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with the second letter of the alphabet; the third with the third letter, and so of the rest. Psalms czi and cKii begin each line with a new letter of the alphabet, indicating the law of parallelism; Psalms xxv, xxxiv, and clxv commence each verse with a new letter, though with some irregularity; Psalm xxxvii begins every other verse with a new letter, alphabetically, though with some variations and transpositions; Psalm crix begins each strophe or stanza with a new letter, in the order of the alphabet; each verse also begins with the same letter which represents the stanza; and each stanza contains just eight verses. There is not a single variation from these rules throughout the Psalm, and it is the most perfect in its artificial structure of all the Psalms. As this peculiarity, however, is characteristic only of a fragment, or small portion of the Hebrew poetry, and is of no practical utility to us, though some other Psalms bear similar marks of arrangement, we may pass them with simply remarking, that Bishop Lowth and others suppose it was an invention of the poets to assist the memory. “Michaelis was of the opinion that it was employed, in the first place, in the funeral dirge, as an aid to the mourners, and afterward on other occasions.” Bishop Lowth supposes the alphabetical poetry “was confined altogether to those compositions which consisted of detached maxims or sentiments, without any express order or connexion.” Both these hypotheses have some sanction from the fact that the Lamentations of Jeremiah are elegiac, and that the other portions of alphabetical poetry are mostly didactic. In the one case, the alphabetical divisions might assist to keep time in the dirge or lamentation, and in the other, to help the memory by artificial classifications of the propositions and sentences, where there were no associations of place or events, as in an epic or historic poem. De Wette takes a different view: “I consider the alphabetic arrangement,” says he, “as a contrivance of the rhythmical art, an offspring of the later vitiated taste. When the spirit of poetry is flown, men cling to the lifeless body, the rhythmical form, and seek to supply its absence by this. In truth, nearly all the alphabetical compositions are remarkable for the want of connexion, (which I regard as the consequence instead of the cause of the alphabetical construction,) for common thoughts, coldness and languor of feeling, and a low and occasionally mechanical phraseology. The thirty-seventh Psalm, which is the most free in its alphabetical arrangement, is, perhaps, alone to be excepted from this censure, and, in truth, is one of the best didactic poems of the Hebrews. The Lamentations are, indeed, possessed of considerable merit in their way, but still betray an unpoetic period and a vitiated taste.”
These remarks, however, do not appear to us altogether just. Several of the alphabetic Psalms bear David's name, and certainly belong to the golden age of Hebrew poetry, whatever may be said of their intrinsic merits. At the same time it must be conceded that it is natural, and in analogy with history, to suppose that when the spirit of poetry is fled, men will cling to its lifeless form, and content themselves with imitating a more glorious past in the lower and more mechanical features of its literature.
The grand law pervading all Hebrew poetry, and one which possesses more practical importance to the reader than all others, is that which is denominated parallelism. We have before observed, that the Hebrews were influenced less by mere artificial rules in the structure of their verses, than by the ideas or sense of the composition. Parallelism is the correspondence or relation which one line, or part of a verse, bears to another. This is almost universally the relation of the idea; sometimes, however, it simply extends to the expression or the grammatical construction. The Hebrew poets viewed things only in their simplest and most obvious relations. They had no idea of the abstract or the metaphysical. They spoke and wrote, also, under strong impulses of feeling, being absorbed in the proper merits of their theme, and anxious only that it should impress others as it impressed them. Hence, their utterances were made naturally in brief, sententious, often abrupt, yet simple propositions. The form of their verse was as simple as their ideas. The first line would commonly contain a distinct idea, or proposition. The second would contain the same idea, in terms either more direct and literal, or else more obscure or enigmatical, or, perhaps, with some enlargement, or with some variation; or, if a resemblance and analogy of the idea was not maintained, the law of contrast would obtain, and the second, or parallel line, would be the antithesis of the idea contained in the first. In either case, it is easy to perceive that one line would be intended as exegetical of the other— generally the second of the first.
* Introduction to the Psalms.
It is this feature of the Hebrew poetry which, on account of its practical importance in the interpretation of the Psalms, the reader should particularly consider until he becomes thoroughly familiar with the idea, and the different kinds of parallelism. To facilitate his efforts in this direction, the text also has been inserted in poetic lines, according to the measure of the Hebrew punctuation.
“Parallel lines,” says Bishop Lowth,” “may be reduced to three sorts: parallels synonymous, parallels antithetic, and parallels synthetic.”
I. Parallel lines synonymous, are those “which correspond one to another by expressing the same sense in different but equivalent terms; when a proposition is delivered and is immediately repeated in the whole or in part, the expression being varied, but the sense entirely or nearly the same.” The following is a specimen of synonymous parallelism:
“O Jehovah, in thy strength the king shall rejoice;
Here the reader will perceive that the idea contained in the first line, is repeated, with some variation of expression, in the second, and also the idea contained in the third line is repeated in the same manner in the fourth. The terms are a little varied, but their correspondence is very obvious. Again:
* Prelim. Dissert. to Isaiah.
“Because I called and ye refused;
“Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found;
“Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed;
“Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness;
“Like mighty men shall they rush on;
Sometimes the lines contain two propositions, as in the following:
“And they shall build houses, and shall inhabit them;
Isaiah lov, 21, 22.
Psalm crliv, 5, 6.
“When thou passest through the waters, I am with thee;
And the flame shall not cleave to thee.”
Sometimes the parallels consist of four lines—two distichs being so connected by sense and construction as to make but One Stanza Or Verse:
“Be not moved with indignation against the evil doers;
“The ox knoweth his owner;
And the ass the crib of his lord:
But Israel doth not know;
My people doth not consider.”
Isaiah i. 8. In stanzas of four lines, there is, sometimes, an alternate cor
respondence of the lines, the third answering to the first, and the fourth to the second:
“As the heavens are high above the earth;
“And ye said, Nay; but on horses will we flee;
Parallel triplets sometimes occur, in which there are three lines corresponding to each other and forming a verse. Frequently, however, only two lines are strictly parallel:
“The wicked shall see it, and it shall grieve him;
He shall gnash with his teeth and pine away;
The desire of the wicked shall perish.”
Stanzas of five lines also occur:
“Who is there among you that feareth Jehovah?