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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
We propose here to discuss only the poetical elements of the Bible, or ancient Hebrew poetry. For the sake of brevity and perspicuity, we shall treat this subject under the distinct heads of the character of Hebrew poetry, its existing remains, its classification, its history, and its literature. In doing this we treat the subject from a modern scientific point of view.
I. The Essential Character of Ancient Hebrew Po etry. — Poetry is— in its nature the language of the imagination stimulated by the passions. While prose expresses the calm statements of memory and observation, or the deliberate conclusions of the judgment, poetry gives utterance to the impulsive sentiments of the taste, the emotions and the aspirations of the heart. History can only appear in poetry in the guise of legend, and reasoning only in the form of animated colloquy. The phraseology is in keeping with the difference in spirit. Poetry tends to a more exalted and elaborate style of language in accordance with the fervid state of the mind. Hence the invention-spontaneous in most instances of measure, whether of simple numbers or rhyme, to meet this overwrought state of the mental faculties. Biblical poetry partakes of these characteristics. It is distinguished from the prose compositions of the same book by its peculiarities of diction, as marked as those of other languages, although not so prosodiacal. The reader is at once made aware of entering the poetical domain by a certain elevation of style, and by the employment of more frequent and extended tropes, as well as by greater abruptness and more decided energy in the phraseology. The formal rhythm consists not-as in Greek and Latin, or even in the modern tongues-in a measured quantity of syllables of a particular length in utterance, but in a peculiar balance and antiphony of the clauses constituting what is known as parallelism. Each of these peculiar traits of Hebrew poetry we take space to develop somewhat in detail.
One characteristic of Hebrew poetry, not indeed peculiar to it, but shared by it in common with the literature of other nations, is its intensely national and local coloring. The writers were Hebrews of the Hebrews, drawing their inspiration from the mountains and rivers of Palestine, which they have immortalized in their poetic figures, and even while uttering the sublimest and most universal truths never forgetting their own nationality in its narrowest and intensest form. Their images and metaphors, says Munk (Palestine, p. 444 a), "are taken chiefly from nature and the phenomena of Palestine and the surrounding countries, from the pastoral life, from agriculture and the national history. The stars of heaven, the sand of the seashore, are the image of a great multitude. Would they speak of a mighty host of enemies invading the country, they are the swift torrents or the roaring waves of the sea, or the clouds that bring on a tempest; the war-chariots advance swiftly like lightning or the whirlwinds. Happiness rises as the dawn and shines like the daylight; the blessing of God descends like the dew or the bountiful rain; the anger of Heaven is a devouring fire that annihilates the wicked as the flame which devours the stubble. Unhappiness is likened to days of clouds and darkness; at times of great catastrophes the sun sets in broad day, the heavens are shaken, the earth trembles, the stars disappear, the sun is changed into darkness and the moon into blood, and so on.
The cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, are the image of the mighty man, the palm and the reed of the great and the humble, briers and thorns of the wicked; the pious man is an olive evergreen, or a tree planted by the waterside. The animal kingdom furnished equally a large number of images: the lion, the image of power, is also, like the wolf, bear, etc., that of tyrants and violent and rapacious men; and the pious who suffers is a feeble sheep led to the slaughter. The strong and powerful man is compared to the he-goat or the bull of Bashan: the kine of Bashall figure, in the discourses of Amos, as the image of rich and voluptuous women; the people who rebel against the divine will are a refractory heifer. Other images are borrowed from the country life, and from the life domestic and social: the chastisement of God weighs upon Israel like a wagon laden with sheaves; the dead cover the earth as the dung which covers the surface of the fields. The impious man sows crime and reaps misery, or he sows the wind and reaps the tempest. The people yielding to the blows of their enemies are like the corn crushed beneath the threshing instrument. God tramples the wine in the winepress when he chastises the impious and sheds their blood. The wrath of Jehovah is often represented as all intoxicating cup, which he causes those to empty who have merited his chastisement: terrors and anguish are often compared to the pangs of childbirth. Peoples, towns, and states are represented by the Hebrew poets under the image of daughters or wives; in their impiety they are courtesans or adulteresses. The historical allusions of most frequent occurrence are taken from the catastrophe of Sodom and Gomorrah, the miracles of the departure from Egypt, and the appearance of Jehovah on Sinai." Examples might easily be multiplied in illustration of this remarkable characteristic of the Hebrew poets: they stand thick upon every page of their writings, and in striking contrast to the vague generalizations of the Indian philosophic poetry. There is accordingly no poetry which bears a deeper or broader stamp of the peculiar influences under which it was produced. It never ceases to be Hebrew in order to become universal, and yet it is universal while it is Hebrew. The country, the clime, the institutions, the very peculiar religious institutions, rites, and observances, the very singular religious history of the Israelites, are all faithfully and vividly reflected in the Hebrew muse, so that no one song can ever be mistaken for a poem of any other people. Still it remains true that the heart of man, at least the heart of all the most civilized nations of the earth, has been moved and swayed, and is still pleasingly and most beneficially moved and swayed by the strains of Biblical poesy.
