How To Break Down Bible Passages Into Easy-to-understand Pieces

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

IDEA: When you observe poetry, it’s important to note its structure.

PURPOSE: To help people observe the structure of Hebrew poetry.

To understand poetry of any sort, you have to know something about its structure. If I asked you to write a sonnet or a haiku, what would you have to know?

A sonnet always has 14 lines with the final two lines summarizing the thought of the whole.

A Haiku – an unrhymed Japanese poem of 3 lines containing 17 syllables, in which line 1 has 5, line 2 has 7, and line 3 has 5, referring in some way to one of the seasons of the year.

If you responded by telling me that a poem is a poem is a poem, I don’t need to know that technical stuff, you’d have difficulty working within these forms.

If I asked you to translate a poem into another language, why would it be difficult?

In the Western world, when we think of poetry, we normally think of something that rhymes:

Mary had a little lamb,

Her fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,

The lamb was sure to go.

In modem poetry, some poets have gotten away from the idea of alliteration for rhyme. Today rhyme can also be in the number and kind of syllables in a line (meter).

I. In Hebrew literature, on the other hand, rhyme is neither in alliteration nor in meter, but rather in thought.

This kind of rhyme is called parallelism. What do you mean when you talk about parallelism?

In it, the thought or idea of one line is developed in the next line in an organized way it is parallel.

If you were guessing, how much of the Bible is poetic in form? More than half of the Old Testament is in poetry.

When you think of poetry in the Bible, what books come to your mind?

Psalms (the hymnbook of the nation), Lamentations (a funeral dirge about the fall of Jerusalem), and Song of Solomon (a folk song or lyric about love, like a ballad today).

II. Hebrew poetry comes in three kinds of parallelism.

Similar parallelism = the thought in the first line is repeated in the second line.

The second line says essentially the same thing as the first: Whom then shall I fear? . . . Of whom should I be afraid?

Dissimilar parallelism = the thought in the first line is contrasted in the second line.

The second line says essentially an opposite thing: In the morning it flourishes and is renewed . . . In the evening it fades and withers.

Constructive parallelism = the thought in the first line is added to in the second line.

The second line adds to the thought of the first line: So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

III. To analyze parallelisms:

Read the first line to grasp the thought.

Then read the second line to grasp the thought.

If the second line repeats the thought of the first line, write “S” in the margin for similar parallelism.

If the thought is in contrast, put a “D” for dissimilar parallelism.

If the thought is an addition, put a “C” for constructive parallelism.

Let’s look at this in Psalm 130:1-4 as the conclusion of this program.