Grace Theological Journal 11.2 (1990) 187-204.

[Copyright © 1990 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Grace Colleges and elsewhere]









            Isaiah was a master of Hebrew poetry as well as a grand theo-

logian. He was fond of integrating couplets into various four-lined

structures (i.e., quatrains) that fall into three basic categories. This

integration was often achieved by sophisticated interplay on the gram-

matical, semantic, and rhetorical levels. What is of deeper significance,

however, is that Isaiah used these poetic forms to enhance his theologi-

cal meaning. By activating all levels of language, the prophet was able

to impress God's word upon his hearers in compact, four-lined struc-

tures that would otherwise take many lines of prose to communicate.


                                                            *    *    *


ALTHOUGH the pairing of lines by means of grammatical, semantic

and rhetorical parallelism to form couplets is the basic feature of

Isaianic poetry, the pairing of couplets to form quatrains is also a

distinctive device used by Isaiah.1 In this article, we will differentiate

and categorize these structures, but will also see how Isaiah uses them

to communicate his message by artfully blending form with meaning.

            Before we start with the analysis of the quatrains, some preliminary

considerations are in order. Basic to the goal stated above is the

position that a methodology of analyzing parallel lines must be able to

account for both grammatical and semantic parallelism, and the rhetor-

ical effect as well. It is our intention to avoid stressing one aspect of

parallelism over another.2 The method employed here, which was


*This article is based on the results of an analysis of 529 lines of Isaianic verse in my

unpublished dissertation Parallelism in the Poetry of Isaiah 1-18, written for the Dropsie

College, 1986.

            l Out of the 529 lines there were 208 units: 127 independent couplets, 42 quatrains,

29 triplets, 8 single lines and two possible hexastichs.

            2 See S. Geller, ("Theory and Method in the study of Biblical Poetry," JQR LXXIII

No.1 [1986]) 65-77. With regard to the debate over which aspect has primacy, A.

Berlin's metaphor of grammar being the skeleton and semantics being the flesh and

blood is helpful, for one is surely meaningless without the other. See A. Berlin, The

dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1985) 23-25, 64.




adapted from Stephen Geller's Parallelism in Early Biblical Poetry

(Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1979) is an attempt to account

for parallelism on these levels.3 Central to the method is a device called

a "schema," which will be explained below.

            The lines used in the analysis had to meet certain criteria.4 The

first is that the lines analyzed should be regarded as Isaianic by most

scholars.5 Secondly, the lines must be "highly parallelistic" as opposed

to prose without any parallelistic features (e.g., 7:1-6, 10-17 and 8:1-

4), or prose that contains parallelistic features, referred to here as

"parallelistic prose" (e.g., 2:20, 3:6-7, 7:18-25, 8:12A-D and 10:10-

12). What exactly constitutes "highly parallelistic" lines is a subject of

ongoing debate. For our purposes we have delimited this category to

lines that display a basic grammatical and semantic correspondence6

coupled with the limitation of line length,7 and the requirement that

the parallel lines are relatively equal in length. The vast majority of

Isaianic lines fall in this highly parallelistic category. Finally, the lines

used had to be textually sound in the opinion of a consensus of


            Although the corpus was not subjected to a metrical analysis,9

certain patterns of line length emerged. The term "line pattern" denotes

the ratio of grammatical units in one line to another. "Grammatical

unit" is a term used to denote a word that is significant in the structure

of parallel verse (i.e., words that are objects of parallelism). Some

words, such as particles (e.g., yKi and Mxi) are not used as objects of

parallelism in the corpus and are therefore not awarded the status of

"grammatical unit."10 For example, a couplet with three grammatical

units in each line would be referred to as a "3:3" line pattern. An

example would be 17:10A-B:


            3 My debt to Stephen Geller is evident throughout this article.

            4 It was felt that a minimum of 500 lines would offer an adequate representation of

Isaianic parallelism.

            5 Our corpus is based upon what S. R. Driver, O. Eissfeldt, G. Foher, G. B. Gray and

J. Skinner, among others, unanimously considered to be Isaianic. This does not reflect

the present writer's opinion of Isaianic authorship.

            6 This excludes, for example, 2:20, for although it can be divided into four fairly

equal lines, they are all grammatically enjambed and semantically non-parallel.

            7 Or "terse," cf. J. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry (New Haven: Yale University

Press, 1981) 85.

            8 The passages ultimately included were 1:2-27, 29-31, 2:7-8, 10-17, 19, 21, 3:1-5,

12C-26, 4:1, 5:1-28, 6:7B-D, 8B-C, 9-13B, 7:7B-9, 8:9-10, 13-15, 9:7-13, 15-17B,

19-20, 10:1-4,6-9, 13-15, 17:1, 2B-C, 3A-B, 4-6, 10-14, 18:1-2D, 3-6.

            9 It is not denied that Isaianic poetry is "metrical" in some sense. Rather, an in-depth

metrical analysis would confront many uncertainties which would require a major study

of its own.

            10 See Geller, p. 8.




Text of 17:10A-D Translation

            A. j`few;y; yhelox< T;HakawA yKi  For you have forgotten the God of

                                                              your salvation,

            B. T;r;KAzA xlo j`z.efumA rUcv;      and the rock of your refuge you do

                                                              not remember.

