14 May 2010

Magic in the Torah: Supernatural Manifestations in Israelite Worship

by Timothy S. Wilkinson

                As common and important as sacred rituals and divine interactions are in the Biblical record, everyday ancient Hebrew worship lacked the supernatural element so common in other religious practices of the times. Canaanite wives placed clay idols of women with swollen bellies around their homes in the hope of getting pregnant. Mothers hung amulets around their children’s necks to ward off evil spirits. Diviners consulted the stars, the internal organs of slaughtered animals, the swirling of oil poured on water, the smoke of incense, and cast dice to foretell the future. Sacred texts uncovered in the ruins of the Hittite city of Ugarit describe the Dagil Itstsuri as priests who gained divine direction by observing the flight patterns of birds. The Gdazerin would make voodoo-doll-like wax images of calves and then cut them in half to cause the death of an oath-breaker. Newborns were buried under the cornerstones of buildings to guarantee the safety of the structure.
                Israelite worship did make use of potent symbolisms at times: libations poured out over an altar; sheaves of grain waved back and forth in the temple in offering. A red heifer that had never been used for work was burned with hyssop and scarlet cord and the collected ashes were mixed with spring water to make “holy water.” This was sprinkled over people, garments, or domiciles that had become ceremonially unclean. But the “cleansing” was understood to be symbolic, not miraculous.
                There were, though, a handful of common supernatural elements to the Torah, or the Law given to Moses by which the Israelites were to live.
The Urim and Thummim
                In Exodus chapter 8 Moses adorns his brother, Aaron, in the ceremonial clothing of the High Priest. In verse 8, he puts a breastpiece on him—a sheet of worked gold in which were set twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. In the breastpiece he places “the Urim and the Thummim.” The actual translation of the Hebrew here (ha’urim’ we’eth-hattummim’) is unclear. The Greek Septuagint calls them “the explanation (manifestation) and the truth”; the Syriac Peshitta opts for “the light and the perfection”; and the Latin Vulgate “the doctrine and the truth.”
                Literal translation aside, scholars generally agree that the Urim and Thummim were some sort of sacred lots kept in a pouch in the High Priest’s breastpiece “over his heart” (Exodus 28:30). A perusal of 1 Samuel chapters 14 and 23 indicate that they seemed to produce “yes” or “no” answers, and chapters 14 and 28 add the possibility that they could also give “no answer.” Jewish tradition holds that they were two flat stones, each black on one side and white on the other. The High Priest would inquire of Jehovah with a “yes” or “no” question and toss the stones. If both stones landed with the white side up, the answer was “yes”; black sides up meant “no.” If one white and one black side were revealed, it indicated a divine unwillingness to answer for some reason.
                This arrangement made the monarchy dependent on the priesthood for divine direction, creating a sort of “checks and balances” system to prevent the king from gaining too much power.
                According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 48b), the Urim and Thummim were no longer used after the destruction of the temple in 607 B.C.E.
The Shechinah
                The original house of worship for Israel was the Tabernacle, a portable temple constructed in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. This rectangular prism was divided into two sections: the “Holy” and the “Holy of Holies.” The Holy of Holies was a perfect cube in which was kept the Ark of the Covenant. As most people now know from Hollywood’s depictions, this ark had a lid adorned with two cherubs facing one another. According to Exodus 25:21 and 22, the Divine Presence resided (in a symbolic sense) between the wings of the two cherubs in a “cloud” (Leviticus 16:2). The cloud was luminous—it was the only source of light within this room, wherein the High Priest went once a year during the Day of Atonement ceremony to sprinkle blood upon the Ark and the floor. Only the High Priest ever saw it, but its existence is attested to by a number of the men who bore this title.
                In the Targums (Aramaic translations of the Bible from the 2nd and 3rd centuries), this miraculous light is called the Shechinah. Jewish tradition also records that anyone who saw this light unworthily—that is, anyone but the High Priest, and even him on any day but the Day of Atonement—would immediately be struck dead. For this reason in later years the priests would tie a cord to the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies on that day. If he had somehow dishonored his office and was struck dead, they wanted to have a way to pull the body out without entering the sacred chamber themselves.
The Falling Away of the Thigh
                The most unusual of these supernatural manifestations, though, is found at Numbers chapter 5 verses 12 through 31. Here the Torah describes what should be done if a man suspected his wife of having been unfaithful (the colorful Hebrew says “the spirit of jealousy has passed upon him, and he has become suspicious of his wife’s faithfulness”).
                The husband brings his wife to the Tabernacle with an offering of barley flour for “bringing error to remembrance.” The wife is brought “before Jehovah”—probably a reference to her standing alone (without her husband) near the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest gathered some dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and sprinkled it into “holy water” (probably just clean water in this case, taken from the basin in which the priests ritually washed) in an earthenware vessel. The mixture thus produced was called “the bitter water that brings a curse.” The priest then ‘loosened the hair of the woman’s head,’ removing the tsa’iph or head covering all Israelite women wore in public. This may very well have been the psychological equivalent to having her stand naked in front of him—not, of course, in a sexual sense, but in that the woman would have felt very exposed. The grain offering her husband had brought was put into her hands.
                The priest then intoned:

