Emblematic parallelism is one of several varieties of parallelism found in the poetic books of the Bible (others include synonymous parallelism, antithetical parallelism, and synthetic parallelism). These books include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and a few of the prophetic books in the Old Testament. The word emblematic is etymologically derived from the word emblem, which means "symbol." Parallelism occurs in poetry when lines are intentionally placed together to create comparison, contrast, or enhancement of a meaning.
What is the literary device of emblematic parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
Proverbs 25:11 is an excellent example of emblematic parallelism:
"A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."
Emblematic parallelism generally uses similes or metaphors to compare one thing to another. In this proverb, a word spoken at the right time is like a delicious, precious fruit. This parallelism weaves beauty into the adage, and the poetry is richer because of the device that is being used.
Emblematic parallelism always compares the first line to the next, but it is not to be confused with synonymous parallelism. The lines in emblematic parallelism are reliant on each other, unlike synonymous. Synonymous parallelism does not make comparisons, but repeats a similar concept. If Proverbs 25:11 were written in synonymous parallelism, it would read:
"A word fitly spoken
is a phrase said at the right time."
Another example of emblematic parallelism is found in Proverbs 27:15:
"A continual dripping on a rainy day
and a quarrelsome wife are alike."
This couplet compares a repetitive annoyance with a spouse who picks fights. The emblem, or symbol, in this couplet is a continual drip. One may feel trapped in his house on a rainy day, just as he may feel trapped in an argument. Many emblematic devices are found in the Proverbs because they teach lessons through lively word choice.
Proverbs 27:17 is one of the more popular proverbs:
"Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another."
The emblem in this proverb is iron, which becomes stronger and more useful when sharpened with another iron. This is compared to a person who becomes stronger and more useful when in a relationship with a friend. The proverb is teaching that humans are made better when sharing life with each other. We all have the ability to become sharper in spirit when we are friends with other believers.
Parallelism in Hebrew poetry is found all throughout the Old Testament. Understanding the poetic devices used and other technical writing devices used in the Bible develops a deeper appreciation of how we connect to God through writing.
Why should we study the Bible?
How is the Bible inspired? What does it mean for the Bible to be inspired?
What is the literary device of antithetical parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
What is the literary device of synonymous parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
What is the literary device of synthetic parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
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