Chiasmus in Antiquity

Loren Crow ldcrow at
Wed Mar 14 10:34:57 EST 2001

Hi Brian.  This sounds very much like Herrmann Gunkel's belief that simple
forms were necessarily more ancient than more complex ones.  In fact, Gunkel
believed that he could write a history of Israelite literature on the basis
of this assumption.  It's a kind of application of Hegelian principles to
literary criticism.  The assumption is now rightly regarded with
considerable suspicion.  There is simply no way to test the hypothesis.  To
put it another way, it's conceivable that the complex forms were the
original ones, and that these were simplified and systematized by people
with those concerns.

That said, it does seem to me that we can benefit considerably from Gunkel's
work by shifting from the historical categories of "earlier" and "later" to
the logical categories of "prior" and "posterior."  Complex forms are better
understood in relationship to simpler ones, and simple forms are better
understood in the context of complex ones.  Consider, for example, how the
complex category "royal psalms" benefits from taking note of simpler forms
(such as petition, hymn, etc.) as they occur in such "royal psalms."

Anyway, it might be worth your while to look at some of the critiques of
Gunkel's program, since it seems so comparable to what you are discussing.

All the best,

Loren D. Crow, Ph.D.       email: lorencrow at
Wiley College              Phone: (903) 927-3219
Department of Religion       Fax: (903) 927-3344
711 Wiley Avenue		  Web:
Marshall, Texas  75670

-----Original Message-----
From: Brian Tucker [mailto:editor at]
Sent: Wednesday, March 14, 2001 7:05 AM
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Chiasmus in Antiquity

Last night in class we were discussing the similarities and differences
between chiasmus as practiced in Biblical Hebrew (more complex) and Ugaritic
(less complex).

One person was arguing for the antiquity of Ugaritic because of the less

Another person argued that since we see less chiasmus in the later books of
the Hebrew Bible - versus the older literature, in this case Genesis - that
one would expect the more complex chiasmus to be in the older literature not
the later. Then he added the argument of complexity of poetry in English 500
years ago as compared to today...

Another person asked a question that no one really knew and here it is: Did
Egyptian writings include chiasmus? Did it at least contain parallelism? If
anyone can supply examples that would be great.

His argument was that the Hebrews learned chiasmus structuring while in
Egypt. I realize many will have a historical problem with that last
statement, however, if the Hebrews did not learn it from the Egyptians what
is the best explanation for the beginning of the use of chiasmus in

Helpful book: Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structure, Analyses, Exegesis by John
Welch, ed. 1981

Brian Tucker
Riverview, MI
editor at

Brian Tucker
Riverview, MI
editor at

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