There is no ancient poetic age that can be put into comparison with that of the Hebrews but that of the two classic nations, Greece and Rome, and that of India. In form and variety we grant that the poetry of these nations surpasses that of the Hebrews. Epic poetry and the drama, the two highest styles so far as mere art is concerned, were cultivated successfully by them, while among the Israelites we find only their germs and first rudiments. So in execution we may also admit that, in the higher qualities of style, the Hebrew literature is somewhat inferior. But the thought is more than the expression; the kernel than the shell and in substance the Hebrew poetry far surpasses every other. In truth, it dwells in a region to which other ancient literatures did not and could not attain-a pure, serene, moral, and religious atmosphere; thus dealing with mall in his highest relations, first anticipating, and then leading onwards, mere civilization. This, as we shall presently see more fully, is the great characteristic of Hebrew poetry; it is also the highest merit of any literature, a merit in which that of the Hebrews is unapproached. To this high quality it is owing that the poetry of the Bible has exerted on the loftiest interests and productions of the human mind, for now above two thousand years, the most decided and the most beneficial influence. Moral and religious truth is deathless and undecaying; and so the griefs and the joys of David, or the far-seeing warnings and brilliant portrayings of Isaiah, repeat themselves in the heart of each successive generation, and become coexistent with the race of man. Thus of all moral treasuries the Bible is incomparably the richest. Even for forms of poetry, ‘ in which, it is defective, or altogether fails, it presents the richest materials. Moses has not, as some have dreamed, left us an epic poem, but he has supplied the materials out of which the Paradise Lost was created. The sternly sublime drama of Samson Agonistes is constructed from a few materials found in a chapter or two which relate to the least cultivated period of the Hebrew republic. Indeed, most of the great poets, even of modern days, from Tasso down to Byron, all the great musicians, and nearly all the great painters, have drawn their best and highest inspiration from the Bible. It may have struck the reader as somewhat curious that the poetical pieces of which we spoke above should, in the common version of the Bible, be scarcely, if at all, distinguishable from prose. We do not know whether there is anything extraordinary in this.
Much of classical poetry, if turned into English prose, would lose most of its poetic characteristics; but, in general, the Hebrew poetry suffers less than perhaps any other by transfusion into a prosaic element: to which fact it is owing that the book of Psalms, in the English version, is, notwithstanding its form, eminently poetic. There are, however, cases in which only the experienced eye can trace the poetic in and under the prosaic attire in which it appears in the vulgar translation. Nor until the subject of Hebrew poetry had been long and well studied did the learned succeed in detecting many a poetic gem contained in the Bible. In truth, poetry and prose, from their very nature, stand near to each other, and in the earlier stages of their existence are discriminated only by faint and vanishing lines. If we regard the thought. prose sometimes even now rises to the loftiness of poetry. If we regard the clothing, the simpler form of poetry is scarcely more than prose; and rhetorical or measured prose passes into the domain of poetry. A sonnet of Wordsworth could be converted into prose with a very few changes; a fable of Krummacher requires only to be distributed into lines in order to make blank verse. Now in translations the form is for the most part lost; there remains only the subs stance, and poetic sentiment ranges from the humblest to the loftiest topics. So with the Hebrew poetry in its original and native state. Whether in its case poetry sprang from prose, or prose from poetry, they are both) branches of one tree, and bear in their earlier stages a very close resemblance. The similarity is the greater in the literature of the Hebrews, because their poetic a forms are less determinate than those of some other nations: they had, indeed, a rhythm; but so had their prose, and their poetic rhythm was more like that of, our blank verse than of our rhymed meter. Of poetical feet they appear to have known nothing, and in consequence their verse must be less measured and less strict. Its melody was rather that of thought than of art and s skill— spontaneous, like their religious feelings, and; therefore deep and impressive, but less subject to law and escaping from the hard limits of exact definition. Rhyme, properly so called, is disowned as well as meter. Yet Hebrew verse, as it had a kind of measured tread, so had it a jingle in its feet, for several lines are sometimes found terminating with the same letter. In the main, however, its essential form was in the thought. Ideas are made to recur under such relations that the substance itself marks the form, and the two are so blended into one that their union is essential to constitute poetry. It is, indeed, incorrect to say that "the Hebrew poetry is characterized by the recurrence of similar ideas" (Latham's English Language, p. 372), if by this it is intended to intimate that such a peculiarity is the sole characteristic of Hebrew poetry. One, and that the chief, characteristic of that poetry is such recurrence; but there are also characteristics in form as well as in thought. Of these it may be sufficient to mention the following: prose ordinarily presents; but as the true pronunciation of the Hebrew has long been lost, this quality can only be imperfectly appreciated.
2. There is a correspondence of words, i.e. the words in one verse, or member, answer to the words in another; for as the sense in the one echoes the sense in the other, so also form corresponds with form, and word with word. This correspondence in form will fully appear when we give instances (see below) of the parallelism in sentiment; meanwhile an idea of it may be formed from these specimens:
"Why art thou cast down, O my soul And why art thou disquieted in me?" (Psalms 43:5).
"The memory of the just is a blessing: But the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7).
"He turneth rivers into a desert, And water-springs into dry ground" (Psalms 107:33).
In the original this similarity in construction is more exact and more apparent. At the same time it is a free and not a strict correspondence that prevails; a correspondence to be caught and recognized by the ear in the general progress of the poem, or the general structure of a couplet or a triplet, but which is not of a nature to be exactly measured or set forth by such aids as counting with the fingers will afford.
