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Glossary of technical literary terms
This is offered not as an exhaustive list of all terms used in a technical sense to describe literary form, but as a starter, highlighting those of most immediate relevance to Biblical studies.
- One or more short syllables preparatory to the normal pattern of a line.
- Repetition of the last word or phrase in one line to form the first word or phrase in the next.
- Assonance, consonance, alliteration
- All of these terms refer to variations on the theme of repeating a particular sound several times in close proximity, to establish links in the hearer's understanding. Assonance repeats internal vowels, alliteration repeats starting sounds, consonance repeats consonants with differing vowel sounds (the most common form in Hebrew).
- A pattern similar to a palindome (the same backwards as forwards, such as “Madam I'm Adam”) in which outer layers may be successively removed to reveal internal content. This may happen within a few words, as in Exodus 15:15, "then troubled were the leaders of Edom, the chieftains of Mo'ab seized by trembling", or may be seen on a larger scale, such as in Psalm 3:7-9, a complex structure with numerous layers. It can also be detected as helping to shape a whole narrative, for example the entirety of the book of Jonah. It appears to be a commonly used practice amongst many ancient cultures, though Biblical Hebrew displays it to a large and complex degree (Ugaritic, in comparison, has only simpler or shorter-range examples). The chiastic structure is an aid to memory, and seems also designed to serve several narrative or poetic purposes. It often draws attention to the central phrases, about which the narrative turns (in Psalm 3 the hinge is a prayer), and it is, perhaps paradoxically, used to highlight progression or intensification, since the "unwinding" of the layers usually has a different focus. In Psalm 3, the early verses speak of the psalmist's personal circumstances, and the later ones of wider, more social issues. there are a number of similar constructions, called by various names such as ring or envelope structures. Chiasmus is a most important stylistic feature of the Hebrew Bible and other ancient works.
- This indicates that two words of the same kind are being used connected by “and” (the literal meaning being “One by means of two”), rather than a word+descriptive term. The words can either both be nouns (noun hendiadys, replacing noun + adjective) or verbs (verbal hendiadys, replacing verb + adverb). For example, Psalm 55:6 has "and fear and terror" with the significance "and terrible fear".
- Hypotaxis and parataxis
- These terms describe two different ways in which relationships between successive ideas are expressed. In parataxis, the main elements are placed in a sequence of simple phrases, linked together by the conjunction and (or variations such as but). In hypotaxis, relations are specified as subordinate clauses joined by temporal or relational links such as when, although, after, etc. The Old Testament largely uses parataxis, but many modern translations use hypotaxis extensively, as it is seen by modern readers as providing more interest and variety. However, the narrative pace is changed by doing this, and certain deliberate breaks in the pattern are obscured. An (invented) example of the same idea, rendered in the two different styles is: "When Joseph arrived at the field, he spoke to his brothers, urging them to come home even though they were unwilling", and "Joseph arrived at the field and spoke to his brothers and said 'come home' but they would not".
- Merismus or denumeration
- Dividing a whole thing into parts, usually by starting with a general fact or statement and then itemising specific points.