“If no man has lain down with you and if while under your husband you have not turned aside in any uncleanness, be free of the effect of this bitter water that brings a curse. But you, in case you have turned aside while under your husband and in case you have defiled yourself and some man has put in you his seminal emission, besides your husband…May Jehovah set you for a cursing and an oath in the midst of your people by Jehovah’s letting your thigh fall away, and your belly swell. And this water that brings a curse must enter into your intestines to cause your belly to swell and the thigh to fall away.” To this the woman must say: “Amen! Amen!” (Numbers 5:19-22)

                After the woman so swore, the priest wrote a copy of the above onto a small scroll and then washed that scroll in “the bitter water that brings a curse.” He tossed some of the grain offering onto the altar and made the woman drink the water.
                According to Numbers 5 the result to a guilty woman was disastrous: “The water that brings a curse must then enter into her as something bitter, and her belly must swell, and her thigh must fall away, and the woman must become a cursing in among her people.”
                The thigh was commonly used by Jewish scribes as a stand-in word for the genitals (they could not bring themselves to write the Hebrew words for reproductive organs in the holy book). The “falling away” referred to here was an idiomatic reference to becoming sterile—although it appears that the swelling of the belly was literal and became an outward sign of the woman’s guilt.
                In the Torah the punishment for adultery was death. As with all criminal penalties, the sentence could not be executed unless there were two or three witnesses to the crime. Evidently since the crime of adultery was highly unlikely to have the prerequisite two witnesses, this alternative method was provided for establishing guilt. Even when the woman failed the ritual she was not put to death. The Mishnah seems to indicate that this was because the identity of the guilty man was still unknown, and it would be an injustice for the woman to be executed and not the man.

(All Scripture quotations taken from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 1984).

11 May 2010

The Calendar of Ancient Israel

The Calendar of Ancient Israel
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

                A book could be written describing the characteristics of the agricultural year in Iron Age Palestine. The Israelites, like their neighbor nations, were agrarian and marked the passing of time by weather, harvest, and planting. The famous “Gezer Calendar” (believed by most experts to be a schoolboy’s writing exercise) is a small limestone tablet found in the city of Gezer in 1908. It provides us with some information regarding the rituals of the year. In combination with information from the Bible and other sources, we can get an overall picture of the passing of the seasons.

