Cataloging the Gospels’ Hebraisms: Part Five (Parallelism)

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Parallelism is a central feature of Hebrew poetry. It permeates the words of biblical poet and prophet. The frequency with which parallelism occurs in the utterances of Jesus is surprising, and leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Greek source (or, sources) used by the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke derive(s) from a Greek translation (or, translations) of Hebrew documents.

Revised: 20-Dec-2012

As indicated in the last article, “parallelism” is a central feature of Hebrew poetry. It permeates the words of biblical poet and prophet. The frequency with which parallelism occurs in the utterances of Jesus is surprising, and leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Greek source (or, sources) used by the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke derive(s) from a Greek translation (or, translations) of Hebrew documents.

Scholars have investigated Hebrew poetry, including parallelism, for hundreds of years. They have divided parallelisms into 3 categories: 1) Synonymous Parallelism, 2) Antithetical Parallelism, and 3) Synthetical Parallelism (see C. F. Burney, The Poetry of Our Lord: An Examination of the Formal Elements of Hebrew Poetry in the Discourses of Jesus Christ [Oxford: Clarendon; 1925], 15-16). For an excellent article on Hebrew poetry, see James Muilenburg, “Hebrew Poetry,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1972), 13:671-81. Also superb is the online article, “Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry,” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (article written by the Editorial Board of the encyclopedia).

In this article we will survey the first of the above three categories. Synonymous parallelism is the repetition of a thought in different but synonymous, or equivalent, words. Before suggesting that similar structures are found in the New Testament, let’s look at examples of synonymous parallelism in the Hebrew Scriptures.

We have no portion in David,

No share in Jesse’s son. (2 Sam. 20:1; JPS)

The parallels are “portion” = “share,” and “David” = “Jesse’s son,” thus:

portion | David
share | Jesse’s son

In other words, “share” is the equivalent of and a substitute for “portion,” while “Jesse’s son” refers to the same person as “David.”

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