Chiasms2 min read

A Chiasm is a literary technique used frequently in the Bible. It’s a symmetrical pattern that incorporates two or more ideas; A and B. These ideas are grouped with related variants (A1, B1) and structured as such; A,B,B1,A1. They might also look like A,B,C…C,B,A.

Of course, interpretations of the Bible don’t always reveal them as the original Hebrew would, but sometimes we can find them.

Rabbi Fohrman from AlephBeta.org talks about many of these chiasms, of which I’ll share two below.

Torah portion Lech Lecha (Gen 12-17)

  • “And Avram fell on his face” (Gen 17:3)
    • Avraham will be a father (17:4)
      • Avram is changed to Avraham (17:5)
        • To multiply greatly (17:6)
          • Everlasting covenant (17:7)
            • I will be a God/ Land/ God (17:7-8)
              • And you shall keep the covenant (17:9)
            • Circumcision/ Covenant/ Circumcision (17:10-12)
          • Physical everlasting covenant (17:13)
        • To utterly nullify (17:14)
      • Sarai is changed to Sarah (17:15)
    • Sarah will be a mother (17:16)
  • “And Avraham fell on his face” (17:17)

Torah portion Vayeira (Gen 18-22)

  • Avraham took the wood and laid it on Isaac, his son (Gen 22:6)
    • And they went both together (22:6b)
      • My father (22:7)
        • Lamb for burnt offering (22:7b)
          • God will provide (22:8)
        • Lamb for burnt offering (22:8b)
      • My son (22:8c)
    • And they both went together (22:8d)
  • Avraham took Isaac, his son, and laid him on the wood (22:9)

Rabbi Fohrman even digs into a huge chiasm spanning the whole second half of Exodus if you’re interested.

Gordon Wenham has analyzed the genesis flood and found a chiasm there as well.

Torah portion Noach (Gen 6:9-11:32)

  • Noah and his sons (Gen 6:10)
    • All life on earth (6:13:a)
      • Curse on earth (6:13:b)
        • Flood announced (6:7)
          • Ark (6:14-16)
            • All living creatures (6:17–20 )
              • Food (6:21)
                • Animals in man’s hands (7:2–3)
                  • Entering the Ark (7:13–16)
                    • Waters increase (7:17–20)
                      • God remembers Noah (8:1)
                    • Waters decrease (8:13–14)
                  • Exiting the Ark (8:15–19)
                • Animals (9:2,3)
              • Food (9:3,4)
            • All living creatures (9:10a)
          • Ark (9:10b)
        • No flood in future (9:11)
      • Blessing on earth (9:12–17)
    • All life on earth (9:16)
  • Noah and his sons (9:18,19a)

So what am I getting at? What’s the big deal about the pattern of chiasms? Well as I mentioned before, the text is written in Hebraic literary patterns. It’s important to understand the ways in which the authors expressed the word of God. These chiams can climax to a central theme that we might not notice at first. They can help focus our attention on what YHVH is working to share with us.

But this requires work and study. The depth of Scripture is endless. God has so many hidden mysteries that He’s ready to share with those who put forth their efforts to learn. Learning is done through intensive study and expanding one’s understanding. For those of us who don’t speak Hebrew or Greek, it’s much more difficult, but it can be done. Keep learning.

 

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