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Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry


Ever since Robert Lowth's 1753 study, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, biblical scholars have known that ancient Hebrew writers relied on parallelism to make their poetry. What is parallelism? It is a structure of thought (rather than external form like meter or rhyme) in which the writer balances a series of words so that patterns of deliberate contrast or intentional repetition appear. These rhetorical devices also appear in English. For instance, consider the parallel repetition in the Gettysburg Address: "That government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." This parallelism is called tricolon epistrophe. Another type of parallelism is juxtaposing opposites, or antithesis. Consider the antithesis from the "moon landing" speech by Neil Armstrong: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for all mankind." Here, we have a contrast or antithesis between "small step" and "giant leap" and between a singular "man" and the collective "all mankind." The ancient biblical writers were also suckers for this technique. Here are some examples from the Hebrew Bible to illustrate such parallelisms.

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