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My Int'l SBL Paper on Chiasm in the NT (Take the Poll)

My Int'l SBL Paper on Chiasm in the NT (Take the Poll)

A brief note, as mentioned to a few friends elsewhere: Happy to have my SBL Int’l proposal accepted, “Chiasm in the NT: Its Use and Abuse” (Methods in NT Studies section). I plan to structure the paper in a complex, difficult to decipher chiastic pattern through which my main points will be made. (Okay, that last part is probably untrue.)

I’m curious, do you think “X marks the spot”?

[poll id=”2″]

[Note: By “macro” I refer to chiastic structures that span multiple paragraphs of text (or more).]

Want to say more? Leave a comment, tweet about it (@sakeoftruth, #chiasm), orย email me.

28 Responses to My Int'l SBL Paper on Chiasm in the NT (Take the Poll)

    • Thanks for the heads up, Erlend. It is an interesting piece, and one with which I have points of agreement and disagreement–I’ll save those for later, I think. ๐Ÿ™‚ I look forward to the forthcoming Oxford volume on the related subject from him, too.

  1. U mite want to use my site as an example of some abuses of chiasmus? No doubt some examples can be found there.

    I also have a chiasmus for the Gospel of Mark, but most will doubt it. … Occasionally I even doubt it.

    • Well, it’s perhaps brave of you to offer your own site up for critique. ๐Ÿ™‚ I plan to limit any examples I use to those published by scholars. I’ll plan to at least summarize the paper here at the blog when the time comes.

  2. It’ll be interesting to see what you have to say. I look forward to it. … As to your choice of only using scholars, I’m sure you’ll be able to find some fine examples of abuse there as well – though some of mine might be hard to beat.

    In terms of some longer chiasmus on my site I would suggest Paul’s Eph 2:11-22, Gal 5:16-26, Titus, or 1 Thess 1-2 (currently under explained -who has the time?) Or perhaps the Gospel’s Matt 13:10-19, Mark 13:4-23, or Luke 1:68-79.

    If your ever interested in hearing about my Gospel of Mark chiasmus, let me know. It nicely fills in Mark’s missing ending. It’s a beauty – with minimal abuse (ok, maybe just moderate abuse).

    • Sounds interesting. By “fill in Mark’s missing ending,” do you mean that your proposed structure extends to Mark 16:8, or that it spans one or the other of the longer endings of Mark, or something else altogether?

  3. It fills in past 16:8. Mark could have ended with resurrection appearance(s), a return to Galilee, a ‘great commission’, and a ‘pentecost’ scene (fulfilling the promise in 1:8, “I baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (cf., Acts 1:5)). As Jesus’s ministry began with an empowerment by God’s Spirit (beginning of Mark), so Jesus’s followers began their ministry with an empowerment by God’s Spirit (end of Mark).

    I can offer 4 reasons (or at least I used to be able to offer 4, lol) why Mark perhaps CHOSE to shorten his Gospel. There’s are at least 2 structural reasons: 1). Shortening the end created 2 halves with nice inclusions (Mark liked his sections – and halves – to have inclusions), and 2). His ending then better matched his center (his center ends with 8:34-38, “Pick up your cross and follow me …”

    Having 2 halves, by the way, can be a sign of a chiasmus. Some chiasmi have a shift at the center.

    Anywho, there’s lots going with this chiasmus. Mark is definitely not just a ‘string of pearls’. It’s intricate and well designed. It has sections with inclusions, transitions between sections, and tells a bit of a story as you read it ‘sequentially’ ‘by matches’ (which causes the reader to read from outside in, ending in the middle). A thing of beauty. A creative masterpiece.

    I think Jesus’s healing of the blind man in 2 steps works as an analogy. A person who sees Mark simply as a linear story doesn’t see Mark fully (clearly). When you see it also as a chiasmus, you see it fully (clearly). You see Mark in its full glory.

    But hey, I ain’t no scholar. So what do I know?


    • I apologize for the delay in responding to this (slipped by me over the weekend).

      1. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by Mark choosing to shorten his Gospel (e.g., short compared to the other synoptics, a short=abrupt ending compared to the others, etc.). Most scholars believe that Mark ended at v. 8, as do I. That doesn’t mean he did (of course), but if the longer ending(s) are required for the chiastic proposal, there’s a fair bit of text-critical work to be done to support the argument.

      2. I agree that Mark’s narrative is creative and exhibits symmetry in its arrangement (e.g., inclusions, ‘sandwich’ passages, doublets, etc.). I don’t think this necessarily supports the presence of a macro-chiasm.

