HEBREW POETRY. That the Semites in general were people of some musical ability, and that the Hebrews in particular fostered the cultural pursuits of music and poetry, will be apparent when it is realized that one-third of the Heb. Bible was actually composed in poetic form. The wealth of poetic material that existed in the ancient Near E has been illustrated by archeological discoveries, some of which, such as thetexts, have a direct bearing on the poetical material of the OT. Whereas the more obvious members of this corpus are Psalms, Proverbs, and the , it also includes Lamentations, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, all of which were cast in poetic form apart from their superscriptions or titles. In addition, about one-half of Jeremiah is poetic in form, and there are also substantial segments of poetry in Job, Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, and Amos. Of all the OT writings, only Leviticus, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, and Malachi do not seem to contain lines of poetry. The three divisions of the Heb. canon contain poetry in progressively increasing amounts.
Early studies in Hebrew poetry.
Of those books that comprised the Writings, or Hagiographa, the third division of the Heb. canon, the Books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job were regarded by the Jews as being specifically poetical in nature, and were described by a mnemonic title, “The Book of Truth.” Christian scholars also recognized readily the poetic cast of these three compositions, but apart from such notable instances of Heb. poetry as the
Some medieval commentators such as Ibn Ezra and Kimchi were aware that the thoughts were frequently reproduced in parallel form in Heb. poetry, but in general the phenomenon was either ignored or misinterpreted by Jewish and Christian exegetes. Attempts made to study Heb. poetry dealt with the syllabic forms in terms of Gr. and Lat. structures, an approach that was repudiated as late as 1753 by Bishop Lowth in his Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews. In this work, he stressed the existence of parallelism, holding that Heb. poetry consisted of measured lines and that the vv. contained two or more elements in parallel form. Lowth distinguished between various kinds of parallelism with considerable success, and his recognition of the presence of poetry throughout the Heb. Bible laid the foundation for subsequent studies. His successors in the field began to apply the metric principles of different varieties of Sem. poetry to Heb. verse, but this approach involved syllabics rather than stresses. Some investigators made the accent the basis for determining the nature of poetic sections, and although this gained the approval of Eng.-speaking scholars, it was marred in Europe by an indulgence in textual emendation. The arrangement of Heb. poetry in terms of strophes was pointed out by Köster, who attempted to establish the existence of several different types. Although Briggs collated the findings in relation to the studies in parallelism that had emerged from studies subsequent to those of Lowth, the next real advance came with the work of G. B. Gray in 1915, who resolved all poetic parallelisms into complete and incomplete forms, the latter being amenable to certain variations.
The fact that this phenomenon is so fundamentally a part of Heb. poetic forms will be sufficient to show the importance that the Semites attached to the balance of thought as distinct from mechanical concepts of meter based on sound or phonic rhythm. Whereas Heb. poetry may, and frequently does, contain a variety of rhetorical devices that aid in the promulgation of the particular aspect of thought, these elements must now be regarded as being consistently subordinated in the minds of the writers to the expression of the thought-forms in terms of literary parallelism. This balancing of thought against thought and word against word was adopted from the literary culture of the ancient Near E, but was developed by the Hebrews with great skill to the point where it surpassed similar attempts in the lit. of pagan nations. As Bishop Lowth recognized, the essential formal characteristic of Heb. poetry is what he described as the parallelismus membrorum, or the counterbalancing in a v. of components of thought that manifested an internal relationship to one another. Lowth distinguished between three kinds of parallelism as follows:
in which the second part of a poetic v. recapitulated the thought of the first part (
where the two principal parts of a v. exhibited the idea of contrast (e.g.,
in which the sense was developed in a continuous manner to reach its logical conclusion (
Later scholars came to realize that the last of these categories was hardly parallelism in the strictest sense. They also employed the term stichos to describe individual lines of poetry, deriving it from the Gr. word στίχος meaning “row” or “line.” Two or three of these lines normally comprise the complete parallel form, which is marked, of course, by a proper degree of grammatical and syntactical unity. If a line is known as a stichos or stich, the half-line could be designated as a hemistich, although the term is occasionally used of the complete line also. The larger unit of two or three lines is described as a distich or a tristich respectively where whole lines are involved, or a stich when the half-line components are regarded as hemistichs. Sometimes the two (or three) components of a Heb. phrase are known as bicola (or tricola), i.e., two (or three) colons, but this terminology can be confused all too readily with the Eng. punctuation mark of that name. The normal Heb. poem thus consists of a series of terms that are grouped in pairs and are marked off from preceding and subsequent terms by means of major pauses, or caesuras. The general arrangement can be illustrated from
Thy rod and thy staff,/ they comfort me.//
Thou preparest a table before me;/
in the presence of my enemies;//
Thou anointest my head with oil,/
my cup overflows.//
In the above quotation, the caesura is represented by a double diagonal line, whereas the single diagonal signifies a minor pause within the pairs, represented in the citation by an antecedent comma. Quite frequently, the verseform of the Eng. VSS follows that of the MT, but this is by no means uniform.
