Figures of Speech – Homeopropheron (Alliteration)

The ability to communicate with words is one thing that sets mankind apart from all other creatures. God is the Author of language, and no one has ever used language as precisely as God does in the Bible, including His use of figures of speech, of which there are more than 200 varieties in Scripture. [1] When most people say, “a figure of speech,” they are speaking in general terms of something that is not true to fact. However, genuine “figures of speech” are legitimate grammatical and lexical forms that add emphasis and feeling to what we say and write. In the Bible, God uses figures of speech to emphasize things that He wants us to see as important. Many people who read the Bible never think to ask themselves, “How do we know what God wants emphasized in His Word?” God uses figures of speech to put emphasis where He wants emphasis, so it is important that we recognize and properly interpret the figures of speech in the Bible. Knowing the figures of speech God uses in the Bible helps us to understand the true meaning of Scripture and enables us to more fully enjoy its richness.

The figure of speech Homeopropheron, which in English is called Alliteration, is important because it immediately grabs the attention of the reader. Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or syllable, thus the same sound, at the beginning of two or more words in close succession. A study of languages shows that Alliteration has been used throughout history, and is used around the globe today. It is used both in prose and poetry.

The poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, has the following stanza, which is a wonderful Homeopropheron: “Storm’d at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell….” Homeopropheron is used with especially good effect in newspaper and magazine article titles, advertisements, and business names. For example, if the Indianapolis Colt’s football team beat the Cleveland Browns by a wide margin, the sports headline might read: “Colts Clobber Cleveland,” a headline that would arrest the attention of the audience. Similarly, a disk-jockey for hire in a major Midwestern town calls his business, “Kroakin’ King Karaoke,” a catchy and colorful cognomen (name).

The problem with the Homeopropherons in biblical literature is that they occur in the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and are exceedingly difficult to translate into English in a way that keeps the Homeopropheron intact. Judges 5, for example, the Song of Deborah after the Israelite victory over the Canaanites, is filled with Homeopropherons that cannot effectively be reproduced in English.

Psalm 14:7
Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

In this verse in the Hebrew text, the phrase “salvation for Israel” is yeshuah Yisra’el and the phrase “restores the fortunes” is shub sheubth. The two Homeopropherons catch the ear of the reader and draw his attention to the verse.

Psalm 122:6
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure.

This verse has caught the attention of thousands of Christians around the globe, who regularly pray for the peace of Jerusalem. In Hebrew it is even more catchy than in English, for it is a wonderful Homeopropheron: Shaal shalom ye-ru-sha-la-im (Jerusalem) shalah ahab.

1 Thessalonians 1:2
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.

The Greek text has a beautiful Homeopropheron, catching the reader’s attention and thus bringing back vivid memories of the good times the Thessalonians had with Paul. The Greek words are pantote, peri panton, which we might try to reproduce as, “We give thanks to God always about all of you.”

Hebrews 1:1
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

You would never know it from the English, but the Greek text begins with the words, polumeros kai polutropos, which we have to expand to even translate as “…in many times and in many ways.” The Homeopropheron powerfully punches the start of Hebrews, reminding people of God’s involvement in people’s lives in the past times.

There are times when a Homeopropheron in the Hebrew or Greek can be reproduced or partially reproduced in English, such as “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” but it would be wrong to twist the English translation and make it difficult to interpret in order to try to maintain the alliteration. A good translation that carries the meaning well is more important that a translation that is hard to understand but which captures the fact that there is an alliteration.

Endnotes

[1] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1968).

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1 comment

  1. It’s great to find an expert who can exiplan things so well

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