Abib (March/April)
                The name of the month means “green ears,” referring to the ripe but soft heads of barley that marked the start of the agricultural year. It was cool still (50-85° F) and people would have lit fires at night for warmth. The Bible calls this the “latter rains,” when an inch or so of precipitation (snow in the hills) ripened the grain for harvest. Snowmelt and this rain brought the Jordan and other rives to flood stage.
                Lentils are harvested. Flax was harvested and the stalks lain on rooftops or in streambeds where moisture would rot the stems and release the inner fibers that were harvested to make linen. In Philistia and Sharon, along the coastal plain, the barley harvest begins. Herb gardens, grown within the courtyards of houses, are also harvested. Calves frolic in the new grass and the smell of lanolin is everywhere as sheep are shorn. Storax trees explode in clusters of white blossoms.
                Abib was a month of celebrations: the Passover, the Festival of Unfermented Cakes, and the offering of the firstfruits of the barley harvest.
Ziv (April/May)
                Ziv means “brightness”—not referring to the light but to the blossoms and flowers that blanketed the country. Rainfall drops to three-quarters of an inch as the dry season begins; plants rely on the dew for their survival. Morning clouds burn off to clear skies and 60-90° temperatures.
                The barley harvest spreads into the terraced hills, and sickles flash among the wheat fields in the valleys. The hills of Galilee are ablaze with flowers: lily, anemone, gladiolus, hyacinths, tulips, irises. Farmers plant millet and women harvest the cucumbers grown in courtyards or near the town walls. When fig trees begin to get their leaves, everyone knows that summer is near.
Sivan (May/June)
                The dry season arrives in force. The quarter-of-an-inch of rain that falls this month will be the last until the end of summer. A hot, dry southeasterly wind spreads a fine layer of dust over everything and temperatures climb to 70-90°.
                Spring is over. Under the heat of the sun harvesters bring in the wheat and on hills all around the land it is winnowed and threshed, filling the air with blowing chaff. Figs are “nipped” (pierced with a sharp instrument to speed ripening) and leaves are plucked from grapevines to expose the fruit to direct sunlight.
Tammuz (June/July)
                Weeks of clear skies keep temperatures between 70 and 90°; the heavy dews of morning are all the moisture that plants get. The hillsides turn a reddish-brown as vegetation and springs dry up. Millet and lentils are harvested and the first grapes are tasted to correctly schedule the vintage.
Ab (July/August)
                Heat soars to 95° Fahrenheit. No rain falls. The early grape harvest and the harvest of summer fruits yield refreshing fruit juices that replace scarce water at mealtimes.
Elul (August/September)
                At last, summer draws to a close, although temperatures remain between 70 and 90° and heavy dews every morning remind the people that no rain will fall this month, either. Dates and figs are harvested. The general vintage gets underway and, by the end of the month, the new wine is flowing.
Ethanim (September/October)
                Summer is ending; by mid-month it is autumn and preparations are underway for winter. Approximately half an inch of rain softens the ground for plowing even while parching, oppressive winds blow in from the southeast. Temperatures drop to 65-88°.
                Long-handled hooks are used to shake the carob pods from the trees; these are used as animal food and for making sweetmeats. Harvesting is complete, and it is a month of festivals. On the first day of the month a trumpet blast commemorates Noah’s first look out the windows of the Ark following the Great Flood. The most sacred day of the year, the annual Day of Atonement, is celebrated on the 10th, closely followed by the week-long Festival of Booths, where Israelites remember their nomadic roots by living in tents on their rooftops.
Heshvan (October/November)
                “Heshvan” means “yield.” The rainy season begins with about an inch falling during the month, and temperatures drop considerably to the 55-75° range. Plowing continues, and barley and wheat are sown in the fields. In regions where olive trees flourish, harvesters beat the limbs and collect the fallen fruit, then pressed to extract their oil. (Alternatively, the crushed olives can be thrown into water and the oil skimmed off of the top).
                As the weather turns more harsh, shepherds bring their flocks in from the fields to the cover of barns and pens. Delicate saffron is harvested by hand and the fragile threads are pressed into cakes for storage.
Chislev (November/December)
                Winter arrives in earnest. Two to three inches of cold rain falls and people burn charcoal in braziers indoors for heat. Snow dusts the mountains and mornings bring a thick layer of frost to the highlands. Highs do not reach 70° even on the warmest days, and it may drop to below 50° at night.
                By the end of the month, though, the land begins to turn green with sprouting grasses. In valleys and lowlands, egumes such as peas and chickpeas are sown, and people traditionally enjoy spring dishes made from freshly harvested vegetables.
Tebeth (December/January)
                The name of this month evokes the season; “Tebeth” means “to sink down” as one does in muddy ground. Four inches or more of rain flood the land and temperatures continue to fall (48-68°). The hills are frosty every morning and the snow begins to make its way to lower elevations; it is not uncommon for Jerusalem to see flurries. Mountain passes may be temporarily blocked by snow and floods, and poorly constructed homes are in danger of being washed away.
                Unlike other parts of the world, winter in Israel sees the greening of the land as grains and the earliest flowers of spring emerge.
Shebat (January/February)
                Shebat is the middle of winter, and the rain slackens somewhat to around two inches. Temperatures rise; though nights may drop as low as 45°, days reach the low seventies. Toward the end of the month as the weather warms, almond trees brighten the landscape with explosions of pink and white blossoms. Fig trees bud, and the fields are alive with frolicking lambs.
Adar (February/March)
                At last, spring arrives. Thunder- and hailstorms (called the “latter rains” in Scripture) drench most of the land with two more inches of precipitation, providing the moisture and nutrition for plants to mature. Temperatures moderate to between 50 and 70°.
                The land is painted with all the color’s of nature’s pallete. The tiny, red flower clusters of carob trees and the bright red blossoms of pomegranates are visible on distant hills like flame. In the lowlands, terebinth trees display their reddish-purple flowers alongside the bright green of their new leaves. In courtyards and small plots outside the city walls women plant cucumbers, lettuce, endive, coriander, horehound, tansy, horseradish, cumin, garlic, hyssop, mint, and rue.

