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Introverted Parallelism or Chiasmus

Updated on June 16, 2008

Introverted Parallelism

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)


Sorry, I just couldn't resist!
Sorry, I just couldn't resist!


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.

Leviticus 24

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.


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      5 years ago

      that if we don't assume the seucptrris are true, then the insights can come from sources other than the seucptrris. Only needs to precede the critical phrase, the either/or condition which is being considered. Second point:This is why the leaders of the church, from the very beginning, have always stressed testimony over intellectual or scholastic study of the Book of Mormon. As someone who received a testimony of the Book of Mormon the first time I read it, I never knew quite how to relate to members who didn't come to the Book of Mormon without that belief.With a testimony of the book, one doesn't have to assume, therefore that stumbling block of being resistant to assumptions is more easily avoided. However, I still often wonder _how_ certain teachings are true, or how they are to be lived and implemented.

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      5 years ago

      This is a great post. I agree absolutely with your asetisron that we gain something immeasurable when we read the scriptures, especially the BoM in the way you describe. This doesn't mean we can't also read them critically or with a more scholastic eye at other times, but if we want to unlock the full truth of the scriptures, this is the way to do it.For me, especially with regard to the BoM, it comes somewhat naturally. I think the BoM, more than any other book of scripture, contains its own testimony of truth. It's not just in Moroni 10, it drips from every page. People like Nephi and Jacob and especially Alma and Moroni just leap out of the text, at least for me, and they have since I first read it. So treating them as real people seems right, and when we do that we get a lot from the text that we can't get any other way.

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      Samuel E. Richardson 

      8 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      Great hub. I wonder why I didn't think of that. I voted you up.

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      Miles Jay 

      10 years ago

      These articles I find very interesting, parallelisms can be so euphuistic and persuasive—it makes one appreciate the beauty of Hebrew poetry and that of the holy books. I first read about synonymous and antithetic parallelisms whilst studying grammar in my own time, which intrigued me. Thanks for writing these and for sharing these great examples.


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