Parallelism in Hebrew Writing
A common literary feature of Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament is called parallelism, in which the words of two or more lines of text are directly related in some way. This feature can be found in any poetic passage, and sometimes even in narrative, although it is more common in the Psalms and Proverbs.
Recognizing parallelism as a poetic feature can sometimes aid in understanding or interpreting a passage. For example, the use of parallelism usually means that the message of the text is in the larger passage and its overall point or impact rather than individual words or single lines. Also, specific words that may be ambiguous or used in unusual ways can be clarified or more narrowly defined by seeing them in the context of a parallel structure.
The following types of parallel structure are attempts to organize this feature of Hebrew poetic writing as an aid to reading and study. It should be kept in mind that Old Testament writers were very creative, and a great number of variations and combinations of these basic types occur in the biblical text.
I. Synonymous-the second line repeats the first in different words having the same meaning.
II. Synthetic- the second line (or following lines) adds to the first
III. Antithetic- the second line contrasts with the first.
IV. Climactic- successive lines build to a climax or summary.
V. Eclectic- combination of different types interwoven.
VI. Emphatic - synonymous words used for emphasis
Another feature that is sometimes included within the idea of parallelism is the use of several words or a series of words to refer to the same thing for emphasis. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the terms heart, soul, and might do not refer to separate parts of a person, but are actually synonymous referring simply to the person (see Body and Soul: Greek and Hebraic Tensions in Scripture).
This also exhibits another poetic feature of Hebrew literature in which references to a single part of something represents the whole. For example, "from Dan to Beersheba " in 1 Sam 3:20 means the whole country of Israel, from north to south. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the three emphatic synonymous terms referring to the whole person place the emphasis on loving God totally and fully.