3. Inversion holds a distinguished place in the structure of Hebrew poetry, as in that of every other; yet here again the remark already made holds good; it is only a modified inversion that prevails, by no means (in general) equaling that of the Greeks and Romans in boldness, decision, and prevalence. Every one will, however, recognize this inversion in the following instances, as distinguishing the passages from ordinary prose:
"Amid thought in visions of the night, When deep sleep falleth upon men, Fear and horror came upon me" (Job 4:13).
"To me men gave ear and waited, To my words they made no reply" (Job 29:21).
"For three transgressions of Damascus, And for four will I not turn away its punishment" (Amos 1:3). was his sepulcher" (Isaiah 53:9).
4. The chief characteristics, however, of Hebrew poetry are found in the peculiar form in which it gives utterance to its ideas. This form has received the name of "parallelism." Ewald justly prefers the term "thought-rhythm," since the rhythm, the music, the peculiar flow and harmony of the verse and of the poem, lie in the distribution of the sentiment in such a manner that the full import does not come out in less than a distich. The leading principle is that a simple verse or distich consists, both in regard to form and substance, of two corresponding members: this has been termed Hebrew rhythm, or parallelismus membrorum. Three kinds may be specified:
(1.) There is, first, the synonymous parallelism, which consists in this, that the two members express the same thought in different words, so that sometimes word answers to word; for example:
"What is man that thou art mindful of him, And the son of man that thou carest for him!" (Psalms 8:4).
There is in some cases an inversion in the second line:
"The heavens relate the glory of God, And the work of his hands the firmament declares" (Psalms 19:2).
"He maketh his messengers the winds, His ministers the flaming lightning" (Psalms 104:4).
Very often the second member repeats only a part of the first:
"Woe to them that join house to house, That field to field unite" (Isaiah 5:8).
Sometimes the verb which stands in the first member is omitted in the second:
"God, thy justice give the king, And thy righteousness to the king's son" (Psalms 72:1).
Or the verb may be in the second member:
"With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men" (Judges 15:16). The second member may contain an expansion of the first:
"Give to Jehovah, ye sons of God, Give to Jehovah glory and praise" (Psalms 29:1).
Indeed the varieties are numerous, since the synonymous parallelism is very frequent.
(2.) The second kind is the antithetic, in which the first member is illustrated by some opposition of thought contained in the second. This less customary kind of parallelism is found mostly in the Proverbs:
"The full man treadeth the honey-comb under foot, To the hungry every bitter thing is sweet" (Proverbs 27:7). Under this head comes the following, with other similar examples: "Day to day uttereth instruction, And night to night showeth knowledge" (Psalms 19:2).
(3.) The third kind is denominated the synthetic: probably the term epithetic would be more appropriate, since the second member not being a mere echo of the first, subjoins something new to it, while the same structure of the verse is preserved; thus:
"He appointed the moon for seasons; The sun knoweth his going down" (Psalms 104:19).
"The law of Jehovah is perfect, reviving the soul; The precepts of Jehovah are sure, instructing the simple" (Psalms 19:7).
5. Intimately connected with the parallelistic structure is the strophic arrangement of Hebrew poetry. Usually the parallelism itself furnishes the basis of the versification. This correspondence in thought is not however, of universal occurrence. We find a merely rhythmical parallelism in which the thought is not repeated, but goes forward throughout the verse, which is divided midway into two halves or a distich:
"The word is not upon the tongue, Jehovah thou knowest it altogether" (Psalms 138:4).
"Gird as a man thy loins, I will ask thee; inform thou me" (Job 39:3). Here poetry distinguishes itself from prose chiefly by the division into two short equal parts. This peculiarity of poetic diction is expressed by the word זָמִר, to sing (strictly to play), which properly denotes dividing the matter, and so speaking or singing in separated portions. Among the Arabians, who, however, have syllabic measure, each verse is divided into two hemistichs by a caesura in the middle. The simple two-membered rhythm- hitherto described prevails especially in the book of Job, the Proverbs, and a portion of the Psalms; but in the last, and still more in the Prophets, there are numerous verses with three, four, or yet more members. In verses consisting of three members (tristicha) sometimes all three are parallel:
"Happy the man who walketh not in the paths of the unrighteous, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers" (Psalms 1:1).
Sometimes two of the members stand opposed to the third:
"To all the world goes forth their sound, To the end of the world their words; For the sun he places a tabernacle in them" (Psalms 19:4). Verses of four members contain either two simple parallels: "With righteousness shall he judge the poor, And decide with equity for the afflicted of the people; He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4). Or the first and third answer to each other; also the second and fourth: "That smote the people in anger With a continual stroke; That lorded it over the nations in wrath With unremitted oppression" (Isaiah 14:6).
If the members are more numerous or disproportionate (Isaiah 11:11), or if the parallelism is important or irregular, the diction of poetry is lost and prose ensues; as is the case in Isaiah 5:1-6, and frequently in the later prophets, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The strophe, however, is frequently preserved in a quite extended form with several subdivisions, and the parallelism is often carried out in subordinate clauses; instances of this are very common, especially in the book of Ecclesiastes. (See § 4, below.)
It is not to be supposed that each poem consists exclusively of one set of verse; for though this feature does present itself, yet frequently several kinds are found together in one composition, so as to give great ease, freedom, and capability to the style. We select the following beautiful specimen, because a chorus is introduced:
DAVID'S LAMENT OVER SAUL AND JONATHAN.
