Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
cal verse that is reflected in Rashi’s approach comes to an end
with Bishop Robert Lowth.
Lowth saw that biblical literature often appears as a series of
couplets, in sets of two propositions at a time. The two proposi­
tions are usually symmetrical in length. In addition, the second
proposition often seems to repeat the sense of the former one in
different words (as Abraham Ibn Ezra and David Kimhi would
frequently point out) and appear in a similar syntactic structure.
An example is Psalm 2:3:
Let us snap off their bonds.
Let us cast offfrom us their cords.
We find here a repetition of syntax and sense. A pairing of lines
in which there is a repetition of either syntax or sense Lowth
termed “parallelism,” as the two lines are in one way or the other,
if not both, parallel. A passage in which one parallel couplet, with
an occasional triplet and solitary line, follows another Lowth
regarded as biblical verse. Parallelism was, for Lowth, and for
most scholars since, the principle by which we identify biblical
verse.
POETIC METER
Now we are used to defining verse primarily in terms o f meter,
regularity of rhythm. Lowth believed there was some sort of
meter in biblical verse, but with the actual pronunciation of bibli­
cal Hebrew lost in the distant past, he felt the m eter was
unrecoverable. In the last century a number of scholars have
attempted to reconstruct the meter of ancient Hebrew verse. As
George Buchanan Gray already indicated in his 1915 study,
The
Forms ofHebrewPoetry,
even if we could find a meter in the Bible as
we have it, it is possible or even likely that over the course of cen­
turies of transmission, different generations read the verse of the
Bible according to changing metrical rules. Many have given up
the search.
James Kugel (
The Idea of Biblical Poetry)
has gone so far as to
conclude that we have never been able to come up with a system
of biblical meter because there never was any. I would agree with
Kugel that we have no access to biblical meter. We know that any
metrical system includes rules that will sometimes combine sylla­
bles together or delete them (as in “o’e r”) or break them in two