Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TrinJ 5:1 (Spring 1984) p. 83
The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and its History, By James L. Kugel. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981. 339 pp. $27.50.
“The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Thus begins Psalm 23, often heralded in its beauty and simplicity as the supreme example of Hebrew poetry. But just what is the nature of Hebrew poetry? Despite the veritable flood of monographs and essays which have been devoted to this subject during the past quarter century, scholars still have not achieved a satisfactory understanding of this basic feature of biblical rhetoric. Amazingly, due to the absence of a convincing alternative, most still embrace the views of Robert Lowth regarding parallelismus membrorum (the parallelism of the clauses) which he first published in 1753.
Although many have uncritically adopted the Lowthian approach from their mentors, recently an increasing number of scholars have expressed their reservations. (See T. Collins, Line-forms in Hebrew Poetry [Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978]; S. Geller, Parallelism in Early Biblical Poetry [Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1979]; D.N. Freedman, Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy [Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1980]; and M.P. O’Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1980].) However, the most articulate and persuasive attempt at redefining Hebrew poetry is James Kugel’s The Idea of Biblical Poetry. Kugel, now of Harvard University, argues not only that Lowth misunderstood the nature of parallelism but also that Lowth’s proposal, in turn, was misconstrued by his successors. As a result, the current understanding of biblical poetry must be corrected in four basic ways.
1. Parallelism. In order to understand the import of Kugel’s allegation, it is necessary to summarize briefly the prevailing opinion regarding parallelism. Robert Lowth is generally given credit for discovering parallelism. In his words:
The correspondence of one verse, or line, with another,
I call parallelism. When a proposition is delivered, and a second
is subjoined to it, or drawn under it, equivalent, or contrasted
with it, in sense; or similar to it in the form of grammatical
construction; these I call parallel lines, and the words or
phrases, answering one to another in the corresponding lines,
parallel terms. Parallel lines may be reduced to three sorts:
parallels synonymous, parallels antithetic and parallels
(Isaiah: A New Translation [London: 1848] viii)
Actually, according to Kugel, parallelism was not the central concern of Lowth’s famous Lectures on the Sacred Po...
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