Metathesis in the Hebrew Bible: Wordplay as a Literary and Exegetical Device

by Isaac Kalimi

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Retail: $39.95
Size: 6 x 9 inches
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 225
Pub Date: November 2018
ISBN: 9781683071792
ISBN-13: 9781683071792
Item Number: 071792
Categories: Biblical Studies and Interpretation; Language and Reference

Product Description

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.


"Wordplay and sound play are staples of ancient Near Eastern and biblical literature. One of the most salient forms of wordplay in the Hebrew Bible is metathesis—connecting and suggesting meanings based on placing words with similar, but different, sequences of consonants in close proximity. Isaac Kalimi's high-level yet highly accessible study highlights, clarifies, and documents the phenomenon. It should interest all serious students of the Hebrew Bible."
Ed Greenstein, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

"Kalimi’s vivid analysis of close to 400 biblical texts makes this book indispensable to the day-to-day work of students, teachers, and scholars of Hebrew Scripture, as well as to clergy and participants in Bible study groups. Kalimi and his editors at Hendrickson Publishers are to be commended not only for the clear language but also for the ingenious typography. . . . This book should be on the desk of anyone and everyone who reads, studies, and teaches the Hebrew Bible. In this succinct volume, Kalimi accomplishes the nearly impossible. He defines and elucidates a previously obscure subject. In addition, he shows how an understanding of this subject can shed great light upon familiar texts that we had previously, it turns out, seen only 'through a glass, darkly' (1 Cor. 13:12)."
—Mayer I. Gruber, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

Author Bio

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.