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Synthetic, Composite, and Climactic Parallelisms


One of the forms of poetic style used in biblical writing is the use of parallelisms. In the previous HUB we explored the use of synonymous, antithetic, and emblematic parallelism, and will continue to explore other forms as they relate to the scriptures.


Synthetic Parallelism

Synthetic parallelism is where the second line completes or compliments the thought of the first. There are a variety of combinations that can be used in this form of poetic teaching. Some might include question-answer, proposition-conclusion, or situation-consequence.

More Difficult to Identify

It is often used by introducing and idea in the first line that is incomplete or causes the hearer to ask a question about it. The second line then answers the question. The first two lines are connected with the second line completing the thought of the first.

This form of poetry is often difficult to identify, but if the first line seems incomplete or causes you to want to know more, then it is probably because of the use of synthetic parallelism


A: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil

B: For thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)


Notice in the first line you are left with the inclination to ask "why?" The second line answers the question you had because of the first line.


Composite Parallelism

Another form used is called composite parallelism. This is exhibited when three or more phrases are used to develop a theme. It can be used to help define a term or give added attention to a concept that is being taught. Sometimes the central idea is expressed right up front and other times it is not, but the listener must still be able to organize his thoughts to a central theme for it to be composite parallelism.


Blessed is the man

A: who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

B: nor stands in the way of sinners,

C: nor sits in the sear of the scornful. (Psalms 1:1)

The theme is set right up front. The natural verb sequence is then used in a poetic form to provide the listener with memory aids, "walks", "stands", and "sits."


A: Ah nation of sin!

B: A people laden with iniquity!

C: A brood of evildoers!

D: Children that are corrupters:

They have forsaken the Lord. (Isaiah 1:4)

Here the theme is not mentioned but can be surmised to be one of the wickedness of a society. Again the description of the society is seen as the size of the group decreases with each line, "nation", "people", "brood", and finally "children."

More Understanding

When the poet uses composite parallelism he presents complex issues with different facets that provide the listener with a more complete understanding of the whole theme.


Climactic Parallelism

The next type of parallelism to discuss is climactic parallelism. This is a form of poetry in which part of one line, either a word or phrase, is repeated in the second and other following lines, until a theme is developed culminating in a main idea or statement.

This parallelism is often progressive like stairs that lead to or descend from a central point. The difference between composite and climactic parallelism is that the use of the same word grouping can be seen in each of the lines.


The daughter of Zion is left

A: like a booth in a vineyard

B: like a hut in a cucumber field

C: like a city beleaguered. ( Isaiah 1:8)

This use of poetic form leads the listener towards a major theme or idea.


As you study try to look for these examples of parallelisms.


cameron ferguson on December 04, 2011:

thank you! very helpful for english class!

Moulik Mistry from Burdwan, West Bengal, India on March 26, 2010:

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Wonderful hub, thank you for sharing this...

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