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matical forms of the Hebrew language in the verbs, and pronouns, and the plurals of nouns, are so simple and uniform, and bear so great a share in the termination of words, that similar endings must sometimes happen, and cannot well be avoided; but, so far from constituting an essential or principal part of the art of Hebrew versification, they seem to have been no object of attention and study, nor to have been industriously sought after as a favourite accessary ornament.
That the verses had something regular in their form and composition, seems probable from their apparent parity and uniformity, and the relation which they manifestly bear to the distribution of the sentence into its members. But as to the harmony and cadence, the metre or rhythm, of what kind they were, and by what laws regulated, these examples give us no light, nor afford us sufficient principles on which to build any theory, or to form any hypothesis. For harmony arises from the proportion, relation, and correspondence of different combined sounds; and verse from the arrangement of words, and the disposition of syllables, according to number, quantity, and accent; therefore the harmony and true modulation of verse depends upon a perfect pronunciation of the language, and a knowledge of the principles and rules of versification; and metre supposes an exact knowledge of the number and quantity of syllables, and, in some languages, of the accent. But the true pronunciation of Hebrew is lost; lost to a degree far beyond what can ever be the case of any European language preserved only in writing : for the Hebrew language, like most of the other Oriental languages, expressing only the consonants, and being destitute of its vowels, has lain now for two thousand years in a manner mute and incapable of utterance: the number of syllables is în a great many words uncertain ; the quantity and accent wholly unknown. We are ignorant, of all these particulars ; and incapable of acquiring any certain knowledge con
cerning them : how then is it possible for us to attain to the knowledge of Hebrew verse? That we know nothing of the quantity of the syllables in Hebrew, and of the number of them in many words, and of the accent, will hardly now be denied by any man: but if any should still maintain the authority of the Masoretical punctuation (though discordant in many instances from the imperfect remains of a pronunciation of much earlier date, and of better authority, that of the Seventy, of Origen, and other writers), yet it must be allowed that no one, according to that system, hath been able to reduce the Hebrew
poems to any sort of harmony.* And indeed it is not to be wondered, that rules of pronunciation, formed, as it is now generally admitted, above a thousand years after the language ceased to be spoken, should fail of giving us the true sound of Hebrew verse.
But if it was impossible for the Masoretes, assisted in some measure by a traditionary pronunciation, delivered down from their ancestors, to attain to a true expression of the Sounds of the language; how is it possible for us at this time, so much farther removed from the only source of knowledge in this case, the audible voice, to improve or to amend their system, or to supply a more genuine system in its place, which may answer our purpose better, and lay open to us the laws of Hebrew versification ? The pursuit is vain; the object of it lies beyond our reach ; it is not within the compass of human reason or invention. The question concerning Hebrew metre is now pretty much upon the same footing with that concerning the Greek accents. That there were certain laws of ancient Hebrew metre, is very probable; and that the living Greek language was modulated by certain rules of accent, is beyond dispute: but a man born deaf may as reasonably pretend to acquire an idea of sound, as the critic of these days to attain to the true modulation of Greek by accent, and of Hebrew by metre.t
See Hare, Prolegomena in Psalmos, p. xl. &c. + Sce a larger Confutation of Bishop Hare's Hebrew Metre, London, 1766; where I have fully treated of this subject.
Thus much then, I think, we may be allowed to infer from the alphabetical poems; namely, that the Hebrew poems are written in verse, properly so called ; that the harmony of the verses does not arise from rhyme, that is, from similar corresponding sounds terminating the verses; but from some sort of rhythm, probably from some sort of metre, the laws of which are now altogether unknown, and wholly undiscoverable: yet that there are evident marks of a certain correspondence of the verses with one another, and of a certain relation between the composition of the verses and the composition of the sentences; the formation of the former depending in some degree upon the distribution of the latter; so that generally periods coincide with stanzas, members with verses, and pauses of the one with pauses of the other; which peculiar form of composition is so observable, as plainly to discriminate in general the parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, which are written in verse, from those which are
This will require a larger and more minute explication; not only as a matter necessary to our present purpose; that is, to ascertain the character of the prophetical style in general, and of that of the prophet Isaiah in particular; but as a principle of considerable use, and of no small importance, in the interpretation of the poetical parts of the Old Testament.
The correspondence of one verse, or line, with another, I call parallelism. When a proposition is delivered, and à second is subjoined to it, or drawn under it, equivalent, or contrasted with it, in sense; or similar to it in the form of grammatical construction; these I call parallel lines; and the words or phrases, answering one to another in the corresponding lines, parallel terms.
Parallel lines may be reduced to three sorts ; parallels synonymous, parallels antithetic, and parallels synthetic. Of each of these I shall give a variety of examples, in order to shew the various forms under which they appear : first, from the books universally acknowledged to be poetical; then correspondent examples from
written in prose.
the prophet Isaiah ; and sometimes also from the other prophets ; to show, that the form and character of the composition is in all the same.
As some of the examples, which follow, are of many lines, the reader may perhaps note a single line or two intermixed, which do not properly belong to that class under which they are ranged. These are retained, to preserve the connexion and harmony of the whole passage: and it is to be observed, that the several sorts of parallels are perpetually mixed with one another; and this mixture gives a variety and beauty to the composition.
First of parallel lines synonymous: that is, which correspond one to another by expressing the same sense in different, but equivalent terms; when a proposition is delivered, and is immediately repeated, in the whole or in part, the expression being varied, but the sense entirely, or nearly the same. As in the following examples :
O-Jehovah, in-thy-strength the-king shall-rejoice;
And-the-request of-his-lips thou-bast-not denied.” Psal. xxi. 1, 2. “ Because I called, and-ye-refused;
1-stretched-out my-band, and-no-one regarded:
And-the-security of-fools shall-destroy them.” Prov. j. 24–32. “ Seek-ye Jehovah, while-he-may-be-found;
And-the-unrighteous man his-thoughts :
And-unto our-God, for he-aboundeth in-forgiveness." Isa. lv. 6, 7. « Fcar not, for thou-sbalt-not be-ashamed;
And-blush not, for thou-shalt-not be-brought-to-reproach:
Isa. liv. 4. “ Hearken unto-me, ye-that-know righteousness;
The-people in-whose-heart is-my-law:
Isa, li. 7, 8. “Like-mighty-men shall-they-rush-on;
Like-warriors shall-they-mount the wall:
And-they-shall-not turn-aside from-their paths.” Joel ii. 7. “ Blessed-is the-man, that-feareth Jehovah;
That-greatly delighteth in-his-commandments.” Psal. cxii. 1. “ Hearken unto-me, O-house of-Jacob; And-all the-rempant of-the-house of-Israel."
Isa. xlvi. 3. “ Honour Jehovah with-thy-riches ; And-with the-first-fruits of-all thine-increase."
Prov. iii. 9. “ Incline your-ear, and-come unto-me; Hearken, and-your-soul shall-live.”
Isa. lv. 3. In the foregoing* examples may be observed the different degrees of synonymous parallelism. The parallel lines sometimes consist of three or more synonymous terms; sometimes of two; which is generally the case, when the verb, or the nominative case of the first sentence is to be carried on to the second, or understood there; sometimes of one only: as in the four last examples. There are also among the foregoing a few instances, in which the lines consist each of double members, or two propositions. I shall add one or two more of these, very perfect in their kind: “ Bow thy heavens, O Jehovah, and descend; Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke:
The terms in English, consisting of several words, are hitherto distingnished with marks of connexion; to shew, that they answer to single words in Hebrew.