Friday, March 30, 2007

The Storm: Telling Stories in Circles

A chiasm is a literary form common in the ancient world. The writer of the Book of Jonah employs this device in Chapter Two to tell the story of the storm and how Jonah comes to be overboard. A chiasm works toward an idea and works back on the other side reinforcing the ideas arriving back at the beginning with a nod to the beginning idea. "A chiasm is a structuring device that inverts the ordering or words". [from Thinking In Circles: An Essay On Ring Composition --Mary Douglas A brilliant little book published by Yale Press in 2007]

A The Lord (Elohim) hurls storm (1:4)
B Sailors pray, act (1:5ab)
C Jonah acts (lies down, sleeps; 1:5c)
D Captain, sailors question Jonah (1:6-8)
E. Jonah speaks (1:9)
D' Sailors question Jonah (1:10-11)
C' Jonah speaks ("hurl me"; 1:12
B' Sailors act, pray (1:13-14)
A' Sailors hurl Jonah, storm ends (1:15)

Conclusion (1:16)

Jonah: A Commentary by James Limburg

A Chiasm can be as simple as the passage in Jonah Chapter One or as complicated as James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake. The Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is a Chiasm -- as Mary Douglas makes a compelling case in the book cited above. JWS

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