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Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A' and B', being presented as A,B,B',A'. Chiastic structures that involve more components are sometimes called "ring structures," "ring compositions," or, in cases of very ambitious chiasmus, "onion-ring compositions." These may be regarded as chiasmus scaled up from words and clauses to larger segments of text.
These often symmetrical patterns are commonly found in ancient literature such as the epic poetry of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Classicist Bruno Gentili describes this technique as "the cyclical, circular, or 'ring' pattern (ring composition). Here the idea that introduced a compositional section is repeated at its conclusion, so that the whole passage is framed by material of identical content". Meanwhile, in classical prose, scholars often find chiastic narrative techniques in the Histories of Herodotus:
"Herodotus frequently uses ring composition or ‘epic regression’ as a way of supplying background information for something discussed in the narrative. First an event is mentioned briefly, then its precedents are reviewed in reverse chronological order as far back as necessary; at that point the narrative reverses itself and moves forward in chronological order until the event in the main narrative line is reached again."
The term chiastic derives from the mid-17th century term chiasmus, which refers to a crosswise arrangement of concepts or words that are repeated in reverse order. Chiasmus derives from the Greek word khiasmos, a word that is khiazein, marked with the letter khi. From khi comes chi.
Chi is made up of two lines crossing each other as in the shape of an X. The line that starts leftmost on top, comes down, and is rightmost on the bottom, and vice versa. If one thinks of the lines as concepts, one sees that concept A, which comes first, is also last, and concept B, which comes after A, comes before A. If one adds in more lines representing other concepts, one gets a chiastic structure with more concepts. See Proverbs 1:20-33; vs 20-21=A, v 22=B, v 23=C, vs 24-25=D, vs 26-28=E, vs 29-30=D', v 31=C', v 32=B', v 33=A'.
Oral literature is especially rich in chiastic structure, possibly as an aid to memorization and oral performance. In his study of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Cedric Whitman, for instance, finds chiastic patterns "of the most amazing virtuosity" that simultaneously performed both aesthetic and mnemonic functions, permitting the oral poet easily to recall the basic structure of the composition during performances. Steve Reece has demonstrated several ambitious ring compositions in Homer's Odyssey and compared their aesthetic and mnemonic functions with examples of demonstrably oral Serbo-Croatian epic. 
Use in Hebrew BibleEdit
In 1986, William H. Shea proposed that the Book of Daniel is composed of a double-chiasm. He argued that the chiastic structure is emphasized by the two languages that the book is written in: Aramaic and Hebrew. The first chiasm is written in Aramaic from chapters 2-7 following an ABC...CBA pattern. The second chiasm is in Hebrew from chapters 8-12, also using the ABC...CBA pattern. However, Shea represents Daniel 9:26 as "D", a break in the center of the pattern.
Gordon Wenham has analyzed the Genesis Flood narrative and believes that it is essentially an elaborate chiasm. Based on the earlier study of grammatical structure by F. I. Andersen, Wenham illustrated a chiastic structure as displayed in the following two tables.
|A: Noah and his sons (Gen 6:10)
A: Noah and his sons (9:18,19a)
Within this overall structure, there is a numerical mini-chiasm of 7s, 40s, and 150s:
|α: Seven days waiting to enter Ark (7:4)
α': Second seven days waiting for dove (8:12)
Use in New TestamentEdit
Form critic, Nils Lund, acknowledged Jewish and classical patterns of writing in the New Testament, including the use of chiastic structures throughout.
The writer of the book of Ephesians uses a chiastic structure to bracket the entire book.
- A Grace to you
- B and peace… (Eph 1:2)
- Bʹ Peace be to the whole community… (Eph. 6:23)
- Aʹ Grace be with all. (Eph. 6:24).
