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Hebrew verse: scansion and parallax

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


Though beset with dispute, wavering conviction and a fair amount of inconsistency, most theories of Biblical prosody exhibit a dominant concern with phonology. Since one at least of the phenomena under scrutiny is metre, this shared propensity is hardly surprising, conditioned as a matter of course by Classical literature and the European tradition, but also by considerable evidence from the proximate sphere of other Semitic literatures. Comment upon the poetry in Hebrew scripture is as ancient as Philo and as varied as could be expected from two millennia of scholarship characterized by evolving method and changing fashion. For the metrical component, acknowledgement of more than one period of poetic production has enabled a chronological hypothesis to accommodate several systems that would otherwise, restricted to the data of the Massoretic text, be in mild competition if not, indeed, severe conflict. At stake is the unit of stress: its identity, distribution and frequency, a phonological quest rarely modified by reference to morphology. A notable exception is the attention recently directed to line internal juncture (sandhi) of which the primary effect is to eliminate or at least blur word boundaries. While the value of this operation for describing an evolution from accentual to quantitative prosody cannot be denied, its practical consequence may be merely characterization of the poetic line as a more or less constant number of syllables. In such an arbitrary continuum the location of stress is no easier than in the admittedly simplistic but nonetheless pragmatic identification of word with ictus. To this end Massoretic accentuation, whatever its shortcomings, has proved remarkably adaptable.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1982

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1 e.g. Eissfeldt, O., Einleitung in das Alte Testament, Tübingen, 1956, 6373Google Scholar; Robinson, T. H., ‘Hebrew poetic form: the English tradition’, Vetus Testamentum, Suppl. I, 1953, 128–49Google Scholar; Alonso Schökel, L., Eslvdios de poética hebrea, Barcelona, 1963, 119–93.Google Scholar

2 e.g. Freedman, D. N., Pottery, poetry, and prophecy: studies in early Hebrew poetry, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1980, esp. 122, 77–129, 131–66Google Scholar, employing the sequence dating proposed by W. F.Albright; S.Segert, ‘Vorarbeiten zur Hebräischen Metrik I – II’, Archiv Orientálni, XXI, 1953, 481542Google Scholar; idem, ‘Problems of Hebrew prosody’, Vetus Testamentum, Suppl. VII, 1960, 283–91.Google Scholar

3 See Kurylowicz, J., Studies in Semitic grammar and metrics, London, 1973, 158–87.Google Scholar

4 cf. Freedman, op. cit., 193, 219–25, 229–42, 244 f., 265–74, 326–8.

5 See Gesenius-Cowley, , Hebrew grammar, Oxford, 1910, 5962Google Scholar; cf. Segert, ‘Hebr. Metrik’, 519 ff., but also Gevirtz, S., Patterns in the early poetry of Israel, Chicago, 1963, 12.Google Scholar

6 O'Connor, M., Hebrew verse structure, Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1980.Google Scholar

7 e.g. Begrich, J., ‘Der Satzstil im Fünfer’, Zeitgchrift für Semitistik, IX, 1933/4, 169209Google Scholar; Young, G. D., ‘Ugaritic prosody’, JNES, IX, 1950, 124–33Google Scholar; Kosmala, H., ‘Form and structure in ancient Hebrew poetry (a new approach)’, Vetus Testamentum, XIV, 1964, 423–45, and XVI, 1966, 152–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 Cited at n. 7 above.

9 Kosmala, art. cit., 426

10 Freedman, , Pottery poetry and prophecy, 265, and cf. references cited above, n. 4.Google Scholar

11 e.g. Jakobson, R., ‘Linguistics and poetics’, in Sebeok, T. (ed.), Style in language, Cambridge, Mass., 1960, 350–77Google Scholar; Kiparsky, P., ‘Stress, syntax, and meter’, Language, LI, 1975, 576616CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Andersen, F., The sentence in Biblical Hebrew, The Hague, 1974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 In the only other attempt I have seen at syntactic analysis of Hebrew verse on a scale even remotely comparable to O'Connor's, the emphasis is stylistic: see Collins, T., Line-forms in Hebrew poetry: a grammatical approach to the stylistic study of the Hebrew prophets (Biblical Institute Press), Rome, 1978Google Scholar, employing a different set of grammatical theories (transformational) and applying these to a different corpus (the Prophetical books), though certainly not without recognition of structural constraints (e.g. pp. 59, 192, 212–13). Collins's work is only signalled apud O'Connor (p. 49) as ‘in progress’. It is not my intention here to compare the two approaches; see meanwhile Sawyer, J., JSS, XXVI, 1981, 123–5.Google Scholar

13 Freedman, op. cit., 77–129.

14 e.g. the studies of Segert, cited above, n. 2.

15 e.g. Goldziher, I., ‘Bemerkungen zur neuhebraīschen Poesie’, JQR, XIV, 1902, 719–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Schirmann, J., ‘La métrique quantitative dans la poésie hébraïque du moyen âge’, Actes du XXIe Congrès International des Orientalistes, Paris, 1949Google Scholar; Bargebuhr, F., Salomo Ibn Gabirol, Wiesbaden, 1976Google Scholar; Stern, S. M., Hispano-Arabic strophic poetry, Oxford, 1974, esp. 123–60.Google Scholar

16 See Norden, E., Die aniike Kunstprosa, Stuttgart, 1958, 909–60Google Scholar; idem, Agnostos Theos, Stuttgart, 1971, 254–63, 355–64.Google Scholar

17 i.e. Quranic studies, Oxford, 1977, 116–18Google Scholar; The sectarian milieu, Oxford, 1978, 60–9.Google Scholar

18 op. cit., 263–74.

19 op. cit., 72–96.

20 Holladay, W. L., ‘Form and word-play in David's lament over Saul and Jonathan’, Vetus Testamentum, XX, 1970, 153–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Gevirtz, 73–6; Holladay, 162–8. Both these studies employ the ‘poetic’ properties of imagery and phonology in a manner quite alien to O'Connor's grammatical/formalist approach. Freedman's treatment, apart from an assiduous syllable count, is lexical and literary.

22 art. cit., 358.

23 cf. Gevirtz, op. cit., 78–80; the image is disputed, but conventionally ‘heights’; see, however, Albright, W. F., ‘The high place in ancient Palestine ’, Vetus Testamentum, Suppl. IV, 1957, 242–58Google Scholar; and Vaughan, P., The meaning of ‘bāma’ in the OU Testament, Cambridge, 1974, esp. p. 12Google Scholar, for the ‘exceptional’ usage in these verses, and p. 69, n. 28, for Septuagint ‘confirmation’.

24 Cited above, n. 16; cf. Kayser, W., Das gpraehliche Kunstwerk, Bern, 1971, 241–70.Google Scholar

25 cf. Hrushovski, B., ‘On free rhythms in modern poetry’, in Style in language, cited above, n. 11, 173–90, esp. 189.Google Scholar

26 The text of Kittel is adduced here (and above) merely as a point of comparison, and because O'Connor does (p. 230).

27 Andersen, F., The Hebrew verbless clause in the Pentateuch, Nashville and New York, 1970.Google Scholar

28 Cited above, n. 11.

29 Bloch, A., Vers und Sprache im AUarabiechen, Basel, 1946.Google Scholar

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