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STROPHIC FORMS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT:

Inflicting Stripes in a Dutch Synagogue of the Early Eighteenth Century.(From Pleart.)

The strophe may be defined as a union of several lines into one rhythmic whole. Certain evidence points to the occurrence of strophic formations in poems of old Hebrew literature; for instance, a number of passages in Psalms contain phrases which are repeated at the end of a regular number of verses: Ps. xxxix. (end of verses 6 and 12 [Hebr. text, as throughout article]): "Every man is but vanity"; Ps. xlii. (verses 6 and 12) and xliii. (5): "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? For I shall continually praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God"; Ps. xlvi. (verses 8 and 12): "Yhwh Sebaoth is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." In the last example cited two sections of four verseseach are terminated by this formula, while the preceding part contains only three verses; accordingly it has been suggested with good reason that, originally, the same confession of faith stood after verse 4 also. Such identical, or similar, phrases, marking the end of the symmetrical parts of a poem, may be called refrains; similar instances are met with in Ps. xlix. 13, 21 (A.V. 12, 20); lvii. 6, 12; lix. 6, 12, 18.

L. Philippson, in his "Kommentar zu den Psalmen" (1856), pp. 370 et seq., cites other poems in which this special kind of epanalepsis occurs, though only sporadically: II Sam. i. 19, 25, 27; Ps. lvi. 5, 11 et seq.; lxii. 2 et seq., 6 et seq.; lxvii. 4, 6; lxxx. 4, 8, 20; cvii. 6, 8, 13, 15, 19, 21, 28, 31; cxvi. 14, 18. But again, in Ps. cxxxvi., every second line (stichos) is identical, and the same refrain, "For His mercy endureth for ever," is met with fourteen times in the newly discovered Sira text ("The Wisdom of Ben Sira," ed. Schechter and Taylor, 1899; comp. the refrain, "Incipe Mænalios mecum, mea tibia !" in Vergil, "Ecloga," viii. 21, 31, 36, 42, 46, 51, 57). Another sign of the strophic arrangement of the poem is the succession of the initial letters in the following alphabetic poems: Ps. ix. and xxxvii., where each two lines are connected; Lam. iii., where every three lines begin with the same letter; and Ps. cxix., where the same letter introduces every group of eight lines.

Extent of Strophic Characteristics.

However, not the whole of the poetical part of the Old Testament is in this sense strophic. In parts of these poems line may succeed line, just as, for instance, in many poetical works of the Greeks, the hexameters follow each other, in uninterrupted succession. Nevertheless it may be questioned whether a further extension of the strophic formation in Hebrew poetry may be recognized from any other peculiarities. Are the logical divisions of a poem signs of a strophic organization? Without doubt the progressive development of the thought is clearly discernible in Ps. ii. (1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12); and in the following cases the logical divisions may be recognized with almost the same certainty: Ps. iii. 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; xii. 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; xvii. 1-5, 6-12, 13-15; xxxvi. 2-5, 6-10, 11-13; lxxxv. 2-4, 5-8, 9-14; cxiv. 1-4, 5-8; cxxviii. 1, 2 et seq., 4, 5 et seq.; cxxx. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; cxxxix. 1-6, 7-12, 13-18, 19-24; Job iii. 3-10, 11-19, 20-26. In these cases an identical or very similar wording is chosen for the different aspects of the theme which the poet wished to develop, and the relative dissimilarity of the form, which was noticeable in some of the passages cited, may have been due to the fact that the Hebrew poets aimed at only a material symmetry (see Poetry). One may speak, therefore, with good reason of logical strophes in the poems which have been cited as examples.

But such logical divisions are not found in all poems. While Ps. i., for instance, may be divided into three corresponding sections, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, or into two, 1-3, 4-6, and Ps. iv. is rightly divided into 2, 3 et seq., 5-6, 7-8, and 9 (Delitzsch and others), Psalms like cv. and cvi. do not show even a material symmetry in the nature of a logical division. Nor is the Selah an independent sign of a strophe.

Recent Views.

Recently the so-called "responsion" has been made to count as a characteristic of strophes in the Old Testament. According to D. H. Müller, in his "Die Propheten in Ihrer Ursprünglichen Form" (1895), "that which is parallelism in the verse is the responsion in the strophe and in discourse"; and, "when the responsion is rigidly carried out, each line of one strophe answers to the corresponding line of the second strophe, either literally or metaphorically, parallelly or antithetically" (p. 191). Such an agreement between the parts of a longer section is of itself not wholly natural, because the hearer or the reader would be compelled to keep the preceding verses in mind in order to notice the correspondence. The inventor of this theory has failed in his very first example (Amos i. 3-5, 6-8), since he finds in this section "two strophes of five lines which are separated by a double verse as refrain (4 and 7)." But the correspondence between verses 5 and 8 consists only in the fact that the words "and I will cut off the inhabitant" are used in 5b and 8a, and the words "and him that holdeth the scepter" in 5c and 8b. But, first, the identical expressions do not stand in parallel lines; and, secondly, these expressions lie so near to hand that they would naturally be used twice in warning two cities. Müller has endeavored (p. 200) to find another proof for the strophe in the so-called "concatenation," and he seeks it, for example, in the two phrases "I will tear" () and "he tore" (; Hos. v. 14b and vi. 1a). But this is only an anadiplosis, which is met with also in the classical orators (e.g., Cicero, "Oratio Catilinaria," i. 1). He finds "inclusion" to be an evidence of the strophic character of poetry—for instance, in the correspondence between "reviling" and "revile" (Zeph. ii. 8, 10). But this can not possibly be accepted as a proof that Zephaniah endeavored to divide his prophecies into strophes, nor has Müller been able to establish the correctness of his views in his later book "Strophenbau und Responsion" (1898).

J. K. Zenner, in his book "Die Chorgesänge im Buch der Psalmen" (1896), has endeavored to demonstrate the existence of an alternate strophe. He made Ps. cxxxii. the chief object of his research, and as a result placed lines 1a, b after lines 10a, b, because "their responsion had to be made more complete." But this would amount to imposing a mechanical, schematic character on the psalm. He says, further, "First, one chorus sings the first strophe (2-5); then the second chorus answers with a responding strophe (11 et seq.); hereupon follows a strophe (6, 13, 7, 14) in which the two choruses alternate verse for verse (alternate strophe); this is concluded with a second strophe by the first chorus (8-10, and 1), and a second strophe in response by the second chorus (11-18)." In the first place, however, no sufficient reason can be brought forward as to why this order of the verses was not preserved in copying the poem, if it had been so intended. In the second place, it would be unnatural for Yhwh's statement, "This is my rest for ever" (14) to be followed by the exhortation, "Arise, O Lord, into thy rest" (8). Nivard Schloegl ("Canticum Canticorum Hebraice," 1902) is no more convincing in his theorythat ii. 7 and iii. 5 of the Song of Solomon are "versus intercalares." In the opinion of the present writer, all these modern theories are too artificial to suit the old Hebrew poetry. The poets of the Old Testament placed emphasis on the development of ideas rather than on the construction of form.

Bibliography:
  • Julius Ley, Leitfaden der Metrik der Hebräischen Poesie, 1887, pp. 30 et seq.;
  • Ed. Sievers, Metrische Untersuchungen, 1901, § 103 (opposes the theories of D. H. Müller).
  • A list of older works on the strophe in the Old Testament may be found in Ed. König, Stilistik, Rhetorik, Poetik, 1900, pp. 346 et seq.
E. G. H. E. K.
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