The Gazelle, O Israel, has been cut down on thy heights!
Chorus. How are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ascalon Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
Hills of Gilboa, no dew nor rain come upon you, devoted fields! For there is stained the heroes' bow, Saul's bow, never anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, The how of Jonathan turned not back. And the sword of Saul came not idly home. Saul land Jonathan! lovely and pleasant in life!
And in death ye were not divided; Swifter than eagles, stronger than lions! Ye daughters of Israel! weep for Saul!
He clothed you delicately in purple, He put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
Chorus. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan, slain in thy high places!
I am distressed for thee brother, brother Jonathan, Very pleasant wast thou to me, Wonderful was thy love, more than the love of woman.
Chorus. How are the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished! We have chosen this ode not only for its singular beauty, but also because it presents another quality of Hebrew poetry-the strophe. In this poem there are three strophes marked by the recurrence three times of the dirge sung by the chorus. The chorus appears to have consisted of three parts, corresponding with the parties more immediately addressed in the three several portions of the poem. The first choral song is sung by the entire body of singers, representing Israel; the second is sung by a chorus of maidens; the third, by first a chorus of youths in a soft and mournful strain, and then by all the choir in fill and swelling chorus. But in order to the reader's fully understanding with what noble effect these "songs of Zion" came on the souls of their hearers, an accurate idea must be formed of the music of the Hebrews. See Music. Referring to the articles which bear on the subject, we merely remark that both music and dancing were connected with sacred song in its earliest manifestations, though it was only at a comparatively late period, when David and Solomon had given their master-powers to the grand performances of the Temple-service, that poetry came forth in all its excellence, and music lent its full aid to its solemn and sublime sentiments.
6. In Hebrew, as in other languages there is a peculiarity about the diction used in poetry— a kind of poetical dialect, characterized by archaic and irregular forms of words, abrupt constructions, and unusual inflections, which distinguish it from the contemporary prose or historical style. It is universally observed that archaic forms and usages of words linger in the poetry of a language after they have fallen out of ordinary use. A few of these forms and usages are here given from Gesenius's Lehrgebdude. The Piel and Hiphil voices are used intransitively (Jeremiah 51:56; Ezekiel 10:7; Job 29:24): the apocopated future is used as a present (Job 15:33; Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 42:6). The termination אָּת is found for the ordinary feminine אָּה (Exodus 15:2; Genesis 49:22; Psalms 132:4); and for the plural אַּים we have אַּין (Job 15:13; Ezekiel 26:18) and אִּי (Jeremiah 22:14; Amos 7:1). The verbal suffixes, מוֹ, אָּמוֹ, and אֵּמו ֹ (Exodus 15:9), and the pronominal suffixes to nouns, אָּמוֹ for אם, and אֵּיהוּ for אָּיו (Habakkuk 3:10), are peculiar to the poetical books; as are וֹהַי (Psalms 116:12), אֵּימו ֹ (Deuteronomy 32:37; Psalms 11:7), and the more unusual forms, אֵּיהֵמָּה (Ezekiel 40:16), אֵּיהֶנָה (Ezekiel 1:11), אַּיכֶנָה (Ezekiel 13:20). In poetical language also we find לָמוֹ for לו ֹ or לָהֶם, לְמוֹ for לְ, בְּמוֹ for בְּ, כְּמוֹ for כְּ; the plural forms of the prepositions, אֵֵלי for אֶל, עֲדֵי for עִד, עֲלֵי; and the peculiar forms of the nouns, הִרְרַי for הָרַי, הִרְרֵי for ה 4רֵי, עֲמָמַים for עִמַּים, and so on.
II. Existing Remains of Ancient Hebrew Poetry. — The poetry which is found in the Bible, rich and multifarious as it is, appears to be only a remnant of a still wider and fuller sphere of Shemitic literature. The New Testament is in fact comprised in our definition, for, besides scattered portions, which, under a prosaic form, convey a poetic thought, the entire book of the Apocalypse abounds in poetry. In no nation was the union of the requisites of which we have spoken above found in fuller measure than among the Hebrews. Theirs was eminently a poetic temperament; their earliest history was a heroic without ceasing to be a historic age, while the loftiest of all truths circulated in their souls, and glowed on and started from their lips. Hence their language, in its earliest stages, is surpassingly poetic. In one sense the Bible is full of poetry; for very much of its contents, which is merely prosaic in form, rises, by force of the noble sentiments which it enunciates, and the striking or splendid imagery with which these sentiments are adorned, into the sphere of real poetry. Independently of this poetic prose, there is in the Bible much writing which has all the ordinary characteristics of poetry. Even the unlearned reader can hardly fail to recognize at once the essence of poetry in various parts of the Bible. It is no slight attestation to the essentially poetic character of Hebrew poetry that its poetical qualities shine through the distorting coverings of a prose translation. Much of the Biblical poetry is, indeed, hidden from the ordinary reader by its prose accompaniments, standing, as it does, undistinguished in the midst of historical narrations.