      3. I’m not sure what you mean by reading from the outside in. Do you mean that the readers who picked up on the alleged chiasm would read it this way? I don’t know of any evidence of ancient authors intended their works to be read this way. Interesting nonetheless :).

    • I suppose it depends on the size of the structure. If it spans multiple paragraphs and the parallels are based on conceptual summaries rather than actual Greek words–usually the case with ‘macro’–then I tend to be skeptical. If it is a small structure I am more willing to call it chiasm. I don’t dispute that authors frequently end the way they begin (whether in paragraphs, sections, or entire works). I suppose it depends a bit on what we mean by chiasm(us), how we think it may ‘function’, etc., and I think it has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  4. Hmmm. I see you’re a thoughtful person, asking good questions, making reasonable comments. I like that. I agree with you that Mark ends at Mark 16:8. But I also think Mark was, or could have been longer. I guess there’s a number of ways it came to be what it is today. Eg., the ending (eg., end of the scroll) could have been destroyed early on, or perhaps the author died before he could finish it. I suppose both these (and other ideas?) are possible. I’m not opposed to them. But another possibility, given my chiasmus, is that Mark loved structure sooooo much that he purposely left his chiasmus short for the sake of maintaining sructure. Specifically, I’m thinking here of a possible desire for his chiasmus’s first and second halves to have proper inclusions – which shortening his gospel accomplishes; and having the end match his center – which shortening his gospel also accomplishes. Two birds with one stone. On top of that, of course, may be the possibility that Mark also liked the rhetorical effect the shortening had on his gospel – as so many scholars seem to argue for today in Mark’s current 16:8 ending.

    A good argument against my proposal (which is only offered as a possibility) is that it might be hard to envision a writer willing to give up on so much ‘good’ stuff at the end of his gospel (eg., a ‘great commission’ and a ‘pentecost’ scene fulfilling Mark 1:8. A good point. I can think of 4 possible answers: 1). The ending was soooo well known, Mark was willing to let it go for other reasons; 2). The chiasmus would help the reader fill in the well-known ending anyway; 3). The purposely shortened ending was especially useful in communicating to Mark’s ‘persecuted’ audience (relating to the chiasmus’s center, 8:34-38; the cross, etc.); 4). Mark really did like the rhetorical effect the ending had.

    Anyway, sorry, but I have to leave now. I’ll answer the rest later. Have a good day. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I would be hesitant to suggest that the author included or omitted source material based on a desire to form a chiasm or an inclusio of one kind or another. It is possible, but difficult to prove. (The proverbial statement, don’t let the tail wag the dog, may apply here). I’m all for making proposals, and by all means, don’t let me discourage you from looking at the evidence and making a case for it.

      About the ‘well known’ ending… I think there are a number of variables that must be taken into account when considering how well known the commission-endings of Matt, Luke, and John may have been when Mark was written: (1) The date of Mark; (2) Synoptic relationships; (3) Dates of the other Gospels, to name a few. If Mark is written first, and sometime in the 60s(?), but does not include a commission ending, one has to ask what evidence there is that the commission stories were “well known” prior to the writing of Matt, Luke, and John. We might suggest that they are based on earlier traditions (which I think is likely), but How early and how well known?–we simply cannot know for certain.

      Having said that, I do think, as you’ve mentioned, that Mark’s abrupt ending has a rhetorical effect that fits with whole of the Gospel. I remain less convinced, however, that a macro-chiasm is present.

  5. Regarding your comment 2 above: “I agree that Markโ€™s narrative is creative and exhibits symmetry in its arrangement (e.g., inclusions, โ€˜sandwichโ€™ passages, doublets, etc.). I donโ€™t think this necessarily supports the presence of a macro-chiasm.” Your right, the presence of micro-chiasmi does not mean the entire thing is a chiasmus. That being said, I like it when a larger writing I think is a chiasmus also exhibits some smaller chiasmi. At the very least, it MAY show that the writer at least enjoys the use of chiasmus. If he likes it on a small scale, perhaps he might like it on a larger one? Maybe.

