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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Origen

Hebrew Poetry

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Synonymous Parallelism

 

One type of literature found in the Bible is poetry and a common feature of Hebrew poetry is synonymous parallelism.  Hebrew poetry has a repetitive style.  It is redundant.

 

Hebrew poetic structure (in most cases) is build upon a two line/sentence system.  The third line repeats the sense/idea/thought of the first line in different words.  The same is true of the second and fourth lines.

 

I. Example from Genesis 4:23

1. Adah and Zillah,

2. Listen to my voice,

3. You wives of Lamech,

4. Give heed to my speech

 

Note that the 1st and 3rd lines are synonymous.  Adah and Zillah are the wives of Lamech, thus the two lines express the same thought.  Note that lines 2 and 4 repeat the same idea but with different words.

 

Listen to = Give heed to

my voice = my speech

 

There is no difference in the meaning and that is why this is important.  When one understands what synonymous parallelism is and how it works then mistakes in interpretation are less likely.

 

II. Another good example of synonymous parallelism is Joel 2:28-29.  Most often synonymous parallelism focuses on only two lines structure but occasionally more than two lines are used.  Note the synonymous verbs, nouns, and the structure.

I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;

And your sons and daughters will prophesy,

Your old men will dream dreams,

Your young men will see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

 

The phrase "I will pour out My Spirit" opens and closes this pericope.

 

The verbs in lines 2 (will prophesy), 3 (will dream dreams), 4 (will see visions) all over lap in meaning.

 

III. Let's consider another example, Isaiah 53:5.

 “But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities.”

 

The verbs “pierce” and “crush” are not exact synonymous.  However, in this context, both denote suffering and that is the point.  The terms do not have to be exact synonyms.

 

The suffering that is endorsed is because our transgressions = our iniquities.  In both cases (i.e. our transgressions\our iniquities) is the reason for the suffering.

 

 

When you are reading the poetic literature found in the Bible look for examples of synonymous parallelism.  It will give you insight into the text you never have had and an understanding of Hebrew poetry as a whole.

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Posted (edited)

In addition to the above one may note that the number of stresses in synonymous parallelism (in classical Hebrew) will also often be mirrored in the colas.  A very good example of this can be found in Deuteronomy chapter 32. The Penguin book of Hebrew verse commenting on Deuteronomy 32:1-4 notes that  "There are 3 + 3 stresses in each of the first two pairs of versets, and 2 + 2 stresses in the last pair (though here the first words are long and could have been pronounced as having a secondary stress, making the lines equivalent to the previous ones)" (page 59).

 

When words found in parallel in a verset/cola or stanza are not 100% synonymous in meaning they might be in stress, morphological features, or redundant/repetitive in sound.

Edited by Ben Asher
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it is not immediately apparent that the paired nouns in each of the following two lines are matched in gender:

 

כסה שמים הודו

 His GLORY (m.) covered the HEAVENS (m.),


ותהלתו מלאה הארץ
 and the EARTH (f.) was full of his PRAISE (f.) (Hab 3:3)

 

Once the pattern has been noticed by analysis, the poetic device ‘gender-matched synonymous parallelism’ can be recognised. The next essential step, then, is to find out why this poetic device has been used here. Closer inspection suggests it functions as merismus (meaning that certain representative components of a larger object are mentioned instead of the whole). Another look at the couplet shows the polar word-pair ‘heavens//earth’ to be present, and, more significantly, the verb מלא, ‘to be full’. All these elements—gender-matched synonyms, the verb, and the word-pair and the verb ארץ—שמים combine to convey the idea of completeness which fits in with the meaning of the couplet. In other words, the main function of the poetic features identified is to express merismus.


 

 

1


Watson, Wilfred G. E. Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques. Vol. 26. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series.

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On 3/12/2019 at 4:08 PM, Origen said:

 

The third line repeats the sense/idea/thought of the first line in different words. 

 

Interesting only because I’ve never seen anyone present Synonymous Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry according to the sense?

 

In all my years of studying Hebrew Poetry, I’ve always seen it presented according to the Thought and the Thought Structure.

 

May I please know which scholar you are following that teaches Hebrew Poetry and Synonymous Parallelism according to the sense?

 

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Antithetical Parallelism

 

Just as with synonymous parallelism, antithetical parallelism is build upon a two line/sentence structure.  With synonymous parallelism the second line repeats the thought of the first line in different words.  With antithetical parallelism the second line expresses a contrast in thought/idea/meaning.  In other words the second line is antithetical to the first.

 

Proverbs 15:1 is an excellent example.

 

(1) A gentle answer turns away wrath,

(2) But a harsh word stirs up anger.

 

Note the contrast in thought between each line but also note how both lines work together to make the same point.

 

The parallel structure can clearly been see even thought the ideas in line 1 and line 2 are antithetical.

 

Parallel

answer = word

wrath = anger

 

Contrast

gentle - harsh

turns away - stirs up

 

Proverbs 14:34 is an another example because it stresses the antithetical structure.

 

(1) Righteousness exalts a nation,

(2) But sin is a disgrace to any people.

 

Parallel

nation = people

 

Contrast

righteousness - sin

exalts - is a disgrace

 

Notice that the same idea is express but from two different/opposite points of view.

 

Just as synonymous parallelism helps us understand the first line by restating the thought (but with different word) in the second line, antithetical parallelism helps us understand one line of poetry by comparing to a second line with the opposite meaning in order to contrast the two thoughts.

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