                Life in ancient Israel was inextricably connected to the land and the seasons. The pagan nations’ religious rituals and beliefs were almost all based on elements of planting, harvest, weather, and reproductive cycles.
                Understanding life in Bible times is impossible without some understanding of these seasonal changes. It is an aspect of life that most people in Western cultures have lost touch with—to our detriment, in the opinion of the author.

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

08 May 2010

Israelite Engineering

Israelite Engineering
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

            In 1 Kings chapter 7, verses 23 through 26 Jeremiah records a truly incredible feat of ancient engineering: “And he [King Hiram of Tyre] proceeded to make the molten sea [a sacred water reservoir] ten cubits (175 inches) from its one brim to its other brim, circular all around; and its height was five cubits (87 ½ inches), and it took a line of thirty cubits (525 inches) to circle all around it. And there were gourd-shaped ornaments down below its brim all around, encircling it, ten in a cubit, enclosing the sea all around, with two rows of the groud-shaped ornaments cast in its casting. It was standing upon twelve bulls, three facing north, and three facing west, and three facing south, and three facing east; and the sea was above them, and all their hind parts were toward the center. And its thickness was a handbreadth (3 inches); and its brim was like the workmanship of the brim of  a cup, a lily blossom. Two thousand bath measures (11,600 gallons) were what it could contain.” (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures)
            Had the “sea” been filled to its brim, it actually could have held 17,400 gallons. Empty, it would have weighed well over 30 tons. “There can be little doubt that it was one of the greatest engineering works ever undertaken in the Hebrew nation,” says former technical officer at the National Research Council of Canada, Albert Zuidhof, in Biblical Archeologist.
            According to verses 45 and 46 of the same chapter of 1 Kings, Hiram cast the sea “in the clay mold.” Archaeologists believe this to be a variation of the lost wax method. A wax model of the piece was crafted upside-down over a completed core mold. The artisans then built up a mold (probably of clay) over the wax model, completely encapsulating it. When the mold was dry, the whole mass was heated in some way so that the wax would melt and drain out of tubes set in the mold for this purpose. The tubes were blocked up, and liquid bronze was poured into the mold from the top.
            Many researchers have doubted whether or not the ancient Israelites had the technological and engineering skill to make such a casting. Heating, transporting, and pouring 30 tons of molten bronze is no small feat, and probably required some sort of a custom furnace made just for the job. The casting was done all at once, and the pressures generated inside the mold would have been tremendous.
            There is evidence, though, that Iron Age Israelites had developed remarkable engineering abilities. Water systems excavated at Hazor, Gibeon, Megiddo, and Jerusalem all attest to their skill.
            The Siloam tunnel was constructed to bring water from the Gihon spring in the Kidron Valley (outside the wall) into the city of Jerusalem. The tunnel slices through 130 feet of solid rock.
            The so-called “Hezekiah’s tunnel” is even more impressive. By Hezekiah’s day the Gihon spring had become even more unprotected from a besieging army. The king had the spring enclosed in rock to block access (or even visibility) from outside the wall. Then he commissioned the construction of a new tunnel to bring the water into the city. The tunnel remains to this day: 1,749 feet cut straight through the bedrock. Near its center one of the workers inscribed the following:

[…when] (the tunnel) was driven through. And this was the way in which it was cut through: While […] (were) still […] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits. (J. B. Pritchard (ed)., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 321).
The project involved the removal of 850 cubic yards of rock. Two teams, digging from opposite sides, met in the middle, only a little less than a foot out of alignment with one another. This would be an impressive feat with modern equipment, let alone Iron Age tools! Some researchers are convinced the builders used tapping sounds from above to guide the diggers, but the truth remains a mystery. What we do know for a fact is that ancient Israelite engineers had skills beyond what we might expect of the time period. We do well not to underestimate their abilities.

