Elizabeth (Libby) H. P. Backfish is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at William Jessup University. Dr. Backfish specializes in literary and theological approaches to the text, with Psalms and Judges being two of her current areas of expertise. Her publications include Hebrew Wordplay and Septuagint Translation Technique in the Fourth Book of the Psalter (Bloomsbury, 2019), as well as articles published in the Journal of Biblical Literature, the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Christian Scholar’s Review, Biblical Archaeology Review, and more. Dr. Backfish also serves on the board of the Institute for Biblical Research, and she is an ordained pastor (a “theologian in residence”) at Granite Springs Church in Lincoln, California.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXVI, November 17 – 19, 2023
Greater is the Art of the Ending: Poetic Closure in the Psalms
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously said, “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of the ending.” He might initially have been referring to more existential endings of life and seasons of life, but the same sentiment can arguably be extended to poetry: how poems end is of crucial importance, both for the poem’s meaning, and for how readers are to respond to the poem.
Much study has been done in the field of literary theory and poetics on how poems end, what gives them a sense of “closure” and how that affects the reader. Biblical scholars are also starting to take a closer look at how Hebrew poetry ends, including the variety of closure strategies involved, the methodologies needed to identify those strategies, and how such strategies direct the reader. For example, some endings focus the reader’s attention to the ending itself. Some invite readers to revisit the beginning of the poem in light of the whole. Some bring readers back to a central part of the poem, to emphasize a point or to disambiguate a point. Some poems even refuse to end, but push the reader forward to the next poem or to self-reflection. This lecture will explore various ways that Hebrew poems end by focusing on select examples from the book of Psalms.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXV, October 8 & 9, 2022
Conventions and Contributions of Hebrew Poetry
Most of us probably have a good idea of what constitutes “poetry” in our native languages. Ancient Hebrew poetry shares many of these conventions, including metaphor, word and sound play, and personification. It also, however, employs poetic devices less commonly seen in non-Semitic language groups, with parallelism being perhaps the most significant example. In this lecture, Dr. Libby Backfish will explore the richness of Hebrew poetry, explaining and illustrating its various poetic devices, and she will show how attending to these features can help us to read the Bible more fully.