Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Rhythm And Rhyme

I thought to read some of the Psalms in Hebrew, a very slow process for me but with enough online tools, it is possible. I was hoping to gain insight by reading in the original Hebrew. After struggling for a while, I said to my wife "it's not written in iambic pentameter, ya know". She observed that I was showing off by throwing big words around, and asked me what that meant. Busted. I had to look it up. Wikipedia(Iambic_Pentameter) [1] to the rescue.

William Shakespeare

A standard line of iambic pentameter is five iambic feet in a row:
     da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
A straightforward example of this rhythm can be heard in the opening line of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 12:
When I do count the clock that tells the time 

I have been unable to find out "why ten syllables?"

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

I already knew Hebrew poetry wasn't like English poetry, but I thought there would be some rhythm and some rhyme. Not so much.
Hebrew poetry is destitute of meter in the strict sense, and also of rhyme, though this last occurs in some isolated cases. No wonder then that western scholars, missing these marks of the poetry which they knew best, failed for so long to note the poetry which the Old Testament contains. Hebrew Poetry [2]

According to Introduction to Hebrew Poetry [3],  the Old Testament is one third poetry, and according to Poetry in the Hebrew Bible [4] by Jeff A. Benner, the Old Testament is 75% poetry. Benner argues that even Genesis 1 is poetic in structure. So it is surprising that until the 18th century, Western scholars did not even recognize the OT was filled with poetry - Hebrew Poetry [2] - except for the fact there is no rhythm or rhyme...

Oddly, the New Testament contains very little poetry.
Poetry in the New Testament: Very little poetry is found in the New Testament, except poetry quoted from the Old Testament or hymns which were included in the worship services of the early church. The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-26) have a definite poetic form. The Gospel of Luke contains several long poems: Zacharias' prophecy, known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79); the song of Mary, known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); the song of the heavenly host, known as the Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14); and the blessing of Simeon, known as the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). Poetry In The Bible [5]

Well, what is Hebrew poetry then, and what kind of poetry is it?
Rhythm, rhyme, repetitive sounds and wordplays are not easily reproduced in a translation. However, the key to appreciating biblical poetry, and indeed most of the ancient Near Eastern poetry, is none of these. It is parallelism. The Key to Biblical Poetry [6]
I guess that's good news for people reading the Bible in a translation, which is most of us, because those poetic elements we expect  (rhythm, rhyme, repetitive sounds and wordplays) for the most part aren't there anyway, so in a sense, less is lost in translation. Those things do exist in Bible poetry, but aren't as important or as common as parallelism.


Parallelism is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. "The content of one line is repeated, contrasted, or advanced by the content of the next - a type of sense rhythm characterized by thought arrangement rather than by word arrangement or rhyme" - Poetry Of The Bible [5]. It is also called rhyming thoughts. Let's consider an example.
Psalm 8:4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
       and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Basically, it says the same thing twice. I picked this verse because the Hebrew actually does some wordplay here, and I need to justify all my efforts. David uses two different words for "man" (enosh and adam), and two similar words for "mindful" (tizkrenu) and "visit"  (tifqdenu). The symmetry is easy to see in a fixed width font.
Mah enosh ki tizkrenu (to remember or mark)
uven adam ki tifqdenu (to visit, oversee, care for)

This is an example of synonymous parallelism, where line two repeats the thought of line one. In antithetical parallelism, line two states the same idea in opposite terms so no matter which way you read it, you end up with the same thought.
Psalm 1:6: "The LORD knows the way of the righteous,
                    But the way of the ungodly shall perish"
One more type of parallelism that I'll cover here is the chiasm, but parallelism doesn't stop there, you can read more about poetic structures of Hebrew at  references 2, 3, 4, or 6.

