Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part Four (Parallelism)

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Doubling, or repeating, is a characteristic feature of Hebrew. Hebrew loves to say things twice (or more!) by adding equivalents. Words, phrases, sentences, and even stories, are doubled (or tripled).

A cat at a library in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Photographed by Lantuszka. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Revised: 20-Dec-2012

Doubling, or repeating, is a characteristic feature of Hebrew. Hebrew loves to say things twice (or more!) by adding equivalents. Words, phrases, sentences, and even stories, are doubled (or tripled). Sometimes, this doubling is quite complex, for example:

The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of Teman will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Luke 11:31-32; Matt. 12:41-42) [See my, “The Queen of Teman.”]

One important Hebrew form of doubling is known as “parallelism,” expressing the same thought in two or more different, though synonymous, ways. “Parallelism” is the hallmark of Hebrew poetry.

Rather than invest energy in refining a definition of “parallelism,” let’s gain a feeling for this feature of Hebrew by looking at a few examples from the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Book of Psalms is full of parallelism. The book’s first verse contains a 3-part parallelism:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
or stand in the way of sinners,
or sit in the seat of mockers. (Ps. 1:1; NIV)

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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