DOWN BELOW IS MY DATABASE (STORAGE BINS!) FOR MAPPING & COLLECTING CHIASTIC BITS & PIECES FROM EVERY BOOK IN THE BIBLE.
This image shows a chiasm. It is a poetic form used throughout the bible. Words or ideas are paired in pyramids or stairways - see how the colors expose the pyramid pattern here. They are beautiful and they help us to see the point at the point. This one is very simple - many are far more complicated, layered, nested, etc..
Almost nothing stored below on this webpage is finished. Some is beautiful but most is ugly notes and half-finished snippets.
(All these visual images expand with a click, btw).
True Confession: I cannot find places in the bible that are not chiastic. [Acute Acquired Chiastic Disorder...] "Oh, you can see chiasms everywhere if you imagine hard enough, or smoke enough weed... Look - there in the tea leaves!... There - in the stars!... Why can't everybody find them (you lunatic)?"
First, you are right, I am a lunatic, and perhaps many of my 'finds' are bogus, because I want to see them and make them be there. OK, having settled that, here is a much more interesting thought to explore. Could this positive bias be a necessary risk worth exploring. The alternative risk is the risk that everybody has trusted in already. Almost everyone starts as a skeptic rather than as an agnostic. Isn't that odd? This is much stronger in academics - "Sure, a tiny % of the bible is chiastic, but they are just artistic flourishes/ gimmicks and some loonies see them everywhere!" Over time I've shown about 16 professors whole maps of whole books down to every phrase chiastically mapped, and every one of them (separately) has said some variation of, "Wow! That really works, I can see it holds, right down to each phrase!... Good luck with your project, thanks, goodbye"... What is the fear, how is the danger so deep and great? As if there were not a thousand genuine and huge heresies already eating the bible and our culture that this non-theological idea should trouble them? Why is the game so rigged that we are resistant by default to seeing even the obvious and beautiful chiasms that are there, regardless of the ones that aren't? So, yes, I am a loony - I have a fantasy that Yahweh loved writing this way. There are a growing number of serious academic genius publishing types out there proving the 'real' chiasms are vastly more extensive and sophisticated than anyone thought [try this ;-)], and they all over ancient writings from the Mediterranean (e.g., Homer). So I will dare to maintain my addiction and keep hoping to find them rather than not. I don't need anyone to believe in them, but I do like sharing beauty when I find it.
Second, we don't see them because we don't have eyes or ears for them. I hear tons of things in music that others don't hear... because I'm a musician. I also miss tons of things that other musos hear because I'm a lousy muso. We moderns learn our alphabets as kiddies, but we do not also learn our reverse alphabets (Z-to-A) and our paired alphabets (AZ, BY, CX, DW etc.) like most ancient Mediterranean kiddies did. (Yes, and their cognition and memory was much more auditory & virtual than ours because writing was so costly). Homer and all those ancient Greek writers wrote truckloads of stuff chiastically. The Ancients grew up with them, just 'heard' them. (Chiasms are not a faith/ bible thing, they are just a Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern culture thing.)
Just as professional musicians don't tend to settle for three-chord songs but get adventurous with variations in chords, harmonies, rhythms and keys, so the bible writers jump from pattern to pattern to make vast, complex and beautiful chiastic poems. Unless you have jazz training you cannot appreciate John Coltrane's tune, 'Giant Steps', let alone discern the remarkable chord patterns in the music. They are so sophisticated and profound that 'Giant Steps' became the universal name of a complex chord progression, and the ability to improvise on this structure became a rite of passage for jazz musicians. But to 99% of people the tune is just fast strange jazz noise which seems chaotic and random. So it is with chiasms in the bible. We, the untrained and half-trained, can hardly see them, but there are layers upon layers of them, nests in nests, from tiny part-phrases right up to whole books, just like sets of sets of sets of Russian dolls...
For example, sometimes the authors arrange phrases in an A - B - C - D - C'- B'- A' pattern, but sometimes they might do A - B - C - A'- B'- C' pattern, and sometimes A - B - C - A'- B'- C'- D (e.g., the Creation story), and usually they also do some extra color, like
(a) insert little flourishes here and there - like an a-b-c at the B and B' and
(b) make each A to G element up out of a smaller a b b' a' (e.g., Eph 2:1-11) and
(c) do that on the way in to G but not on the way out, or vice versa, and
(d) do a simple A through J on the way in, and then do an entire A-G chiasm on every element back out to A'! (See, for e.g., the Exodus 3-4 burning bush story, here, absolutely mind-blowing!) and
(e) embed the whole block inside larger paragraph blocks, and up to the whole book, all in different variations of these patterns (e.g., see below or here the Philemon file for a whole book; also the Ruth slideshow. Philemon is the clearest supermap in here because it is the shortest but includes every trick in the book...)
Much more impressive is that sometimes they will make both halves of a chiasm into complete chiasms as well, and sometimes quarters too! That is, the story is chiastic in a giant V shape, and is also broken into two half-size Vs within the giant V, and so on. For example, see the files or Youtube 'BGP chiastic chiasms' videos on Luke 16 (Prodigal God) or Luke 24 (Road to Emmaus) to completely burn your circuits. See Gen 24 for even more layers than those here and more in the Genesis file below.
It does actually all make beautiful sense when you allow them to be complex and map them in enough levels at once. We moderns are too proud to believe the ancients could be that clever. They made no errors - all these poems within poems inside poems paired with poems are always perfect, and even the apparent 'break-downs' in the patterns are themselves patterned. I've even found two of what I've called, 'chaostics', meaning that the second set of elements in a large chiasm is perfectly jumbled to match the exact moment in the scene where the drama in the story is being torn to pieces in the characters. They are therefore usually hard for us to find. However, the cleverness is not the point - it is all always about poetry and theology and beauty wrapped in pairs around the centers...
