Criteria Chart

Identifying a chiasm in a text can be problematic and is usually subject to one’s interpretation. Here is a sample of publications that have given a list of criteria that a text should have in order to be identified as a chiasm. Some of the publications are available in full online. Click on the source to view the complete publication. 

Sources:

  1. John W. Welch, "Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus" (1995)
  2. Nils Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament (1942)
  3. Craig Blomberg, "The Structure of 2 Corinthians," Criswell Theological Review 4 (1989):3-20
  4. M. J. Boda, "Chiasmus in Ubiquity: Symmetrical Mirages in Nehemiah 9,"Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1996, 21:55-70
  5. Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, "Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?” (2004)
  6. Paul Gaechter, Die literarische Kunst im Matthäus-Evangelium (The Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew) (1965)

 

Criteria for a strong chiasm From "Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus" From Chiasmus in the New Testament From "The Structure of 2 Corinthians" From "Chiasmus in Ubiquity: Symmetrical Mirages in Nehemiah 9" From Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance? From Die literarische Kunst im Matthäus-Evangelium
Pattern is evident

1. The proposed pattern is clearly evident in the text.

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b3. [There should not be] arbitrary labeling of the pattern, metrical maneuvering, or artificial line breaks

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Overall purpose

2. There is a clear reason for a chiasm; it makes a point.

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d1. One must confirm a structure by ascertaining the purpose and/or effect.reason for a chiasm; it makes a point.

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Boundaries

3. A chiasm is stronger if it operates across a literary unit as a whole and not only upon fragments or sections which overlap or cut across significant organizational lines intrinsic to the text.

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7. The outline should divide the text at natural breaks.

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b2. Questionable Demarcation. The individual section limits as well as the passage limits are set to fit one's pattern.

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1. Chiastic boundaries must be located at the ends of sentences or significant phrases.

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Competition with other forms

4. Chiasmus is more dominant in a passage when it is the only structuring device employed there.

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1. There must be a problem in perceiving the structure of the text in question, which more conventional outlines fail to resolve.

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b5. [There should not be] Methodological Isolation: Questions and other reasons for the structure are bypassed which are irrelevant to one’s structure or lie outside rhetorical technique.

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Density

5. Length. The longer the proposed chiasm, the higher its degree of chiasticity.

6. The more compact the proposed structure, or the fewer irrelevancies between its elements, the higher the degree of chiasticity.

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6. Multiple sets of correspondences between passages opposite each other in the chiasmus as well as multiple members of the chiasmus itself are desirable.

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Significant words take dominance

7. Must account for and embrace the dominant nouns, verbs, and distinctive phrases in the text.

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4. The verbal parallelism should involve central or dominant imagery or terminology, not peripheral or trivial language.

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3. The significance of an element is judged against the significance of the other elements in the same passages. 

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No stray elements

8. Mavericks. A chiasm loses potency when key elements in the system appear extraneously outside the proposed structure.

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Nonchiastic elements must be accounted for in the analysis.

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Elements may be repeated

9. Reduplication. If the same word or element appears over and over within the system, the likelihood is greater that some other kind of repetition (including random repetition) is predominant in the passage instead of chiasmus.

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5. There is a definite tendency of certain terms to gravitate toward certain positions within a given system. 

5. Both verbal and conceptual parallelism should involve words and ideas not regularly found elsewhere within the proposed chiasmus.

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4. Inclusion of more than one word or idea in a chiastic section and its twin are permitted, as are multiple appearances of such elements within sections.

5. Extra appearances of chiastic elements must be accounted for.

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The center has significance

10. Centrality. The crux of a chiasm is generally its central turning point.

11. Balance. Ideally, the elements on both sides of the proposed focal point should be nearly equal, in terms of number of words, lines, or elements.
12. Climax. A strong chiasm will emphasize the central element of the passage as its focal climax.

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1. The center is always the turning point.

2. At the center there is often a change in the trend of thought, and an antithetic idea is introduced. 

8. The center of the chiasmus, which forms its climax, should be a passage worthy of that position in light of its theological or ethical significance.

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a1. [There must not be] Lopsided Design. In a structure concerned with symmetry, patterns are lopsided: length of units vary from half a verse to several.

d2. Presupposition that Centre is Important. [but challenged by some scholars.]

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Symmetry    

2. There must be clear examples of parallelism between the two “halves” to which commentators call attention even when they propose quite different outlines for the text overall.

3. Verbal (or grammatical) parallelism as well as conceptual (or structural) parallelism should characterize most if not all of the corresponding pairs of subdivisions.

Ruptures in the outline should be avoided if at all possible.

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a. [There may not be] Errors in symmetry.

b1. [There must not be] Arbitrary Omission and Inclusion. Items are omitted that do not fit the scholar’s pattern; some words are arbitrarily deemed significant and others are not; items are chosen in related sections while the same item appears elsewhere and is deemed insignificant

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2. Two or more appearances of a single literary element must share the same essential word or words.

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Symmetry rises to chiasm when combined with content.  
Sense of Closure 

13. Return. A chiasm is more complete where its beginning and end combine to create a strong sense of return and completion.

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3. Identical ideas are often distributed in such a fashion that they occur in the extremes and at the center of their respective system, and nowhere else in the system.

4. There are also many instances of ideas, occurring at the center of one system and recurring in the extremes of a corresponding system, the second system evidently having been constructed to match the first.

6. Larger units are frequently introduced and concluded by frame-passages.

       
Compatibility

14. Compatibility. The chiasticity of a passage is greater when it works comfortably and consistently together with the overall style of the author.

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Aesthetics

15. Aesthetics. Further factors become relevant in assessing a passage's degree of chiasticity, such as the author's fluency with the form; consistency in sustaining the structure, balance, and harmony; pliability at the turning point; and meaningful applications of the form that do not resort to subtleties so obscure as to be esoteric or awkward.

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a3. [There should not be] Atypical Patterns. Chiastic structures which have been discovered in numerous passages are more reliable than one restricted to the particular passage at hand.

a2. [There should not be] Irregular Arrangement. If a structure is 'nearly regular' it 'must be treated with a great deal of reserve'.

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Occurrence of repeated words      

d. [There should not be] Errors in Probability [significant words may be repeated where necessary, but not phrases, rare words, or word play].

2. Accidental Odds. [patterns created by chance].

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4. Inclusion of more than one word or idea in a chiastic section and its twin are permitted, as are multiple appearances of such elements within sections.

The greater the numbers of extra appearances of chiastic elements and of appearances of nonchiastic elements, the greater the likelihood that chiastic structure appeared by chance; chiasms with fewer nonchiastic elements and with many chiastic elements that appear exactly twice each have smaller likelihoods of appearing by chance.

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