Parallelism: A + B –part 2 on biblical poetry
Understanding how to begin exegeting Hebrew poetry is helpful in learning about the forms, especially that of parallelism. It is the most common form used in the Bible and perhaps the easiest to understand. It is the foundation and common literary feature in Hebrew poetry in that two or more lines are connected in some way. The simple formula tell us that line A is the main reference, followed by line B that has something added to it; Line B emphasizes line A, and connects to it. The phrase, A plus B, boils down to mean that something has been added to line B making the whole more significant (Fields, 2008, p. 266). Do not let this explanation overwhelm you. Try to take the time to look up the provided references in the Bible and you will be able to understand the process, This is not an easy task, but worth the effort when you “get it.”
There are several kinds of parallelisms in Hebrew poetry which include: synonymous, nearly identical thoughts in both lines of a couplet (Ps. 49:1); contrastive (antithetic), line B is in contrast to line A (Pro. 15:1); synthetic (temporal), line B completes the thought of the line A (Pro. 4:23); synthetic (causal/climatic), proceeds by steps to a climax in thought (Ps. 103:1); comparative/complementary, line B forms a simile of the line A (Ps. 103:12); and progressive; a new and related thought is introduced in line B (Job 3:17) (Fields, 2008, p. 266; Merrill, 2008, p.218). Only the synonymous parallelism will be discussed in the essay and I will give an example of this parallelism device and explain how it is used.
The formula: “A plus B,” shows how B makes a connection to A. In a general parallelism, B is not a restatement, but additional information has been added to emphasize A. Sometimes this is accomplished by using a contrasting B clause. Following is an example of a general parallelism:
Line A: “With God we will gain victory,
Line B. and He will trample down our enemies” (Psalm 60:12 NIV).
The base (or reference point) is always line A. We can see in line A that God will be responsible for the victory. In line B, we see how this will come about — He will trample them. The relationship is logical and connective. God is a proper noun in the line A, and corresponds to that with He in line B. The relationship can also come about in either order with cause-effect or effect cause. Either way, line B needs to emphasize line A, the reference point (Fields, 2008, p. 266). Understanding that “A plus B,” means that something has been added to line B making the whole more connectively significant and makes the process of exegeting easier to perform (Fields, 2008, p. 266).
Fields, L.M. (2008). Hebrew for the rest of us. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Life Application Study Bible (NIV). (2005). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Merrill, E.H. (2008). An historical survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic