Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Poetry of the Lord's Prayer: A Study in Poetic Device

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Poetry of the Lord's Prayer: A Study in Poetic Device

Article excerpt

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Scholarship has given some attention in the past to the poetic dimensions of the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:9-13). Several scholars have argued for a poetic original in Aramaic or Hebrew.1 Some have interpreted the prayer in translation as a poem.2 A few have argued that the final, Matthean form should be considered poetry.3 Generally, however, commentators make no mention of the prayer as a poem,4 and translators ignore or efface its poetic qualities.5

This study argues that the Lord's Prayer employs in every line a number of coordinated poetic devices characteristic of poetry in both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint. These devices, through their symmetries of sound, sense, and structure, lend the prayer a discernible strophic form. Given the thematic and liturgical ties that the prayer obviously shares with ancient Jewish poetry, this form suggests that the prayer is a poem belonging to the Jewish religious literary tradition.6

I. The Devices in Ancient Jewish Poetry

To illustrate the use of these devices in the Lord's Prayer, I first examine their use in ancient Jewish poetry. In the survey that follows, I define each device using the terms and conceptual categories of ancient Hellenistic literary theory,7 and I highlight examples of each device from poetic texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint.8 I limit my survey to texts identified in previous scholarship as poetry9 and to those devices that appear in the Lord's Prayer: homoeoteleuton, homoeokatarkton, antistrophe, epanaphora, anadiplosis, polyptoton, antithesis, parisosis, and paronomasia.

1. Homoeoteleuton

Homoeoteleuton is similarity of sound at the conclusion of affiliated cola, usually in the concluding syllable(s) of the concluding word(s).10

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For the Lord is our judge,

the Lord is our ruler,

the Lord is our king;

he will save us. (Isa 33:22)

...

Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger-

The club in their hands is my fury. (Isa 10:5)

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When I was a son with my father,

tender, and my mother's favorite. (Prov 4:3)

See also Job 10:8b-12; 21:14-15a; 31:25; Pss 15:1; 18:3, 15; 123:3ab, 4bc; Prov 4:5, 6, 8; Nah 1:2; 2:1.11

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Justice and judgment are the establishment of your throne:

mercy and truth shall go before your face. (LXX Ps 88:15)

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They go up to the heavens,

and go down to the depths;

their soul melts because of troubles. (LXX 106:26)

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For I also was a son obedient to my father,

and loved in the sight of my mother. (LXX Prov 4:3)

See also LXX Job 40:8, 14; Pss 1:2; 2:11; 35:1; 77:4; 150:2; Prov 4:2; Eccl 10:9; Isa 40:4, 12; Nah 1:10; 2:10; 3:2.12

2. Homoeokatarkton

Homoeokatarkton is similarity of sound at the beginning of affiliated cola, usually in the concluding syllable(s) of the opening word(s).13

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I am like an owl of the wilderness,

like a little owl of the waste places. (Ps 102:7)

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Can papyrus grow where there is no marshy land?

Can reeds flourish where there is no water? (Job 8:11)

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The north and the south-you created them;

Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. (Ps 89:13)

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Bind them upon your heart always;

tie them around your neck. (Prov 6:21)

See also Pss 9:5; 89:15; 107:26; Cant 6:2b; Jer 12:2cd, 7; Lam 1:1; Nah 1:2.14

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But bind them upon your soul continually,

and hang them as a chain about your neck. (LXX Prov 6:21)

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I have become like a pelican of the wilderness;

I have become like an owl in a ruined house. (LXX Ps 101:7)

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Secure it, and it shall exalt you,

honor it, that it may embrace you. (LXX Prov 4:8)

See also LXX Job 3:5; Pss 1:3; 2:3; 3:5; 37:22; 106:26; Prov 4:3, 18-19, 25; Eccl 10:13; Isa 40:2, 3, 5.15

3. Antistrophe

Antistrophe (also, epiphora) is the repetition of precisely the same word(s) at the conclusion of affiliated cola. …

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