In this couplet we see that each of the three basic grammatical units in

the A line have a grammatical counterpart in the B line (verb: T;HakawA yKi

/ / T;r;kazA xlo and a direct object with a noun in construct: j`few;yi yhelox<  / /

j`z.efumA rUcv;), which are semantically parallel as well (the verbs are

synonymous and the direct objects are epithets in that they give descrip-

tion one to another). Here we should note that aside from a very few

instances of grammatical rearrangement, often done for a rhetorical

effect (e.g., 1:19-20 and 5:11 analyzed below) there is a basic grammati-

cal and semantic correspondence between units in the parallel line

structures in Isaiah.11

            Isaianic quatrains, like the couplets,12 come in a variety of line

patterns. Some, like 5:27A -D below, consist predominantly of lines

with two grammatical units.13


Text of 5:27A-D Translation

            A.            JyefA Nyxe None is weary,

            B.  OB lweOK Nyxev;  none stumbles among them,

            C.             MUnyA xlo    none slumbers,

            D.           NwAyyi xlov;    none sleeps.

It may be objected, of course, that what we have here is really a 5:4

couplet rather than a 2:3:2:2 quatrain.14 Granted that it is not always


            11 However, see the few examples of the "semantic" quatrains below, which display

semantic parallelism with little or no grammatical parallelism.

            12 Among the couplets alone there were 10 different line patterns: the 2:2, 2:3, 3:2,

3:3, 3:4,4:3, 4:2, 4:4, 5:3 and the 5:2. Of these, the 3:3 and the 3:2 were the most common,

but there were a significant number of "short lined" couplets (There were 27 occurrences

of the 2:2. For example, see 1:23A-B, 2:l0A-B, 5:3C-D, 7:9C-D, and 8:9C-D).

            13 Some other examples of quatrains with predominantly 2 unit lines are 1:18C-F,

1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 5:5C-F, 5:7E-H, 5:9B-E, 5:12D-G, 6:9B-E, 9:9A-D, 17:6C-G.

            14 The negative existential particle Nyxe is considered a grammatical unit in the corpus

since it functions as the predicate of a noun sentence throughout. The A line therefore

consists of two grammatical units and the B line three units, for prepositions with

suffixes (e.g., OB above) are often objects of parallelism in the corpus. The problem lies

with the negative particle xlo which usually functions as a proclitic and forms a unit with

the following term (hence not an independent grammatical unit, cf. T;r;cAzA xlo, in 17:10B

above). In this instance, however, xlo, parallels  Nyxe on the semantic level and occupies the

same emphatic position in the parallel line structure. It is therefore given a grammatical

unit status in lines C and D.



easy to determine a couplet from a quatrain, two facts tend to discount

understanding these lines as a couplet. First, long lines (i.e., lines with

four or more units) without a caesura are relatively uncommon in

Isaiah (see footnote 12 above). That is, Isaiah tends to use shorter three

or two unit lines.15 Secondly there are clear grammatical caesuras that

naturally break this text into four short, distinct phrases. Indeed, in

this instance the brief, hurried line structure enhances Isaiah's descrip-

tion of these swift, relentless destroyers. As we shall see, this is not the

only place where Isaiah uses form to enhance his meaning.

With this example we begin our study of the Isaianic quatrain. As

we mentioned at the outset, the quatrain is essentially two couplets

bound together. This "binding" is done in a variety of ways, and with

the help of a continuum we can see that three basic quatrain patterns

emerge. On one end of the continuum there is what we shall call the

"interlocked" quatrains in which the two sets of paired lines are inter-

twined (hence "interlocked") in such a way that the quatrain must be

viewed as one unit. This interlocking is the result of alternating or

chiastic patterns in which parallel lines are separated from each other

(ie., ABA'B', ABB'A').16 In the middle of the continuum there are the

"integrated" quatrains. Here the parallelism is usually between the A

and B lines and between the C and D lines, but it is obvious that all

four lines are parallel on the basis of grammatical, semantic and

usually rhetorical similarities (ie., [A//A']//[A"//A"']). These struc-

tures are not considered to be as tightly bound as the "interlocked"

types, for they can be analyzed as two couplets without obscuring the

overall structure of the quatrain. Finally, at the end of the continuum

we have the "semantic" quatrains in which, like the "integrated"

quatrains above, the primary parallelism is between the A and B lines,

and between the C and D lines, but the parallelism between the paired

couplets is basically semantic and/ or rhetorical, with no grammatical

parallelism.17 Let us consider the tightest quartrains on the one end of

the continuum, and proceed to the looser structures at the other end.


15 Isaiah's use of the short, 2 unit line in couplets, triplets, and quatrains (often in

association with 3 unit lines, e.g., a 3:2:2 triplet) is a characteristic that sets him apart

from early Hebrew poetry. See Geller, pp. 282-84.

16 That is, the A line parallels the C line and the B the D line in the alternating type,

and the A line parallels the D line and the B the C line in the chiastic type.

17 This is a small category, for as noted above, Isaiah tends to employ lines that are

parallel on both the grammatical and semantic levels. These quatrains are considered the

"loosest" of the quatrains on the continuum because of the lack of grammatical parallel-

ism. It should be emphasized again that grammar, although an important aspect of

parallelism, is but one aspect, and the more aspects implemented (i.e., grammar, seman-

tics, rhetorical devices), the "tighter" the parallelism. There are no examples of quatrains

grammatically parallel with no semantic parallelism.







