VERSIFICATION AND RHYTHMIC PARALLELISM IN THE BIBLE
(The Literary Study of the Bible by Richard G. Moulton; chapter 1.)
THE Bible is the worst-printed book in the world. No other monument of ancient or modern literature suffers the fate of being put before us in a form that makes it impossible,
without strong effort and considerable training, to take in elements of literary structure which in all other books are conveyed directly to the eye in a printing manner impossible to mistake.
By universal consent the authors of the Sacred Scriptures included men who, over and above qualifications of a more sacred nature, possessed literary power of the highest order. But between their time and ours the Bible has passed through what may be called an Age of Commentary, extending over fifteen centuries and more. During this long period form, which should be the handmaid of matter, was more and more overlooked; reverent, keen, minute analysis and exegesis, with interminable verbal discussion, gradually swallowed up the sense of literary beauty. When the Bible emerged from this Age of Commentary, its artistic form was lost; rabbinical commentators had divided it into chapters,' and mediaeval translators into verses,' which not only did not agree with, but often ran counter to, the original structure. The force of this unliterary tradition proved too strong even for the literary instincts of King James's translators. Accordingly, one who reads only the Authorized Version' incurs a double danger : if he reads his Bible by chapters he will, with. out knowing it, be often commencing in the middle of one composition and leaving off in the middle of another; while, in whatever way he may read it, he will know no dip- verse printed as tinction between prose and verse. It is only in prose our own day that a better state of things has arisen. The Church of England led the way by issuing its ' New Lectionary '; the new lessons will be found to differ from the old chiefly in the fact that the passages marked out for public reading are no longer limited by the beginnings and endings of chapters. Later still the 'Revised Version' of the Bible, whatever it may have left undone, has at all events made an attempt to rescue Biblical poetry from the reproach of being printed as prose.
It is to the latter of these two points — the distinction between verse and prose— that I address myself in the present chapter. No doubt the confusion of the two would have been impossible, were it not that the versification of the Bible is of a kind totally unlike that which prevails in English literature. Biblical verse is made neither by rhyme nor by numbering of syllables; its long- lost secret was discovered by Bishop Lowth more than a century after King James's time. Its underlying principle is found to be the symmetry of clauses in a verse, which has come to be called ' Parallelism.'
Hast thou given the horse his might?
Hast thou clothed his neck with the quivering mane?
Hast thou made him to leap as a locust?
The glory of his snorting is terrible.
He paweth in The valley, and rejoiceth in his strength:
He goeth out to meet the armed men.
He mocketh at fear, and is not dismayed;
Neither turneth he back from the sword.
The quiver rattleth against him,
The flashing spear and the javelin.
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage;
Neither standeth he still at the voice of the trumpet.
As oft as the trumpet soundeth he saith, Aha!
And he smelleth the battle afar off,
The thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
Rotherham Emphasized Bible of Job 39:19-26
Couldst thou give—to the Horse—strength?
(Article is continued in the PDF version.)
Couldst thou clothe his neck with the quivering mane?
Couldst thou cause him to leap like a locust?
The majesty of his snort, is a terror!
He diggeth into the plain, and rejoiceth in vigour,
He goeth forth to meet armour;
He laugheth at dread, and is not dismayed,
Neither turneth he back, from the face of the sword;
Against him, whiz the arrows of the quiver,
The flashing head of spear and javelin;
With stamping and rage, he drinketh up the ground,
He will not stand still when the horn soundeth;
As oft as the horn soundeth, he saith, Aha!
And, from afar, he scenteth the battle,
The thunder of commanders and the war-cry.
(When quoting scriptures, from the Rotherham Emphasized Bible New Testament, I will substitute the Hebrew words
Yahoshua (yeh-ho-shoo’- ah) for Jesus, Yahweh and Elohim for God and the LORD and ruah for pneuma (spirit).)