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Bible & Culture 2010!                                                                OT Prophets



                             Biblical Poetry
1. Terseness
      Hebrew poetry is very concise and compact, using few words in short lines. There
      are few conjunctions (ʻandʼ, ʻbutʼ, etc.), though translations into modern languages
      often add them to help clarity.

            e.g. # [Like] a gold ring in a pigʼs snout
            #      [is] a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. (Proverbs 11:22)

      Words are often dropped out of the second of a pair of lines, leaving the reader to
      infer them. This is called ellipsis (the verb is elide).

            e.g.# Bring your sacrifices every morning,
            #     #     your tithes every three years. (Amos 4:4)

            #      Thorns will overrun her citadels,
            #      nettles and brambles her strongholds. (Isaiah 34:13)


2. Parallelism
      Most, but not all, Hebrew poetry makes uses of parallelism. Lines (cola; singular:
      colon) are usually in pairs, sometimes in triples or more.

a.    Synonymous parallelism
      The second line (and any subsequent line) repeats the idea in the first line,
      developing it in some way, often subtly.

            e.g.# A!    They sell the innocent for silver,
            #     B!    and the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 1:2)

            #     A!    ʻThe swift will not escape,
            #     B!    the strong will not muster their strength,
            #     C!    and the warrior will not save his life.
            #     D!    The archer will not stand his ground,
            #     E!    the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
            #     F!    and the horseman will not save his life.
            #     G!    Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,ʻ
            #     #     #     #    #      #    #     #    declares the Lord. (Amos 2:14–16)




© Tony Watkins!                                 1!                         www.tonywatkins.org
Bible & Culture 2010!                                                                   OT Prophets




b.    Inverted (or chiastic) parallelism
      This is a form of synonymous parallelism, but the order of elements in the lines is
      reversed.

            e.g.#   A thousand will flee
            #       #    at the threat of one;
            #       #    at the threat of five
            #       you will all flee away. (Isaiah 30:17)

            #       Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
            #       nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:13)

c.    Antithetic parallelism
      Sometime the second line contrasts the first.

            e.g.# A!     He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
            #     B!     who turns midnight into dawn
            #     C!     and darkens day into night, . . . (Amos 5:8 – C contrasts B)

            #       A!   . . . though you have built stone mansions,
            #       B#   you will not live in them;
            #       C#   though you have planted lush vineyards,
            #       D#   you will not drink their wine. (Amos 5:11 – B and D contrast A and C)


3. Imagery
      Imagery is found in prose as well as poetry, but it is generally more frequent and
      intense in poetry.

a.    Similes
      Direct comparison between two things.

            e.g. # Let justice roll on like a river,
            #      righteousness like a never-failing stream. (Amos 5:24)

b.    Metaphor
      A stronger comparison, using one object or idea in place of, or in some way
      equivalent to, another.

            e.g.# Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
            #     you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy. (Amos 4:1)




© Tony Watkins!                                   2!                         www.tonywatkins.org
Bible & Culture 2010!                                                                 OT Prophets


c.    Symbol
      ʻA symbol is a concrete image that points to or embodies other meanings.ʼ (Leland
      Ryken)

            e.g.# The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
            #     on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
            #     #    #     #     #     #    #     #    #   #      #    #    (Isaiah 9:2)

d.    Hyperbole
      Exaggeration in order to make a point.

            e.g.#   Edomʼs streams will be turned to pitch,
            #       her dust into burning sulphur;
            #       her land will become blazing pitch.
            #       It will not be quenched night or day;
            #       its smoke will rise for ever.
            #       From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
            #       no one will ever pass through it again. (Isaiah 34:9–10)

e.    Personification
      Attributing human characteristics to natural phenomena, objects or ideas.

            e.g.# Gladness and joy will overtake them,
            #     and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

f.    Apostrophe
      ʻDirect address to something or someone absent as though the person or thing were
      present and capable of listening.ʼ (Leland Ryken)

            e.g.# Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
            #     the world, and all that comes from it. (Isaiah 34:1)