Judging from the abundance of examples, the alternating quatrain

must be considered a favorite Isaianic device.18 In half of the examples

analyzed,19 the grammatical and semantic correspondence is complete

between the alternating lines in that each unit, or group of units (i.e.,

word compounds) is grammatically and semantically parallel to its

corresponding unit. To gain a clear and convenient view of the paral-

lelism between these units, we employ what we term a "schema." This

is a purely heuristic device intended to display syntagmatic and para-

digmatic structures.20 It merely arranges the syntax (syntagmatic/

horizontal level) of the lines so that the parallel units can be placed

vertically (paradigmatic level). By means of this device, one may ob-

serve at a glance the grammatical and semantic parallelism between the

parallel lines. 1:10A-D will allow us to illustrate the use of the schema

as well as offer an example of "complete" parallelism.


Text of  1:10A-D Translation

A.        hvAhy;-rbad; Ufm;wi        Hear the word of YHWH

B.                  Mdos; yneyciq;        you rulers of Sodom.

C. Unyhelox< traOt UnyzixEha                  Listen to the teaching of our God,

D.                    hrAmofE Mfa        you people of Gomorrah.


Schema of 1:10A-D

A.        hvAhy;       rbad;       Ufmawi

B.                                                                                Mdos;       yneyciq;

C.   Unyhelox<       traOt       UnyzixEha

D.                                                                                hrAmofE        Mfa

The imperatives and the direct objects of the A and C lines correspond

grammatically and semantically (Ufm;wi / / UnyzixEha: synonyms, rbad; / /

traOt: synonyms, hvAhy; / / Unyhelox<: epithet), as do the subjects in the B and


18 See 1:10A-D, 1:15A-D, 1:18C-F, 1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 2:7A-D (a pentastich?),

5:5C-F, 5:7E-H, 5:9B-E, 5:10A-D, 5:11A-D, 5:12D-G, 6:9B-E, 9:9A-D, 17:6C-G,


19 Cf. 1:10A-D, 1:19A-20B, 1:29A-D, 2:7A-D (a pentastich?), 5:5C-F, 5:12D-G,

6:9B-E, 9:9A-D.

20 Cf. S. Geller's "reconstructed sentence," pp. 15-21.


192                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


D lines (yneyciq; / / Mfa: part-whole,21 Mdos; / / hrAmofE: paradigmatic ).22 The

parallelism is therefore complete, and the quatrain, by virtue of the

alternation (ABA'B'), must be considered as one unit of four lines, and

cannot be analyzed as two couplets or as four single lines.23 It is

therefore a very tight quatrain.

In the other half of the examples of alternating quatrains, one

finds that a word that is in one line (usually the A line) is deleted in its

parallel line (C line), but is nevertheless understood in that line to

complete its meaning. On a deeper level of linguistic analysis, however,

this parallelism does not really differ from the complete parallelism in

the example above, for the deleted word is necessary to the meaning of

the line. This phenomenon of word deletion, referred to here as "ellip-

sis”24 is illustrated by the quatrain in 5:7E-H.


Text of 5:7E-H Translation

A.  FPAw;mil; vqay;va                   and He looked for justice,

B.     HPAW;mi hn.ehiv;                  but behold, bloodshed;

C.            hqAdAc;li                 for righteousness,

D.   hqAfAc; hn.ehifv                 but behold, a cry!25


Shema of 5:7 E-H

A.        FPAw;mil;          vqay;va

B.                                   HPAW;mi;

C.        hqAdAc;li

D.                                                                    hqAfAc;      hn.ehiv;


21 The yneyciq; may be considered a part of the whole (Mfa), or the relationship between

the two words may be described as a merism (i.e., establishing the two extremes "rulers"

and "common people," and implying everyone in between).

22 Words related paradigmatically belong to the same semantic field in that they

denote a common concept, or in other words, are related by an understood common

denominator. In this example, the stock word pair Mdos; and hrAmofE belong to the same

paradigm of "wicked cities."

23 The phenomenon of line parallelism, whether involving 2, 3,4 or more lines, must

be considered normative for Isaianic verse structure. This is so because the independent,

single line is rare and its very existence is debatable (e.g., 1:15E; see footnote 1).

24 This phenomenon has also been referred to as "gapping." See E. L. Greenstein

("Two variations of Grammatical Parallelism in Canaanite Poetry and their Psycho-

linguistic Background," JANES of Columbia University, 6[1974]) 94.

25 This quatrain is primarily an alternating quatrain in that the A and C lines, and

the B and D lines are grammatically identical and semantically parallel (even semantically

identical in the repetition of; in the Band D lines). It is however, "integrated" as well

in that the A and B lines, and the C and D lines are semantically and rhetorically parallel




It is obvious that vqay;va is understood with the prepositional phrase in the

C line, for the C line would be incomplete without it. For all practical

purposes, therefore, we must conclude that there is very little difference

between the alternating quatrains with ellipsis and alternating quatrains

that are "completely" parallel, for the grammatical and semantic paral-

lelism is complete in both, even though one line may have an additional

grammatical unit that its parallel line does not have.26

Rarely, Isaiah may vary the grammar of one line to achieve a

certain poetic effect. The quatrain in 5:11 illustrates this.


