Bible Review 1:2, Summer 1985

But Did King David Invent Musical Instruments?

He composed Psalms and played the lyre…

By David Noel Freedman

While the dividing line between poetry and prose in the Hebrew Bible is imprecise, and the two types tend to blend into each other, especially in the prophetic writings, certain features that occur in both are more frequent and prominent in poetry than in prose. One of these is ellipsis, or the use of fewer words in poetry to say essentially the same thing that is said with more words in prose. In poetry, certain words, especially particles such as prepositions, conjunctions and the definite article, tend to be omitted whereas in prose they would be used. Put another way, there is parsimonious use of various words and particles in poetry (and less so in prose), so that some do double, instead of single, duty. The same term may be understood to qualify both parts of a clause or the halves of a typical line of Hebrew poetry. The possible presence of such double-duty terms in the text is a challenge to readers and scholars to ferret out the correct, or at least the more plausible, rendering of many passages in the Hebrew Bible.

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