The strophic structure of ancient Hebrew affective and reflective distress poetry, on the example of the speeches of Job

Keywords: Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, poetry, biblical poetry, strophe, verse

The paper suggests that there is enough reason to maintain the genre of distress poetry in Ancient Hebrew poetry. It helps to overcome the limits of the poetical corpora of psalms, prophets and wisdom overestimated so far in research history, and to see connections between texts that seem different at first glance. Even though in ancient times there seem to have been nobody to consider the category of distress poetry, it still has a functional role nowadays. The present small study requires a multilayered, redaction-critical look at the Book of Job and other poetical texts, which reveals hitherto unnoticed relationships between the texts. The paper focuses, however, on the distinction between affective and reflective undercurrents in the distress poetry. The first poet of Job was aware of the distinction and made it visible in form by varying the length of the strophes. As for the speeches of Job, a considerable number of poetical figures help us to delimit the original strophes of three and four bicola, correlating with the affective and reflective undercurrents, respectively. The speeches with an original structure of three bicola per strophe mostly lament and describe the distress (Job 3*; 6–7*; 16–17*; examples discussed in 16:12–16*; 6:8–13*; 3:3+7–8*+10–12), whereas the speeches with four bicola per strophe quarrel and polemicize with friends and God, and plea for righteousness (9–10*; 12–14*; 19*; 21*; examples 9:15–16*+19–20+27–28+30–31; 12:2 – 3*+13:5–6). Support for the three-part strophes can be drawn from lamentations, like those in the Book of Lamentations (e.g. 2:11–12), and for the four-part strophes from traditional didactic poetry, such as in the Book of Ben Sira or, found in its most regular form, in the ­Masada manuscript (e.g. 41:17–19). Furthermore, the paper discusses a few ex­amples of the motif of transience in some younger literary additions to the speeches of Job (21:23–26 and 14:1–2+5–10* of one type and 7:16–18 of another, the so-called ’enōš-type). In those, the affective and reflective undercurrents start to mix, which can be observed through formal shifts, e.g., in the verse metre of inverted Qinah or in the use of a more complex strophic structure.


Urmas Nõmmik (b. 1975), dr. theol. habil., University of Tartu, Associate Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies (Ülikooli 18-310, 50090 Tartu),


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