    Regarding your comment 3 above: “I’m not sure what you mean by reading from the outside in.” It comes from the idea that a reader would naturally like to see what the match for any particular section is. The reader would read A, then want to read it’s match A’, he would then go back to B, then read the latter’s match, B’, and so on, until finally ending in the center where the main point would be / could be found. John Breck wrote about this in his book, “The Shape of Biblical Language”, although personally I think JB overdoes it by quite a bit (he might be a candidate for your SBL paper ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I believe JB called it helical reading. … I once read a paper by a Scott? who, I believe, attempted to muster some support for this way of reading a chiasmus by pointing to the way Greek children were taught to learn the alphabet forward, backward, from the outside to center, and from center to outside. Perhaps as training for reading chiastically??? … Personally I think this sort of thing is possible, but wasn’t a goal by every chiastic writer. … You could see my Psalm 150 chiasmus on my blog for a chiasmus that may be arranged ‘helically’. … In my view the writer of Mark shows some awareness of this technique in writing his chiasmus. A helical read by sections shows a flow of ideas from outside in – at least via its larger sections.

    In truth, what I’m saying about Mark may sound weird to someone not used to understanding chiasmus this way. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland. A new world. To some extent everything – or much – or some – gets changed. … To the person used to reading linearly, this way of contemplating a writing must seem strange indeed. Is it too strange to consider?

    In your last comment you say: “I remain less convinced, however, that a macro-chiasm is present” I would expect nothing less since I haven’t given you much in the way of detail. There’s not much to go on – yet.

    • I have Breck’s volume, in fact. I understand the concept you’re getting at, but we still lack any kind of evidence that ancient readers read this way or that ancient authors wrote this way. That’s the trouble with the whole thing. The ancient discussions of rhetoric don’t talk about chiasm as we’re referring to it.

      I’m also familiar with the attempt to support ancient use of chiasm with the point about how children learned the alphabet backward and forward. I’m afraid that doesn’t prove much in the way of how readers read and writers write, interesting as it is.

      I plan to address many of these issues in greater detail in my paper, which unfortunately won’t receive substantial attention for another month or two.

    • Dick, I glanced at the chiastic structure, and it exhibits one of the problems with many macro-chiastic proposals: some of the parallels are so asymmetrical that it suggests the observer is somewhat subjectively lumping texts together in search for such a structure (e.g., “R”).

  6. I must say that I agree with your comments. There probably isn’t any definitive ‘proof’ that the ancients wrote or read in a helical fashion. Maybe just a hint or two. … It does tho seem a natural thing for a person to want to see what the matches are as she reads through a chiasmus. This would naturally, though perhaps unintententially, produce a ‘helical’ chiastic read. I guess the question might be whether or not an ancient would have this (to us / me) natural inclination, and whether that natural inclination might lead to a methodology that would take advantage of it. My guess is perhaps / maybe yes. At least, it looks to me at least possible when I look at some chiasmi. Eg., Psalm 150, Mark. But hey, maybe it’s just me.

    Proof? Probably not.

    Perhaps a couple other things could be considered here. Eg., the possible connection between macro-chiasmi and scrolls (eg., rolling toward the center); and the possibility that a helical read may be produced quite naturally – without intention – by simply writing ideas with a logical flow of ideas from A, B, C … to the center. The logical flow may then be ‘matched’ in reverse order on the latter half of the chiasmus. This could quite naturally produce a chiasmus that could be read helically (with a flow of logic: A/A’, B/B’ …), but without intent by the author.

    Have a good day today! I’m enjoying our conversation. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I thot I’d mention a couple things that might come in handy re. whether or not Mark might have shortened his gospel for structural reasons. 1). I said he might have done it to create a second half inclusion. With a shortened gospel, Mark’s second half inclusion runs from Jesus’s first prediction of death and resurrection (Mark 8:~31) to Jesus’s actual death and resurrection – from prophecy to prophecy’s completion. If he had continued his ending, that connection would have been lost. 2). I said he may also have been willing to shorten it in order to have his ending connect with his center. His center is 8:34-38, “Pick up your cross and follow me … (probably should read the whole thing)”. I think shortening his gospel makes that ‘centre to ending’ connection quite well. We have Mark ending with the whole disciples running / Christ dieing thing at the end, in connection with the same personal application issue / question in the center. (And by the way, center / end connections tend to be a feature of many? chiasmi – at least as I see it. Lol.)

    Anyway, I gotta go again. In the end, what I’m saying above also would depend on seeing the whole structure I think.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Joshua.

    A technical comment from my perspective on chiasms.
    I believe that shorter chiasmic structures worked towards the centre because readers would be consciously aware of their existence if both series had events in the same order. However, I think that Mark realised that with a very long structure, this was not a problem. In fact, over such a long attention span, a traditional structure could become too obscure, but with events in the same sequence, the context remains familiar, but not so much so that the reader immediately notices and therefore feels he is being manipulated.

