LITERARY STUDY OF BIBLICAL NARRATIVE
By Rav Dr. Yonatan Grossman
In loving memory of Channa Schreiber (Channa Rivka bat Yosef v' Yocheved) z"l,
with wishes for consolation and comfort to her dear children
Yossi and Mona, Yitzchak and Carmit, and their families,
along with all who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim.
Lecture #10a: Anaphora
One of the common ways to emphasize a certain word or phrase is to repeat it at the beginning or end of each sentence or clause in a series. The phenomenon in which a word is repeated at the start of a number of sentences is known as anaphoraa or epanaphora; the phenomenon in which the word is repeated at the end of a number of sentences is known as epiphora or epistrophe. Both types are very common in the biblical narrative. Generally, the point of these repetitions is to stress the word being discussed or to focus the reader on parallel sentences that open or close with the same word or phrase. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that this is a recognized technique of cataloguing; when the verse wants to give the impression of an ordered list, the reader will find many examples of anaphora and epiphora.
Let us examine the sentence which you read a few seconds ago:
The phenomenon in which the word is repeated at the start of a number of sentences is known as anaphora or epanaphora;
the phenomenon in which the word is repeated at the end of a number of sentences is known as epiphora or epistrophe.
It is clear that in this sentence, I arranged my words in a certain way to convey a sense of balance in the definition of abstract concepts. Along with the similar construction, the reader can easily note the distinction between the two different definitions: in the first clause, a word repeated at the beginning of the sentence is being discussed, which is why it is defined as an anaphora, while in the second, a word repeated at the end of the sentence is being discussed, which is termed epiphora.
This stylistic categorization is very common in Tanakh. We need look no further than the lists of the tribes in the national censuses in Bamidbar (chapters 1, 2, 26), in which the same formula is repeated many times. The same is true of the narrative description of the births of Yaakov's children (Bereishit 29-30), which bears the character of a list and therefore opens with a set formula And she conceived and bore a son." Because of this set formula, which opens the description of each birth, the reader may more easily compare the children and follow the order of their birth.
The phenomenon of repeating a word or expression in successive clauses or sentences is especially significant in a context in which we are not dealing with a formal list. In such a case, the very reiteration of the given word draws special attention. I will demonstrate this phenomenon with a number of brief examples.
Let us first examine a verse in which a first reading might indicate that the repetition is part of the classic design of biblical lists, but a second reading indicates that the reiteration has special significance.
In the beginning of the book of Ruth, we find a description of Elimelekh
and his family as they descend to the fields of Moav because of the desperation
of the famine that has hit Judea in general and the city of
And a river went out of
3. Now Lavan had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak; but Rachel was of beautiful form and beautiful appearance. (Bereishit 29:16-17)
Thus, we would expect that in the case of Ruth, the verse would present the characters by name already at the beginning, something along the lines of: And there was a famine in the land, and Elimelekh from Beit Lechem, Judea, went to sojourn in the fields of Moav, he and his wife Na'ami and his two sons, Machlon and Kilyon. Instead, we have two verses:
And there was a famine
in the land, and a man from Beit Lechem,
And the name of the man
was Elimelekh, and the name of his wife was Na'ami, and the names of his two
sons were Machlon and Kilyon Efratim from Beit Lechem,
We will return to a wider analysis of similar circumstances when we deal with the order of presenting facts in the narrative. Right now, we will note that this phenomenon emphasizes, in a unique way, the names of the active characters. This is because the reader gets the feeling that the verse is returning to something important. This is not a simple fact of standard exposition, but a uniquely important point of information.
The emphasis on the names is noticeable also because of the anaphora:
And the name of the man was Elimelekh,
And the name of his wife was Na'ami,
And the names of his two sons were Machlon and Kilyon.
At first glance, one might think that Scripture is employing anaphora in this case because of the classificatory design before us, as we stated above. However, since the issue of names (as a broad motif) in this book who merits a name and who does not is one of the deep themes of the narrative, it makes sense that the verse stresses for the reader the names of the main characters in particular already at the beginning of the story.
