Chiasmus in Biblical Narrative: Rhetoric of Characterization

TitleChiasmus in Biblical Narrative: Rhetoric of Characterization
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsAssis, Elie
Date PublishedFall 2002

Chiasmus is commonly explained as a means of focusing the reader's attention on the center of the unit, where the central idea or turning point is situated. I propose an alternative explanation that illuminates many chiastic passages. The reader appreciates the skillfulness and the well-planned composition of chiasmus, which require determination of all components in advance, and word choice that is concordant with its context while resembling the parallel component of the chiasmus. Awareness of the reader's response led biblical authors to employ chiasmus to reflect the inner world of a character: to present the character's deeds or discourse as deliberate and premeditated. Chiasmus appears especially where one would otherwise regard the character's actions or discourse as spontaneous or unaccounted for. In other cases, words of advice are formed chiastically to cast the adviser's idea in a premeditated and convincing manner. Contrary to the common conviction of biblical scholars that chiasmus is largely a schematic phenomenon that indicates the main idea, I claim that chiasmus is a stylistic and rhetorical phenomenon that must be considered in a comprehensive literary analysis.

Jonah 1:3, ABCDCBA, p. 275; Josh. 2:9-11, ABCCBA, pp. 277-278; 8:4-8, ABCCBA, pp. 291-292; 2 Sam. 19:27-28, ABCBA, p. 279; 2 Kgs. 5:18, ABCDCBA, p. 281; 1 Sam. 3:17, ABCBA, p. 282; 19:4-5, ABCCBA, p. 290; 23:22-23, ABCDCBA, pp. 285-286; 26:18-20, ABCCBA, p. 287; Judg. 18:16-17, ABCBA, p. 284; 1 Kgs. 1:2, ABCBA, pp. 288-289