Beyond Orality

Biblical Poetry on Its Own Terms

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Jacqueline Vayntrub
The Ancient World
  • New York, NY: 
    , March
     309 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Caley Smith forthcoming.


Central to understanding the prophecy and prayer of the Hebrew Bible are the unspoken assumptions that shaped them—their genres. Modern scholars describe these works as “poetry,” but there was no corresponding ancient Hebrew term or concept. Scholars also typically assume it began as “oral literature,” a concept based more in evolutionist assumptions than evidence. Is biblical poetry a purely modern fi ction, or is there a more fundamental reason why its defi nition escapes us?

Beyond Orality: Biblical Poetry on its Own Terms changes the debate by showing how biblical poetry has worked as a mirror, refl ecting each era’s own self-image of verbal art. Yet Vayntrub also shows that this problem is rooted in a crucial pattern within the Bible itself: the texts we recognize as “poetry” are framed as powerful and ancient verbal performances, dramatic speeches from the past. The Bible’s creators presented what we call poetry in terms of their own image of the ancient and the oral, and understanding their native theories of Hebrew verbal art gives us a new basis to rethink our own.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jacqueline Vayntrub is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School.

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