At the end of this book, this matter almost breaks out in the open. Boaz says to the elders at the gate:
I have also acquired Ruth the Moavite, Machlons wife, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his brethren or from the gate of his place. (Ruth 4:10)
The elders respond (v. 11): "May you act valorously in Efrata and make a name for yourself in Beit Lechem." This verse closes the literary circle from the list of names at the beginning of the narrative:
And the name of the man was Elimelekh,
And the name of his wife was Na'ami,
And the names of his two sons were Machlon and Kilyon
from Beit Lechem,
Thus, it makes sense that the anaphora that stresses the names of the characters in the narrative (characters who disappear in the exposition itself!) plays a role in one of the most important themes of the narrative, alluding to the names which have almost disappeared from the world and to how a path paved with kindnesses leads the family to reestablish its name in Beit Lechem. Not coincidentally, the name "Machlon," which is mentioned in the first lines of the book, disappears for most of its length and reappears one more time at the climax of the story, when Boaz takes Rut as a wife: "I have also acquired Ruth the Moavite, Machlons wife, as my wife." The name of Machlon almost disappears, but it nevertheless merits a renaissance.
Sometimes, anaphora creates a contrasting relationship. The reader tends initially to equate the two clauses that open with the same expression, but it quickly becomes clear that there is a distinction between these two clauses. We can see this phenomenon in the words of Batsheva to David after Adoniya takes his friends with him to crown him at Ein Rogel (I Melakhim 1:17-18):
My lord, you swore by the Lord your God to your maidservant, For Shlomo your son will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne. And now, behold, Adoniya reigns; and now, my lord the king, you do not know!
The second verse in Bat Sheva's words is built from two clauses that start with the same words:
And now, behold, Adoniya reigns (Adoniya malakh);
And now, my lord the king (adoni ha-melekh), you do not know!
The parallelism of these two clauses does not express harmony and tranquility, but rather tension between the two characters David and Adoniya (from the point of view and in light of Batshevas goal, of course). In the two clauses of her call to action, royal language is employed: "Adoniya malakh" for Adoniya in the first half and "adoni ha-melekh" for David in the second half. This ironic connection arouses the sense of competition between the two kings. Thus, Batsheva engenders and encourages tension between David and Adoniya through his words. It is clear that opening the two clauses with the expression "And now" stresses the need for immediate and decisive action.
In the design of her words, Batsheva succeeds in arousing in David the feeling that his son is rebelling. It is this filial challenge that creates the feeling that David is compelled to act immediately and to crown Shlomo while he is still alive.
Sometimes the verse creates imagined anaphora or to be more accurate,
homophonic anaphora without synonymy. In other words, two successive clauses
open with the same word, but this word has a different definition in each case,
so that the reader is easily struck by the gap between the two clauses
specifically because of the aural or visual similarity between them. Let us analyze this through two
famous stories: Moshe in Midian and the
Moshe in Midian
After Pharaoh hears that Moshe has killed an Egyptian taskmaster, he seeks to execute him, and Moshe is forced to escape to Midian.
But Moshe fled from before Pharaoh,
And he dwelled
(va-yeshev) in the
And he sat (va-yeshev) by the well.
Although the word "va-yeshev" is used twice, the first "yeshiva" refers to residence, settling in a certain place, as in, "And Avraham pitched his tent, and he came and dwelled (va-yeshev) in the Plains of Mamrei, which is in Chevron" (Bereishit 13:18). The second yeshiva, on the other hand, refers to physical sitting, as opposed to standing or walking, as in, "And Yisrael summoned his strength and sat up (va-yeshev) on the bed" (Bereishit 48:2)
In this verse, the anaphora creates a relationship between the two definitions of va-yeshev, which have opposite associative domains: in the first case, va-yeshev gives the reader a feeling of tranquility and stability, while va-yeshev in the second case casts the refugee Moshe in a different light: homeless, aimless, searching for some hope at the well, seeking the assistance of others. These opposite feelings, of permanence and impermanence, tranquility and being a fugitive from the royal sword of Pharaoh, find their resolution in the closing lines of the episode with a third use of the verb: "And Moshe agreed to dwell (la-shevet) with the man, and he gave Tzippora his daughter to Moshe" (Shemot 2:21). At the end of the passage, Moshe finally finds a permanent dwelling, a family residence, in a stable and constant location.