Text of 5:11A-D                    Translation

A.  rq,Boba ymeyKiw;ma yOh   Woe!27 those who rise early in the


B.               UpDor;yi rkAwe       that they may run after beer,28

C.              Jw,n.,ba yreHExam;   who tarry late in the evening,

D.                Mqeylid;ya Nyiya       till wine inflames them.


Schema of  5:11A-D

A. rq,Boba         ymeyKiw;ma    yOh

B.                                                                                UpDor;yi      rkAwe

C.  Jw,n.,ba         yreHExam;

D.                                                                   Mqeylid;ya    Nyiya

Apart from the interjection yOh, the A and C lines are grammatically

identical (both having participles and prepositional phrases) and

semantically parallel (merism). The yOh may be regarded as extrametri-

cal and applying to the quatrain as a whole, or as a grammatical unit in

the A line that is understood elliptically (i.e., "gapped ") in the C line.


by means of the paranomasia between HPAW;mi and FPAw;mi, and hqAdAc; and hqAfAc; (similar

sound but opposite meaning).

26 Ellipsis can occur in any line structure whether they are couplets, triplets, or

quatrains with other types of parallel line patterns.

27 The yOh (as opposed to yOx, which almost always occurs with prepositions l, lfa, or

lx,) is understood by this writer to be a pure interjection, most probably a cry of funerary

lamentation (the nuance being "woe!" or "alas!" rather than "woe unto. . ."). Cf. H. W.

Wolff. A Commentary on the Prophets Joel and Amos (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,

1977) 242-45.

28 It is not evident how rkAwe differs from Nyiya, rkAwe almost always occurs paired with Nyiya

and all but once precedes it. It probably is not liquor (usually translated "strong drink"),

for there is no evidence of distillation in ancient times. Here it is understood to be a

beer-perhaps a grain beer as opposed to wine. Cf. R. L. Harris, Ed., Theological

Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980).



But what is of immediate interest is that the grammar of the D line is

not what one would expect after having read the B line. The reader,

having encountered a direct object and a transitive verb in the B line, is

now surprised to find the noun as a subject in the D line. This probably

was not done just for variation, but rather to set up a pun on the verb

jld. This root has a double meaning: that of "burn" or "inflame" (cf.

Ezek 24:10) and "hotly pursue" (cf. Gen 31:36). In this context, the

primary meaning is no doubt "inflame," but it must not be overlooked

that jld (in the Qal) is a synonym of  Jdr in the B line, having the latter

nuance of "pursuing.”29 The pun is that the drinkers, making a fresh

start in the morning and in full control (they are the subjects of UpDor;yi in

the B line), are pursuing beer in the first couplet. However, by evening

the situation is reversed. Wine is now in control (it is the subject of the

D line) and is the pursuer in the second couplet. We see that the poet is

actually combining grammar and line structure with the meaning

(semantic nuances jld and the morning-evening merism) to impress

an image upon his hearers of these ambitious fellows; they set out at

the first light of dawn to make bold conquests of beer, but by evening

they are stumbling their way back home with wine, the real victor in

the contest, hard at their heels. By such synthesis, Isaiah is able to

communicate a profoundly effective caricature in four short lines that

would take many more lines of prose to describe.

The chiastic quatrain is not so well represented as the alternating

quatrain and must therefore be considered less characteristic of Isaianic

quatrain devices. Out of the four possible examples (1:11C-F, 5:6A-

D, 5:7 A-D and 6:11B-C), there are no line structures as clear as the

alternating line structures mentioned above. Be this as it may, the

prophet will use chiasm as a device to tighten other types of quatrains.

Perhaps the tightest quatrain in Isaiah is the famous one in 1:18:


Text of 1:18C-F                                Translation

A. Myniw.AKa Mk,yxeFAHE Uyh;yi-Mxi    If your sins are like scarlet,

B.                      UnyBil;ya gl,w.,Ka    shall they be white as snow?

C.            flAOTka UmyDix;ya-Mxi        If they are red like crimson,

D.              Uyh;yi rm,c,.Ka      shall they become like wool?


29 On a deep level an underlying grammatical parallelism is evident if one rewrites

the Hiph singular imperfect Mqeylid;ya to the Qal plural imperfect Uql;d;yi (dropping the 3 m pl

suffix), with the second meaning of the verb's root "pursue" understood. Both the B and

D lines would then have nouns functioning as subjects of plural imperfect verbs. For

such grammatical "transformations," see Geller, pp. 21-29.




Schema of 1:18C-F

A. Myniw.AKa         Mk,yxeFAHE    Uyh;yi-Mxi

B.                                         UnyBil;ya     gl,w.,Ka

C. flAOTka        UmyDix;ya-Mxi

D.                                                                               Uyh;yi        rm,c.,Ka


This quatrain has a primarily alternating structure (note the ellipsis of

Mk,yxeFAHE, in the C line). However, chiasm can be observed on two levels.

First, there is the chiastic verb, prepositional phrase, prepositional

phrase, verb structure within both the AB couplet and the CD couplet.

