Encountering the Old Testament, 3rd Edition

A Christian Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


19. Introduction to the Poetical Books: The Literature of God's People

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Name the poetical books of the Old Testament
  • Describe the four common characteristics of Hebrew poetry
  • Define the types of parallelism
  • Define and give examples of chiasm
  • Explain how an acrostic is used as a literary device in poetry
  • Explain how the discovery of the Ugaritic language has enhanced our understanding of Hebrew poetry

Chapter Summary

  1. The poetical books are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.
  2. Meter, parallelism, chiasm, and acrostics all play a role in Hebrew poetry.
  3. Hebrew poetry has three basic types of parallelism—synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic.
  4. Chiasm is a literary device in which the content of parallel lines of poetry is reversed. Chiasm also sometimes applies to larger units of verse such as an entire psalm.
  5. Acrostic poetry is written with the first word of every line in alphabetic order.
  6. The cuneiform language spoken in ancient Ugarit is called Ugaritic. It has an alphabetic script made up of thirty signs.
  7. Ugaritic contributes to a better understanding of the Hebrew text in that it adds clarity to rare Hebrew words; it uses the same style of parallelism; and it provides background about the polytheism of ancient Israel’s time.
  8. Job is important because it looks at the question of why good people sometimes suffer.
  9. The book of Psalms has given us many songs from ancient Israel.
  10. Proverbs provides us with practical guidelines for living.
  11. Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life.
  12. Song of Songs focuses on the joy of romantic love.

Study Questions

  1. What are some of the common characteristics of Hebrew poetry? How does biblical poetry differ from much of our modern poetry?
  2. How would you explain parallelism to someone who had never heard of it?
  3. Describe the significance of the Ugaritic tablets to the study of the Bible, particularly to Hebrew poetry.