Wilfred G.E. Watson writes in "The Hebrew Word-pair 'sp // qbṣ" (Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 1984, 96(3)):

Before going on to consider the word-pair in question it is necessary to establish which is the A-word, and that in turn involves setting out the 'family' of word pairs belonging to the 'sp-qbṣ group, but featuring only one component of the pair

What follows is a table of four lists of occurrences:

  • where אסף is the "A-word" with some other verb (presumably as B-word); denoted "'sp //     "
    (e.g. Ez. 34:29, Koh. 2:26, Isa. 17:5, Num. 21:16)
  • where קבץ is the "B-word" with some other verb (presumably as A-word); denoted "     // qbṣ"
    (e.g. Isa. 43:5, Prov. 13:11, Ez. 20:34, Joel 4:2)
  • where אסף is the "B-word" with some other verb (presumably as A-word); denoted "     // 'sp"
    (e.g. Isa. 60:20, Dan. 11:10, Isa. 58:8, Isa. 32:10)
  • where קבץ is the "A-word" with some other verb (presumably as B-word); denoted "qbṣ //     "
    (e.g. Isa. 49:18, Isa. 44:11, Hos. 9:6, Jer. 49:14)

What are A-words and B-words in biblical hermeneutics (or linguistics, in which case this question could perhaps be migrated)? Does it only indicate that the A-word occurs chronologically / syntactically before the B-word (and the two words are on the same syntactic level) or does it indicate some hierarchy, where the B-word would be dependent on the A-word: syntactically, pragmatically or rhetorically?

I have not been ably to find any other mention of these terms nor an explanation of what they mean (searching is complicated because search engines turn "A-word" into "a word" and "B-word" has another meaning).

  • These are not general terms in the field on Biblical linguistics. They are specific to the original paper "Genesis, Wellhausen and the Computer" and to the response to that paper that you cite. The authors of the original paper apparently use these terms to denote pairs of synonyms like קבץ/אסף that can be used to distinguish authorship of verses or passages in Genesis. This is my guess, I don't have full access to either paper.
    – user17080
    Sep 15 '17 at 13:29
  • 1
    The terms don't appear to be confined to a single paper, but have to do with the nature of Hebrew poetry. I'm puzzled that this cannot be seen as an important hermeneutic consideration. I have voted to re-open.
    – enegue
    Sep 19 '17 at 7:17
  • I added examples from the tables mentioned with explicit bible references, in the hope that that makes it on topic.
    – user2672
    Sep 19 '17 at 8:40

Found this link:



p. 129 of text (PDF p. 150)

Explains A- & B-word usage (1st para.) but not sure if it will fit scenario above - as that combo is mentioned in footnotes on this page.


Sequence: Generally speaking, the first element of a parallel word-pair (referred to as the A-word) is more frequent and more well known than its counterpart in the second colon (the B-word)[31] So, in Ps 7,17:

[Hebrew] May his sin redound on his head,

[Hebrew] and upon his pate may his violence descend

the poet uses the rare noun [Q-D-Q-D] as a B-word in tandem with common or garden [R-A-Sh] (the A-word). This explains why the same A-word may be used with a variety of synonymous B-words: there are fewer common words for the same thing, but a variety of rare or esoteric words. As will be seen, though, the normal A // B sequence is sometimes deliberately reversed for special effects.

End of Excerpt.


I found this explanation:

3. Poetic Parallelism.

Fully one-third of the Old Testament is poetry. This amount of text is equal to the entire New Testament. English translators have tended to ignore the poetic structure of lengthy Old Testament passages, such as Isaiah 40-66 and the entire Book of Job; but the complexities of Hebrew poetry are vital to our understanding of the Old Testament. This can be seen by studying a modern English version of the Bible that prints poetic passages as such. Several verses from the Psalms in the RSV will illustrate the underlying structure of Hebrew poetry.

Note there is neither rhythm nor meter in Hebrew poetry, unlike most English poetry. Hebrew poetry repeats ideas or the relation of ideas in successive lines. Here is an example:

(I) O Magnify the Lord with me,
(II) And let us exalt His name together!

Notice that virtually every part of speech in Line I can be substituted for its equal in Line II. Scholars designate the individual words in Line I (or hemistych I) as "A" words and those in Line II (or hemistych II) as "B" words. Thus we see the pattern in Psalm 34:

Hemistych I: O magnify A the Lord A with me, A
Hemistych II: Let us exalt B His name B together! B

As one can readily see, the "A" words can be substituted for the "B" words without changing the meaning of the line, and the reverse is also true. This characteristic of Hebrew poetry is called parallelism.

-- PDF File Download

The explanation of the poetic form here is quite easy to grasp.