In the light of the foregoing observations it is possible to illustrate the various kinds of parallelism as suggested by Lowth and others. The first variety, synonymous parallelism, reproduces the same thought in successive stichoi, and is the least complex form of parallelism in Heb. poetry. In
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he.
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
The second kind of parallelism described by Lowth as antithetic involves the two (or three) portions or members of the v. in some form of contrast. Quite often this is of a rather radical nature, as in
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
The Wisdom lit. is particularly rich in such contrasts, since it frequently offered individuals a choice of two quite different courses of action (cf.
Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.
As with synonymous parallelism, the antithetic form can be complete or incomplete, and in addition it can express the same concept in alternate positive and negative forms.
The third variety identified by Lowth, namely synthetic parallelism, is marked by balanced stichoi in which the thought of the first is developed by the second. Although this is not actually true parallelism, the two stichoi are in fact balanced off and marked by breaks in the continuity of the thought with preceding and subsequent material. Thus the quotation from
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us,”
exhibits a complementary balance of thought that is distinctively different from the remainder of the psalm. Even though there may not be a demonstrable parallelism of thought between the stichoi, the balance of form is seen in the pattern of recurrent major and minor stops in the poetry, and this factor has led certain scholars to describe this kind of parallelism as formal or numerical. Following the time of Lowth, further studies in Heb. poetry described three subsidiary types of parallelism. They cannot be regarded as fundamental patterns, and seem to consist largely of variations or combinations of the three basic forms of parallelism discussed above.
Emblematic parallelism described a situation where one stichos employed a literal or factual statement whereas the other stichos suggested a simile or a metaphor (
As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for thee, O God.
Climactic, or stairlike, parallelism is marked by the repetition and development of a concept in successive stichoi, perhaps involving three or more such members. It combines the principles of synonymous and synthetic parallelism to give the impression of extending the thought by recapitulation, where each stichos begins at the same place, but extends somewhat beyond its immediate precursor.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy array.
The final subsidiary form, known as introverted, or chiastic parallelism, involves four stichoi arranged in such a manner that the first corresponds to the fourth and the second to the third in an a:b::b:a pattern.
(a) To thee, O Lord, I cried; and to the Lord I made supplication.
(b) What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?
(b) Will the dust praise thee? Will it tell of my faithfulness?
(a) Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
The researches of Gray resulted in the description of two broad classes of parallelism, the first of which was complete, in which every word in one stichos was balanced by an appropriate word in the other stichos, as in
The ox knows its owner,
and the ass its master’s crib,
But Israel does not know,
my people does not understand,
where two synonymous parallelisms actually combined to form a total antithetic parallelism.
The other type of parallelism was described as incomplete, a designation that itself covered two subsidiary forms. One of these exhibited a pattern in which a part of the second stichos was parallel to the first (
But I will sing of thy might;
I will sing aloud of thy steadfast love in the morning.
The other variety comprised a form in which a term was inserted in the second stichos that had no strict counterpart in the first stichos (
For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up;
but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
Hebrew poetry frequently supplemented the parallelism between stichoi by means of a corresponding parallelism between distichs, making for what is frequently described by scholars as external parallelism. Thus an external synonymous parallel structure in
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
An even more sophisticated parallelism results from an external inversion (
Make the heart of this people fat,
and their ears heavy,
and shut their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.