Use in the QuranEdit
While there are many examples of chiastic structure in the Quran, perhaps the most well known is in the 'Verse of the Throne' or 'Ayat al-Kursi'. The verse contains 9 sentences which exhibit chiasmus, but perhaps more interesting is that it is found in the longest chapter of the Quran, Al-Baqara, which itself contains a fractal chiastic structure in its 286 verses, i.e. where each (outer) chiasm is composed of (inner) chiastic structures reflected in some sense in the analogue outer chiasm. One such analysis of the chapter is shown below (from; alternate and/or more detail analyses can be found in,).
|A: Belief (1-20)
B: God's creation and knowledge (21-39)
C: Early prophets and books (40-103)
D: Trials (104-152)
D': Trials (153-177)
C': Early prophets and books (178-253)
B': God's creation and knowledge (254-284)
A': Belief (285-286)
In literary texts with a possible oral origin, such as Beowulf, chiastic or ring structures are often found on an intermediate level, that is, between the (verbal and/or grammatical) level of chiasmus and the higher level of chiastic structure such as noted in the Torah. John D. Niles provides examples of chiastic figures on all three levels. He notes that for the instances of ll. 12–19, the announcement of the birth of (Danish) Beowulf, are chiastic, more or less on the verbal level, that of chiasmus. Then, each of the three main fights are organized chiastically, a chiastic structure on the level of verse paragraphs and shorter passages. For instance, the simplest of these three, the fight with Grendel, is schematized as follows:
- Grendel approaching
- Grendel rejoicing
- Grendel devouring Handscioh
- B: Grendel's wish to flee ("fingers cracked")
- C: Uproar in hall; Danes stricken with terror
- HEOROT IN DANGER OF FALLING
- C': Uproar in hall; Danes stricken with terror
- C: Uproar in hall; Danes stricken with terror
- B': "Joints burst"; Grendel forced to flee
- Grendel slinking back toward fens
- Beowulf rejoicing
- Beowulf left with Grendel's arm
Finally, Niles provides a diagram of the highest level of chiastic structure, the organization of the poem as a whole, in an introduction, three major fights with interludes before and after the second fight (with Grendel's mother), and an epilogue. To illustrate, he analyzes Prologue and Epilogue as follows:
A: Panegyric for Scyld
- D': Beowulf's order to build his barrow
- C': History of Geats after Beowulf ("messenger's prophecy")
- B': Beowulf's funeral
A': Eulogy for Beowulf
A: Satan's sinful actions (Books 1–3)
- B: Entry into Paradise (Book 4)
- C: War in heaven (destruction) (Books 5–6)
- C': Creation of the world (Books 7–8)
- B': Loss of paradise (Book 9)
A': Humankind's sinful actions (Books 10–12):141
- Gentili, Bruno, Poetry and Its Public in Ancient Greece: From Homer to the Fifth Century, trans. A. Thomas Cole (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 48
- Boedeker, Deborah. "Epic Heritage and Mythical Patterns in Herodotus." Published in Companion to Herodotus, ed. Egbert J. Bakker, Irene J. F. de Jong, and Hans van Wees (Brill, 2002), 104–05.
- "Chiasmus", Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, retrieved 2014-07-10
- Garrett 1993, p. 71
- Whitman, Cedric M. (1958), Homer and the Heroic Tradition, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, OCLC 310021.
- Steve Reece, "The Three Circuits of the Suitors: A Ring Composition in Odyssey 17-22," Oral Tradition 10.1 (1995) 207-229. Ring Composition in the Odyssey
- Shea 1986[page needed]
- Gordon J. Wenham, "The Coherence of the Flood Narrative" Vetus Testamentum 28 (1978) 336–348.
- F. I. Andersen, The Sentence in Biblical Hebrew (The Hague, 1974).
- Nils Wilhelm Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 8.
- James L. Resseguie, Narrative Criticism of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 59.
- Abu Zakariya, "Ring Theory: the Quran’s Structural Coherence", September 21, 2015, https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-thought/ring-theory-the-qurans-structural-coherence/
- Raymond K. Farrin, "Surat al‐Baqara: A Structural Analysis", January 19, 2010, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2009.01299.x
- Hassan uz Zaman Shamol, http://understandquran.com/coherence-evidence-of-the-qurans-literary-depth.html
- Muhammad Rizvi , " Symmetry in Sura al-Baqara", June 01 2018, https://tgminitiative.blogspot.com/2018/06/symmetry-in-sura-al-baqara.html
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