|Contexts and Comparisons||Chapter 2 - Sacred Texts|
The gospel writers sometimes quote the words of Jesus, or of his associates, in the form of Hebrew verse. These sayings were preserved in poetic form because poetry is easier to remember than prose. Therefore, almost universally, poetry emerges before prose within the literary tradition of a people.
Poetic verse can be achieved in a variety of ways. Western literature frequently relies on rhyme, word stress, numbered feet, or alliteration. In the Psalms, the Jews relied on parallelism, the technique whereby two half-lines or lines are linked to each other by meaning. Synonymous parallelism means that the second verse repeats the thought of the first, but in different words. Using this form of Hebrew verse, the gospel writers quote Jesus as saying, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat / nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, / And the body more than clothing" (Lk 12:22). On the other hand, when the second verse expresses a thought opposite to that of the first, antithetical parallelism occurs. Matthew uses this verse form when he quotes Jesus as saying, "Every sound tree bears good fruit / but a bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit / Nor can a bad tree bear good fruit" (7:17). Tautologic parallelism happens when the second verse takes the thought of the first to a climax: "He who receives you receives me, / And he who receives me receives him who sent me" (Mt 10:40).
Examples of these poetic parallelisms, and variations of them, are evident in the Beatitudes ("blessings)," drawn from chapter 5 of Matthew's narrative. The translation cited below is from The Revised English Bible (1989).
And when he saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. There he sat down, and when his disciples had gathered round him he began to address them. And this is the teaching he gave:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit:
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Sermon on the Mount