Resources
Longman, Tremper, III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove Ill., IVP, 1988)

Ryken, Leland and Longman, Tremper, III (eds.), A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1993)

Ryken, Leland, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1984)




© Tony Watkins!                                  3!                            www.tonywatkins.org

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Understanding Biblical Poetry

  • 1. Bible & Culture 2010! OT Prophets Biblical Poetry 1. Terseness Hebrew poetry is very concise and compact, using few words in short lines. There are few conjunctions (ʻandʼ, ʻbutʼ, etc.), though translations into modern languages often add them to help clarity. e.g. # [Like] a gold ring in a pigʼs snout # [is] a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. (Proverbs 11:22) Words are often dropped out of the second of a pair of lines, leaving the reader to infer them. This is called ellipsis (the verb is elide). e.g.# Bring your sacrifices every morning, # # your tithes every three years. (Amos 4:4) # Thorns will overrun her citadels, # nettles and brambles her strongholds. (Isaiah 34:13) 2. Parallelism Most, but not all, Hebrew poetry makes uses of parallelism. Lines (cola; singular: colon) are usually in pairs, sometimes in triples or more. a. Synonymous parallelism The second line (and any subsequent line) repeats the idea in the first line, developing it in some way, often subtly. e.g.# A! They sell the innocent for silver, # B! and the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 1:2) # A! ʻThe swift will not escape, # B! the strong will not muster their strength, # C! and the warrior will not save his life. # D! The archer will not stand his ground, # E! the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, # F! and the horseman will not save his life. # G! Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,ʻ # # # # # # # # declares the Lord. (Amos 2:14–16) © Tony Watkins! 1! www.tonywatkins.org
  • 2. Bible & Culture 2010! OT Prophets b. Inverted (or chiastic) parallelism This is a form of synonymous parallelism, but the order of elements in the lines is reversed. e.g.# A thousand will flee # # at the threat of one; # # at the threat of five # you will all flee away. (Isaiah 30:17) # Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, # nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:13) c. Antithetic parallelism Sometime the second line contrasts the first. e.g.# A! He who made the Pleiades and Orion, # B! who turns midnight into dawn # C! and darkens day into night, . . . (Amos 5:8 – C contrasts B) # A! . . . though you have built stone mansions, # B# you will not live in them; # C# though you have planted lush vineyards, # D# you will not drink their wine. (Amos 5:11 – B and D contrast A and C) 3. Imagery Imagery is found in prose as well as poetry, but it is generally more frequent and intense in poetry. a. Similes Direct comparison between two things. e.g. # Let justice roll on like a river, # righteousness like a never-failing stream. (Amos 5:24) b. Metaphor A stronger comparison, using one object or idea in place of, or in some way equivalent to, another. e.g.# Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, # you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy. (Amos 4:1) © Tony Watkins! 2! www.tonywatkins.org
  • 3. Bible & Culture 2010! OT Prophets c. Symbol ʻA symbol is a concrete image that points to or embodies other meanings.ʼ (Leland Ryken) e.g.# The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; # on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. # # # # # # # # # # # # (Isaiah 9:2) d. Hyperbole Exaggeration in order to make a point. e.g.# Edomʼs streams will be turned to pitch, # her dust into burning sulphur; # her land will become blazing pitch. # It will not be quenched night or day; # its smoke will rise for ever. # From generation to generation it will lie desolate; # no one will ever pass through it again. (Isaiah 34:9–10) e. Personification Attributing human characteristics to natural phenomena, objects or ideas. e.g.# Gladness and joy will overtake them, # and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:10) f. Apostrophe ʻDirect address to something or someone absent as though the person or thing were present and capable of listening.ʼ (Leland Ryken) e.g.# Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, # the world, and all that comes from it. (Isaiah 34:1) Resources Longman, Tremper, III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove Ill., IVP, 1988) Ryken, Leland and Longman, Tremper, III (eds.), A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1993) Ryken, Leland, How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan, 1984) © Tony Watkins! 3! www.tonywatkins.org