It is a phenomenon which is universally observed in the literature of all nations, that the earliest form in which the thoughts and feelings of a people find utterance is the poetic. Prose is an after growth, the vehicle of less spontaneous, because more formal, expression. Snatches of poetry are discovered in the oldest prose compositions. Even in Genesis 4:23 sq. are found a few lines of poetry, which Herder incorrectly terms "the song of the sword," thinking it commemorative of the first formation of' that weapon. To us it appears to be a fragment of a larger poem, uttered in lamentation for a homicide committed by Lamech, probably in self-defense. (See LAMECH). Herder finds in this piece all the characteristics of Hebrew poetry. It is, he thinks, lyrical, has a proportion between its several lines, and even assonance; in the original the first four lines terminate with the same letter, making a single or semi-rhyme.
Another poetic scrap is found in Exodus 32:18. Being told by Joshua, on occasion of descending from the mount, when the people had made the golden calf, and were tumultuously offering it their worship "The sound of war is in the camp;"
"Not the sound of a shout for victory,
Nor the sound of a shout for falling;
The sound of a shout for rejoicing do I hear."
The correspondence in form in the original is here very exact and striking, so that it is difficult to deny that the piece is poetic. If so, are we to conclude that the temperament of the Israelites was so deeply poetic that Moses and Joshua should find the excitement of this occasion sufficient to strike improvisatore verses from their lips? Or have we here a quotation from some still older song, which occurred to the minds of the speakers by the force of resemblance? Other instances of scattered poetic pieces may be found in Numbers 21:14-15; also Numbers 21:18; Numbers 21:27; in which passages evidence may be found that we are not in possession of the entire mass of Hebrew, or, at least, Shemitic literature. Further specimens of very early poetry are found in Numbers 23:7 sq., Numbers 23:18 sq.; Numbers 24:3; Numbers 24:15. The ordinary train of thought and feeling presented in Hebrew poetry is entirely of a moral or religious kind; but there are occasions when other topics are introduced. The entire Song of Solomon many regard as purely an erotic idol, and considered as such it possesses excellences of a very high description. In Amos 6:3 sq. may be seen a tine passage of satire in a denunciation of the luxurious and oppressive aristocracy of Israel. Subjects of a similar secular kind may be found treated, yet never without a moral or religious aim, in Isaiah 9:3; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 48:33; Revelation 18:22 sq. But, independently of the Song of Solomon, the most sensuous ode is perhaps the 45th Psalm, which Herder and Ewall consider an epithalamium. Further illustrations of this part of the subject appear under the next division.
The poetical character of the Revelation of John is evident to every attentive reader. Many parts are professedly songs, formal expressions of praise, triumph, or mourning. The language is not only highly figurative, but it everywhere abounds with the most poetical images and modes of expression. Bishop Jebb has presented some of the songs in the form of Hebrew poetry; and Prof. Stuart has shown the metrical arrangement of a few other portions; he has also expressed his conviction that the form of poetry, as well as its spirit, prevails to a great extent throughout the work. The references to the Old Test. in this book are more numerous than in any other book of the New Test.; and they are not simple quotations, nor the transference of thought to a less poetic style of expression; but they are imitations, in general more poetic than the original. That they are presented in the form of Hebrew, and not of Grecian poetry, can occasion no surprise. No other poetry would accord, either with the habit of the apostle, or with the general character and design of the Bible. But this form of poetry would perfectly harmonize with both. The poetry of the Revelation of John appears to consist of the same description of parallelisms, with those intercalary lines and other irregularities which are found in the larger specimens of Hebrew poetry. The species of parallelism which most prevails is the synthetic or constructive; the others being obviously less suitable to the subject of the composition. There are, however, instances of every kind. Indeed, this book not only possesses the form and the spirit of Hebrew poetry, but it exhibits as much regularity in its parallelisms as any Hebrew poetry with which it can be justly compared. We give the following passages (Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 21:23):
"The revelation of Jesus Christ,
Which God to him imparted,
To indicate unto his servants
What must come to pass ere long.
"To Him who loveth us, and washed us
From our sins in his own blood:
And constituted us a kingdom,
Priests unto God, even his Father,
To him be glory and dominion,
For ever and ever, Amen!
"And the city has no need of the sun
Nor of the moon to shine in it;
For the glory of God illumines it,
And the light thereof is the Lamb."
III. Classification of Poetic Styles. — According to the Ancient Hebrew Designations— These appear to have special, if not exclusive reference to what is now known as lyric poetry. The terms are of two classes. (See PSALMS).
a. General titles, referring apparently to the musical form or purpose of the compositions.
(1.) שַׁיר, shir, a song in general, adapted for the voice alone.
(2.) מַזְמוֹר, mizmor, which Ewald considers a lyric song, properly so called, but which rather seems to correspond with the Greek ψαλμός, a psalm, or song to be sung with any instrumental accompaniment. (See PSALM).
(3.) נְגַינָה, neginadh, which Ewald is of opinion is equivalent to the Greek ψαλμός, is more probably a melody expressly adapted for stringed instruments.
(4.) מִשְׂכַּיל, maskil, of which it may be said that if Ewald's suggestion be not correct, that it denotes a lyrical song requiring nice musical skill, it is difficult to give any more probable explanation. (See MASCHEL).
(5.) מַכְתָּם, miktaim, a term of extremely doubtful meaning. (See MICHTAM).