It will be apparent from the foregoing that, in the hands of a competent poet, the possibilities of variation in Heb. parallelism are virtually limitless. The concept of balance inherent in the relationship of the stichoi imposed a necessary degree of control over the composer and prevented diffuseness of style or thought while allowing sufficient freedom for an aesthetically gratifying arrangement of the constitutent members. The particular degree of sophistication that marked the literary form of the finished product would naturally vary with the skill of the individual composer, but even the least proficient of these invariably produced a poem that by its elasticity and fluency outclassed the stereotyped repetitions so typical of ancient Near Eastern poetry in general.
Having emphasized the fundamental importance of parallelism in Heb. poetry, some attention can now be given to the possibility of metrical division. Since there is no tradition of meter in the poetic compositions of the Hebrews, any conclusions that are arrived at will necessarily be by analogy from other Sem. poetry as well as by inference from the kind of balance that the stichoi themselves exhibit. A great deal of caution needs to be exercised in this matter, however, since a mechanical regularity of syllabic or accentual structure does not seem to have been a part of Heb. poetry at any time. A warning must also be given about the use of analogy in relationship to alien poetic meters, particularly those of the classical composers, since the fundamental principle at issue in Heb. poetry is the balance of thought. In this connection, it might be observed that although Josephus applied the concepts of classical European poetry to the writings of an oriental people, he did so to demonstrate to his Gentile readers the fact that Heb. poetry did conform to specific structural patterns. Having said this, it should also be remarked that the analogy between classical hexameters, pentameters, and the rhythms of the Heb. poems should not be pressed too closely. From the evidence afforded by ancient Near Eastern poetic compositions generally, it is apparent that there was a freedom and a fluidity about what is described in Western thought as meter. However, it may well be that at least some of the Psalms were written with something approaching meter in mind, since certain of them were apparently meant to be sung at some stage in their history, no doubt to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Again, it may be that the dominant concern of the composer was for the beat or rhythm of the psalm rather than for the sort of metrical regularity characteristic of Gr. and Lat. poems. Certainly, in a heavily accented language such as Heb., the concept of stress was of great significance.
In 1866, J. Ley suggested that the character of a specific v. could be determined only by reference to the number of accented or stressed syllables that the v. contained. An accentual pattern could be formulated on the assumption that each major word of a stichos or distich should be assigned a numerical unit consisting of one stress. Ley observed that many of the vv. of Heb. poems consisted of a three-stress stichos that was separated from a parallel two-stress stichos by means of a pause, or caesura. He assigned the numerical value of 3:2 to this rhythmic pattern, and regarded it as an elegiac pentameter. Because this form occurred predominantly in Lamentations, it was given the name of qinah or “dirge meter” by Budde. In one sense this designation was rather unfortunate, since subsequent studies showed that, whereas the qinah stresses were associated with emotional outpouring, that emotion was by no means always one of grief, since it occurred in some compositions where the theme was one of praise and gladness (
It would appear proper to point out at this juncture that a certain degree of subjectivity attaches to the matter of assigning stresses to particular words in Heb. poetry, and this in itself should induce caution in the application of this particular approach. Part of the problem arises from the fact that the accentual system that was devised by the Massoretes assigned one stress to each word, no matter what its length, apart from words joined together by means of the Heb. hyphen or maqqeph, in which event only the last syllable of the combination was accented. However, it is not known for certain whether or not each word in Heb. poetry actually received one stress. It may well have been that under some circumstances, two or perhaps three separate short words were treated as though they only merited one stress. Furthermore, whereas older scholars generally denied the possibility of a lengthy word receiving more than one stress, it still has to be proven that this was the invariable practice of the Heb. poets. Since there appears to have been an unregulated number of unstressed syllables that were permitted to occur between two stressed syllables, it seems evident that the ancient Hebrews were governed by principles that allowed them much flexibility in the matter of rhythm. The studies that led to the recognition of stress patterns in Heb. poetry were based on the theory that it was permissible to allow one stress, or ictus, to each of the major words in a stichos, distich, or tristich. It seems legitimate to establish this procedure as a general principle on the analogy of other Near Eastern compositions, particularly when the laments of the Hebrews are compared with the penitential psalms of the Babylonians, or when Heb. poetry is compared with its Ugaritic counterparts. Once again, however, these compositions give evidence of the fluid nature of anything approaching a metrical scheme. The poetry of ancient Babylonia is characterized by a 2:2 stress pattern, although some lines contain an extra ictus to make a 3:2 or 2:3 form. Other lines seem to have the kind of stress pattern that can best be scanned as 2:2:2, or occasionally as 2:2:3. On the basis of the normal stresses in ancient Babylonian poetry, the comparative simplicity of form exhibited in Heb. speech would suggest that the primary type of poetic line was of a 2:2 order. Although it is true that this stress arrangement is commonly found in Heb. poems, a 3:2 form occurs even more frequently.