Incidentally, chiasms solve many interpretive problems and even text variation problems. Should a verse recorded only in some manuscripts be there? (e.g., the John 8 adultery story - Yes!). What on earth does the weirdest passage in the Torah, Exodus 4v24-27, actually mean, and why is it there so randomly? (Because it is an exact perfect pair with Ex 3v5 with exactly matched ingredients! (Yahweh, Moses, intimate presence, holiness, danger, feet, removal...) as shown here).
Alas, these Excel files below are an embarrassing mess because I am just a novice and I am too busy on other projects and daily living. They also include my earliest horrible mapping as well as better ones, so there is a lot of fantasy nonsense. How embarrassing. In general, the better work is to the left in each file, with speculations and alternatives further right. Also, sometimes (perhaps often or always) there are two layers in the text - e.g., see Luke 24 'Road to Emmaus' - so the array further to the right will be equally as good as the left. Often there are better maps online by others, but I hardly ever find anyone mapping right down to phrases and word orders, which I reckon the authors routinely used. For e.g., 'everyone' knows that Philemon is a chiasm, there are maps on the internet, but I can't find anything online that shows the fantastic detail Paul wove into every single phrase that works across the whole book [here].
Perhaps you have some time and a Sudoku mind and can get way more done than me. If you have substantial corrections or find and map your own chiasms, please do email them to me as Excel files and I will add them in or fix my own. My email address is a @gmail.com account prefixed by AndrewOlsenMail
Note the software at the top of this page is so awesome, and is free! Use it!
BTW I am gradually posting some videos of chiasms on Youtube. These are performances or visualizations of some super chiasms. Search there for "BGP chiastic chiasm Bible Genome Project Olsen" to hit them. I am in search of the perfect medium to display chiasms and I think some kind of [stage] performance art is the trick, so these are experiments in different modes...
Remember - There is tons of junk in here below! The good, the bad, the ugly.
There are a few miscellaneous notes way further below...
Ruth (File) (Slideshow)
Psalms Ps1, Ps22, Ps88, Ps91
Song of Solomon
~~~~ NEW TESTAMENT
Acts - see Luke because it is chiastically joined...
Ephesians (File) (Slideshow)
A FEW MORE MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
All chiasms are mapped line by line, most are straightforward, many are unfinished, and some are double or triple-layered. There are tons of unfixed errors and invalid chiasms in here!
Double Layered Chiasms = e.g., A-L-A' with a second system behind it A-G-A'-G'-A'' - see the Road to Emmaus in the Luke file or as a video by searching "BGP chiastic chiasm Luke 24" on Youtube.)
Triple Layered Chiasms - has a third simultaneous layer - see Gen 24 in the Genesis file and see the Luke 16 file or the YouTube video thereof). [I lost several layers of Gen 24 in a computer meltdown, it needs to be remapped, but about 4-5 layers are still there :-(]
The elaborate multi-layered structures in Gen 2v4-5v1 and beyond are ace. Gen 2:4 through 11:32 is a single system... see same file.
Exodus 2-4 is an interesting example of a perfectly paired radically asymmetrical system... see links above.
I have all of Ruth mapped (with a few bugs because I can't read Hebrew) as a slideshow with audio on the blog. Leviticus 16 is also a slideshow, revealing the exact centre phrase of the Torah... ;-)
I have an odd approach: I work phrase up, not structure down, so that the phrases must dictate and prove macro structures. My rule is that 'Nothing cannot fit'. Thus I don't like some commonly accepted macro structures because they don't work down in the phrase details. They are a nice idea but for me the phrases must show a watertight and more beautiful macro structure. It MUST be watertight, i.e., beautiful brilliant literature, not cheap and shoddy. If not, we've not thought cleverly enough yet.
I believe this is the only real test of whether a proposed chiasm is the author's design: it must integrate perfectly at both the level of phrases and of the whole book and at every level in between. That is, each phrase in the book of Ruth must be paired and work in a chiasm with all the phrases nearby, and the whole block must work as a chiasm in the larger narrative block, and that block must work in the larger panel, and the panel must work in the whole book. None of these patterns need to be the same (they are not - that would be too boring) but the patterns themselves need to be paired and watertight. The Philemon file shows this perfection at every level up to the whole system. (This map is far more complicated and perfect than any Philemon map I have found online or in journals.) The Ruth file and slideshow show this kind of total integration too. My hypothesis is that it is universal in the bible. You will find plenty of evidence for this in various files, but I have limited time and brains and I really need Hebrew & Greek proof-readers! This whole project owns a Wiki (www.biblegenomeproject.com) but it is not yet running because spreadsheets need a more clever editing policy than Wiki docs... My dream is to see a consensus chiastic bible created, free online, especially one put into the hands of lay people and the hands of poor untrained third world pastors...
The bestest thing about chiasms is beauty. Yahweh loves art and beauty (Exod 28:2), and he always puts magical meanings at the start and end and/ or the middle of his poetic dramas, along with little insights, connections and even winks on the way in and out. Chiastic poetry clearly delights him. It is the world's best kept secret in archeology, in hermeneutics, in preaching, in personal devotions, and perhaps even in literary-dramatic performance. It is also, arguably, the only form of poetry that can translate direcctly into any language (since it does not rely on rhythms or sounds). That would be rather clever of God if he wanted all nations to see them...
Thanks, and God bless you.
andrewolsenmail @ gmail.com
+61 0413 69 65 68 (drop the first zero if calling from overseas).
chiastic chiasmus chiasm chiastic chiasmus chiasm chiastic chiasmus chiasm chiastic chiasmus chiasm chiastic chiasmus chiasm chiastic chiasmus chiasm