What is Hebrew Parallelism

What is Parallelism? “Parallelism is the use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same; or similar in their construction, sound, meaning or meter. Parallelism examples are found in literary works as well as in ordinary conversations” (Literarydevices.net). The parallelism can add a sense of increasing importance as one reads a piece of literature. Or think about music and how a piece of music can start low and soft and then build into this vibrant and loud crescendo. It can be used as a way of showing two or more ideas have the same importance or building upon that importance.

“Recognizing parallelism as a poetic feature can sometimes aid in understanding or interpreting a passage.  For example, the use of parallelism usually means that the message of the text is in the larger passage and its overall point or impact rather than individual words or single lines.  Also, specific words that may be ambiguous or used in unusual ways can be clarified or more narrowly defined by seeing them in the context of a parallel structure” (http://www.cresourcei.org/parallel.html). These are mostly found in Psalms and Proverbs. The following post will show Hebrew Parallelism in Psalm 19.

Hebrew Poetry: Parallelism
• Parallelism is the statement and re-statement with art, style, and imagery.
• Parallels exist in concepts, ideas, or thoughts.
• Parallelism is found not only in couplets (two lines), but also in triplets and quatrains (three and four lines), and sometimes in whole stanzas.

The various types of Parallelism are:

SYNONYMOUS
• 2nd line repeats the thought of the 1st line in different words.
• Harmonious
• Complementary
• Watch for inclusio (ABB’A’)
• Possible Markers: “and,” “moreover.”

Psalm 2:4
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.

Psalm 2:9
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’ ”
ANTITHETICAL
• 2nd line affirms the 1st line with the opposite or contrasting statement.
• Markers include adversative conjunctions, e.g. “but,” or negation, e.g. “no,” “neither,” “nor.”
• The B-line states the notion of the A-line in opposite terms.

Psalm 1:6
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 4:4
Tremble, and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.

Psalm 5:5
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity.

Psalm 6:5
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?

Proverbs 10:1b-c
A wise son makes a father glad,
But a foolish son is a grief to his mother.

CLIMACTIC
• 2nd line repeats the 1st line with the exact same words plus a conclusion.
• Climactic parallelism combines synonymous and formal parallelism. The B-line echoes part of the A-line, then adds a phrase that develops the meaning and completes the sense.
Psalm 29:1
Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

SYNTHETIC
• 2nd line repeats the thought of the 1st line in different words plus adds a conclusion or completes the sense of the 1st line.
• The relationship is supplementary.
• “Consists only in the similar form of construction, in which word does not answer to word, and sentence to sentence, as equivalent or opposite; but there is a correspondence and equality between different positions in respect to the shape and turn of the whole sentence and of the constructive parts; such as noun answering to noun, verb to verb, member to member, negative to negative, interrogative to interrogative.” (Lowth)
• AKA: chain figure or staircase parallelism

Psalm 95:6
Come, let us worship, and bow down,
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
Here, the Psalmist adds “before the Lord our Maker” to “worship, and bow down.” You could treat this as an ellipsis too. “Let us worship and bow down before the Lord our Maker.” In this case, the parallelism is synonymous.

Psalm 92:9
For, behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For, behold, Your enemies will perish;
All who do iniquity will be scattered.

Psalm 93:3
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
The floods have lifted up their voice,
The floods lift up their pounding waves.

Psalm 96:1-2a
Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

EMBLEMATIC
• A figure of speech is explained in the 2nd line.
• The second line elevates the idea in the 1st line.
• Sometimes you may combine this with the previous four, e.g. emblematic synonymous, emblematic antithetical, emblematic synthetic, or emblematic climatic.
Psalm 42:1
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.
(Some might call this Emblematic Synonymous. Others might consider the vocative “O God” as a conclusion and thus, label this as emblematic synthetic. Furthermore, they might consider the “So” as a marker for concluding material to follow. But in this context, “So” serves as a marker of the simile “as.” You could understand it as “in the same way.” I consider this simply Emblematic because the second line elevates the meaning of the first line. The first line is stated as a simile explained or elevated in the second line.)
FORMAL
• 1 idea, thought, sentence, and, thus, 1 statement in meter.
• The couplet forms a complete sentence, idea, or thought without parallelism.

Proverbs 25:18
Like a club and a sword and a sharp arrow
Is a man who bears false witness against his neighbor.

Psalm 52.4
You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
Formal parallelism will confuse you because you will see the vocative of address (O Deceitful Tongue) and consider that separately from the main clause. But “O Deceitful Tongue” is the subject “You” to the verb “love.” It’s not a conclusion. Moreover, and semantically speaking, formal parallelism is non-parallel.

Courtesy of DTS BE101 documentation

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