05 May 2010

In Living Color: Dyes and Dyeing in Ancient Israel

In Living Color: Dyes and Dyeing in Ancient Israel
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

                Today we see bright, vivid colors as the product of primarily synthetic processes. We are pleasantly surprised—even awed—by neon frogs and electric blue fish. For Iron Age peoples, the reverse was true. Man-made colors were consistently inferior to their natural counterparts, and the palette available to the dyer or the painter was a tiny fraction of that which God had used to adorn the landscape around them.
                An interesting example of this is the invitation Jehovah extends to his wayward people at Isaiah 1:18: “’Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us,’ says Jehovah. ‘Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow; though they should be red like crimson cloth, they will become even like wool.’”
                Modern readers might think that the contrasts would have been made more vivid had they used black vs. white instead of scarlet/crimson vs. white. But real blacks could not be produced by the dyes of the time—only dark greys or charcoals, and these were far from colorfast. The dyes for crimson and scarlet, though, were both rich and lasting. Removing a scarlet stain from a white cloth was an impossible task, and therefore a great illustration of the extent of God’s forgiveness.
                The story behind some of the dyes and dying processes used by the Israelites are fascinating. Here are a few examples:
Yellow dye was relatively common. It could be made from a distillation from almond leaves, pomegranate rinds, safflower blossoms, or crocus flowers. Anyone who has visited India or various regions of the Middle East will remember the yellow-orange fingers of every housewife, permanently stained by her handling of turmeric.
The bark of the pomegranate tree was blended with the roots of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum) to produce a dark, charcoal grey. Sometimes the deepest versions of the purple or blue dyes described below could appear black in less-than-direct light.
Indigo was grown in Egypt (and eventually in southern Palestine) and used just as it is today. The cerulean mussel and some mollusks from the murex family were blended with other substances for deeper blues.
The simplest (and least expensive) purples were made by steeping wool cloth in grape juice overnight and, in the morning, sprinkling powdered madder root on it to “fix” the color. The more well-known purples, though—the ones frequently referred to in the Scriptures in connection with royalty—have a more interesting origin. Along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea live the Murex trunculus and the Murex brandaris, two mollusks that range from marble- to fist-sized. In their necks is a tiny gland that, when harvested, produces a single drop of creamy yellow liquid. To produce one-and-a-half grams of dye (not enough to color a large handkerchief) required the glands of roughly 12,000 mollusks! This liquid, when exposed to light and air, gradually turned to a hue somewhere between deep violet and reddish purple (depending on where on the coast the shellfish were harvested). The people of the Phoenician city of Tyre became famous for their production of a color that came to be called “Imperial purple” because it was so expensive that only royalty could afford it. In Roman times wearing a garment of this color was forbidden by Imperial decree—violators were guilty of high treason.
This color, prominently featured in both the Israelite Tabernacle and the Temple, was also expensive. A parasite that the Arabian peoples call qirmiz (which is the origin of our word “crimson”) belongs to the family coccidae. The female looks like a berry about the size of a cherry pit, so the Greeks called it “kokkos,” meaning “berry.” In late spring the female swells, filled with eggs that contain purplish-red kermesic acid. Shortly before the eggs are ready to hatch, the female attaches herself to the twigs and leaves of the kermes oak by means of her proboscis. Sharp-eyed harvesters collect the grubs, dry them, and boil them to extract the dye.

The late archaeologist W. F. Albright uncovered a dyeing and weaving center during his excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim. In each of several separate dyeing rooms were two round stone vats with narrow openings and channels around their rims, masonry basins and benches in front of or between the vats, and jars full of lime and potash for fixing the dyes.
Many dyes were made by first mixing a solution of water, potash, and lime, After several days the chosen pigment was added and the dye was poured over the cloth in earthenware pots or stone basins. After the proper delay, the yarn, cloth, or skin was washed repeatedly in clear water, squeezed out, and hung up to dry.

04 May 2010

The Plague on Philistia

The Plague on Philistia
By Timothy S. Wilkinson

After recording the capture of the Ark of the Covenant following the second Battle of Aphek (1 Samuel Chapters 4 and 5) and its transport by the Philistines to the city of Ashdod, Samuel writes, “And the hand of Jehovah came to be heavy upon the Ashdodites, and he began causing panic [this word could also be translated “desolation”] and striking them with piles” (1 Samuel 5:6).
Various theories have been put forth regarding the specifics of the plague that overwhelmed Philistia.  The account in 1 Samuel Chapters 5 and 6 tells us that the plague included an infestation of jerboas (according to the Septuagint) and was marked by piles (Heb. bapholim).  This word in Hebrew is associated with the human anus. The Masoretes* pointed the word with the vowels for techorim, or “tumors.”  This was likely a show of modesty on their part, but it could very well also provide us with further information as to the nature of the disease.  (Verse 10 uses a rare Hebrew verb, yisatru, to describe the location of the “tumors;” some translations render it “secret parts”). Some translators have rendered bapholim as “hemorrhoids,” but if they are accurate, these were not the hemorrhoids we know today. The Latin Vulgate (Clementine Recension, S. Bagster & Sons, London, 1977) adds the detail that “their rectums protruding began putrefying.  And the people of Gath took counsel together and made themselves seats of skins.” Apparently they had to put soft seats on their chairs, perhaps with holes cut in their center--in the style of a toilet seat--to be able to sit down.
Josephus adds:  “…they died of dysentery and flux, a sore distemper, that brought death upon them very suddenly…they brought up their entrails, and vomited up what they had eaten, and what was entirely corrupted by the disease.”  (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 11).
To many modern researchers, these clues add up to a divinely originated bubonic plague.  The “piles” could easily have been the “buboes,” and the infestation of jerboas, carriers as they are of fleas, could have been responsible for the spread of the disease.  The high death rate, the rapidity of the spread of the contagion, and the agonies experienced by the dying all fit the pattern of bubonic plague—albeit a particularly virulent and violent strain. 

