The Art of Biblical Poetry

The Art of Biblical Poetry

The Art of Biblical Poetry

The Art of Biblical Poetry

Excerpt

As the title will suggest, this book is conceived as a parallel volume to my earlier venture into the literature of the Bible, The Art of Biblical Narrative. The parallel is only approximate because differences in the topic under investigation dictated differences in both organization and critical strategy. What I have set out to do here is first to define the workings of the formal system of biblical poetry in three initial chapters, moving from the nature of the poetic line to larger structures. The stress throughout is on the basic convention of semantic parallelism rather than on the phonetic and syntactic elements of the system because the latter two aspects would not be perceptible to anyone reading the poems in translation, and in any case much about the phonetics of biblical Hebrew remains uncertain.

After these three chapters on the system of biblical verse, I try to extend and refine my generalizations by applying them to major poetic texts, and through such application to see something of the difference poetry makes in the Bible. I have not attempted a comprehensive treatment of every subgenre of biblical poetry or of all the various poetic insets in the narrative books, but the main genres and texts--psalms, prophetic poetry, Wisdom poetry from Job to Proverbs, love poetry--are all scrutinized. Indeed, one of the many gaps in the understanding of biblical poetry is a failure of those who generalize about it to make sufficient distinctions among genres, and this study represents an initial effort to correct that tendency of amalgamation. For the most part, I proceed through close readings of specimens of the poetry because that seemed to me the best way to recover a sense of the intricate artistry of the poems. As in my book on narrative, the aim is to illustrate principles of poetics working in the Bible, not to provide exhaustive exegesis of the particular texts considered. If I have succeeded in any degree, I would hope that a reader could put these principles to use to read other biblical poems with heightened understanding and keener appreciation.

I must confess that before undertaking this project I questioned its . . .

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