(6.) שַׁגָּיוֹן, shiggayon (Psalms 7:1), a wild, irregular, dithyrambic song, as the word appears to denote; or, according to some, a song to be sung with variations. The former is the more probable meaning. The plural occurs in Habakkuk 3:1. (See SHIGGAION).
b. But, besides these, there are other divisions of lyrical poetry of great importance, which have regard rather to the subject of the poems than to their form or adaptation for musical accompaniments. Of these we notice:
(1.) תְּהלָּה, tehillah, a hymn of praise. The plural tehillim is the title of the book of Psalms in Hebrew. The 145th Psalm is entitled "David's (Psalm) of praise;" and the subject of the psalm is in accordance with its title, which is apparently suggested by the concluding verse, "The praise of Jehovah my mouth shall speak, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever." To this class belong the songs which relate to extraordinary deliverances, such as the songs of Moses (Exodus 15) and of Deborah (Judges 5), and the Psalms 18, 68, which have all the air of chants to be sung in triumphal processions. Such were the hymns sung in the Temple-services, and by a bold figure the Almighty is apostrophized as "Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel," which rose in the holy place with the fragrant clouds of incense (Psalms 22:3). To the same class also Ewald refers the shorter poems of the like kind with those already quoted, such as Psalms 30, 32, 138, and Isaiah 38, which relate to less general occasions, and commemorate more special deliverances. The songs of victory sung by the congregation in the Temple, as Psalms 46, 48; Psalms 24:7-10, which is a short triumphal ode, and Psalms 29, which praises Jehovah on the occasion of a great natural phenomenon, are likewise all to be classed in this division of lyric poetry. (See HYMN).
(2.) קַינָה, kindh, the lament, or dirge, of which there are many examples, whether uttered over an individual or as an outburst of grief for the calamities of the land. The most touchingly pathetic of all is perhaps the lament of David for the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27), in which passionate emotion is blended with touches of tenderness of which only a strong nature is capable. Compare with this the lament for Abner (2 Samuel 3:33-34) and for Absalom (18:33). Of the same character also, doubtless, were the songs which the singing men and singing women spake over Josiah at his death (2 Chronicles 35:25), and the songs of mourning for the disasters which befell the hapless land of Judah, of which Psalms 49, 60, 78, 137 are examples (comp. Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 9:10 ) and the Lamentations of Jeremiah the most memorable instances. (See LAMENTATION).
(3.) שַׁיר יְדַירֹת , shir yediddth, a love-song (Psalms 45:1), in its external form at least. (See CANTICLES).
(4.) תְּפַלָּה, tephillah, prayer, is the title of Psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, 142, and Habakkuk 3. All these are strictly lyrical compositions, and the title may have been assigned to them either as denoting the object with which they were written, or the use to which they were applied. As Ewald justly observes, all lyric poetry of an elevated kind, in so far as it reveals the soul of the poet in a pure swift outpouring of itself, is of the nature of a prayer; and hence the term "prayer" was applied to a collection of David's songs, of which Psalms 72 formed the conclusion. (See PRAYER).
Other kinds of poetry there are which occupy the middle ground between the lyric and gnomic, being lyric in form and spirit, but gnomic in subject. These may be classed as
(5.) מָשָׁל , mashal, properly a similitude, and then a. parable, or sententious saying, couched in poetic language. Such are the songs of Balaam (Numbers 23:7; Numbers 23:18; Numbers 24:3; Numbers 24:15; Numbers 24:20-21; Numbers 24:23), which are eminently lyrical in character; the mocking ballad in Numbers 21:27-30, which has been conjectured to be a fragment of an old Amoritish war-song; and the apologue of Jotham (Judges 9:7-20), both which last are strongly satirical in tone. But the finest of all is the magnificent prophetic song of triumph over the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4-27).
(6.) חידָה, chidah, an enigma (like the riddle of Samson, Judges 14:14), or "dark saying," as the A.V. has it in Psalms 49:5; Psalms 78:2. The former passage illustrates the musical, and therefore lyrical character of these "dark sayings:" "I will incline mine ear to a parable, I will open my dark sayings upon the harp." Macshal and chidah are used as convertible terms in Ezekiel 17:2.
(7.) Lastly, to this class belongs מְלַיצָה , melitsah, a mocking, ironical poem (Habakkuk 2:6).
2. The Masoretic Distribution. — The Jewish grammarians have attached the poetic accentuation only to the three books of Psalms, Job, and Proverbs. There is no doubt that the Song of Solomon is also poetical; and with these the book of Ecclesiastes was anciently, as it is still usually, conjoined, though the form of composition is less decidedly poetical. To these five are to be added the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the smaller pieces scattered over the historical and prophetic writings. Keeping these latter out of view, we may say that the Hebrew poetical books are six in number; and these six may be divided into two groups of three, according to the class of poetical composition to which each belongs, viz.
(1) Psalms, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations, which are predominantly lyrical in their character; and
(2) Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, which are predominantly didactic. In the former the leading aim of the poet is not to instruct, but to give free utterance to the feelings of his own heart; in the latter the instruction of others is the object that is principally aimed at; though neither is the lyrical element altogether excluded from the latter, nor the didactic from the former. Of the more sustained and elaborate epic and dramatic poetry which was alike alien to the character of the Hebrew mind, and also in a certain measure inconsistent with the purpose of the Hebrew writings as a divine revelation we have no examples, though some have applied the term "dramatic" in a loose sense to the book of Job, and in a more strict sense to the Song of Solomon.
