Adele Berlin describes the various types of biblical parallelism found throughout the Hebrew Bible. She begins with a general survey of the role of parallelism in poetry including a very brief look at the history of the study of parallelism in biblical studies that includes the terminology used to described the various types of parallelism throughout this history. In this initial chapter she catalogs the function of poetry within language, agrees with the identification of parallelism as one of the two key elements of poetry, terseness being the other, and introduces the location of parallelism in linguistic studies.
In the rest of the book she examines the linguistic study of parallelism broken down into the following aspects: the grammatical aspect, the lexical and semantic aspects, and the phonological aspect. She does recognize that grammatical and semantic parallelisms tend to co-occur because of the psychological nexus between structure and meaning (22) and points out that parallelism, juxtaposition and collocation are all part of the same phenomenon.
Under the grammatical aspect, she considers first morphological parallelism and second syntactic parallelism recognizing the role of equivalence and contrast in each. Under the lexical and semantic aspects, she examines the use of word pairs to create parallelism and the semantic relationship between lines. Finally with the phonological aspect, she mirrors the use of words pairs in lexical parallelism with the use of sound pairs in phonological parallelism and also the phonological equivalence of parallel lines.
In the last chapter she turns the discussion to the consideration of the fact that the four aspects of language mentioned above - grammatical, lexical, semantic, and phonological - usually occur in combination and that one should expect to discover biblical parallelism to also operate simultaneously in a combination of these aspects. She discusses the importance of the perceptibility and the effect of parallelism isolating the elements that make it perceptible and those which make it effective.
Berlin's book is a great study of biblical parallelism. The study of biblical parallelism often stops at lexical and semantic parallelism, so her incorporation of grammatical and phonological parallelism catches the reader off guard, yet her presentation rewards the reader with the senses of intellectual fascination and pleasure. Her writing style is not too difficult for a newcomer to the field to swiftly understand the subject, but soon plunges to a deep understanding of the use of this poetic device. She induces comprehension of her ideas by immediately offering numerous examples from the Hebrew Scriptures to demonstrate what she has just explained. She does this with each category and provides many examples of prevalent patterns - aabb, abab or abba - that one should expect to find in parallel components.
She writes with clarity so that one is able to follow her thought pattern with ease and she defines new terminology appropriately so that one stays in the flow of her idea. As a result, a good working knowledge of the Hebrew language and general linguistics is not necessary, though it would be helpful. Some knowledge of the works of Robert Alter, James Kugel, Stephen Geller, Michael O'Connor, Jacques Derrida, Lida Knorina, and Rolf A. Jacobson would definitely aid in understanding. That being said, it is a delight to read through Hebrew example after example that she has provided in order to detect the patterns that she proposes that are very often lost in translation. This effort has brought the reviewer to a better appreciation of Hebrew poetry. The challenge remains to apply the skills learned from Berlin to the remaining Hebrew texts, especially regarding phonological parallelism.
She accomplishes the purpose of her book, which is to not "reduce parallelism to a simple linguistic formula, but rather to show the enormous linguistic complexity of parallelism" (129) in a way that honors others in her field but which demonstrates originality. One criticism is that since the book is a virtual reprint of her 1985 version, there is no sense of where the field moved during twenty-three year interim until this version. It would have been interesting to see the growth of the field in the areas that must have seemed fresh in 1985. The addition of Knorina's article at the end of the book is honorable and the article is itself very interesting. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to have a better grasp on Hebrew poetry.