Sunday, June 20, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #25 "Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord"



The Psalms employ many classic Hebrew poetic forms, which, if understood, add meaning to the messages of the psalmist.  A knowledge of these forms also validates the literary form of the Book of Mormon as of Hebrew origin.

In enallage (en-ol-o-gy), the personage switches to show a movement in the relationship.  For example, in Psalm 23:
  • verses 1-3 refer to the Lord in third person (using "he")
  • verses 4-5 are written in second person (using "thee, thy, and thou")
This shows that his relationship with the Lord has become closer.  The Psalm of Nephi in the Book of Mormon does the same thing:
  • 2 Ne. 4:20-30 refers to the Lord in third person
  • 2 Ne. 4:30-34 refers to the Lord in second person
  • 2 Ne. 4:35 contains both
Synonymous Parallelism
The poet says the same thing twice, with different phrasing or words.  This style of poetry emphasizes the importance of the thought through repetition, and often clarifies the first statement with the second.  For example, in Psalm 24:3:
  • Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?
  • Or who shall stand in his holy place?
The second sentence makes clear to us that the "hill of the Lord" is the Lord's holy place.  The answer is also stated with synonymous parallelism:
  • He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;
  • Who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
The second phrase of the sentence teaches us a little bit more about what it means to have clean hands and a pure heart.

The Psalms (and the Old Testament books in general) are full of synonymous parallelism.  Another example is Psalm 35:9:
  • And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord:
  • It shall rejoice in his salvation.
And another example is in Psalm 146:2
  • While I live will I praise the Lord:
  • I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
This can also be found frequently in the Book of Mormon.  A good example is Alma 5:10.

Antithetic Parallelism
In antithetic parallelism, the second line states the opposite of the first line, usually connected by the word but.  Once again, this provides an emphasis, and once again, it makes the concept easier to understand.  Psalm 1:6:
  • For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
  • But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
A Book of Mormon example is Alma 5:40.

Synthetic Parallelism
This style refers to the definition of synthetic as being a compound.  The lines are related to each other as cause and effect, or proposition and conclusion.  Psalm 119:11:
  • Thy word have I hid in my heart,
  • That I might not sin against thee.
Possibly the common phrase repeated throughout the Book of Mormon, "Keep my commandments, and ye shall prosper in the land," would qualify as synthetic parallelism.

Progressive Parallelism
There are several variations of progressive parallelism, but in each type, each line in some way increases the intensity of the thought, or adds another element to the whole message.  For example, Psalm 22:14:
  • I am poured out like water,
  • And all my bones are out of joint:
  • My heart is like wax;
  • It is melted in the midst of my bowels.
  • My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
  • And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
  • And thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
The sentence begins with being physically spent and ends with being at death's door.

Or Psalm 29:1-2, in which each line adds information to the message of the previous:
  • Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty [ones];
  • Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
  • Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
  • Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The rest of Psalm 29 uses a very similar style, telling us what the voice of the Lord does six times, and in six ways.

A Book of Mormon example is Alma 5:37-39.


  • David Bokovoy, BYU Campus Education Week Lecture, August 2001
  • David Bokovoy, Know Your Religion Lecture, Logan Utah, Feb. 15, 2002
  • David Graves & Jane Graves, Hebrew Poetry, Crandall University
  • Mark A. Copland, The Book of Psalms.

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