The result is that the prepositional phrases take the central, or inside,

position in the overall structure of the quatrain, while the verbs are at

the extremities. Secondly, a further chiasm can be observed between

the verb Uyh;yi in the A and D lines, and the Hiph imperfects of the B and

C lines. The inclusio of Uyh;yi further tightens the quatrain. What must

be determined at this point is whether or not this structure is in fact a

vehicle to further the meaning of this quatrain. To begin with, we

understand that the poet's intention is to offer a well-reasoned, or

"tight" argument to the people (verse 18A: hHAk;UAniv; xnA-Ukl;). Certainly the

skill in which he blends alternation with chiasm to produce such a tight

structure enhances the meaning he wished to convey; that YHWH's

terms are so tightly logical and reasonable that there is no room for

objection. But can we go further and suggest that the form may even be

valuable in the actual interpretation of this quatrain? It is well-known

that the B and D lines can be understood either as statements (i.e.,

"they shall be white as snow/wool") or as questions, as in the above

translation. The difficulty with the former interpretation is that it is not

evident how or why red sins (sins of bloodshed, cf. verse 5) should

become "white sins." Such an ambiguity in what one would expect to

be a well-reasoned argument is out of place. Rather, it is more fitting in

this context of tight logic to understand the B and D lines as rhetorical

questions, expecting negative answers (cf. Jer 13:23).30 Therefore, in

presenting His argument, YHWH is backing the people into a corner

by reminding them of their bloody guilt in crimes that cannot be left

unpunished by law. Tightness of form mirrors inexorability of logical


By itself therefore, this quatrain would leave the people with little

comfort. However, this quatrain was never meant to be read by itself as


30 It is admissible that these lines be regarded as questions without interrogative

pronouns or adverbs (see G-K 150 a).



is evident by its close similarities of structure with the next lines, which

also form an alternating quatrain.


Text of 1:19A-B-20A-B                    Translation

A.  MT,f;maw;U UbxTo-Mxi        If you are willing and obey,

B.    UlkexTo Cr,xAhA bUF                  you will eat of the good of the land.

C.  MT,yrim;U UnxEmAT;-Mxiv;        But if you refuse and rebel,

D.        UlK;xuT; br,H,                 you will be devoured by the sword.


Schema of 1:19A-B--20A-B

A.        UbxTo-Mxi


B.                    Ulkexto     Cr,xAhA   bUF

C.     UnxEmAT;-Mxi


D.                                            UlK;xuT;     br,H,


The continuation of the particle Mxi and the similar "outside" position

of the imperfect verbs with the alliterative t / x combination (rhetor-

ical considerations) forces the reader to connect the two quatrains on

the semantic level (i.e., meaning) as well. Indeed, this quatrain brings

us into the second phase of YHWH's argument. In spite of their guilt,

if they are willing and obey, then they shall eat the good of the land.

The alliteration and assonance between UbxTo and bUF further strength-

ens the reasonableness and attractiveness of a willing heart toward

God. However, if they refuse and rebel, then they shall be "the eaten"

rather than "the eaters." With this pun between UlkexTo and UlK;xuT;,32

which occupies the final position in this two quatrain unit, we reach the

peak of YHWH's argument. As in the case of 5:11 analyzed above,


31 Note that two grammatical units are parallel within the same line (i.e., "internal

parallelism") and are placed in the same column of the schema.

32 The UlK;xuT; of the D line is most probably a Qal passive (see G-K 52 e). Usually,

br,H, is understood prepositionally either by reading brHB (cf. lQIsa) or by considering it

as an accusative functioning prepositionally in a passive construction (for details see

G-K 121 c). Some prefer to emend the verb to UlkexTo (you shall eat the sword), but this

has no versional support and is not idiomatic to Hebrew which would prefer the br,H, as

the subject (cf. 2 Kgdms 2:26, 18:8 and Jer 2:30). Others emend br,H, to bUrHa which means

"carob" (a poor man's food) in late Hebrew and Aramaic, but this word is not used

elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible and such a reading involves the emendation of the passive

verb as well as br,H,. However, it is possible that Isaiah was making a pun on br,H, and




Isaiah altered the grammar of the D line to achieve this pun. One

would expect UlkexoT rather than the passive UlK;xuT; to parallel the UlkexTo

of the B line, with br,H,, a direct object, paralleling Cr,xAhA bUF. By

reversing the expected grammar (i.e., active to passive) the alternative

of eating rather than being eaten is underscored. The tightness of the

two quatrain unit is further enhanced by the inclusio of the hvAhy; rmaxyo

and the rBeDi hvAhy; of the 20C line.

The "interlocked" quatrain is an important Isaianic poetic device.

Most characteristic of it is the alternating quatrain (ABA'B'; 16 clear

examples in the corpus), although there is evidence of chiastic structures

(4 possible examples), and at times a mixture of both. Also there is a

basic grammatical and semantic correspondence between word units of

the parallel lines in spite of ellipsis and an occasional grammatical

rearrangement. Often, Isaiah will use this "interlocked" structure, along

with grammatical and rhetorical forms, to enhance the meaning of his





The combination of couplets whose parallel lines are not actually

intertwined but are associated by virtue of grammatical, semantic and

often rhetorical parallelism is common in Isaiah.33 Usually, all four

lines are grammatically and semantically parallel, although in a few

instances one line, either the A line or the D line, is non-parallel (A

line: 1:18A-D, 1:14A-D, 10:8A-9C; D line: 17:5A-D). These quatrains

occupy the center of the continuum, for they are somewhat less bound

than the "interlocked" type in that the primary parallelism is often

between the A and B lines, and between the C and D lines. (They

therefore could be analyzed as two couplets without blurring the

overall structure, unlike the alternating quatrains.) The oft analyzed

quatrain in 1:3 illustrates this type.34


Text of 1 :3A -D                    Translation

A.          Uhneqo rOw fdayA        The ox knows its owner,

B. vylAfAB; sUbxe rOmHEva   and the ass its master's crib,

C.        fdayA xlo lxerAW;yi   (but) Israel does not know,

D.       NnAOBt;hi xlo ym.ifa       my people do not understand.


33 There are at least 15 clear examples of this in my corpus: 1:3A-D, 1:4A-D,

1:7A-D, l:8A-D, 1:14A-D, 3:3A-D (list), 3:16C-F, 3:24A-D, 5:27A-D, 7:8, 7:9,

8:9:A-D, 8:13A-D, 10:3A-D, 10:8A-9C, 10:14A-D, 10:15A-D?, 17:5A-D, 17:10A-D?