3. Modern Terminology. — For epic poetry the constituent elements do not appear to have existed during the classic period of the Hebrew muse, since epic poetry requires a heroic age an age, that is, of fabulous wonders, and falsely so-called divine interpositions. But among the Israelites the patriarchal, which might have been the heroic age, was an age of truth and reality; and it much raises the religious and historical value of the Biblical literature that neither the singular events of the age of the patriarchs, nor the wonderful events of the age of Moses, nor the confused and somewhat legendary events of the age of the Judges, ever degenerated into mythology, nor passed from the reality, which was their essence, into the noble fictions into which the imagination, if unchastened and unchecked by religion, might have wrought them; but they retained through all periods their own essential character of earnest, lofty, and impressive realities. At a later period, when the religion of Moses had, during the Babylonian captivity, been lowered by the corruptions of the religion of Zoroaster, and an entirely new world of thought introduced, based not on reality but fancy, emanating not from the pure light of heaven, but from the mingled lights and shadows of primitive tradition and human speculation -then there came into existence among the Jews the elements necessary for epic poetry; but the days were gone in which the mind of the nation had the requisite strength and culture to fashion them into a great, uniform, and noble structure; and if we can allow that the Hebrews possessed the rudimental outlines of the epic, we must seek for them not in the canonical, but in the apocryphal books; and while we deny with emphasis that the term Epos can be applied as some German critics have applied it, to the Pentateuch, we can find only in the book of Judith, and with rather more reason in that of Tobit, anything which approaches to epic poetry. Indeed fiction, which, if it is not the essence, enters for a very large share into both epic and dramatic poetry, was wholly alien from the genius of the Hebrew muse, whose high and noble function was not to invent, but to celebrate the goodness of God; not to indulge the fancy, but to express the deepest feelings of the soul; not to play with words and feign emotions, but to utter profound truth and commemorate real events, and pour forth living sentiments. Of the three kinds of poetry which are illustrated by the Hebrew literature, the lyric occupies the foremost place, commencing, as we have seen, in the pre-Mosaic times, flourishing in rude vigor during the earlier periods of the Judges, the heroic age of the Hebrews, growing with the nation's growth and strengthening with its strength, till it reached its highest excellence in David, the warrior-poet, and thenceforth began slowly to decline. In this period art, though subordinate, was not neglected, as indeed is proved by the noble lyrics which have come down to us and in which the art is only relatively small and low— that is, the art is inconsiderable and secondary— merely because the topics are so august, the sentiments so grand, the religious impression so profound and sacred. At later periods, when the first fresh gushing of the muse had ceased, art in Hebrew, as is the case in all other poetry, began to claim a larger share of attention, and stands in the poems for a greater portion of their merit. Then the play of the imagination grew predominant over the spontaneous outpourings of the soul, and among other creations of the fancy alphabetical poems were produced, in which the matter is artistically distributed sometimes under two-and-twenty heads or divisions, corresponding with the number of the Hebrew letters.
Gnomic poetry is the product of a more advanced age than the lyric. It arises from the desire felt by the poet to express the results of the accumulated experiences of life in a form of beauty and permanence. Its thoughtful character requires for its development a time of peacefulness and leisure; for it gives expression, not like the lyric to the sudden and impassioned feelings of the moment, but to calm and philosophic reflection. Being less spontaneous in its origin, its form is of necessity more artificial. The gnomic poetry of the Hebrews has not its measured flow disturbed by the shock of arms or the tumult of camps; it rises silently, like the Temple of old, without the sound of a weapon, and its groundwork is the home life of the nation. The period during which it flourished corresponds to its domestic and settled character. From the time of David onwards through the reigns of the earlier kings, when the nation was quiet and at peace, or, if not at peace, at least so firmly fixed in its acquired territory that its wars were no struggle for existence, gnomic poetry blossomed and bore fruit. We meet with it at intervals up to the time of the Captivity, and, as it is chiefly characteristic of the age of the monarchy, Ewald has appropriately designated this sera the "artificial period" of Hebrew poetry. From the end of the 8th century B.C. the decline of the nation was rapid, and with its glory departed the chief glories of its literature. The poems of this period are distinguished by a smoothness of diction and an external polish which betray tokens of labor and art; the style is less flowing and easy, and, except in rare instances, there is no dash of the ancient vigor. After the Captivity we have nothing but the poems which formed part of the liturgical services of the Temple.
Whether dramatic poetry, properly so called, ever existed among the Hebrews, is, to say the least, extremely doubtful. In the opinion of some writers the Song of Songs, in its external form, is a rude drama, designed for a simple stage. But the evidence for this view is extremely slight, and no good and sufficient reasons have been adduced which would lead us to conclude that the amount of dramatic action exhibited in that poem is more than would be involved in an animated poetic dialogue in which more than two persons take part. Philosophy and the drama appear alike to have been peculiar to the Indo-Germanic nations, and to have manifested themselves among the Shemitic tribes only in their crudest and most simple form.
Each of these forms of poetry, as they appear in the Bible, requires a more distinct notice separately.
