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Literary structure (chiasm, chiasmus) of the Bible


How to analyze Literary Structure?

Is this strcture intentional or accidental?

Although there are many repetitions and correspondences of some specific word patterns, most of those are just coincidences. Regarding to small structure which is composed of one or two corresponding word pairs, we can find many of those candidates here and there in documents because of those accidental appearance of word pairs. Therefore, it is very difficult to judge the validity of literary structures which is composed of frequently appeared words such as name of people and places or generic objects. In order to examine the validity of candidate of literary structure, we must think comprehensively from various view points.

Components of corresponding pairs

There are many types of corresponding pairs within the literary structures in the Bible. For instances, those are words, phrases, synonyms, antonyms, aliases, themes, sentence structures or text styles. Regarding to words and phrases, it is especially necessary to check original language (Hebrew and Biblical Greek). Since one word was translated into several diffferent words in many cases. Moreover, in some text, translators omitted original words, and in other text they attached a word which doesn't exist in the original text. Text styles and sentence structures also depend on the languages. Themes, antonyms and synomyms are based on theological knowledge. Therefore, study of fundamental theology is necessary. For instances, "pharaoh" was used as an antonym of the "LORD" in some structures within Exodus, although "pharaoh" is not the antonym of the "LORD" in general meaning.

Deciding the text segmentation

There are many types of literary structures in the Bible. Some structures are made of the whole one book, and some structures are made of one "pericope". "Pericope" is a unit of small stories in Bible studies. Roughly speaking, the each subheading in most of English translations indicate "pericopes". However, there is no unified standard of "pericope" division. Therefore, translators and Bible scholars divide the Bible in different way each other. It is very difficult to divide texts in pericopes.
In Hebrew Bible, it sometimes includes ending marks in the end of verses. Those marks would be a help to think about how to divide pericopes. Those ending mark indicates some type of semantic gap between two verses. In some case, it is a separation mark of pericopes, in other case, it's only segmentation of verses. The usage of ending marks are a bit different in each text of the Bible. However, the ending mark shows the possibility of the division of pericopes in many cases.
It is also useful to refer divisions of some major translations of English Bible. If some of those translations divide in some specific position, the possibility of the pericope division would be high.
We can examine about pericope division from the viewpoint of narratology and text styles also. If text style changes to poetry, that part is one candidate for pericope division. If place or character of the story changed, that part is also one candidate for pericope division. Those changes indicate narratological scene division.
In order to divide texts, the overall integrity is also important. It is better to divide on the same standard consistently through the one text.

Evaluating the validity of Literary Structure hypothesis

In order to evaluate the validity of some hypothesis, it would be important to evaluate from several aspects as below. Those are essentially same as the process of finding structures.

1. Consistent standards

If the process of identification of the structure become inconsistent, the result can be extracted arbitrarily.
Therefore, some unified consistent rule should be clarified in your hypothesis. At first, the consistent rules for dividing pericopes are necessarily. Next, the consistent rules for identifying relationships between corresponding pericope pairs are also necessarily. The overall integrity is also important when considering about each structure. It is better to evaluate the candidate structures on the same standard consistently through the one text.

2. Theological and narratological validity

If your hypothesis is valid, the theological messages that can be interpreted based on the structures will become justifiable and persuasive. The most important point is the common theme for each structure. The common theme is mainly composed of the central pericope and the relationships between corresponding pericope pairs within that structure. Please check if any understandable theological teaching can be interpreted based on those. Moreover, please confirm the interpreted teaching is valid in terms of contemporary ordinary theology. Exceptionally, in some case of small size structures, literary structure only indicates the beginning and ending of pericopes (such as "inclusio"). On the other hand, the texts have been utilized in the life of the people. Therefore, Bible also has the general nature of a book for reading and writing. If you are interested in narratology, please also check the validity of pericope divisions as a narrative structure.
Moreover, traditional and contemporary various suggestions about divisions for Bible chapters and verses can be utilized based on many excellent translations. Hebrew texts include some explicit separators in some case as mentioned above. Those resources also very useful to decide which is the better divisional point for pericopes.

3. Confirmation that it is not a coincidence

The frequently appearing words or concepts can easily correspond everywhere. Therefore, these vocabularies are difficult to use as indicators for analysis, such as "human", "pray", "The LORD". If you find some corresponding words or themes between pericopes, please evaluate the rarity of the relations as objectively as possible.
Moreover, complex and unnecessary rules cause arbitrariness. Complex rules also increase the risk of misunderstanding. Famous "Occam's razor" may be useful for such type of problem. I believe the rules of the literary structures within Bible would be mathematical, systematic, and simple.