*The ancient Hebrew language was written using only consonants; the reader was expected to supply the vowels by inference. Unfortunately, by the sixth century C.E. so few people spoke the language fluently that the pronunciation of many words was in danger of being forgotten. At that time a group of scribes, or copyists, known as the Masoretes took it upon themselves to make fresh copies of the ancient texts and developed a system by which the correct vowels could be added into the words. They used several "point" systems, symbols that could be placed around the consonants to indicate the proper vowels and pronunciation. To do this they had to formalize and codify the grammatical rules of Hebrew, which had never been done before. In some cases they would deliberately use the incorrect vowels in order to avoid writing a word that was considered "dirty" or "unholy."

03 May 2010


By Timothy S. Wilkinson

Hebrew poetry is constructed on an entirely different concept than the English structure we are familiar with. In English we use repeated sounds (alliteration and rhyme) and syllabic rhythms (meter) to capture a meaning deeper than the words alone can convey. In Hebrew, poets relied upon poetic parallelism. This is the repetition of a concept in such a way that each appearance of the concept in the poem adds another layer to its meaning.

In synonymous parallelisms, the second line repeats some part of the previous line in words that elucidate it:
To Jehovah belong the earth and that which fills it,
The productive land and those dwelling in it.

Antithetic parallelism makes use of contrasting thoughts:
For evildoers themselves will be cut off,
But those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth.

Synthetic parallelism uses additional lines to expand on an idea:
The law of Jehovah is perfect,
bringing back the soul
The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy,
making the inexperienced one wise.

Perhaps in a future article I will write in more detail about these and other (emblematic, stairlike, and introverted) parallelisms. I bring these up here just to illustrate how ancient Hebrew writers might approach a subject in their prose.

The prophet Samuel used this type of parallel structuring in the composition of his books to powerful effect. An example of this can be seen in the introductions of the first two kings of Israel: Saul and David.

In 1 Samuel 9:2, Saul is introduced to us as being 'handsome and tall.' Chapter 16 verses 6,7 show Samuel once again choosing the 'handsome and tall' one as king, but Jehovah tells him instead to [reject the tall, Saul-like king and] choose the small, handsome one (verse 12).

In Chapter 9 verse 21 Saul declares his unworthiness to be king. In Chapter 16 verse 11, David's humble standing is such that even his own father and brothers have not found him worthy of consideration. Nevertheless, Saul is anointed with oil in a very non-public fashion--which leads to problems with his kingship being recognized later on (10:1). David is also anointed with oil (16:13) inside his father's house--and the appointment remains secret for some time.

Immediately after Saul's anointing, he is filled with the spirit of God (10:9-12). When David is anointed, he too is filled with this spirit (vs. 14)--a spirit that leaves Saul (vs. 13).

In Chapter 10 verse 3, following his anointing Saul is sent on a short journey during which he will acquire three items: a kid of the goats, loaves of bread, and wine. Chapter 16 verse 20 shows us David traveling after his anointing, carrying a kid of the goats, loaves of bread, and wine.

Both coronation accounts end with the same triumphant note: in Chapter 11 Saul saves his people from imminent danger by defeating Nahash and the Ammonite army. In Chapter 17, David outdoes his forebear by defeating the Philistine giant, Goliath and driving their army from the field.

Samuel calls attention to these parallels to set up a sort of psychological "echo" in his readers' minds. Though we do not consciously notice the pattern, it nevertheless has a ring of familiarity. We accept David wholeheartedly as the new king--not just because Samuel tells us to, but because he has made use of the subconscious power of a mini-archetype to convince us.