Introverted Parallelism or Chiasmus
In the series of parallelism discussed in the previous three HUBS, the last definitive use of parallelism to be discussed is that of introverted parallelism.
This type of parallelism is often called Chiasmus. This form of literary poetry is done when a pattern of words or ideas are stated and then repeated, but in reverse order. It is viewed in the shape of an hourglass figure with the focal point being in the middle. A Chiastic pattern can be found in as little as one verse, but can also cover several verses, whole chapters, and even groups of chapters. This method of teaching was a very common literary form used by Israelite poets and prophets.
Form of an X
The word chiasmus is derived from the 22nd letter in the Greek alphabet, chi (X), and when used graphically a simple chiasmus takes on the form of an X:
A: For my thoughts are not
B: your thoughts,
B: Neither are your ways
A: My ways, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)
Another way to describe the pattern of the Chiasmus is an ABBA pattern.
A: We have escaped as a bird
B: from the snare of the fowlers
B: The snare is broken,
A: and we have escaped! (Psalms 124:7)
This simple ABBA pattern can be expanded by the poet to incorporate as many ideas that he desires.
Reasons for Chiasmus
There are three evident reasons why Chiasmus was used in the Hebrew writings. The first one was for simple memorization purposes. The patterned language with the theme in the middle made for oral repetition easier to recall. The second reason it might have been used was simply because it was the style of the day. The sonnet was to 16th century poet was the chiasmus was to the Hebrew writer. Lastly, the form is very aesthetically pleasing.
Rules for Chiasmus
Nils Lund published some rules in 1942 for chiasmus form, they include:
1. The center of the message is always the turning point.
2. Identical ideas will be distributed so as to occur at the beginning, middle and end of a chiasm, but nowhere else.
3. There is often a mixture of direct parallel and inverted parallel lines in the same unit.
A much longer example of a chiasmus is Leviticus 24: 13-23, which illustrates the beauty and elegance of this poetic form. This form of writing is highly difficult to do and is the work of a skilled poet.
Search, Ponder, and Pray
As one comes to recognize these forms of poetic expression in the scriptural text the possibilities of enhanced understanding and further knowledge of the meaning intended by the author is given. As always, scriptural study of any kind is greatly illuminated by the spirit of personal revelation, which allows the life to return to the words of prophets and poets long since dead. For this reason all study of scripture should be accompanied with prayer and meditation, for greater light and knowledge to be received.
- Davidic Chiasmus and Parallelisms
A Governing Literary Structure for Messianic Literature -- An intricate, specific and repeated pattern, or structure, found extensively in the Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price etc.
- Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
Interestingly, The Book of Mormon, which claims to have its literary roots in the ancient Middle East, shows many excellent examples of what appear to be deliberate, crafted chiasmus.