Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords

When analyzing a Bible passage to determine if it is chiastic, both keywords and themes can be used to identify the parallelism. Keywords are those Greek or Hebrew words that, when translated into English, are represented in the same way. Themes are ideas that give similar or opposite meaning but not exactly the same words. In this lesson, we will restrict ourselves to just keywords.

In this "Chiasm Hints" series, my intent is to help sharpen your skills when identifying chiasms in the Bible. In the first lesson we looked at "Order of Presentation". In this lesson, we will look at the choice of keywords. Appropriate selection of keywords should lead to better analysis and more meaningful understanding.

First Example
In this passage, the keywords make some sense with the overall structure:

19 Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People's Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,
20 and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates.
21 Thus says the Lord.’” (Jeremiah 17:19-21a ESV).

Using keywords, a structure like this might be deduced:

A    Thus said the Lord to me  (v19a)
B    Go and stand in the People's Gate,  (v19b)
C    By which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem,  (v19b)
Hear the word of the Lord,  (v20a)
C′   You kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,   (v20b)
B′ Who enter by these gates.  (v20c)
A′ Thus says the Lord  (v21a)

In this structure, the keywords match as indicated by the violet, lime green, and light blue colors. The keywords meet the criteria of matching parallelism and they are a significant part of each level.

Also this chiasm has a fairly obvious centerpoint: X  Hear the word of the Lord. To the Hebrews reading this, they would have understood that the Hebrew word shema has a broader meaning than just "hear" for it also infers obedience. Possibly this would have been a stronger rendering: Hear and obey the word of the Lord.

Second Example
Notice how the keywords in this passage have a sense of parallelism but the keywords are weak:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:1-4 ESV)

I suppose that a structure like this could be developed:

A    The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  (v1)
B    As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,  (v2a)
C    “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,  (v2b)
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  (v3a)
C′   Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”  (v3b)
B′ John appeared,  (v4a)
A′ Baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  (v21a)

I hope this is not your analysis, but if it is, would you consider some insight? The words prepare your way, and Prepare the way are nearly the same in the English, so a keyword parallelism might be suspected. In this analysis, Isaiah the prophet is paired with John [the prophet] which might be a possibility.

While most English translations also render the Greek as ‘prepare’ and ‘way’, a look at the Greek indicates they are different. (Don't worry if you don't know Greek). By checking Biblehub's Interlinear Bible, we see two different words: Mark 1:2 and Mark 1:3; the word kataskeuasei is not even similar to the word hetoimasate!

Yet sometimes synonyms like kataskeuasei and hetoimasate are paired together in parallelism, so we should dig deeper: “Are the two ‘prepare … way’ statements significant to the understanding of those verses?”. I suggest that they are not but I will admit it is a bit subjective. What is insignificant to me may be very significant to you.

The bigger question is, “Does the remainder of the structure make sense?” In this case, you must know that John was also a prophet like Isaiah, for the text does not say so. But more importantly, is it theologically correct to compare the gospel of Jesus Christ (saved by faith for the forgiveness of sins) with the gospel of John the Baptist (repentance for the forgiveness of sins)? My sense is that this passage was never intended for that contrast.

To me, I think it is a long stretch to call this passage chiastic. There are too many obstacles that make the whole pattern seem reasonable. You may not agree with me, but that is my analysis: the whole chiasm should have a strong literary basis for. While the passage to me is intriguing, the center point is not emphatic and parallelisms are weak. Let's look at another example.

Third Example
The point of this Chiasm Warning is to help you select significant words rather than the less important as the basis for the chiasm. Consider this passage:

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:34-37 ESV)

The problem with selecting less important words is that the resulting chiasm may make very little sense.

A    And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v34)
B    And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” (v35)
And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, (v36a)
B′ “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” (v36b)
A′ And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (v37)

When I review this structure, I sense that the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” have been completely lost. His loud cry is not nearly as important as his perceived abandonment by God. Also, the sponge with sour wine, a reed and a drink is important to the story of the cruxificion, but in my opinion it is not worthy of being the center point emphasis. To me, if someone presented this analysis, I would be tempted to join Jesus with a loud cry.

Fourth Example
In this passage, the repetition is apparent:

28 And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’
32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.
33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Mark 11:28-33 ESV)

Considering this repetition, what are the pros and cons about this analysis?

A    And they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” (v28)
B    Jesus said to them, (v29a)
C    “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. (v29b)
D    Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (v30)
E    And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ (v31)
E′ But shall we say, ‘From man’?” – they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32a)
D′ For they all held that John really was a prophet. (v32b)
C′ So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” (v33a)
B′ And Jesus said to them, (v33b)
A′ “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (v33c)

I encourage you to add your thoughts below.