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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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Much of the Old Testament is written in poetry. This applies especially to the Psalms, the wisdom books and the prophetical books, though poems and songs are scattered throughout the prose narratives of other book (see SINGING).

Unlike English poetry, Hebrew poetry has no rhyme or metre. It relies for its expression and style upon a rhythm of sound and thought produced by a careful arrangement of words and sentences. The form that is most common in the Bible is called parallelism. This form can be varied and developed in many ways, but basically it consists of sentences arranged so as to balance each other.

If the first part of a verse contains the main thought, the following part (or parts) may add weight to this thought by repeating it in a slightly different form (Psalms 27:1; Psalms 104:7; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 5:20-22). In some cases the two parts of a verse may be arranged to contrast with each other by stating two opposite truths (Psalms 37:9; Proverbs 19:4; Proverbs 19:12). Alternatively, the second part may add to the first for the purpose of giving an application or leading to a climax (Psalms 56:4; Psalms 68:18; Jeremiah 31:20).

Poetry was sometimes written in the form of an acrostic based on the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. In the simple acrostic, the first word of each verse began with a different letter, the sequence following the order of the Hebrew alphabet from the first letter to the last (e.g. Psalms 25; Psalms 34; Lamentations Chapters 1, 2 and 4). Other acrostics were divided into twenty-two sections of a number of verses each, with all the verses in each section beginning with the same letter. Psalms 119 has twenty-two sections of eight verses each; Lamentations Chapter 3 has twenty-two sections of three verses each.

The New Testament, though written in Greek and mainly in prose, contains quotations from Old Testament poems. It also records poems from its own era that the writers composed in the Hebrew style discussed above (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:29-32). In addition there are quotations from what appear to be early Christian hymns (Ephesians 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:16) and occasional quotations from Greek poetry (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Poetry'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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