Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Chiasmus in Literature

Membership in the National Association of Scholars and subscription to the NAS web services never disappoints but sometimes surprises. When I opened today's e-mail packet from NAS I was surprised to see the following, which, of course, resonates deeply with me as one whose scholarly concentration is on biblical literature and theology. Take note of the "Ask a Scholar" feature,

By Todd D. Moore

Dear Ask a Scholar,

Can a pericope have more than one possibility of a chiasm?

- Jose Munoz, Seventh Day Adventist Theological Seminary

Answered by Todd D. Moore, staff scientist in commercialization at Merck & Co., Inc. He received a bachelor of science in biology from Delaware Valley College, an additional bachelor of science in Bible and pastorology from Pillsbury College, and a master’s in Biblical studies from Biblical Theological Seminary. He has lectured extensively on Biblical subjects at churches in the Bucks County, PA area. His website features a growing collection of chiastic structures.

Yes, but first a few definitions are in order so that everyone understands what we are discussing.

In literary or rhetorical analysis, a “pericope” is a set of sentences or verses that forms one coherent and self-contained unit. Such a unit is normally evident as a paragraph, episode, or story that contributes to the overall composition. The word itself is transliterated from the Greek, perikoph, referring to the general form of a passage or section. (Its plural, by the way, is “pericopae.”) A good illustration is the “Pericope Adulterae” - the pericope of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11. This famous episode from the life of Jesus is debated among textual critics as to whether it was actually present as part of the original writing of the author (since this pericope is not found in some of the oldest manuscript evidence).

“Chiasm” (short for “Chiasmus”) is a figure of speech, a form of parallelism, derived from the likeness to the crossing in the Greek letter chi, X. In this figure, the order of the literary units is reversed from one half of the compositional structure to the other. The units (which may be words, sentences, paragraphs, or themes) are composed such that they correspond to one another, but in inverted order. The smallest, most basic, chiastic structure looks like ABBA in form. An example of this is Matthew 7:6 where we should understand that it is dogs that attack and pigs that trample:

A. Do not give dogs what is holy,
B. and do not throw your pearls before pigs,
B’ lest they trample them underfoot
A’ and turn to attack you.

Read the whole article.

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