The Book Of Nahum As Liturgical Composition: A Prosodic Analysis -- By: Duane L. Christensen

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:2 (Jun 1989)
Article: The Book Of Nahum As Liturgical Composition: A Prosodic Analysis
Author: Duane L. Christensen


The Book Of Nahum As Liturgical Composition:
A Prosodic Analysis

Duane L. Christensen*

Since Robert Lowth’s famous lectures on Hebrew poetry in the eighteenth century, the book of Nahum has been held in high esteem with respect to its poetic quality.1 Hence my comment on another occasion: “In its poetic form the book of Nahum has no superior within the prophetic literature of the OT.”2 Moreover, as Aage Bentzen argued some years ago, “the book as a whole has in all likelihood been shaped into its present form for use as a liturgy for the celebration of Assyria’s overthrow.”3 It is thus a bit surprising to see how little attention the book has received from a prosodic point of view.4

Apart from the acrostic hymn in chap. 1, Nahum has not received its due within the mainstream of Biblical research. If it was composed as a cultic liturgy in ancient Israel, it should be a useful text for testing theories of Hebrew prosody—perhaps as useful as Lamentations or even the Psalms.5 My attention was drawn to this little book by a request to write a commentary on Nahum for the Harpers Bible Commentary. What was found when the entire book was subjected to detailed prosodic analysis is indeed interesting. Like the Song of Songs, the book of Nahum displays a remarkable structure—intricate in its detail, with repeated metrical refrains and almost perfect symmetry in terms of total mora-count and syntactic-accentual stress units.6

* Duane Christensen is professor of Old Testament languages and literature at American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, California.

The method of analysis used here is discussed in detail elsewhere.7 Here it is sufficient to note that the method combines the counting of morae (subdivisions of the syllable) and syntactic-accentual stresses, along lines described by the Polish linguist Jerzy Kurylowicz.8 Morae are units of length in time and hence are useful in assessing relative length of poetic units, from that of individual phrases (and even single words) to much larger structural entities that sometimes display remarkable parallels in terms of total mora-count.9 The distribution of syntactic-accentual stresses, on the other hand, seems to be an approximation to rhythmic beat...

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