(1.) Lyrical Poetry. — The literature of the Hebrews abounds with illustrations of all forms of lyrical poetry, in its most manifold and wide- embracing compass, from such short ejaculations as the songs of the two Lamechs, and Psalms 15, 117, and others, to the longer chants of victory and thanksgiving, like the songs of Deborah and David (Judges 5; Psalms 18). The thoroughly national character of all lyrical poetry has already been alluded to. It is the utterance of the people's life in all its varied phases, and expresses all its most earnest strivings and impulses. In proportion as this expression is vigorous and animated, the idea embodied in lyric song is in most cases narrowed or rather concentrated. One truth, and even one side of a truth, is for the time invested with the greatest prominence. All these characteristics will be found in perfection in the lyric poetry of the Hebrews. One other feature which distinguishes it is its form and its capacity for being set to musical accompaniment. The names by which the various kinds of song were known among the Hebrews will supply some illustration of this. (See above.)
(2.) Gnomic Poetry. — The second grand division of Hebrew poetry is occupied by a class of poems which are peculiarly Shemitic, and which represent the nearest approaches made by the people of that race to anything like philosophic thought. Reasoning there is none: we have only results, and these rather the product of observation and reflection than of induction or argumentation. As lyric poetry is the expression of the poet's own feelings and impulses, so gnomic poetry is the form in which the desire of communicating knowledge to others finds vent. There might possibly be an intermediate stage in which the poets gave out their experiences for their own pleasure merely, and afterwards applied them to the instruction of others, but this could scarcely have been of long continuance. The impulse to teach makes the teacher, and the teacher must have an audience. It has already been remarked that gnomic poetry, as a whole, requires for its development a period of national tranquility. Its germs are the floating proverbs which pass current in the mouths of the people, and embody the experiences of many with the wit of one. From this small beginning it arises, at a time when the experience of the nation has become matured, and the mass of truths which are the result of such experience have passed into circulation. The fame of Solomon's wisdom was so great that no less than three thousand proverbs are attributed to him, this being the form in which the Hebrew mind found its most congenial utterance. The sayer of sententious sayings was to the Hebrews the wise man, the philosopher. Of the earlier isolated proverbs but few examples remain. One of the earliest occurs in the mouth of David, and in his time it was the proverb of the ancients, "From the wicked cometh wickedness" (1 Samuel 24:13 ). Later on, when the fortunes of the nation were obscured, their experience was embodied in terms of sadness and despondency: "The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth," became a saying and a byword (Ezekiel 12:22); and the feeling that the people were suffering for the sins of their fathers took the form of a sentence, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezekiel 18:2). Such were the models which the gnomic poet had before him for imitation. These detached sentences may fairly be assumed to be the earliest form, of which the fuller apophthegm is the expansion, swelling into sustained exhortations, and even dramatic dialogue. (See PROVERB).
(3.) Dramatic Poetry. — The drama, in the sense in which the phrase is applicable to productions such as those of Euripides, Shakespeare, or Schiller, had no place in the literature of the Hebrews. This defect may be owing to a want of the requisite literary cultivation. Yet we are not willing to assign this as the cause, when we call to mind the high intellectual culture which the Hebrews evinced in lyric and didactic poetry, out of which the drama seems naturally to spring. We rather look for the cause of this in the earnest nature of the Hebrews, and in the solemnity of the subjects with which they had to do in their literary productions. Nor is it any objection to this hypothesis that the drama of modern times had its birth in the religious mysteries of the Middle Ages, since those ages were only secondary in regard to religious truth, standing at a distance from the great realities which they believed and dramatized; whereas the objects of faith with the Israelites were held in all the fresh vividness of primitive facts and newly recognized truths. It is impossible, however, to assert that no form of the drama existed among the Hebrew people; the most that can be done is to examine such portions of their literature as have come down to us, for the purpose of ascertaining how far any traces of the drama proper are discernible, and what inferences may be made from them.
It is unquestionably true, as Ewald observes, that the Arab reciters of romances will many times in their own persons act out a complete drama in recitation, changing their voice and gestures with the change of person and subject. Something of this kind may possibly have existed among the Hebrews; but there is no evidence that it did exist, nor any grounds for making even a probable conjecture with regard to it. A rude kind of farce is described by Mr. Lane (Mod. Egypt, 2, ch. 7), the players of which "are called Mohabbazin. These frequently perform at the festivals prior to weddings and circumcisions at the houses of the great; and sometimes attract rings of auditors and spectators in the public places in Cairo. Their performances are scarcely worthy of description: it is chiefly by vulgar gestures and indecent actions that they amuse and obtain applause. The actors are only men and boys, the part of a woman being always performed by a man or boy in female attire." Then follows a description of one of these plays the plot of which was extremely simple. But the mere fact of the existence of these rude exhibitions among the Arabs and Egyptians of the present day is of no weight when the question to be decided is whether the Song of Songs was designed to be so represented, as a simple, pastoral drama. Of course, in considering such a question, reference' is made only to the external form of the poem, and, in order to prove it, it must be shown that the dramatic is the only form of representation which it could assume, and not that, by the help of two actors and a chorus, it is capable of being exhibited in a dramatic form. All that has been done, in our opinion, is the latter. It is but fair, however, to give the views of those who hold the opposite. Ewald maintains that the Song of Songs is designed for a simple stage, because it develops a complete action and admits of definite pauses in the action, which are only suited to the drama. He distinguishes it in this respect from the book of Job, which is dramatic in form only, though, as it is occupied with a sublime subject, he compares it with tr
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Poetry, Hebrew'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/poetry-hebrew.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26