I. Bible and Ancient Judaism
1. Old Testament
a. General. In biblical studies, poetry (Gk ποίησις/
poíēsis) in contrast to prose generally comprises stanzaic texts in language employing patterns of rhythm and sound, whose structure and style are determined by both linguistic (sound patters, rhyme, clause sequences, etc.) and nonlinguistic factors (so-called constraints: music, ¶ extent, parallel structure, setting, etc.). We do not know the ancient Hebrew poetic terminology, although poetry constitutes a significant portion of Old Testament literature. OT books such as Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, and Lamentations are basically poetry; large portions of the prophetic literature are in verse; the narrative books also contain poetic sections (Proverbs; songs [Song of Songs and Lamentations], Psalms). In the history of biblical exegesis, the rules governing poetry were not studied until the modern period; this study led to the discovery of
parallelismus membrorum (R. Lowth, 18th cent.), metrics (late 19th cent.), and the rules governing structure and sound (alliteration, assonance, acrostics; 20th cent.) (see bibl.). The basis for the study of OT poetry is the masoretic tradition (Masoretes) with its system of accents and intonations, along with epigraphic and manuscript traditions, above all the fragmentary texts from Qumran.
b. Metrical units. The basic unit of ancient Hebrew poetry is the metrical verse (stich, line, etc.) or colon (line, hemistich). As a rule, the verse consists of tw…