The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism

The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism

The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism

The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism


Understanding of biblical poetry is enhanced by the study of its structure. In this book Adele Berlin analyzes parallelism, a major feature of Hebrew poetry, from a linguistic perspective. This new edition of Berlin's study features an additional chapter, "The Range of Biblical Metaphors in Smikhut,"by late Russian linguist Lida Knorina. Berlin calls this addition "innovative and instructive to those who value the linguistic analysis of poetry." It is a fitting coda to Berlin's adept analysis.


A worthy subject in the hands of a balanced scholar is always a pleasure, and often a welcome relief, to read. Adele Berlin writes felicitously, and she is a reliable Old Testament scholar. in this newly reprinted edition of The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Berlin probes the linguistic phenomenon of parallelism in which “two or more similar elements are combined in contiguous expression; that is, similarity is super-imposed on contiguity.” Her results are valuable.

Robert Alter and James Kugel, as well as Stephen Geller and Michael O’Connor, among others, have treated the subject, but Berlin’s book distinguishes itself by integrating Russian linguist Roman Jakobson’s pioneering work as the theoretical foundation for offering parallelism as a pervasive feature with semantic, phonological, morphological, and lexical aspects. Most handbooks stop at “semantic.”

I agree with Berlin that the features of parallelism—using words and expressions sharing the same class, deep syntactic structure, or sound and meaning—form a single effect that is both synonymous and antithetical. This simultaneous converging-diverging effect is close to Jacques Derrida’s familiar concept of differance as set forth in Of Grammatology (1967), which is no surprise since Berlin builds upon the work of Jakobson, one of Derrida’s precursors.

In his 1985 review of The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Patrick D. Miller suggested that Berlin should deal with the important poetic phenomena of metaphor, redundancy, and ambiguity in more detail. Addressing this concern, Berlin’s current edition includes Lida Knorina’s “The Range of Biblical Metaphors in Smikhut,” a linguistic analysis of metaphor, which adds dimension to this previously understated level of parallelism.

Teachers may want to consult an outside resource, namely, Rolf A. Jacobson’s “Teaching Students to Interpret Religious Poetry (and to Expand their Avenues of Thinking)” (Teaching Theology and Religion, vol. 7, no. 1) for pedagogical help with integrating into the classroom the material contained in Berlin’s study. Notably, even Jacobson’s bibliography cites works much older than this text’s original 1985 publication date . . .

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