By far the most widely used stress scheme in OT poetry, however, is the 3:3 pattern, which is found in the poetic portions of the, Proverbs, in the bulk of the Psalms, and in a great many prophetic oracles. It needs to be observed that however much one particular stress pattern may have been favored by an author, it was never used to the exclusion of others. The poetic lit. from Ras Shamra, written in a dialect closely related to Biblical Heb., frequently employed a 3:3 pattern as a rhythmic basis, but at the same time incorporated a great many variations. These compositions, which came from the Amarna Age and thus anteceded the bulk of Heb. poetry, exhibit a degree of constructional freedom that should warn against expecting to find a recognizable degree of metrical regularity in Heb. poetry. They positively preclude the emendation of the Heb. text to make it conform to some particular metrical scheme, a practice that was popular among Ger. scholars of an earlier generation. In light of the available evidence, it seems clear that Heb. poetry never possessed a mechanical regularity of a syllabic or accentual nature, and that if one is to speak of meter at all, the concept should be entertained only in terms of the rhythmical counterpart of the thought-parallelisms. There is no intrinsic evidence in the OT for meter in Heb. poetry, a fact that was ultimately conceded by the eminent Ger. Hebraist Bernhard Duhm. Instead of employing a term such as meter, it is prob. better to think of rhythmical balance based on elements of thought rather than upon strict syllabic quantities. Obviously, this approach involves considerably more subtlety than the mechanical patterns of Gr. and Lat. poetry, since in Heb. poetic compositions, regularity of stress is of less significance than the regularity of balanced concepts of thought. The situation can be summarized by presenting the three basic forms of Heb. poetry as follows:
the so-called “dirge-meter”; 3:2 or sometimes 2:3, varied by the inclusion of 2:2 stresses.
3:3 or 2:2:2.
4:3 or 2:2:3.
The use of the words hexameter and heptameter in this connection is related primarily to the sum of the stresses, and should not be interpreted in terms of Gr. or Lat. poetic usage.
During the last cent., much scholarly discussion has centered upon the question of whether it was possible to group the lines of Heb. poetry to form stanzas or strophes. The researches of Köster in 1837 built on the foundation established by Lowth, and laid great emphasis upon the strophic arrangement of Heb. poetry. Successive scholars of the critical school held to the theory that the Psalms in particular had been arranged according to a fairly consistent strophic pattern. In those instances where this did not appear particularly evident in the Psalter, it was maintained that the original pattern had been partially obscured as the result of later liturgical glosses, and therefore needed textual emendation to make the basic form evident.
More recent studies have taken a different course by showing that the grouping of disstichs and tristichs into larger poetic units cannot be demonstrated conclusively in the poetry of the OT. That such an arrangement was possible, however, is clear from the presence of acrostic poems, the most obvious of which is
Perhaps some sort of strophic arrangement may be indicated by the presence of a refrain, or chorus, that appears at a specific point in a psalm. Thus in
The Lord of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
A rather more sophisticated example of this literary device can be seen in
(a) Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
(b) Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to the sons of men!