The Menorah Psalm

One way the Bible organizes both prose and poetry is by means of parallelism called the chiasm. This means a sequence of ideas is presented, then repeated in reverse order, like a mirror image - What Is A Chiasm? [7]. It doesn't mean the verses are repeated word for word, but the ideas or simply words are repeated. A chiasm draws one's attention to the middle verse. It is the way a Menorah is made, one side balances the other. Psalm 67 is an example of this, and is called the Menorah Psalm. The psalm has an introduction plus seven verses. Verses 2 and 8 are related, verses 3 and 7 too, verses 4 and 6 are identical, and verse 5 forms the center of the chiasm like the central stalk of a Menorah. Verse 5 is a mini chiasm of three phrases, the first and third referring to the nations, which narrows our attention to the very middle phrase (in bold). Note the highlighted words.
Psalm 67:2-8
2. God be gracious to us, and bless us; and let  His face shine upon us. Selah.
    3. That your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
        4. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
              5. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; 
                      for you shall judge the peoples righteously,
                  and govern the nations on earth. Selah.
        6. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
    7. The earth has yielded her produce; and God, our own God, shall bless us.
8. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him.

Psalm 67
"The Menorah Psalm"

Not counting the intro, Psalm 67 has 49 words (in Hebrew), arranged in a symmetrical pattern, looking at verses 2-8, taken in order, that's 7, 6, 6, 11, 6, 6, 7. This is structure you can only see in the Hebrew. Because it has 49 words, "it has often been used in conjunction with the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot" - The Menorah Psalm [8]. In this article, Christopher P. Benton makes the argument that the Priestly Benediction of Numbers 6:24-26 and Psalm 67 are also parallel passages.

Dr. Benton writes:
There are clearly some connections between the language of the Priestly Benediction and the Menorah Psalm. For instance, one cannot fail to notice the similarity between the first and second verses of the Priestly Benediction where it says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you,” and verse 2 of Psalm 67 where we read, “God be gracious to us, and bless us; and let His face shine upon us.” Clearly Psalm 67 continues a theme begun in Numbers 6.
Thus, a picture is starting to emerge of the Priestly Benediction and the Menorah Psalm as complementary parts of a single whole with the Priestly Benediction invoking God’s mercy and the Menorah Psalm addressing God’s justice. - The Menorah Psalm [8]

Here is the text of the Priestly Benediction, also called the Aaronic Benediction.
Numbers 6
24 The LORD bless you, and keep you;
25 The LORD make His face shine on you,
    And be gracious to you;
26 The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
    And give you peace. 

But the Menorah Psalm stands on its own. Like I said above, one's attention is drawn to the middle of a chiasm. The outer verses all speak of bounty and blessings and praise but the middle verse upon which all that depends speaks of righteous judgment and governing the nations. Like the branches of a menorah depend on the central stalk, blessings depend on justice.

Why A Menorah?

The Menorah in the Tabernacle
burned oil, not candles

Indeed, why a menorah, a chiasm? One answer is that God creates things in balance, and that balance is pictured in the menorah (which was the means of light in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle). God often reveals understanding in His word by juxtaposing ideas in a chiasm, giving light to the reader. Dr. Denton says that balance is mentioned in Eccl 7:14 "In the day of prosperity be happy, But in the day of adversity consider-- God has made the one as well as the other, So that man will not discover anything that will be after him". A word for word translation of the middle of this verse (highlighted portion) from Hebrew says "this against this made God". The rest of the verse talks of balancing prosperity against adversity, that is "this against this", but the principle is broader, it's how the world was made.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iambic_pentameter
2. http://www.bible-researcher.com/hebrew-poetry.html
3. https://bible.org/seriespage/introduction-hebrew-poetry
4. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/language_poetry.html
5. http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/we_dig_montana/Poetry.html
6. https://www.gci.org/bible/poetry/key
7. https://www.gotquestions.org/chiasm-chiastic.html
8. http://www.docbenton.com/menorahpsalm.pdf

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Spin The Bible Wheel

In surfing the net, I discovered this, the Bible Wheel, developed by Richard Amiel McGough - www.BibleWheel.com [1]. It displays the books of the Bible in a two dimensional way, not simply as a linear list of books. The unifying feature of the Bible Wheel is mapping the books to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As you might guess, the source of most of my info is www.BibleWheel.com [1].

