Staircase Parallelism in Deuteronomy 6:4?*

“Deut 6:4, has long confounded biblical scholars and exegetes. Although it consists of six simple Hebrew words, the verse exhibits peculiar syntax that defies any obvious explanation. Translated literally, the verse—which reads in Hebrew, שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָֹה אֶחָד —yields the abstruse, “Listen Israel YHWH our God YHWH one”. (“Deciphering the Shema: Staircase Parallelism and the Syntax of Deuteronomy 6:4”, Vetus Testamentum 61 (2011) 582-602).

The solution proposed by J Kraut is that this is staircase parallelism where “the second clause of the pattern not only repeats an element of the first clause but also completes the statement introduced in the first clause“. He gives an example as follows,

Exodus 15:6— יְמִינְךָ יְהוָֹה נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּחַ יְמִינְךָ יְהיוָֹה תּרְעַץ אוֹיֵב

A. יְמִינְךָ יְהוָֹה (“Your right hand, YHWH”)

B. נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּח (“glorious in power”) //

A. יְמִינְךָ יְהוָֹה (“Your right hand, YHWH”)

C. תִּרְעַץ אוֹיֵב (“dashes the enemy to pieces”)

= ABC: יְמִינְךָ יְהוָֹה נֶאְדָּרִי בַּכֹּחַ תִּרְעַץ אוֹיֵב (“Your right hand, YHWH, glorious in power, dashes the enemy to pieces”)

His poposal for Deuteronomy 6:4b— יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָֹה אֶחָד

A. יְהוָֹה (“YHWH”)

B. אֱלֹהֵינוּ (“our God”) //

A. יְהוָֹה (“YHWH”)

C. אֶחָד (“one”) 

= ABC: יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶחָד (“YHWH our God is one!”)

Note: I hadn’t come across this concept- it is distinct from “step parallelism where the last word of a clause become the first of the next, as in John 1:4-5

A. In him was life;

B.  and the life was the light of men.

C. And the light shineth in darkness;

D. and the darkness comprehended it  not.

Note: Any thoughts? I will be very interested to learn of other examples.


One thought on “Staircase Parallelism in Deuteronomy 6:4?*”

  1. For what it is worth my translation of Deut 6:4 is –
    Hear O Israel He who shall be our mighty ones is He who shall be one. This indicates the the purpose of the Almighty is to be manifested in the multitudinous body of Christ in such a way that in the time beyond the millennium God will be all in all 1Cor. 15:28.

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