols are silver and gold,

The work of the hands of men.

A mouth have they, but they speak not;

Eyes have they, but they see not;

Ears have they, but they hear not;
Noses have they, but they smell not;
Hands have they, but they handle not;
Feet have they, but they walk not;
They make no sound in their throat.
Like them are they that made them,
All that trust in them.

This looser kind of parallelism or rhythmical correspondence and symmetrical construc tion of sentences, characterizes also much of the Hebrew prose, and is continued in the New Testament, e. g., in the Sermon on the Mount (especially the Beatitudes), in the Prologue of John, in Rom. v. 12 sqq.; viii. 28 sqq.; 2 Cor. xiii. 1 sqq.; 1 Tim. iii. 16; 2 Tim. ii. 11, and other passages which we are accustomed to read as prose, but which even in form are equal to the best poetry-gems in beautiful setting, apples of gold in pictures of silver.











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