Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Poetry in the OT

Critias1 mentioned in a comment on Neil Moore's latest post an article by FF Bruce. It may have been this one that I’ve summarised. Let me know C1 if it is so, would you.

Summary of “Introduction to the Poetical Literature” by FF Bruce

Much of the wisdom literature of the OT is presented in poetical form. The Psalter is poetic throughout.
Poems also occur from time to time in the narrative books. The threefold curse in the fall story of Genesis 3:13-19 takes poetical form. The other books of the Pentateuch contain the song of the Sea in Ex 15:1-18, the oracles of Balaam ion Num 23 and 24...

Syllabic Rhythm
OT poetry is characterised by recognizable rhythmical patterns which can be reproduced to a considerable degree in translation. Rhythm of sound and of sense combine to produce the poetic effect. This relies mainly on recurring patterns of stressed syllables.

The rhythm of sense takes the form of ‘parallelism’. This is a stylistic form in which essentially the same idea is expressed twice over (or even more often) in parallel clauses or groups of clauses: the thought is the same but the words are different.
The parallelism may be synonymous, as in Genesis 4:23; antithetic, where the second clause (or pair) states the converse to the preceding one, as in Ps 20:8 or Is 1:3a, 3b, as a more complex example; emblematic, in which one of the two parallel clauses presents a simile or metaphor, e.g. Ps. 103:13; incomplete, where the second clause of a couplet does not exhibit a term of equivalent sense corresponding to each of the terms in the preceding clause, e.g. Ps. 1:5; formal: when the diminution of sense parallels is compensated for with an increase in of metrical compensation, to the extent where the parallelism is purely metrical, e.g. Ps. 27:6.

Step-parallelism occurs where part of one line is repeated in the next, and made the starting point for a fresh step, e.g. Ps. 29:1.

Strophic Arrangement
One well-known instance of step-parallelism is integrated into a strophic structure: this is the repeated invocation of Ps. 24:7,9.
A common sign of strophic arrangement is the recurrence of a refrain. The threefold refrain in Pss. 42 and 43 marks the end of three successive strophes.

[Eric's comment: It is probably strophic arrangement that is in mind when Genesis 1 is thought to be poetic, in some degree. However, if you compare the refrain in Ps 42:5 or 11; which is near word identical, and stands apart from the flow of sense in the strophes, with the pattern of days in Genesis 1, a difference is evident. Firstly, the days are incremented and serve to advance the narrative flow, unlike a refrain, and the sentences are not word identical; although close. Secondly, the sentence containing them is directly consistent with the sense of the ‘strophe’ if read as a list of events (and there is no reason not to read it this way, as Blocher indicates and contra John Dickson, e.g.).Moreover, the 'day count' doesn’t stand apart reflectively, as a refrain usually does.

Additionally, the grammar of Genesis 1, using consecutive structures, is consistent with narrative sequence. Dickson, in a talk at ISCAST (as I recall) wanted to claim that the existence of chiastic structure undermines the narrative status of the passage, or at least the direct correspondence of the text with events in real time-space; but, to the contrary! This is probably the very indicator of the narrative status of the passage. The chiasm existing as an organising device, as it is commonly used throughout both testaments, to preserve the sequence and avoid the sort of jumble we get in ANE mythic reconstructions of the events underlying the Genesis account (at least, that’s my general view of ANE myths).

Importantly, the most prominent characteristics of Hebrew poetry are absent from the Genesis passage. That is, there is a complete absence of syllabic rhythm and parallelism. Any attempt to see parallelism in the list of days is strained to say the least.


Ktisophilos said...

If Genesis were poetic, it would all look like Genesis 3:13-19 and 4:17. Instead, the only poetry occurs when someone is cited, and it stands out from the narrative portion of the text.

Dickson's obsession with chiasm is like a child with a new toy. Of course, chiasms are found all over Scripture, in passages that even he would agree were historical. They do point to a single author of Genesis and against the JEDP crap. See Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis: A Review of The Inspiration of the Pentateuch by M.W.J. Phelan
Twoedged Sword Publications, Waterlooville, UK, 2005.

Ktisophilos said...

It's notable that R.C. Sproul has moved from the Framework nonsense so beloved by Moore to a six-day creation view:

“For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation…” (Truths We Confess, 1:127, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006, 2007).