Between these two portions of the refrain were inserted descriptions of deliverance from various perils by divine power, but the theme was handled in such a way that the poem contained strophes of quite unequal length. A more balanced arrangement was contained in
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
As well as being indicated by the presence of a recurring refrain, the end of a stanza or strophe may possibly be marked by the inclusion of the enigmatic expression selāh. The word itself comes from a Heb. root meaning “to cast up,” “to raise,” “to build a road,” and occurs seventy-one times in thirty-nine Psalms as well as in
It has also been suggested that selāh comprised a direction for the conductor of the Temple musicians and singers to interrupt the flow of the chanting by means of a clash of cymbals or tambourines. Thus the presence of selāh (
By way of concluding the discussion of the possibility of strophic formulation in Heb. poetry, mention ought to be made of a technical device to which scholars have given the name of anacrusis. This normally consists of a single word, such as an interrogative particle or an exclamation, that stands outside the stress-pattern of the v. in which it occurs. For example, the word “wherefore” can be removed from the text without prejudice to the rhythm of the v., which in fact conforms to the 3:3 pattern so commonly found in Heb. poetry (
Since the discovery of the Ras Shamra tablets, it has now become clear that only the most cautious of textual emendations can be countenanced, since the composers of Ugaritic poetry enjoyed a liberty of literary form and a freedom from mechanical meter which positively precludes the kind of rigid patternism foisted upon the Heb. text by 19th-cent. liberal scholars.
Ugarit and Hebrew poetry.
New light has been shed since 1928 on the nature of OT poetry as the result of archeological discoveries at Ras Shamra (Ugarit). At this site, some literary texts originating in the early 14th cent. b.c., which were written in a then unknown language and inscribed in an unfamiliar cuneiform script, were found on being deciphered to have been composed in a Canaanite dialect closely related to Biblical Heb. The tablets included both prose and poetic material, the latter being of great importance for the textual study of the Psalms. Among other things, the Ugaritic poetic compositions exhibited parallelism, as can be seen from the following example:
Lo thine enemies, O Baal,
Lo thine enemies wilt thou smite.
Lo thou wilt vanquish thy foes.
These sentiments are remarkably similar to the thought of
The Ugaritic material, however, has done an enormous amount of good in clarifying supposed textual anomalies in books such as the Heb. Psalter. Alleged corruptions that were frequently emended by earlier scholars have now been seen to constitute genuine Canaanite grammatical and literary forms whose particular significance had been forgotten with the disappearance of Ugaritic culture. This realization has consequently prompted a much more cautious approach to the textual study of the Psalter.
Varieties of Hebrew poetry.
It is very difficult to maintain a formal distinction between the religious and the secular in the poetic compositions of Israel, since each tended to interpenetrate the other. The Hebrews employed their songs as expressions of or accompaniments to social activity in a manner by no means unfamiliar to other societies in a different age. One such poetic fragment is the so-called Song of the Well (
Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
the well which the princes dug,
which the nobles of the people delved,
with the scepter and with their staves.
This utterance celebrated the way in which the well near the town of Beer was opened under the direction of the leaders of Israel, this being made specific by the ASV margin reading, “by order of the lawgiver,” the RSV rendering “with the scepter.” The use of the imperative form at the beginning of the poem would seem to express the concerns of those involved in digging the well that an abundant supply of water should reward their efforts. No doubt the same sentiments continued to be expressed by those who used the water of that same well in subsequent times. On such a basis there can be no thought of magic or incantation rituals associated with the task of excavation, as some have imagined.
The same would hold true for other daily activities where indulgence in song helped to make the time pass more quickly and lighten the burdens of work. Such choruses or songs (
Some poetic fragments appear to have come from taunt or mocking songs which were credited to the activities of the “ballad singers.” One particular poem (
“Take a harp,
go about the city,
O forgotten harlot!
Make sweet melody,
sing many songs,
that you may be remembered.”
It should be noted that the “song” was not so much an actual poem recited to musical accompaniment by harlots, as in later Rome, but rather a derisive ditty mocking the efforts of an aged prostitute to attract the attention of potential clients.
There are references to drinking songs (
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”
expressed the general tenor of the lyrics sung on such occasions. A more optimistic form of the song declares (
“Come,” they say, “let us get wine,
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.”
Aside from these two possible instances, however, no other portions of actual drinking songs have been preserved in the OT.
