Does rhyme exist in OT Hebrew, and if so, is it important? After all, there are four main possible endings on nouns and nounlike words –
- various masculine singular forms without endings
- the feminine singular -ah, or sometimes -ath
- the feminine plural -oth
- the masculine plural -im
So similar sounds on the ends of words will happen. As Wilfred G. E. Watson says in Classical Hebrew Poetry, 232, “Some cases of rhyme may be fortuitous, due to the limited number of word-endings available,” although he goes on to say that there are ways to identify more deliberate usages.
I thought I’d show off an unmistakeable example of Hebrew rhyming from Psalm 146 (Hebrew, then transliterated):
7 עֹשֶׂ֤ה מִשְׁפָּ֙ט׀ לָעֲשׁוּקִ֗ים נֹתֵ֣ן לֶ֭חֶם לָרְעֵבִ֑ים יְ֜הוָ֗ה מַתִּ֥יר אֲסוּרִֽים׃
8 יְהוָ֤ה׀ פֹּ֘קֵ֤חַ עִוְרִ֗ים יְ֭הוָה זֹקֵ֣ף כְּפוּפִ֑ים יְ֜הוָ֗ה אֹהֵ֥ב צַדִּיקִֽים׃
9 יְהוָ֤ה׀ שֹׁ֘מֵ֤ר אֶת־גֵּרִ֗ים (Psa 146:7-9 WTT text from BibleWorks software)
(That may not be perfect, and looks very small, but has come over mostly right, except for some extra circumflexes.)
ʿōseh mišpāṭ lāʿăšûqîm
nōtēn leḥem lārĕʿēbîm
yhwh mattîr ʾăsûrîm
yhwh pōqēaḥ ʿiwrîm
yhwh zōqēp kĕpûpîm
yhwh ʾōhēb ṣaddîqîm
yhwh šōmēr ʾet gērîm
…which the 2011 NIV translates:
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed…
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner… (Psa 146:7-9 NIV)
So there you have it – a clearly deliberate, seven-fold end-rhyme using the masculine plural ending –îm, three words each time, and the first word either the name, Yahweh (LORD), or a word (participle) referring to what the LORD does. The effect is quite intense and very God-focused, with the goal of motivating the praise that concludes the psalm shortly afterward – “praise the LORD” (= hallelu-jah).