Original Research

Juxtaposition as literary feature in Psalm 116

S.D. Snyman
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 56, No 1 | a2873 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v56i1.2873 | © 2022 S.D. (Fanie) Snyman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 June 2022 | Published: 13 October 2022

About the author(s)

S.D. Snyman, Department of Old Testament and New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


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Abstract

Identifying literary devices used in the (Hebrew) Old Testament serves as an aid to the understanding of a particular passage. In this contribution, juxtaposition as a literary device in Psalm 116 was investigated. A brief overview of the main problems in the research history of the Psalm is given, highlighting the date and composition, as well as the enigmatic verse 15. Drawing on other definitions of the term juxtaposition, the term was defined as a literary device used to imply comparison and especially contrast. In the rest of the article, juxtaposition as a literary device in this Psalm was investigated and eight different modes of juxtaposition were identified. It is argued that juxtaposition is the dominating and most prominent literary device that occurs in the Psalm. Finally, the contribution that the identification of juxtaposition as literary device makes to the understanding of this Psalm, was briefly discussed. Methodologically, the literary feature of juxtaposition was demonstrated through a careful reading of the text of Psalm 116. Once that was done, it became apparent that juxtaposition plays an important part in this psalm. The juxtaposition is of death versus life: it is an experience of the absence of YHWH in a Sheol-like situation in juxtapposition to the presence of YHWH in the temple; the temporal shift between present and past and the juxtaposition between the individual believer vis-à-vis the community of believers, all adds up to the conclusion that the Psalm displays a coherent unity, exactly because of the literary device of juxtaposition. Reading Scripture with a sensitivity to the literary devices that may be detected in passages of Scripture, is a rewarding exercise. It opens new possibilities to explore the meaning(s) these ancient texts have also for modern-day readers of the Bible.

Contribution: Although juxtaposition as literary device has been pointed out in previous research publications on Psalm 116, the specific contribution of this article is to demonstrate that juxtaposition is the dominating literary device in the psalm. Psalm 116 has been seen in the past as a disunity made up of incoherent parts. The frequent occurrence of juxtaposition throughout the psalm adds to the unity of the psalm. Recognising juxtaposition as the dominating literary device adds new light on the theological meaning of the psalm and this fits in well with the focus of In die Skriflig to come to a better understanding of the Bible.


Keywords

absence vs presence; composition; contrast; death vs life; juxtaposition; meaning; Psalm 116; Sheol; structure; unity

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