Seidel’s Law

In a small number of posts we have noted that there appears to be an inversion in the word order when an earlier scripture is quoted.

Here is an example, two chiasms that bookend the parable of the labourers are themselves inversions of each other;

Matt 19:30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Matt 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

An example of inversion of verses:

Joshua 24:29-31

A. (29) And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. (30) And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathserah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.

B.(31) And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.

Judges 2:7-9

B’. (7) And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel.

A’. (8) And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. (9) And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash.

A case of inversion of words was posted by Joe Mullen

Genesis 5:24

A And Enoch walked with God:

B and he was not;

C for God took him.

Hebrews 11:5

D By faith

C’ Enoch was translated that he should not see death;

B’ and was not found, because God had translated him:

A’ for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

John Adey many years ago pointed out that in Eph. 4:13

“the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”

is an inversion of the description of King Saul in 1 Sam 28:20 (AV margin) when Saul

“fell with the fulness of his stature”.

The complete contrast between the physical and the spiritual is captured by the inversion.

Primed with this thought and studying Ephesians I came across another inversion. Ephesians 4:24 “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (holiness of truth)” appears to be a reference to Zechariah 8:5 “And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness”. [The link with Zech 8 is established by the clear quotation of verse 16 – “speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour”]. I also came across inversion in the words of Eph 1:18 – “the riches of the glory” which is the reverse of Haman’s “glory of his riches” (Est 5:11).

In a recent Bible class on Revelation 15 it became apparent that the Song of Moses and the Lamb uses several OT passages two of which are inverted:


Until this week I had found only two references in the academic literature to inverted quotations. In Biblica, vol 63, no 4, 1982 entitled “Inverted quotations in the Bible, A Neglected Stylistic Pattern”, the author, P.C. Beentjes credits an earlier writer, Moshe Seidel (the observation is sometimes known as Seidel’s Law). In an article on the links between Philemon and Colossians, “Phlm 5: Col 1.4, Colossians and the Pauline School”. New Testament Studies, 2004, 50, pp 572-593, the author points out that “all the names of the greeting list in Philemon are repeated without exception in Colossians. The author goes on to say regarding the greetings; “The same technique of citation can be seen here. The sentence structure is retained but the order of objects is reversed. Instead of ‘love and faith’, Colossians has ‘faith . . . and love’ … It is important to note that Colossians consistently employs reversal when using literal quotations. This can also be seen in its citation of itself from the hymn of Col 1.15–20 in Col 2.9–10.10 This specific technique of reversed citation differentiates Colossians’ use of Philemon from its use of other Pauline letters – presumed by some scholars”.

I found this article some time ago but there was no reference to other literature on reverse quotes and I took the impression that she thought it was unique to Colossians. However, a “google” search of of Seidel’s Law today makes clear reverse quotation has been well recognised by Hebrew scholars for many years. Kalimi in his book “The Reshaping of Ancient Israelite History in Chronicles” (2005, Eisenbrauns) gives numerous examples just from 1 and 2 Chronicles. He states that Seidel found 110 examples of chiasmus between parallel texts between Isaiah and Psalms and between Isaiah and Provers and between Micah and the Pentateuch. Unfortunately I am unable to locate the original writings of Seidel.

Further information and references would be very helpful. I am currently working up a list of these references.


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