(oral tradition) the chicken(poetry) or the egg(prose)?

Andrew C Smith a.c.smith at juno.com
Sun Sep 6 05:59:11 EDT 1998

Paul Z. wrote:

>If poetry in the early Hebrew writings are not a mnenomic device, what
>*you* propose as the reason for its wide use?

Why do people write poetry instead of prose? Why are many of
Shakespeare's works in poetry instead of prose? or Goethe's? Perhaps
because poetry can add an affective element to the cognitive
communication? or because it's more entertaining? or because the
artificial structure helps the audience/reader/listener to follow the
structure of the plot? Sections of the Tanakh were clearly intended to be
read aloud to groups.

>I personally do not accept
>that poetry sounded more "natural" to the Hebrew ear than does prose. 
>variations from established prose rules do not seem accidental or purely
>free, IMO.

I agree. It should be noted that both poetry and prose each have rather
complicated systems of rules governing them. It's simply that the rules
about prose have been learned at a very early age and so are used
subsciously/unconsciously. The rules of poetry are learned later in life
and are used consciously/deliberately.

A native English speaker doesn't "feel" like he's following many
complicated rules when he has a casual conversation about the weather or
sports, but he is. When the same guy writes poetry, he is also following
lots of rules, but in that case, he's aware of it.

Ditto for the ancient Hebrew?

- Andy Smith

Note Bryan's recent post on the Psalm and 2 Samuel passages.
>Although he did not call it to our attention, most of the verbs in the
>passages *were* in the same form in both.  And, since one of the main
>characteristics of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, is it really reasonable
>expect that the "free-est" form of writing, the one chosen because it
>the fewest rules, would be the one that requires the author to come up
>so many synonymous or antonymous (is that a word?) forms?

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