“Noah’s Ark”, by Edward Hicks, 1846
I read the Bible’s story of Noah and the flood the other day, in part because of the movie Noah coming out this weekend, and noticed that it might be a chiasmus.
Here’s a simplified break-down:
A1/A’1: Man is very evil.
A2/A’2: (Therefore) God will destroy man.
A3/A’3: (But) Noah found favor with God / = Noah will build and escape in an ark.
B/B’: These are the generations of Noah / = 3 sons.
C/C’: Noah was righteous / = walked with God.
D: Noah was blameless among his peers (ie., among mankind; among his generation).
If this is a chiasmus, then what is being emphasized is Noah’s righteousness … since it’s at the center.
I like the image this chiasmus portrays. In the chiasmus, Noah is surrounded by the evilness of the world – surrounded by evil men. In a sense, this chiasmus – at least for me – evokes both a sense of danger (surrounded by evil mankind), and a sense of safety (the safety of the center; the safety of the coming ark?; perhaps foreshadowing the ark?). Interestingly, in the chiasmus, Noah’s family (3 sons) are mentioned in-between the ‘outside’ and the ‘center’ of the chiasmus. They are caught in no-man’s land, if you will. Fortunately for them, they will get pulled into the center with Noah; into the safety of the ark.
The small chiasmi in A2 has God’s grief on the outside, with his plan to destroy the world in the center (it could also be structured as an aba’b’ parallelism). The small chiasmi in A’2 has the destruction of the world on the outside, with the reason for that destruction at its center.
I like the way the center and end of the chiasmus match, mentioning the righteousness of Noah compared to the rest of mankind. I also like the contrast between the beginning and the end of the chiasmus – the continual evilness vs. the only one righteous.
I guess the reason I first thought that this passage might be a chiasmus is the odd way the text went from the subject of the ‘evilness of man’ to the subject of ‘Noah’ and back to the subject of the ‘evilness of man’. That back and forth didn’t seem quite ‘normal’. It signaled at least the possibility that the writer was doing something chiastic.
Another possible ‘flood’ chiasmus – for Genesis 6:10-9:19 – can be found here.
1 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
a 6 And the LORD was angered that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
b 7 And the LORD said, / “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land – from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky;
a’ for I am sorry that I have made them.”
3 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
B 9 These are the records of the generations of Noah.
C Noah / was a righteous man,
D blameless // in his time [Me: Hebrew: towledah];
C’ Noah / walked with God. [Me: "with God Noah walked"]
B’ 10 And Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.
a 2 13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me;
b for the earth is filled with violence because of them;
a’ and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.
3 14 “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 “And this is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 “You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 “And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. 18 “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark– you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 “Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind shall come to you to keep them alive. 21 “And as for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did. 7:1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household; for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me // in this time [Me: Hebrew: towledah].