In the previous post, I introduced the theological premise, supersessionism. Supersessionism is a theological principle that has been used for evil purposes. I also introduced a very important Jewish theological perspective for understanding creation, heaven, history, time and eschatology.
In this post, I will discuss Jewish parallelism, and how it informs meaning when reading Jewish texts. The book of Hebrews must be included within the genres of Jewish literature. We read documents depending on the genre, and with it in mind we are able to better interpret the meaning of the text. I don’t read a supermarket shopping list with the same weight of importance, or with literary devices such as metaphor, symbolic meanings, or parody. On the other hand, I do look for these literary devices in a poetry. I will demonstrate another literary device called parallelism.
The Literary device called parallelism is closely associated with the biblical prophetic texts such as Isaiah. I think the author of Hebrews is very fond of parallelism. The writer is also using the genre of Midrash in writing the book of Hebrews, but that is for the next post. In this post, I will focus on Parallelism.
Let’s look at Psalm 102.25(26):
Of old You founded the earth;
and your hands’ works are the heavens.
The first feature to note is “earth” and “heavens”. This is called a merism, where a opposite word pairs put together indicate a whole. Using this device, we know that the writer is communicating that HaShem created everything. We can also note the abstract to particular idea flow in the verbs. “You founded” is somewhat abstracted. But the writer follows with “your hands’ works, which indicates direct involvement in making the creation.
The next example is Hebrews 1:1: My translation
In many portions and in many ways long ago,
HaShem spoke to the fathers by the prophets.
Following the Greek word order, notice that only the second line has a verb. Hebrew parallelism does this often, and the meaning is that the same verb is implied in the line lacking a verb. Say, “HaShem spoke…” at the start of the first line and again as is for the second line. The first line is meaningless without the second line. The second line seems unremarkable without the first line. By fronting the two genetive phrases, the writer casts a focus on “HaShem spoke…”. Also, notices the general to specific is happening again. “Many portions” is related “to the fathers”, who each received a portion of HaShem’s revelation. “In many ways” is tied with “by the prophets”. An abstract idea is relayed through the prophet in particular.
The writer of Hebrews formed the words of Heb1:1 to sound like the biblical prophets. Using parallelism heightens the imagination. The Jewish listener readily picks up this sort of pattern and senses the meaning of what is to follow. With this verse the sense is that HaShem has been working all this time, through His people Israel to finally reach this magnificent revelation of the Son, King Messiah, who promises to restore Zion and save His people! It is magical! I think of the Sabbath song! Psalm126:1-2:
A song of ascents
When HaShem restores the fortunes of Zion
–we see it as in a dream–
our mouths shall be filled with laughter,
our tongues, with songs of joy.Amen!