If you like this (or not), check out my other articles at the
Between The Ears BLOG INDEX, with titles and summaries.

It starts with the standard Protestant Bible, which has 66 books, 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books. The Catholic Bible has 73 books, all the same books as the Protestant Bible plus seven more called the Apocrypha - GotQuestions [2]. And the Hebrew Bible is different in yet other ways, more on that later. The 66 books are arranged in three concentric circles (more like a spiral really) of 22 books each, again, one for each Hebrew letter. It's way more interesting visually than three columns of a spreadsheet. What I find fascinating is internal structures of the Bible revealed. In a book written over the course of 1500 years by about 40 men - BibleQ [3], here are some coincidences revealed by the Bible Wheel.

  • That it works at all. It's convenient that 66 books makes three complete laps of the 22 letter alphabet.
  • The 5-12-5 pattern. Cycle one consists of the Torah (5 books), OT History (12 books), and Wisdom (5 books), total 22 books. Cycle two consists of Major Prophets (5 books), Minor Prophets (12 books), NT History, aka Gospels and Acts (5 books), total 22 books.
  • There are 22 Epistles in the New Testament if one counts Revelation as an Epistle. In English, epistle means letter.
  • Lots of three's. OT history is divided into 9 pre-exile books and 3 post-exile books. The Minor prophets are divided into 9 pre-exile and 3 post-exile. These post-exile books line up on the same "spokes" as the 3 Epistles to the scattered - James, 1 & 2 Peter.  
  • More three's. The 3 Synoptic Gospels line up on the same spokes as the 3 Epistles of John. McGough points out other patterns of three.
  • Five/Four patterns.  The Major Prophets are symmetric with the New Testament History books. They both consist of Five Books composed by Four Writers. McGough points out other 5/4 patterns.
  • McGough shows other patterns among the books as well.

The categories listed, like Major Prophets or Wisdom Books are not an invention of McGough. In fact the divisions are quite old, in use for over a thousand years.
Our Bible consists of sixty-six component parts. These are divided into two distinctive major collections, the Old and New Testaments. But each of these two Testaments, the one consisting of thirty-nine books, the other of twenty-seven, is found to be arranged in certain clearly homogenous groups; and in this connection careful investigation reveals the presence of a marvelous Divine design running through the whole. ... This presence of plan and design does not only pertain to the Bible in this general sense; it runs through all the different book-groups considered separately; and the more we follow it through in detail, so the more wonderful it becomes, until all possibility of its being mere coincidence is eliminated by over-whelming abundance of evidence that this is indeed the word of the living God - Baxter's Explore the Book [4]
Both Baxter and Scroggie followed the ancient Christian tradition that lists the sixty-six books under the three general categories (genres) of History, Prophecy, and Writings, the latter containing the subcategories of Wisdom (Didactic) Literature and Epistles (Letters). This tradition probably arose in Judaism, before Christianity was born, with the publication of the Septuagint (ca. 200 BC) which follows this categorical system -  Bible Wheel (chapter 2) [5].

Here's how the Bible Wheel looks with book names, showing the symmetry of the Old Testament.

Old Testament Symmetry

The Bible Wheel book then discusses other symmetries observable in the wheel. He also discusses the different ways the number seven shows up. I'll skip that discussion here, and jump to McGough's chapters on the design of the spokes. He ties the books on each spoke together, asserting they have a common theme. For example, Spoke one is the triplet (Genesis, Isaiah, Romans) which all speak of beginnings. "A quick review of Romans reveals it to be an intricate theological tapestry woven primarily with threads drawn from Genesis and Isaiah." - BibleWheel.com (chapter 5) [6]. Spoke 22 is (Song of Solomon, Acts, Revelation). In Song of Solomon, an earthly king receives his bride, In Acts, Jesus' bride the church is born on Pentecost, in Revelation, He receives His bride the church. He spends quite a bit of time "proving" this for Spokes 1 and 22, but not for the rest. If it is true that each Spoke has a theme, one could mine lots of interesting connections among the books.

