Synonymous Parallelism

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Abraham IbnEzra (1089—1164)

David Kimhi (c. 1160—1235)



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The feature of biblical poetry, described by modern scholars, who were anticipated by Abraham Ibn Ezra and Kimhi in the Middle Ages, in which the same idea is repeated for effect in different words. For example: ‘For fire went out from Heshbon, flame from the city of Sihon’ (Numbers 21: 28). Sihon was the king of Heshbon, so that the second clause simply repeats in different words the statement in the first clause. ‘My doctrine shall drip as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb’ (Deuteronomy 32: 2). In Psalm 23, in which the Lord is described as the Shepherd, the Psalmist declares: ‘He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters’ (v. 2); the second clause, although referring to a different form of pastoral care from the first, is a parallel to the first in that both are examples of that care. Many biblical commentators try to discover subtle differences between the two clauses wherever this phenomenon occurs but, while their comments can be valuable as homiletics, they are far removed from the plain meaning of the verses. Other forms of poetic parallelism in the Bible are antithetic and synthetic, that is, the second clause is contrasted with the first and elaborates on it. All this provides an excellent illustration of how the Bible can be understood at the level of its plain meaning without detriment to the homiletical insights (see MIDRASH). On the plain meaning biblical poetry is just poetry plain and simple, the poet expressing his thoughts in the form of parallelism to produce an effect.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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