Genres in the Bible: part 2: Prose and Poetry


You’re listening to Tim Bulkeley’s five-minute Bible
part two of the series “Genres in the Bible”
this time “Prose and Poetry” because one of the biggest
distinctions between different kinds of material in the Bible
is the distinction between prose and poetry So, let’s look at it we’ll begin with the question: What is
poetry? and as a bonus extra I’ll give you your big word of the day
and then we’ll ask how do prose and poetry work differently
from each other? and then, we’ll think about where there is poetry in Scripture
So, lets get started i’ve wasted enough time already
What is poetry? well it’s quite difficult to define but some characteristics seem to be very
commonly present in poetry and less commonly present in prose prose just being the opposite of poetry Poetry is terse it uses few words
poetry uses vivid imagery, its emotive and at least in the Bible poetry uses
parallelism let’s look at those: it’s terse and viviid
and uses imagery Lord, you have been our dwelling place in
all generations before the mountains were brought forth
or ever you had formed the earth and the world from everlasting to
everlasting you are God even in English you can tell that is not using very many words and it uses
about twice as many in English as it does in Hebrew at it uses pictures before the mountains were brought forth
we are not to picture God as an enormous elephant giving birth to mountains but the language is highly vivid and it
gives us a strong impression of how God has been from always, and will be to always,
you know this big word? its parallelism, I’ve already used it 😉
by parallelism we mean the way in which Hebrew and indeed other Northwest
Semitic and north Semitic poetries in the ancient world had lines that echoed each other
the echoing is semantic rather than sound, its meaning rather than
sound, the meaning echoes between the lines and the lines
are of similar length now, thesefeatures are found in prose but they’re not common and they are not
strongly marked they are the hallmark of poetry
and I’ll come back as i said to the question of whether there is such a
thing as Hebrew poetry later on “Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, for a thousand years are in your sight like yesterday when its past like a watch in the night you sweep them
away there like a dream like grass that’s
renewed in the morning in the morning it flourishes and is renewed”
Hear the echoing? “in the evening it fades and withers”
That’s parallelism How do prose and poetry work differently? Well, prose is good with information and
ideas if you want to get some information
across, some facts or a story (because prose is good for
telling stories) prose will work much better than poetry
though you can still tell stories in poetry
but on the other hand poetry – with those pictures and that
emotion is really good with feelings and with emotions
poetry arouses us to action so they are good for different purposes Where is there poetry in Scripture? well, first of all, there are whole books of it Psalms, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Job then there arepoems and songs in other books
like Lamech’s song in Genesis 4:23b-24 or big ones like Deborah’s song in Judges 5 and then there’s speech that’s halfway between some of the prophets writings are poetry
some are prose but most are somewhere between the two and their fragments of poetry in the New
Testament too that’s today’s podcast tomorrow, or rather, next time Does Hebrew poetry even exist
it’s a kind of “excursus” getting back the series proper after that we’ll deal with some with the big genres
the genres that take-up whole parts of the Bible
like: narrative, psalm, letter, prophecy, wisdom, gospel. and so on god bless and bye for now

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