Imagining the Hebrew Ode On Robert Lowth’s Biblical Species

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The subject of this article is the reception history of biblical genres, or the metapoetics of genre-making. It argues that the seemingly fixed presentations of the genres of biblical poetry in the twentieth century—as in Robert Alter’s classic guide to biblical Hebrew poetry—emerge from an eighteenth-century encounter: the English exegete Robert Lowth’s dramatic attempt to fit Greek and Roman generic models to the Hebrew text. Lowth’s resulting genres, or what he called the “species” of biblical poetry, were shaped both by the parallels he discovered between classical and Hebrew traditions, and by the small and large aberrations he faced in his process of translation. The article focuses on the characterization of a poetic form that never existed: the ancient Hebrew ode. Although, in this case, Lowth fails in his biblical scholarship, his Hebrew ode demonstrates the spirit of his creative project. By fitting Hebrew poetry to neoclassical models, Lowth subtly transformed neoclassical categories and possibilities, opening up new imaginative expanses within the lyrical mode and preparing the way for a more flexible, complex, and emotionally sophisticated Romantic lyric.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)85-109
Number of pages25
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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