34 Cf. J. Kugel's treatment of this quatrain in Idea, 9.




Schema of 1:3A-D

A.                    Uhneqo       rOW             fdayA

B.    vylAfAB; sUbxe       rOmHEva

C.                                            lxerAW;yi           fdayA xlo

D.                                            ymi.fa             NnAOBt;hi xlo

On the surface, the primary grammatical and semantic parallelism is

between the A and B lines, and between the C and D lines. In the AB

couplet, both lines have direct objects (rOw and rOmHE) that are seman-

tically parallel (both are farm animals). In the CD couplet, both lines

have negatives with verbs (fdayA xlo and NnAOBt;Hi xlo) that are semantically

parallel (both express Israel's lack of knowledge). All four lines are

grammatically parallel in spite of the fact that not all elements (i.e.,

verb, subject, direct object) are in each of the four lines except the A

line. However, below the surface, we see that grammar, semantics and

rhetorical devices all contribute to give a deeper perception of Israel's

condition. What Isaiah has done was to make use of the simple form of

a quatrain to create a rather complex message that unfolds when one

examines the similarities and contrasts between the grammatical units

of the parallel lines. To begin with, it will be noticed that all four lines

have a subject which associates senseless beasts (the subjects of the AB

couplet) with Israel (the subject of the CD couplet) on the semantic

level. The similarity between the beasts and Israel is further strength-

ened on the phonetic level by the alliteration of the sibilants w / W and

the r in rOw and lxerAW;yi, and the gutturals H / f with the m in rOmHE and

ym.ifa. However, one is encouraged not to stop at this unflattering asso-

ciation, for one is invited to contemplate the contrasts as well as the

similarities. But what is the basic contrast between these beasts and

Israel? Is it that the beasts are instinctively faithful to their benefactors

as opposed to Israel's infidelity?35 Although fdayA has a broad semantic

range that includes knowledge on the emotional and volitional levels

(and therefore associated with obedience and piety) as well as on the

intellectual level, its parallel is with NnAOBt;hi, which clearly implies actual

knowledge or perception derived from examination. Moreover, the

contrast between Israel and these domesticated beasts demands that

intelligence, rather than faithfulness, is the issue, for oxen, as far as we

can tell, were known for their fidelity, loyalty and obedience.36 Since

oxen are relatively uncommon to the experience of many western


35 J. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters I-XXXIX (Cambridge:

Cambridge University, 1925) 4.

36 In contrast to the Myre (wild ox) that is not dependable like the domesticated ox (see

Job 39:9-12).



urbanites, perhaps Lassie would offer us a more vivid image. One

would not say: "even Lassie is faithful to his master, he knows his

doggie dish." The comparison with Lassie implies that the real issue is

not Lassie's fidelity, but intelligence. The point in our passage is that

even dumb (although faithful) beasts are intelligent enough to know

something that Israel doesn't know. But what could this be? Surely it

cannot be ignorance of God's raising them and that Israel has re-

warded Him by rebelling (verse 2), for the prophets assumed that Israel

was aware of their special status with YHWH and their responsibility

to Him. Rather, a moral ignorance is implied, not of their crimes, but

of the consequences of their crimes, that is, punishment. This is not

explicit in the text, but is implicit in the dynamics of the parallelism.37

The beasts possess a certain cunning with regard to their welfare that

Israel lacks. They are fed not because they are loyal, but they are loyal

because they are fed. What they know is the price of disobedience. The

negatives of the D and C lines add a new dimension to Israel's ignorance

of their fate. They do not know what the animals know because they

will not know it. Their ignorance is a willful ignorance. The stupidity

of such an ignorance is grammatically and structurally enhanced by the

conspicuously missing direct objects in the CD couplet. The animals

are fed for their simple logic, for their knowledge has an object (their

master and his food trough). Israel, by its willful ignorance, has no

object of knowledge and will soon starve (i.e., suffer punishment). That

Israel is foolish in regard to the consequences of her crime is a standard

prophetic argument (cf. Deut 32:6 "MkAHA xlov; lbAnA Mfa”).

Another example of this type of quatrain is found in 3: 16, where

Isaiah is scathing in his description of the daughters of Zion.


Text of 3:16C-F                                Translation

A.    NOrGA tOUFn; hnAk;laTeva       and they walk with outstretched necks,

B.         MynAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U        and ogle with their eyes,

C.    hnAk;laTe JpoFAv; j`OlhA       mincing along as they go,

D.  38hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rab;U                tinkling with their feet.


37 The fact that the overall context of Isaiah 1 is that of a byri (pronounced "rev"; it is

the term given for a legal law suit) intensifies the expectation of judgement in this


38 In spite of the fact that there are three instances of hapax legomena in this

quatrain, the precise definitions of which may not be known, our analysis is not

adversely affected, for the context of these attention getting actions helps to provide

close enough definitions. The Pi of the root rqW. refers to some bawdy, wanton look,

unless with Jastrow we understand it to mean "paint" (cf. rqW. II, Pi). The infinitive of

JpF may be onomatopoeic, related to the little steps taken by children (i.e., "tap," cf.