    I agree that pair R is hard to get your head around. When I was researching this structure, I also felt that unless I had pair R I did not have a real chiasm. But the links are so strong I believe it is part of Mark’s structure as I described it. Other pairs are clear and (in my view) unarguable, so that disagreeing on R should not prove against the concept.

    Finally, I agree that many so-called chiasms are only so in hindsight. They are only real if the author concerned (here, ‘Mark’) probably had the structure in mind when he was planning his work.

    • Thanks, Dick. I think your final paragraph picks up on an important but difficult issue: How to determine authorial intentionality. Ultimately chiastic proposals (of macro- or micro- structures) have to be argued along probabilistic lines: How probable is it that the such-and-such a structure reflects the intentions of the author? Even if one can show that such-and-such structure ‘probably’ reflects authorial intentionality, there remains the problem of determining how the structure ‘functions’.

  9. Yes, I see lots of so-called chiasms where the relationship between X and X’ is strained or too general. How many chiasms have you seen described where one of the pairs is called ‘dialogue’? I do not believe these were in the mind of the author. I also agree with you that the default view should be that an asynchronous pair would not have been in the mind of the author. I also think a chiasm is more probable if the proposer can show -why- the author created a pair.

    Examples from my framework chiasm:
    1) Asynchronous pairs
    I know you saw pair R as asynchronous, and I would agree that it unlikely to be part of the chiasm unless there are sound reasons to show that it was in the mind of the author. As my notes on the web page show, the passages that form event R have common themes. Also, ‘Walking on water’ looks back at ‘Feeding the 5000’; ‘Feeding the 4000’ is a virtual repeat of ‘Feeding the 5000’; “Disciples only have one loaf” is a reminder of the two main feasts; it is in the context of “Disciples only have one loaf” that Jesus summarises the two feasts and asks why they do still not understand. I believe there is enough there to say that regardless of what we see as ‘rules’, Mark saw these passages as a unity.

    2) Author’s reason for writing a pair
    On the surface, pair K has ‘rebuke’ in common between K and K’, which is a weak relationship. However, just before K (at 3:17), close enough to be particularly relevant, we are told that Jesus named James and John the sons of thunder. We no have two issues in common rebuke and storm/thunder. It ought to be surprising that James and John wanted Jesus to agree that they sit on his right and left hands in heaven, especially at a time when Jesus does not yet seemed destined to die soon. By comparing the ‘sons of thunder’ with the sons of Zeus the thunderer Mark was, in the minds of first-century readers, comparing Jesus himself with Zeus, whom he will replace. Thus I have established reason.

  10. Hey Dick. How’s it going? … I just took a quick look at your chiasmus for Mark. I’m just wondering whether your effort might not be an example of parallelism rather than chiasmus (reverse parallelism)???

    • Thanks ljhooge

      Apart from semantic definitions, I have been wondering how best to classify this, and parallelism may well be closest. I think the framework structure is not true parallelism, because pair A sets the scope (boundaries) for the structure as it would in a normal chiastic structure. Yet you are right that it is not true chiasm, because it reverts to a parallel form thereafter. I know what Mark was trying to do (or at least I think I do unless someone finds a flaw in my logic) but I would happily accept suggestions as to what to call it.

      I think I decided for the time being on ‘chiastic structure’ because the emphasis at the moment is on looking for these structures in Mark, and because of the Passion structure.

      The Passion structure is actually based on a suggestion by John Shelby Spong in ‘Jesus for the nonReligious’. He recognised that the last twenty four hours were broken into eight periods of just three hours each and saw that there were elements of chiasm there. His focus was on the periods, not the events, and while this gives a very elegant structure, you don’t quite get pairs. When I changed the focus to the events that begin each period, it is not as elegant but then pairs line up nicely in a chaismic (reverse parallelism) fashion.

  11. I actually have a chiasmus for the Gospel of Mark. I’ve probably seen 5 or 6 attempts at ‘large-scale’ patterned structures for Mark. Mine and all the others have been attempts at chiasmus. Yours uses parallelism. Overall none of them have been close to being the same. … At best only 1 can be right and there’s probably a decent chance that none of them are right. That, anyway, is my opinion.

    That being said, I’m sure people will keep trying to promote their own structure – I know I will. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Human nature.

    • Ljhooge’ I think you say you have a large-scale structure for Mark. I’d be very interested to see this if this is possible.

  12. I’m sorry to say that I’m currently keeping my Mark chiasmus under wraps. Ideally I’d like to find a Biblical scholar to come on board with the project. Someone who could check out the Greek for additional connections, give advice, etc. … I do have a chiasmus blog you might be interested in checking out tho. The address is further up in comments here.

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