Metathesis in the Hebrew Bible

Wordplay as a Literary and Exegetical Device

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Isaac Kalimi
  • Peabody, MA: 
    Hendrickson Publishers
    , November
     225 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Why did the biblical writers choose the specific words they did? In order to explore this question, this book investigates the use of literary-stylistic metathesis in the Hebrew Bible.

By way of introduction, Metathesis in the Hebrew Bible first discusses the related phenomena of linguistic metathesis, in which letters or sounds are unintentionally inverted during the historical development of a language, and textual metathesis, in which the letters of a word are accidentally inverted during the transmission of a text. The discussion then moves on to the widespread use of literary-stylistic metathesis in the Hebrew Bible, in which two or more words that use the same letters in opposite orders are deliberately juxtaposed within a sentence. This device appears in various literary genres within the Bible and in diverse forms, which demonstrates that a number of biblical authors and editors used it as a compositional device, for a variety of purposes: whether for literary, aesthetic, or rhetorical effect; to make a theological or exegetical point; to connect or contrast particular words with one another; or to emphasize a specific viewpoint.

The book also demonstrates that literary metathesis is not limited to the Hebrew Bible but that it also appears in post-biblical Jewish Hebrew compositions, such as The Wisdom of Ben Sira and the rabbinic literature. This leads to the conclusion that the use of this literary tool by the rabbis in the midrashic literature is not a late, artificial approach to Scripture but rather one that has deep roots in the biblical texts themselves and that continued to develop in the writings of the Second Temple period and in later Jewish writings.

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

Isaac Kalimi is Gutenberg Research Professor in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies and History of Ancient Israel, and a fellow of the Gutenberg Forschungskolleg, at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He has published numerous books and articles in biblical studies, ancient Israelite history and historiography, and rabbinic literature and thought.


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