The Cruel God: Job's Search for the Meaning of Suffering

By Margaret Brackenbury Crook | Go to book overview

Appendix I
The Form of Hebrew Poetry

Translators have gradually come to realize how much of the Old Testament was written in poetry--almost all of the Book of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, much of the works of the prophets, and several passages in the narrative books.

It may come as a surprise to some readers that the King James translators, who treated prose and verse with great ability, made no distinction between the two on the printed page. In this most musical of Bible translations, every "verse," whether of prose or poetry, is printed in prose form as a separate paragraph. Because Hebrew translates so well into English, the device has not served badly to convey the rhythm of Hebrew poetry. The ease with which these brief paragraphs can be printed in the form of blank verse is seen in some of the recent reproductions of the King James Version, e.g., in the Westminster Bible.

Rhyme is rarely found in Hebrew poetry, nor is there anything akin to the measured meter of Greek and Latin verse. If the brief sentences of a so-called "verse" of the King James Version are set in the form of blank verse, the chances are that the poetic form of the Hebrew is rather closely approximated, although the number of syllables in a line will not be quite the same.

Often in an old poem retold in prose (possibly for the sake of speed), words spoken by the characters were retained in verse. Perhaps, like the words of Job in the Prologue, they were too well known to be changed or compressed:

1:21 Naked I came from the womb of my mother,
And naked shall I return:
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

In this passage, stressed syllables in both the Hebrew and the English run 4 in the first line and 3 in the second, then again 4/3; But the number of syllables associated with any one stress varies.

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