Gray). The Pi of skf denotes something done with the feet which must be related to

some sort of article which makes noise or draws attention (cf. v. 18 for the noun form).



Schema of 3:16C-F

A.                NOrGA tOUFn;         hnAk;laTeva

B.        MynAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U

C.               JpoFAv; j`OlhA          hnAk;laTe

D.  hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rab;U

All four lines are grammatically and semantically parallel. The im-

perfects of  jlh, although actually occurring in the A and C lines, are

"gapped" in the B and D lines as well. Each line contains a "com-

pound," or a unit consisting of two inseparable words, that modify the

jlh imperfects: the A and B lines have participles in construct, the C

line has a compound of two infinitive absolutes, and the D line contains

a preposition with a verb. These compound modifiers, which describe

actions while walking, are basically interchangeable grammatically and

semantically. What is unique about this quatrain of four parallel lines,

however, is the way in which Isaiah blends alternation and chiasm into

his overall structure.


Text of 3:16C-F with Couplets Placed on Same line

NOrGA tOUFn; hnAk;laTeva  /  MyinAyfe tOrq.;Wam;U



hnAk;laTe JpoFAv; j`OlhA  /  hnAs;KafaT; Mh,yleg;rabaU


We see that there is a special relationship between the A and C lines

and between the Band D lines (alternation), and this relationship is

chiastic in nature. The imperfects of  jlh  are obviously parallel, as are

The indivisible compounds NOrGA tOUFn; (extended necks) and JpoFAv; j`OlhA

(mincing along), which are parallel adverbially on a higher level. (Note

the assonance of the long O vowels that further associates these com-

pounds.) Likewise, the participle tOrq.;Wam;U and the verb hnAsKafaT; ("ogling"

and "tinkling") describe similar actions, and the attention getting MyinAyfe

(eyes) and Mh,yleg;rab;U (feet) are also parallel. This complex structure

which consists of parallel body parts and simultaneous actions helps to

enhance our mental picture of these women skilled in the art of

seduction. It should be noted that the use of alternation and chiasm

within a quatrain of four parallel lines places this "integrated" quatrain

very close to the "interlocked" quatrains on the continuum.

An example of an "integrated" quatrain that is positioned toward

the other end of the continuum (i.e., the "loose" end where there is no

grammatical parallelism) is the structure found in 10:15.




Text of 10:15A-D

A.  OB bceHoha lfa Nz,r;Gaha rxePAt;yihE

B.  Opynim; lfa 39rOWm.aha lDeGat;yi Mxe

C.  40< Omyrim;> tx,v; tb,we JynihAK;

D.  Cfe-xlo hF.,ma MyrihAK;



A. Shall the axe boast itself over him who hews with it?

B. Shall the saw exalt itself over him who wields it?

C. As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,

D. as if a staff should lift him who is not wood.


Semantic Diagram of 10:15A-D

A. a  b  c

B. a' b'  c'

C. a" b" c"

D. a'" b'" c'"


The grammatical parallelism is very exact within the AB couplet in

that both lines have an interrogative particle, a Hitpa’el intransitive

verb, a subject and a prepositional phrase. The grammatical parallelism

within the CD couplet is also exact in that both lines are prepositional

phrases containing an infinitive construct, a subject and a direct object.

Although there is a certain compatibility between these two couplets

(i.e., the verbal element in the infinite constructs of the CD couplet

with the intransitive verbs of the AB couplet: the parallel subjects), it is

evident that the grammatical parallelism is weak. Rather, the emphasis

of this quatrain is on the semantic parallelism, for every word on each

line is semantically parallel, as the semantic diagram shows (using the

standard a b c / / a' b' c' method).

The "integrated" quatrains are better thought of as two couplets

that are connected grammatically, semantically and usually rhetorically.


39 is a hapax, the root of which is rW.n which has the meaning "saw" in various

Semitic languages.

40 If the  v; on the direct object marker (tx,v;) is original, it may be explained as a waw

explicativum (see G-K 154 a N 1b). It is believed by many that the plural vymAyrim; was

subsequently added to make the reference to YHWH more clear (i.e., the "plural of

majesty," cf. Gray, p. 202; G-K 124 k; note also the singular in the versions).



Some, like the 3:16 quatrain analyzed above, are structurally and

grammatically "tighter" than others of its class (e.g., 10:15 above) and

are therefore closer to the "interlocked" end of the continuum. We now

consider the "semantic" quatrains at the "loose" end of the continuum.




There are fewer instances in which the connection between the two

couplets is completely semantic and/ or rhetorical, resulting in corre-

spondingly looser relationships.41 18:6A-D provides an example.


Text of 18:6A -D

A.           MyrihA Fyfel; vDAH;ya Ubz;fAye

B.                            Cr,xAhA tmah<g,l;U

C.                          FyifahA vylAfA CqAv;

D.  JrAH<T, vylAfA Cr,xAhA tmah<B,-lkAv;



A. They shall all be left to the birds of prey of the mountains,

B. and to the beasts of the earth;

C. and the birds of prey will spend the winter on them,

D. and the beasts of the earth will spend the harvest on them.42


There is no grammatical parallelism between the AB couplet and the

CD couplet. The result is that the attention of the reader is auto-

matically drawn away from the comparison of lines and repetitive

grammatical units between couplets, which sets this quatrain apart

from the interlocked and integrated types. Rather, the reader is drawn

to a more general comparison of the two couplets on the semantic

level, and upon examination, it is evident that the CD couplet explains

in more detail the meaning of the AB couplet (general-specific relation-

ship). The repetition of "birds of the mountains" and "beasts of the

earth" is purely semantic (i.e., they are prepositions in the AB couplet,

but subjects in the CD couplet). The quatrain is therefore categorized

as "semantic." It should be noted that rhetorical features such as

alternation (A and C lines-birds; Band D lines-beasts; note also the


41 There are four examples in the corpus: 1:6C-F, 1:13A-D, 1:31A-D, and 18:6A-D.

42 The verbal denominatives CqA and JrAH<T, occur only here. To remain consistent with

the vine metaphor in the preceding verses 4 and 5, it is understood here that the ruined

