In no nation was the union of the two requisites of which we have spoken found in fuller measure than among the Hebrews. Theirs was eminently a poetic temperament; their earliest history was a heroic without ceasing to be a historic age, whilst the loftiest of all truths circulated in their souls, and glowed on ,and started from their lips. Hence their language, in its earliest stages, is surpassingly poetic. Let the reader peruse, even in our translation, the first chapters of Genesis, or parts of the Book of Job, and he can but perceive the poetic element in which these noble compo sitions have almost their essence. And hence the difficulty of determining, with accuracy, the time when a poetic diction, strictly so termed, began to make its appearance. Partially, such a diction must he recognized in the earliest specimens we have of Hebrew poetry, nor is it hard to trace, if not in words, yet in coloring and manner, signs of this imaginative dress ; but the process was not completed, the diction was not thoroughly formed, until the Hebrew bard had produced his highest strains, and tried his powers on various species of composition. The period when this excellence was reached was the age of Solomon, when the rest, peace, opulence, and culture which were the fruits of the lofty mind and proud achievements of David, had had time to bring their best fruits to maturity—a ripeness to which the Israelite history had in various ways contrib uted during many successive generations.
(5) Parallelisms. The chief characteristics, however, of Hebrew poetry are found in the pe culiar form in which it gives utterance to its ideas. This form has received the name of 'par allelism.' Ewald justly prefers the term 'thought rhythm,' since the rhythm, the music, the pe culiar flow and harmony of the verse and of the poem, lie in the distribution of the sentiment in such a manner that the full import does not come out in less than a distich. It is to this peculiarity, which is obviously in the substance and not the mere form of the poetry, that the translation of the Psalms in our Bibles owes much of its re markable character, and is distinguished from prose by terms clearly and decidedly poetic; and many though the imperfections are which attach, some almost necessarily, to that version, still it retains so much of the form and substance, of the simple beauty, and fine harmony of the orig inal Hebrew, that we give it a preference over most poetic translations, and always feel disposed to warn away from this holy ground the rash hands that often attempt, with no fit preparation, to touch the sacred harp of Zion.
Those who wish to enter thoroughly into the subject of Hebrew rhythm are referred to the most recent and best work on the subject, by the learned Hebrew scholar, Ewald, who has trans lated into German all the poetical books of the Old Testament (Die Poet. Bucher des Alten
Bundes, 1835-9, 4 vols, 8vo, vol. i, pp. 57-92). A shorter and more simple account will better suit these pages; which we take in substance from Gesenius Lesebuch, 17th edit, by De Wette, Leipzig, 1844). The leading principle is that a simple verse or distich consists, both in regard to form and substance, of two corre sponding members : this has been termed Hebrew rhythm or Parallelimus membrorum. Three kinds may be specified.
(1) There is first the synonymous parallelism; which consists in this, that the two members ex press the same thought in different•words, so that sometimes word answers to word: for example— 'What is man that thou art mindful of him, And the son of man that thou carest for him!' Ps. viii :4.
There is in some cases an inversion in the second line— 'The heavens relate the glory of God, And the work of his hands the firmament de clares.' Ps. xix :2. 'He maketh his messengers the winds, His ministers the flaming lightning.' Ps. civ :4.
Very often the second member repeats only a part of the first 'Woe to them that join house to house, That field to field unite.' Is. v :8.
Sometimes the verb which stands in the first member is omitted in the second '0 God, thy justice give the king, And thy righteousness to the king's son.' Ps. lxxii :1.
Or the verb may be in the second member— 'With the jawbone of an ass heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thou sand men.' Judg. xv:16.
The second member may contain an expansion of the first— 'Give to Jehovah, ye sons of God, Give to Jehovah glory and praise.' Ps. xxix:I.
Indeed the varieties are numerous, since the synonymous parallelism is very frequent.
(2) The second kind is the antithetic, in which the first member is illustrated by some opposition of thought contained in the second. This less customary kind of parallelism is found mostly in the Proverbs— 'The full man treadeth the honeycomb under foot, To the hungry every bitter thing is sweet.' Prov. xxvii :7.
Under this head comes the following, with other similar examples— 'Day to day uttereth instruction, And night to night sheweth knowledge.' (3) The third kind is denominated the syn thetic: probably the term epithetic would be more appropriate, since the second member, not being a mere echo of the first, subjoins something new to it, while the same structure of the verse is pre served; thus— 'He appointed the moon for seasons; The sun knoweth his going down.' Ps. civ 'The law of Jehovah is perfect, reviving the soul ; The precepts of Jehovah are sure, instructing the simple.' Ps. xix :7.