Doubling, or repeating, is a characteristic feature of Hebrew. Hebrew loves to say things twice (or more!) by adding equivalents. Words, phrases, sentences, and even stories, are doubled (or tripled). Sometimes, this doubling is quite complex, for example: "The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of Teman will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." (Lk.11-31-32;Mt.12:41-42).
One of the most important Hebraisms is known as "parallelism," expressing the same thought in two or more different, though synonymous, ways. "Parallelism" is the hallmark of Hebrew poetry.
Rather than invest energy in refining a definition of "parallelism," let's gain a feeling for this feature of Hebrew by looking at a few examples from the Hebrew scriptures.
The Book of Psalms is full of parallelism. The book's first verse contains a 3-part parallelism: who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
or stand in the way of sinners,
or sit in the seat of mockers. (Ps 1:1;NIV)
The prophet Amos transmits God's message: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24;RSV)
Again God speaks in parallelism through the mouth of Moses: "They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols." (Deut.32:21;RSV)
Mary used parallelism in her poetic praise of God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." (Lk.1:46-47;RSV)
Each of the two sides,or ribs, of a parallelism has the meaning of the other. Roughly speaking, whatever one side of a parallelism means, its other side means the same. More than half the words in the Hebrew Bible appear only once or twice, but happily, often in a parallelism. Sometimes, the only clue scholars have to a rare biblical vocabulary item's meaning is its known equivalent, its opposite found in a parallelism.
You could say that "parallelism" is the essence of the Hebrew language. Parallelism is pervasive in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in poetry. A prophet could scarely open his or her mouth without parallelisms popping out. Likewise, parallelisms are everywhere in the synoptic Gospels, especially in the sayings of Jesus, an indication that the Greek of these Gospels is derived from a Greek source translated from Hebrew.
Here is a sampling of the many doublets and parallelisms we find in the sayings of Jesus:
"The wise and understanding" (Lk.10:21); "prophets and apostles" (Lk.11:49); "kings and governors" (Lk.21:12); "two men will be in the field...two women will be grinding with a handmill" (Mt.24:40-41); "look at the birds of the heaven...consider the lilies of the field" (Mt.6:26,28); "they make their phylacteries wide...and their tassels long" (Mt.23:5); "when you see a cloud rising in the west...when you see the southwind blowing" (Lk12:54,55); "a reed shaken by the wind...a man dressed in fancy clothes" (Mt.11:7-8, Lk.7:24-25); "eating and drinking...a glutton and a drunkard...tax collectors and sinners"(Mt. 11:19, Lk.7:34); "you are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world" (Mt.5:13,14); "as it was in the days of Noah...as it was in the days of Lot" (Lk 17:26,28); and "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (Mt.24:7; Mk.13:8, Lk. 21:10).
Please fill in the blanks in the following parallelisms:
"A disciple is not above his teacher and a ________ is not above his ______". Mt.10:24-25
"My yoke is easy and my ______ is_________" Mt. 11:30.
"Foxes have holes, and the _____ ___ ____ ___have______ " Mt. 8:20;Lk.9:58.
"You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the_______of the righteous" Mt.23:29.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem,killing the prophets, and stoning ______ _____ ____ ___" Mt.23:37,Lk.13:34.
"The master of that slave will come on a day he (the slave) does not expect and at an hour____ ____ ____ ____" Mt. 24:50; Lk. 12:46).
Next time we will look at parallelisms that are more complex. A sensitivity to Hebrew parallelism allows scholars to interpret correctly a number of Jesus' sayings, e.g.,"Do not give the holy to the dogs, and do not throw your pearls before the pigs, lest they trample them with their feet, and turning,rend you Mt.7:6.