There are a number of passages in the OT known as acrostics, which means each verse starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. McGough uses these acrostic passages to assert that the Hebrew letters and the books on that spoke share a deeper meaning. It is true that each Hebrew letter is named after something, aleph is ox, bet is house, gimel is camel, dalet is door, etc. Some teach that Hebrew words are word pictures based on the meanings of the letters. I'm not ready to accept that the three books on every spoke are related, much less related to the meaning of a specific Hebrew letter. That will take more study.

I was fascinated with the Bible Wheel when I first saw it, and remain so even after reading that McGough has debunked his own work, 15 years worth of work at that. I had some misgivings about the premise, but McGough has rejected it completely (though he leaves the website up), and turned against Christianity as well. I still find it a remarkable demonstration of God's hand in writing the Bible, and I hope to use it to mine the text of the Bible for interesting connections.

My biggest objection is that looking at the text as the 66 books of the Protestant Bible is not the only way to view it. The Hebrew Bible, approximately the same as the Old Testament, has always been mapped one to one with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, only there are 24 books mapped to a 24 letter alphabet, not 22. Two of the 22 letter alphabet have two pronunciations (P/F and S/SH), thus some count 24 letters - The Hebrew Alphabet [7]. The order and numbering of the Hebrew Bible is different from the order of the Protestant or Catholic Bibles. It is illustrated in a chart at Jewish and Christian Bibles [8].

The order of the New Testament has been altered as well. No books have been inserted or lost, but the order was changed.

This original order was rearranged by the Catholic Church in the Latin Vulgate version, in which Paul’s epistles were given first place -- ahead of the Judahite epistles which were relegated to second place. This gave the book of Romans a more prominent place in the New Testament as part of Rome’s bid for religious power. As a result, the Catholic Church effectively displaced and replaced the Judahites by displacing the "Jewish epistles" and replacing them with Paul’s epistles beginning with “Romans.”
Up until the 4th century A.D. all of the Church Fathers who list the New Testament books do so by placing the Judahite epistles FIRST, followed by Paul’s epistles - The Original Manuscript Order of the New Testament [9].
Restoring the order and numbering of the books would mess up McGough's Bible Wheel. Maybe it would reveal new insights - I tried putting the books in original order, no patterns appeared to me. And remember Hebrew reads right to left, Greek reads left to right, so the Protestant order only works in a translation, see The Unpublished Bible [10]. A Hebrew/Greek Bible would lend itself to a circular form, with no beginning and no end. Still, I can't deny the remarkable parallels among different sections of the Bible (in Protestant order), especially when considering it was written by 40-some authors over 1500 years.

Changing the order and numbering of the books calls into question the meaning of each spoke. There are certainly some parallels there which McGough shows for spokes 1 and 22, but he doesn't show the rest. Tying the spokes to letters in Hebrew? I guess I need more proof.

McGough's debunks the wheel saying he had confirmation bias, "the tendency to seek or interpret evidence favorable to already existing beliefs, and to ignore or reinterpret evidence unfavorable to already existing beliefs". Also called cherry picking, choosing data that supports your argument, and ignoring data that doesn't.

But the connections ARE real. When the Bible is viewed as 66 books in that order, certain parallels are revealed. It's a fairly large baby to throw out with the bathwater. I still like the Bible Wheel for what it reveals. Perhaps McGough tried to take the analogies too far. And even though he claims to have debunked it, for the time being, the website  www.BibleWheel.com [1] is still up. Enjoy it while you can, there is a lot of info there, I only hit some of the highlights.


1. http://www.biblewheel.com/
2. https://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-Bible.html
3. http://bibleq.net/answer/1954/
4. https://www.amazon.com/Baxters-Explore-Book-Sidlow-Baxter/dp/0310206200
5. https://www.biblewheel.com/Book/Chapters/Chapt02.php
6. https://www.biblewheel.com/Book/Chapters/Chapt05.php
7. http://www.dummies.com/languages/hebrew/the-hebrew-alphabet/
8. http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Heb-Xn-Bibles.htm
9. http://hope-of-israel.org/manorder.html
10. http://jlfreeman-1.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-unpublished-bible.html