Free Online Bible Library | Poetry

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POETRY. The recent versions of the Bible have happily tried to differentiate poetry from prose in the OT (rsv, niv). The fact that they do not always agree what is poetry and what is prose arises from the distinctive nature of Hebrew poetry, which is very different from its Greek, Latin, or English counterparts. While it is certainly not lacking in rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and other literary features such as we accept in classical and English poetry, in OT poetry everything is subservient to meaning, and in consequence lines of Hebrew poetry are not to be “scanned” by marking off long and short syllables (as though the “form” were the primary consideration), but marking off significant words or groups of words (because the message is primary). Thus (as, for example, in the so-called “dirge” rhythm) a line of three significant words is followed by a line with two (usually written 3:2). Another frequent “rhythm” in Hebrew poetry is 3:3.

Bibliography: R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1970, pp. 965-75; F. F. Bruce, The Poetry of the Old Testament, (NBCrev), 1970, pp. 44-47; F. D. Kidner, Psalms (TOTC), 1973, pp. 1-4.——ER and JAM

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