Wordplay in the Eighth-Century Prophets -- By: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:573 (Jan 1987)
Article: Wordplay in the Eighth-Century Prophets
Author: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr.

Wordplay in the Eighth-Century Prophets

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Assistant Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary

A variety of literary and rhetorical devices fill the writings of the Old Testament prophets, lending vividness and emotion to their powerful messages. Through these devices the prophets often expressed their theological themes. One of the most common techniques they employed was wordplay.

Wordplay can be based on repetition, various meanings expressed by an individual word (polysemy), identity in sound between two or more words (homonymy), or similarity in sound between two or more words (paronomasia).

Various systems for the classification of wordplay have been proposed.1 In this study the following categories will be used (though this list is not intended to be exhaustive or definitive by any means).

1. Wordplay involving a single word

a. repeated in the same semantic sense

b. repeated with a different sense (explicit polysemantic wordplay)2

c. used once with two senses implied (implicit polysemantic wordplay)3

2. Wordplay involving two or more words

a. identical in sound (homonymy)

b. similar in sound (paronomasia), including similarity in consonants (alliteration) and/or vowels (assonance).

In this study each of these categories is illustrated, drawing examples from the eighth-century prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah. In each of the examples recognition of the wordplay contributes to a fuller exegetical and theological understanding of the passage and thereby enhances interpretation of the prophetic message. Through such examples the reader, whose concerns may be more exegetical than artistic, should recognize that identifying wordplay can be more than just an exercise in aesthetic appreciation of the biblical literature. At times it proves to be crucial to understanding the full import of the prophetic message.

Wordplay Involving a Single Word

Repetition Of A Single Word In The Same Sense

An example of wordplay involving repetition of a single word used in the same sense appears in Hosea 8:3, 5. According to verse 3, Israel had rejected (zānaḥ) what is good by breaking her covenant with God (v.

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