Parallelism (rhetoric)

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The parallelism ( Greek  παραλληλισμός : "juxtaposition") is a stylistic figure that arises through parallel syntax, i. H. two (or more) consecutive same types of sentences (main, subordinate, interrogative, etc.) or sub-clauses have the same sequence of their clauses (subject, predicate, object, adverbial, etc.). Additional verbatim repetitions often reinforce the impression of parallelism, but are not absolutely necessary (see below the Heine quote).

The parallelism can have a tautological or an antithetical function. It can be found as a design principle both in ancient poetry and in modern poetry.

Examples of parallelisms

  • Erich Kaestner
    • They hear far, they watch TV.
    • The night is dark, the day is bright.
    • I am beautiful, you are ugly.
    • I am rich, you are poor.
  • Heinrich Heine
    • The shuttle flies, the loom cracks. (The Silesian Weavers)

The parallelism in biblical texts

The parallelism is a very common stylistic device in the poetic texts of the Old Testament , parallelism membrorum . It is thanks to this stylistic device that some passages that are difficult to translate due to distortion of the text, transcription errors, etc., can be recognized fairly reliably, since the preserved parallel part of the verse allows clear conclusions to be drawn about the corrupted part of the text. The special thing about parallelism in the Hebrew scriptures from the Bible is that it is less dependent on a phonetic rhyme (as in German, for example), but rather the content (the meaning statement) is important. This is an advantage when translating the texts into another language.

The parallelism membrorum is shown in the fact that two consecutive lines together constitute a rhyme of thought or image and that they say the same thing with different words or images. Both lines are constructed in such a way that a statement is made. Each line approaches the intended matter with a slightly different perspective. This gives the statement a productive fuzziness and openness.

Synonymous parallelism

In synonymous parallelism, the second line reproduces the content of the first in other words. Sentences in the first sentence thus have direct correspondences.

Here in the example: “The law of Yahweh” corresponds to “The testimony of Yahweh”, “perfect” corresponds to “reliable” and “refreshes the soul” corresponds to “makes the simple-minded wise”. (A simple-minded person here is someone who is open to everything, both good and bad.)

Bible , (Psalm 19: 8)
The law of Yahweh is perfect, refreshes the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is reliable, makes the simple-minded wise.

Polar parallelism

The polar parallelism expresses a wholeness through two poles.

E.g .:

  • Day + night = always
  • Heaven + earth = the whole of the world
Bible , (Psalm 22: 3)
My God, I call by day and you do not answer;
and at night, and I won't get any rest.

Synthetic parallelism

In synthetic parallelism, the statement in the first sentence is combined (synthesized) with the second. The result is a new statement. In this example it is an answer to a question.

Bible , (Psalm 119: 9)
How will a young man walk his path in purity?
By keeping himself {Eig. is on his guard} according to your words.

Antithetical parallelism

In the case of antithetical parallelism, the statement in the first sentence and the second statement are the opposite. In the example: first sentence - state of the past, second sentence - state of the present.

Bible , (Psalm 119:67)
Before I was humiliated, I was wrong;
but now I keep your word.

In a broader sense, parallelism is the principle of equivalence in terms of sound, meaning and construction. It expresses itself in the rhythmic repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables , in the same number of syllables, in rhyme , harmony and unfolds its effectiveness z. B. in the symmetry of metaphor and non- metaphorical expression.

Chiastic parallelism

Chiastic parallelism is a chi-shaped (χ) structure:

  • A - B
  • B '- A'
Bible , (Psalm 130,6f)
A: My soul is waiting for the Lord
B: more than the watchmen for the morning;
B ': more than the watchmen for the morning
A ': hope Israel in YHWH!

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Beat Weber: Poetry (AT). Created in March 2007, German Bible Society, [1]
  2. Erich Zenger , Frank L. Hossfeld: Herder's theological commentary on the Old Testament / Psalms 1-50. Herder Verlag, Freiburg 2017, ISBN 978-3-451-26825-0 .