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New Testament (i.e. the Greek Scriptures) scholars use some technical terms – literary terms – in their writings. Here I attempt to define them. Some, like ‘metaphor’ are well understood, others like ‘parallelism’ are probably not. Every subject has its jargon. So, I say Let it not exclude us from their discourse, instead let’s master it so we can understand what they’re saying better, and critique them more knowledgeably.
LITERARY TERMS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER (not yet complete)
A narrative to be understood symbolically, the second meaning is to be read beneath and concurrent with the surface story. Distinguished from metaphor and parable as an extended story that may hold interest for the surface tale as well as for the (usually ethical) meaning borne along.e.g. Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”. In allegories the names of the participants are abstract qualities, and the application is always evident.
Jesus’ preaching was nearly always in the form of aphorisms or parables. Aphorisms are usually memorable one liners like “It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”. They are synonymous with Maxims. They are found in the writings of Hippocrates, e.g.”Life is short, Art is long”, as well as in the Bible’s Wisdom writings: Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, Job, Wisdom of Solomon. They offer observations about natural phenomena, and frequently occuring human situations; they prescribe patterns of behaviour to follow if one wishes to live a social life which is harmonious, satisfying and free of conflict.
Same as an aphorism.
Two lines of verse, usually rhymed. Most often, 2 of a series of lines rhyming in pairs, in stanzas and poems of various lengths.
A narrative in which animals and gods and even inanimate objects are, for the purpose of moral instruction, feigned to act and speak with human interest and passions. Any tale in literary form, not necessarily probable in its incidents, intended to instruct or amuse. The story is self-sufficient without the moral. Nonsensical stories and old wives tales have been found throughout english literature.e.g.Aesop’s fables.
A free rabbinical homiletical commentary on the whole Old Testament, forming, with the Halachah, the Midrash.
A general principle serving as a rule or guide; a pithy saying; a proverb. See aphorism.
A balanced construction of a verse or sentence, where one part repeats the form or meaning of the other. Common in Hebrew verse.
Hebrew poetry ‘rhymes’ ideas rather than words. Here are 3 basic types:-
Synonymous parallelism This is where an idea is stated and then ‘rhymed’ with a similar statement, e.g.”The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed” (First statement) “A refuge in times of trouble” (Parallel statement)
Contrasting parallelism Here, the second half of the ‘rhyme’ contrasts with the first, e.g. “The Lord protects everyone who follows him” (First statement) “But the wicked follow a road that leads to ruin” (Completed statement)
Progressive parallelism The second half of the ‘rhyme’ echoes the first, but adds something extra, e.g. “The Lord is my light and salvation” (First statement) “-whom shall I fear?” (Additional statement)
A similitude, a fable or story of something which might have happened, told to illustrate some doctrine or to make some duty clear. A common short moralistic narrative where the characters are usually human beings; the incident has little point without the moral, which is always closely attached.e.g.the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.
self-contained stories, or isolated units of Jesus’ teaching that were passed on orally, but at some point they began to be collected into larger groupings dealong with similar topics like miracles, healings or debates with opponents, and written down on sheets of papyrus, copied and circulated among the growing number of Christian communities.
An explicit likening of one thing to another; differs from a metaphor in that it always contains the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.The association of the first object with the second should in some way emphasize, clarify or enhance the original. Some similes are balanced, e.g.
“As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard (protasis)
so is a parable in the mouth of fools” (apodosis) (Proverbs 26)
A short division of a chapter, e.g. as in the Bible, the verses in this case not being a creation of the authors but being inserted by editors centuries later.
Hebrew verse is an offshoot of Canaanite poetry. Whenever the writers of the Hebrew scriptures wrote in verse instead of prose, it made the text much easier to remember.
Shipley, J.T. “Dictionary of world literary terms” Allen & Unwin (1943)
“Chambers twentieth century dictionary” (1972)
Page, Nick “The Bible Book, a user’s guide” HarperCollins (2008)