In our final adult education class on the Psalms on Sunday, Susan and Rob Rieske offered us further exploration on the Psalms through helping us understand a few of the literary devices at play in the Psalms, specifically through poetry.
In contrast to contemporary English poetry, which is primarily concerned with rhyme and meter, Hebrew poetry was predominantly characterized by parallelism.
Parallelism indicates similarity between lines and phrases. Synonymous parallelism means two ideas build off of each other, such as in Psalm 72:1: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!” In the second part of synonymous parallelism, there is usually an extra element or an expansion added.
In antithetical parallelism, or contrastive parallelism, the same thought is repeated using opposite language, like in Psalm 18:27: “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”
In emblematic parallelism, or comparative parallelism, comparisons are at play in simile and metaphor, like in Psalm 42:1: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
Step parallelism demonstrates when ideas build off each other in several steps, like in Psalm 29:1-2 (with the repetition of the verb, “ascribe”): “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.”
Click here to download Susan and Rob Rieske’s list of further resources: Some Resources on the Psalms .