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The following excerpt is from James L. Resseguie‘s book, “Narrative Criticism of the New Testament”, p. 58-60.  The excerpt is part of the book’s explanation for  “Chiasm (Chiasmus)”.

The book can be found here at Google Books, and here at Amazon.

The examples are short, but I enjoyed them.  I particularly liked his treatment of Luke 22:42 and Ephesians 1:2; 6:23-24.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as well.  🙂

The word chiasm is derived from the Greek letter chi (written X), which symbolizes the crossover pattern of words, phrases, clauses, or ideas that are repeated in reverse order.  The simplest type of chiasm is A B B’ A’ – a structure that comes full circle by highlighting key concepts in reverse order.  A chiastic pattern in Mark 2:27, for instance, keeps the reader’s or hearer’s attention focused on the main concepts.

A  The sabbath was made

B  for humankind

B’  not humankind

A’  for the sabbath.

Chiasms may draw attention to a theological or ideological perspective.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is an example of literary artistry at its best.  The literary form reinforces the theological perspective.  In Luke 22:42, for example:

A  Father, if you are willing.

B  remove this cup from me;

B’  yet not my will

A’  but yours be done.

The first person singular (me, my) is placed within the second person singular (you, yours), which visually underscores that Jesus’ will is completely enclosed within the will of the Father.  This becomes a model prayer for all: our will needs to be conformed to God’s will, not the other way around.

Paul uses chiasms to wrap together an entire book with key theological concepts.  In the Letter to the Ephesians he brackets his correspondence with the words “grace” and “peace” (also in 2 Thess. 1:2 and 3:16, 18).

A    Grace to you

B  and peace

B’  Peace be to the whole community. …

A’  Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ

(Eph. 1:2; 6:23, 24)

Paul comes full circle, underscoring an important theological perspective: where there is grace, there is peace, and where there is peace, there is evidence of God’s grace.  Paul also uses interlocking chiasms to highlight the mystery of the Christian faith.  In 1 Tim. 3:16, for example, an interlocking pattern  explains “the mystery of our religion.”

[Jesus] was revealed in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among Gentiles,

believed in throughout the world,

taken up in glory.

Two sets of overlapping chiasms bring two separate worlds together – this world and the world above.  One set – flesh (A), spirit (B), angels (B’), Gentiles (A’) – is joined by a second set – angels (A) Gentiles (B), world (B’), glory (A’).  The interlocking pattern suggests that Jesus brings together in balanced harmony two worlds that were separated or at odds with each other.

Nice!

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***** Update:  This post is under review.  Please see the question raised by Sherrie in comments.  Thank you.

***** Update 2:  Sherrie has been to Israel and looked for this particular chiasmus!  She’s been kind enough to write about her experience  …  Thank you Sherrie!  I really appreciate it!

Recently in Israel (May-June 2013), we visited the Shrine of the Book with its display of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A careful search did not find the image shown above on this blog. Of course only a small portion of the scrolls is exhibited. The lower level of the museum is devoted to the Aleppo Codex or I should say codices since there are more than one. “The Aleppo Codex belongs to a large “family” of Masoretic manuscripts, which contain vocalization, cantillation marks, and Masoretic annotations.” On this lower level, I was thrilled to find a page written in the same way as the image above, although it’s not the same text. The label indicated it was the Small Codex, probably written in 1341 at Aleppo. I don’t know what passage of scripture is on the page. As to the image below, a close look shows this to be a bound book, not a scroll or leaves from a scroll. My best guess is that it is from another portion of one of the Aleppo codices, not the Dead Sea Scrolls. For more information, see the extremely informative webpages that describe the Aleppo Codex and have a wealth of information about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible, and lots more. An overall description is here http://www.aleppocodex.org/links/6.html and a description of the Small Crown is found on this page http://www.aleppocodex.org/links/7.html after scrolling down a bit. 

Sherrie Kline Smith, Special Collections and Research Librarian

***** Update 3:  In light of Sherrie’s research I’ve changed the title to this blog entry.

From here

Personally, I find this particular design intriquing.  I’ll have to look into it a bit more.  I like it’s shape.  It’s not required of a chiasmus of course – either visually or conceptually, but it’s nice to see another possible element from ‘the literary toolbox’ of the ancient chiastic writer. 

Like it.  🙂

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Chiasm was used as a literary device in the ancient world, in Babylonia, Israel, Greece, and Rome. It fell out of use, however, and in modern times the existence of chiasms in ancient literature was only recognized by a few scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries. This changed in the middle of the twentieth century, when Nils Wilhelm Lund wrote Chiasmus in the New Testament. “Since these seminal studies the study of New Testament chiasm has blossomed, until today recognition of chiastic structure is common in full-scale commentaries and other scholarly works. The study of Old Testament chiasms has likewise begun to come of age.”

From here.

