Chapter

The Poetry Books of the Bible

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

The Poetry Books of the Bible

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The histories end with the Book of Esther (to be continued in some of the Apocryphal books) and the poetic books start here, with Job. Such distinctions of genre reflect different forms of categorization used to order the biblical books by the later canonizers. The Jews privileged Torah and, treating the histories and prophetic books as prophetic history, saw the rest of the books as commentary on Torah.50 Though it had always been obvious that the Psalms were poetry, by the eighteenth century all knowledge of classical Hebrew prosody (verse-making) had long been lost—even among Jewish scholars. Whereas all European poetry depended upon such aural techniques as rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration, no similar structures were apparent in the Psalms. The first person to address this question successfully was Robert Lowth, Oxford Professor of Poetry, who in the 1740s argued that Hebrew poetry depended primarily upon a feature which he called ‘parallelism’. One verse or line would echo another, providing repetition, affirmation, contrast, or even contradiction. The origins of this form, Lowth claimed, like the origins of European poetry lay in oral tradition—but specifically in the antiphonal chants and choruses mentioned in various places in the Old Testament. In, for instance, 1 Samuel 18: 7, David returns victorious from battle with the Philistines and is greeted by women chanting ‘Saul hath smote his thousands’; a second chorus answers, ‘And David his ten thousands’.

Chapter.  522 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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