Clues to chiasmus

After a few years of debating chiasmus here are some suggestions to discern a pattern that is meaningful and not imagination.

  • The section of scripture is defined by repetition of key words/phrases i.e. bracketed or book-ended.
  • The pattern is characterised by  repetition of keywords, and phrases or by opposites (chiasmus based only on concept rather than exact repetitions are more difficult to agree on).
  • if key phrases are inverted (“heaven and earth” v “earth and heaven”) this is strong evidence.
  • The chiasm has a balanced symmetrical shape.
  • The centre – often a regular parallelism – is highly significant.
  • the whole unit makes sense.
  • the unit respects other textual features.
  • Broken patterns may nonetheless be significant.

3 thoughts on “Clues to chiasmus”

  1. Thanks that is a useful set of pointers. The challenge of ensuring it if not imagined is just that. I was wondering if there were many which cut across chapter divisions ? The benefit here is that we are not constantly drawn to look within ‘artificial ‘ boundaries. I guess the dis benefit is that these divisions were laid out generally on themes or natural changes in the text. It would be interesting to know non the less. Thanks Ian

  2. Hi Ian, and thanks for your comment. We have several that cross chapter boundaries but usually the chapter divisions have followed natural divisions. On the other hand verse separations in the English translations have to be pretty much ignored. If possible it is good to check the syntax in the original text.

  3. Those are excellent observations. About the chapter divisions marking off natural divisions, I do find that cross chapter structures are not really uncommon. When I really want to have confidence in my discernment of a structure, I include the expanded context in my consideration, to see whether there is more that must be taken into account. I’m sometimes very surprised by what is there to be found!

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