Synonymous parallelism is a poetic device used to amplify and emphasize an important idea. This kind of parallelism takes the form of a couplet, or two back-to-back parallel lines. The first line states an idea, and the second line rephrases the same idea in different words and imagery, which makes them synonymous. Synonymous parallelism is one of many different parallelism devices used in Hebrew poetry, each catalogued by Robert Lowth, an eighteenth century Anglican bishop. Three other common parallel devices are antithetical parallelism, emblematic parallelism, and synthetic parallelism, although synonymous parallelism is the most commonly found.
What is the literary device of synonymous parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
In English poetry, rhymes are frequently a kind of parallelism found at the end of couplets:
"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night."
("The Tyger" by William Blake)
End rhyme is similar to synonymous parallelism in that it creates rhythm and cohesion. However, it is different because it focuses on audible similarities instead of primarily thought similarities.
Synonymous parallelism is woven all throughout the Psalms and Proverbs. Here is an example of the thought harmony produced when synonymous parallelism is used in Psalm 120:2:
"Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue."
Observe how "lying lips" and "a deceitful tongue" are similar concepts that are amplified in importance when placed next to each other. The meanings are synonymous.
Many verses, such as Proverbs 3:11, contain multiple pairs of word synonyms.
"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline
or be weary of his reproof."
In this verse, the verbs "despise" and "be weary" (or "resent" in other translations) are quite similar ideas, just as the nouns "discipline" and "reproof" are similar. These pairs of synonymous ideas side-by-side are what create synonymous parallelism in Hebrew poetry. They serve to emphasize a strong idea.
Some prophetic books of the Bible also contain poetry, such as Isaiah 53:5:
"But He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities."
The prophet Isaiah creates cadence in his claim that Jesus will suffer for mankind's sins. This verse is so memorable, arguably more so than many other verses in the prophetic books, because of the structure. Synonymous parallelism, by reverberation, taps its way into our minds.
This literary device is one of the many devices in Hebrew poetry that makes the Bible such a rich piece of literature. We can use synonymous parallelism to find ideas and concepts that the author wants to amplify in meaning or wants us to remember.
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 emblematic parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
What is the literary device of synthetic parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?
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