What causes Moshe to merit this security and stability after his flight from Pharaoh? It seems that the verse mentions the physical act of sitting to emphasize that Moshe knows when to rise as well when he sees the distress of others: "The shepherds came and chased them away, but Moshe arose and saved them, and he watered their sheep" (2:17). In other words, Moshe's yeshiva by the well opens the scene and his yeshiva with Re'uel closes it, but in the meantime he rises. The one who knows how to rise when he needs to do so merits a yeshiva of tranquility and calm.
In order to close this analysis, let us turn to the bookends of the story of the
And it was (Va-yehi) that the whole world had one language and a common speech.
And it was
(Va-yehi) when they moved eastward that they found a plain in
The two verses that open the narrative start with the anaphora of "Va-yehi." In doing so, the verse focuses the reader on two parallel openings, two expository notes: first, that the world shares a common language, and second, everyone lives in the same place. At the beginning of the story, the verse alludes to two topics that are discussed in the narrative and are interwoven language and location. In an unsurprising way, the end of the narrative (v. 9) is also twofold, using anaphora (as well as epiphora):
That is why it was named Bavel
Because there the Lord confused (balal) the language of the whole world
And from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole world
In the end of the story, it turns out that the site of the construction of the
city and tower ("the
In this way, the verse ties these two themes together throughout the length of
the story, something which is expressed by the repetition of the homographs
shem (name) "That is why it was named Bavel" and sham (there):
location and language! Geographic separation is tied to linguistic separation,
as language represents culture in the widest sense. If so, it makes sense that
the geographic dispersal is not only connected to distance, but also to cultural
segregation. The story of the Tower describes these two essential aspects of the
separation of nations: every people settles in a different place and shapes for
itself a different culture. The root of cultural furcation among the nations of
the world is the narrative of the
These examples show us clearly how anaphora may be employed to great effect in biblical narrative. In the next lecture, we will deal with its parallel, epiphora.
(Translated by Yoseif Bloch)
 I use the term here in its linguistic sense; in a grammatical context, anaphors are reciprocal and reflexive pronouns.
Yellin, "Le-Torat Ha-Melitza Ha-Mikra'it," Kitvei David Yellin,
ed. E. Z. Melamed, vol. VI (
 As pointed out by G. C. Cohen, Iyunei Mikra U-Farshanut 2 (5746), pp. 151-160.
 S. Bar-Efrat, Ha-Itzuv Ha-Omanuti shel Ha-Sippur Ba-Mikra (5744), p. 335, n. 71; M. Garsiel, Midreshei Shemot Ba-Mikra (Ramat Gan, 5748), p. 149.
 According to G. W. Coats, "Moses in Midian," JBL 92 (1973), p. 5, the story of Moshe's marriage to the daughter of the Midianite priest ends with this expression, "And Moshe agreed to dwell with the man." Consequently, the continuation of this verse ("And he gave Tzippora his daughter to Moshe") as well as the next verse ("And she bore a son, and he named him Gershom...") are thematically superfluous, and they should be seen as an appendix. If he is correct, the verb of yeshiva would be an even more prominent meaningful framework, as it opens and closes the narrative. According to his approach, however, the verses are difficult to read. It seems to be more logical that the description of the birth of Moshe's son closes the entire chapter, which opens with the birth of Moshe himself.
 However, immediately after we are told that Moshe agrees "to dwell with the man," we read of the birth of his son, and we are surprised to learn that Moshe names this child Gershom: "And she bore a son, and he named him Gershom because he said, 'I have been a sojourner in a foreign land' (v. 22). Scripture thereby maintains the tension alluded to in the beginning of the narrative as to Moshe's status: is his residence in Midian meant to be permanent or temporary? Is he a local resident, or does he constantly feel like "a sojourner in a foreign land"?