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A few years ago I read the book, “The Shape of Biblical Language – Chiasmus in the Scriptures“, written by Father John Breck.  This morning I picked up John’s “Scripture in Tradition:  The Bible and Its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church“.  Chapter 5 is entitled, “Chiasmus as a Key to Biblical Interpretation”.  Below are a few select quotes from that chapter:

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From the early nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth, scholarly attention focused especially on the contributions and limits of historical-critical approaches to biblical interpretation.  In recent years, interest among exegetes has shifted to various forms of literary analysis.  Although the results have been mixed (much of the effort has been expended to correct false or one-sided conclusions drawn by other scholars), certain specific contributions have been especially helpful in clarifying the meaning of scriptural passages by locating the center of the author’s interest and thereby pinpointing literal sense of a given text.

The most significant of these, to my mind, is the contribution made by a small number of biblical scholars, beginning in the mid-eighteenth century with the works of the Anglican hierarch Robert Lowth and continuing today with studies by scholars such as John Gerhard, Charles H. Talbert, and especially Peter F. Ellis.  These studies base their interpretation of biblical texts on a form of literary analysis that investigates the concentric parallelism or chiastic (also called “chiasmis”) structures of biblical passages.

It seems obvious that any writing should be read according to its linear progression, from beginning to end, as we read a novel or newspaper article.  In antiquity, however, a linear reading of a text was very often complemented by another kind of reading.  This reading follows the laws of what is call “chiasm” or “chiasmus,” a rhetorical form based on concentric parallelism.

…  Chiasmus is a rhetorical form developed on the basis of parallelism.  But it takes parallelism an important step further by creating a movement that is in essence concentric.  Although any passage reads in linear fashion, from beginning to end, it can also incorporate another movement:  from the exterior to the interior, from the extremities toward the center.  In this way, meaning is developed from the beginning and end of the passage toward the middle.  Accordingly, the ultimate meaning of a chiastically structured passage is expressed not at the end, in what we understand to be the “conclusion.”  The real meaning or essential message of the text is to be found rather at its center.

This chiastic way of composing and reading a literary text, so that meaning develops from the extremities toward the center, seems to have originated in the Semitic world at least three thousand years before Jesus Christ.  It is found in ancient Akkadian and Sumerian texts, and it spread from these to the Greek world.  The epics of Homer, for example, are chiastically structured, as, presumably was much of the oral tradition that underlies them.  Writers of both the Old and New Testaments used chiasmus extensively   Although it seems not to have been taught in rhetorical schools after the beginning of the Christian era, chiasmus nevertheless appears throughout the ages, down to the present day.

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From here.

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Chiasmus is common throughout literary history.  It is found in modern history in the writings and speeches of men like Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, and Ben Franklin.  Chiasmus has been found as early as the third millennium B.C.  Quintilian, the first century A.D. Roman rhetorician argued:                                           

A literary work should begin and end in the same way, with similar material  (and so should smaller passages within the work), with the most important material in the middle.  Typically, each unit begins and ends with narrative material between which discourse material will be framed.   Furthermore, passages should not be simply juxtaposed, strung together, without connecting links.  From the rhetoricians dramatists borrow the principle that passages should be ‘mixed and tied together by their ends’  (Lucian); each part should be prepared for by ‘seeds of proof sown’ in the preceding part (quoted in Stock).

– Aaron Goerner

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From here.

Though art has made many transformations throughout time the underlying symmetrical composition of the image has remained a constant. The inborn inclination of humans to be attracted to symmetry coupled with the natural desire or pursuit of happiness leads to the premise that symmetry is indeed the symbol of beauty. Symmetrical properties are significant with respect to how artists analyze the world around them, how they are influenced by other cultures or artists and what they gleam from their works. Because we visualize a symmetrical world and find happiness in the contemplation of the natural, we create symbols to describe this emotion. These symbols have been formed in a vast array of materials, techniques and cultural circumstances however their symmetrical design crosses over all these variations and bonds these images together.

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In my previous entry I pointed out a case in which knowing a passage is chiastic may aid in the text’s translation.  In this entry I want to point to a blog entry at “Better Bibles Blog” which discusses chiasmus and translation.  I’m not sure I agree with the author’s approach.  I would far rather see the chiasmus arranged as a chiasmus, exposing the chiasmus – arranged something like I do here on this blog – than see it adjusted to modern tastes.  I think I’d rather see us adjusting to the original writers, than the original writers being adjusted to us.

The post is here.

Here’s a quote from his opening few paragraphs:

Structured text has form. And ancient languages utilize forms that are quite foreign to us. Just like a foreign word is not understood by someone, larger linguistic structures are also not understood. Or, sometimes, it’s worse. Sometimes they are misunderstood.

We use indentation and space between our paragraph units. It’s the form we use. People who lived and breathed the original languages were different. They used no space—even between words. They tie their paragraphing more tightly to the semantics of the paragraph. We rely more heavily on syntax. One such paragraphing technique they used was the chiasmus. I’ll use this specific formal structure to illustrate a point in just a moment.

Rarely do our translations translate these forms. They leave the larger formal structures largely untouched. When dealing at the word level, translations replace the original forms with ones appropriate to the destination language. But with the larger linguistic structures, at best, we do this replacement poorly.

The results are many: general misunderstanding of what the text says, a sense the text has a special, even secret, meaning, an unfounded assumption that the reason the text can be trusted is because it sounds special (in a novel way), the reader is not impacted by the text because he or she simply can’t understand it, the reader deems the text as irrelevant, they are frustrated, or they may even …

Interesting.

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