If it is legitimate to regard the lyrics of Canticles as a collection of Israelite lovepoetry (see Song of Solomon), then this genre would constitute yet another attestable class of Heb. verse. From the account of the wedding of Samson (
The concept of the funeral dirge was used with great effect by the preexilic prophets to convey the seriousness of the national situation to an indifferent and unheeding Israel. Perhaps the most notable literary accomplishment along these general lines is to be found in the
Not unnaturally, a great deal of the ancient lyric poetry found in the OT had to do with wars and victory in battle. One form of commemoration of the mighty act of divine salvation at the time of the Exodus was the Song of Miriam (
Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed
the horse and his rider he has thrown into
In so far as this theme was echoed by the people, it comprised the genuine response in thanksgiving of those who had participated in a miracle and had witnessed the destruction of their enemies. A genuine psalm of victory is seen in the Song of Deborah (
What has been described by some scholars as the Song of the Ark (
Arise, O Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.
Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.
These pronouncements were doubtless intended to strengthen the morale of the Israelite warriors and the nation as a whole by assuring them that the power of God was accompanying them and acting through them to secure victory over their enemies. When military success had been achieved, it was the common practice for the victors to boast of their valor, as in the ancient fragment known as the Song of Lamech (
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say.
I have slain a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
The social conditions portrayed in this fragment are long antecedent to the Mosaic age, since they reflect the personal vendettas of the nomad to whom the humanitarian prescriptions of the Mosaic law were entirely unknown. In the Heroic Age the victor in battle was frequently greeted on his return with songs and dances, as was Jephthah (
Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands,
a tribute which did not exactly strike an endearing chord in the mind of King Saul.
Forming a poetic category of their own are the benedictions pronounced by the patriarchs, and their counterpart in the “last words of David” (
Into yet another category came the utterances of Balaam, the talented Mesopotamian seer whom Balak of Moab had hired to curse his enemies, the Israelites. Magical texts recovered from Mari and elsewhere indicate that Balaam came within the professional classification of a master-diviner, and as such could command a high fee for his services. His pronouncements fell into a regular poetic form, one of which (
Waheb in Suphah,
and the valleys of the Arnon, and the slope of the valleys that extends to the seat of Ar, and leans to the border of Moab.
This fragment gives no firm indication concerning the nature or content of the book, but from the title it may be assumed that it dealt in poetic form with the battles of the early conquest period before the main invasion of Canaan. Another collection was referred to in
Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon,
and thou Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.—(RSV) No doubt there were a number of collections of poetic material of various kinds that have not survived the centuries. A record of one such collection was preserved by the Chronicler (
Some of the different kinds of secular Heb. poetry have already been discussed, including harvest songs, taunts, funeral laments, victory odes, and love lyrics. The more specifically sacred poetry, which was generally restricted to use in divine worship, fell into certain readily recognizable classes. These include prayers, songs of praise, special petitions for deliverance from sickness or enemies or both, confessions of faith in God as a contrast to the prevailing trends of polytheism, confessions of sin, imprecatory psalms that called down divine punishment on the heathen, intercession for the nation and its rulers, instructional or homiletical psalms, meditations, and psalms in praise of the Torah.
Figures of rhetoric.
Part of the subtlety and attraction of Heb. poetry consists of the way ordinary words are treated to heighten their general effect. To this end, several technical literary devices were employed by the ancient poets, one of the most obvious being paronomasia, or play on words. This is the basis of the pun, long favored among oriental peoples as a refined form of humor (see Humor), but in the hands of such writers as the prophets the form took on a moral or an eschatological connotation. The justice (mispāṭ) for which the Lord looked (
Poetry in the Prophets.
Observed in retrospect, the fact that their predictions of doom were fulfilled with such finality gives added stature to the majestic poetic utterances that were declaimed so vigorously by these ancient servants of God. By contrast, the gentle, optimistic visions that saw blessing in the future for a penitent and obedient Israel carry more than a hint of sadness in their lyricism in the light of the fate which ultimately befell the Jews.
E. Sievers, Metrische Studien, I-III (1901-1907); G. A. Smith, The Early Poetry of Israel (1910); G. B. Gray, The Forms of(1915); S. Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien I-IV (1921-1924); A Condamin, Poèmes de la Bible avec une introduction sur la strophe hébraïque (1933); H. Gunkel and J. Begrich, Einleitung in die Psalmen (1933); C. Kraft, The Strophic Structure of Hebrew Poetry (1938); T. H. Robinson, The Poetry of the (1947); C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual (1955); N. K. Gottwald, IDB, III, 829-838; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969).