This essay seeks to describe the prosodic regularities which define the way ancient Hebrew poetry works. Building on the description of ancient Hebrew verse offered by Benjamin Harshav and Robert Alter, a text model is advanced which identifies the shapes and sizes of the prosodic units that characterize ancient Hebrew verse.
Regularities are described in terms of a prosodic hierarchy. The approaches and insights of Terence Collins, James Kugel, and Michael Patrick O'Connor, who refrain from analysis of prosodic structure, complement, I propose, prosodic analysis.
The text model advanced is inscribed within the framework of the prosodic structure hypothesis of Elisabeth Selkirk and other linguists. The phenomenon of enjambment is explored. A rule governing the number of lines a poem normally has is stipulated.
Three varieties of ancient Hebrew poetry are distinguished: common, qinah, and mashal. An excursus contains a proposed revision of O’Connor’s description of the syntactic constraints to which ancient Hebrew verse adhered.
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A version of this essay without a review of the work of Collins, Kugel, and O’Connor appeared as “Regularities in Ancient Hebrew Verse: A New Descriptive Model” in ZAW 119 (2007) 564-585.