Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chiasm Hint #4 - Look for Matching Themes

I hope you are enjoying this series of hints that are intended to help you become more fruitful in discerning meaningful chiastic structures in the Bible. In this article, we'll look at themes that distinguish one level from another.

In a previous article, Chiasm Hint #2 - Choose Meaningful Keywords, I introduced the distinction between keywords and themes. 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.

When a pair of passages offer similarity to one another, that pair is called a level. If you believe that B and B′ are similar, then B – B′ are a level, distinguished from an A – A′ level or any other level. The various levels define the parallelism of the chiastic structure.

When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, keywords can be a clue to its arrangement but you should be seeking the discovery of its themes. Your point of discernment begins when you see thematically how one section of Scripture has a similar thread to another section.

Let's look at the Bathsheba incident to see how the themes can be matched. I enjoy the many articles that Peter J. Leithart has prepared about chiastic structures. Let's look at his analysis of the Structure and Typology of the Bathsheba incident based on 2 Samuel 11-12.

Leithart identifies this as an A-B-C-D-E-D′-C′-B′-A′ structure that begins at v11:1 and concludes at v12:31. The center point is when Nathan confronts David's sin in v12:1-15a. He also pairs the two times that David slept with Bathsheba:

B    David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v11:2-5)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
B′ David sleeps with Bathsheba and she becomes pregnant.  (v12:24-25)

In that example, if you compare 2 Samuel 11:2-5 with 12:24-25 in your Bible, you may see very few words that are common between the two. While the keywords conceived and pregnant appear in the first section, they do not appear in the second (although it also depends on your translation). However, the theme is precisely the same: he slept with her and she became pregnant!

Likewise, on the D-D′ level, mourning is the predominant theme that Leithart identified:

D    Bathsheba mourns for Uriah.  (v11:26-27)
… See Leithart's article for the full structure
D′ David mourns for his infant son.  (v12:15b-17)

In this D-D′ level, the keywords lamented and mourning are in the first part but those words do not appear in the second. Instead, in the second there is the evidence of mourning: his refusal to eat any food. Keywords do not give a clue to the parallelism but the theme remains: mourning.

When analyzing a passage for its literary structure, try to step beyond keywords. The structure's richness is seen when one theme is matched with another.