OT Hebrew Literary Structure

This is an oustanding resource: David Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the OT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999). It is a literary commentary on the OT.  Dorsey breaks down many sections of the OT into literary outlines, which helps the OT student see the narrative/literary “shape” of many OT stories and sections.

The first few chapters are introductory material, covering topics such as the arrangement of literary units in the OT, the structure and meaning of the units, and the importance and value of structural analysis.  After this, Dorsey goes through the books of the law, the historical books, the poetic books, and the major/minor prophets; he then outlines major parts of each.  This is a great help when preaching and teaching the OT.

Here are a few quotes which give a nice taste of Dorsey’s emphasis.

“The pages of the Old Testament reflect a keen interest in literary structure.  Hebrew authors and editors generally took great pains to arrange their compositions in way that would help convey their messages” (p. 15).

“The blandness of an ancient text’s appearance reflects… the cultural reality that ancient texts were written primarily to be heard, not seen.  Texts were normally intended to be read aloud, whether one was reading alone or to an audience.  Accordingly, an ancient writer was compelled to use structural signals that would be perceptible to the listening audience.  Signals were geared for the ear not the eye, since visual markers would be of little value to a listening audience” (p. 16).

“To investigate structure in the Hebrew Bible, the reader must lay aside Western expectations and watch for these less familiar structuring conventions that were indigenous to ancient Israel – much as modern linguists must do when working with unwritten tribal languages” (p. 16).

Here’s a statement that is one of the reasons why Dorsey emphasises structure: “The organization of a literary work contributes to and is an integral part of the work’s meaning” (p. 17).

I’ll write more on this later as I read more.  So far, so good; wish I’d have found it a few years ago!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

6 thoughts on “OT Hebrew Literary Structure”

  1. I just bought it from Amazon 10 seconds ago! Thanks for the recommendation.

    I love this kind of book. Literary analysis is quite enjoyable.


  2. Thanks for the tip Shane! I love getting recommendations for commentaries so that I feel better when I have to pay for them! I have a gift card to B&N that might need to be used!



  3. I bought my copy about 3 years ago and it has been invaluable as I spent the last eighteen months preaching through the Minor Prophets. Very helpful indeed. A good recommendation.


  4. I recall looking through it a year or so ago at Bargain Books in Grand Rapids… It did look like an excellent resource, and ironically I was just thinking of ordering it the other day :)


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