vines (i.e., the Ethiopians) will become a barren haunt of wild birds and beasts year

around, rather than become carrion for these creatures.




chiasm in the CD couplet--summer, birds, beasts, winter), and allitera-

tion (the profusion of gutturals throughout all four lines) serve to

strengthen the connection between these two couplets.

Finally, at the end of the continuum is an interesting example in

which two couplets form a somewhat loose quatrain primarily on the

rhetorical level.


Text of 1:6 C- F                     Translation

A.            hrAUBHav; fcaP,    (but) bruises and blows,

B             43hy.AriF; hKAmaU    and raw wounds;

C. UwBAHu xlov;44  Urzo xlo   they are not pressed out, nor bound up,

D.      Nm,w.ABa hkAK;ru xlov;   nor softened with oil.


Schema of 1:6 C- F (so as to show the rhetorical structure)

A.                                            hrAUBHav;          fcaP,

B. hy.AriF; hKAmaU

C.                    UwBAHu xlov;        Urzo xlo

D. Nm,w.ABa hkAK;ru xlov;


The AB couplet and the CD couplet are essentially two lists placed

together. Each list contains three elements, two of which are internal in

the first lines of their respective couplets (i.e., internal parallelism in the

A and C lines). The two lists are not grammatically parallel to each

other in that the first consists of nouns while the second consists of

verbal phrases. Only secondarily are the two couplets semantically

parallel (i.e., general-specific relationship: the CD couplet gives more

information on the AB couplet). Rather, the primary parallelism is

structural and phonetic. Structurally, as already noted, these two

couplets are lists, and these lists are of increasing length. That is, the

first unit of both couplets is the shortest (fcaP, and Urzo xlo). The second is

a bit larger (hrAUBHav; and UwBHu xlov;). The third is the largest and most

grammatically involved (hY.AriF; hKAmaU and Nm,w.AB hkAK;ru xlov;). Corresponding

to this increasing unit length is a semantic progression, most evident in

the last line of each couplet where the picture is made more vivid by the

adjective and adverb (i.e., raw, open, hardening wounds). Phonology

also serves to connect the corresponding units of these two couplets

(the c of fcaP, and the z of Urzo are both sibilants; the H, b sequence in


43 The attributive is used elsewhere only in Judg 15:15, where it modifies "jawbone"

(i.e., a fresh jawbone rather than an old, brittle one). Here the idea is "newly opened" or

"raw." Note the use of collective singulars in the AB couplet.




hrAUBHav; and UwBAHu; the doubled K in hKAma and hkAK;ru together with the hkA

endings). These obvious rhetorical features are not only the main ingre-

dients that hold this quatrain together structurally, but also intensify

the meaning. Israel has untended bruises that are not pressed out,

blows that are not bound up, and raw wounds that are not softened

with oil. The increasing unit length underscores the semantic progres-

sion that describes an infection that is progressing beyond a cure.



Although this study is not based on a complete analysis of all of

Isaiah's material, we can nevertheless observe certain features of the

Isaianic quatrain emerging. First of all, we may ascertain the different

types of couplet combinations he employs, and gain a general idea of

the frequency of these types. Making use of the continuum, we noticed

that at one end the "interlocked" quatrain, most usually of the alternat-

ing type rather than the chiastic, was the most highly represented in the

corpus with 20 examples. The parallel lines of these quatrains are so

structurally intertwined that they cannot be analyzed in smaller units

(i.e., couplets). Toward the middle of the continuum there are the

"integrated" quatrains in which the primary parallelism is between the

A and B lines, and between the C and D lines, but both couplets are

nevertheless tightly joined on the basis of grammar, semantic, and

rhetorical parallelism. This group is also well represented with 15

examples. Finally, there are only a few examples where the grammatical

parallelism breaks down completely, producing "semantic" quatrains

that are connected only by semantic and/ or rhetorical parallelism, at

the very end of the continuum.

Secondly, and perhaps more important than the categorization of

these structures, is the fact that Isaiah frequently uses these structures,

along with grammar, semantics, and rhetorical devices to enhance his

meaning. Isaiah's genius as a poet and theologian lies in the sophisti-

cated interplay of all these aspects. By means of such art he is able to

impress upon the mind of his hearers in a few short parallel lines (in

our case, the four lines that make up the quatrain) concepts and images

that would take paragraphs of ordinary prose to express. Ultimately,

this compactness is the result of parallelism that activates all levels of

language, melding together form and meaning.45


44 Urzo (note the long O vowel) is best explained as a Qal passive of rrz, a hapax with

the meaning of "pressing out" (i.e., a wound, cf. G-K 67 m).

45 R. Jakobson, "Grammatical Parallelism and its Russian Facet," Language 42

(1966) 399-429.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: