Periodical Reviews -- By: Andrew J. Cress

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 174:696 (Oct 2017)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Andrew J. Cress

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty and Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary

Andrew J. Cress


“Criteria for Establishing Chiastic Structure: Lamentations 1 and 2 as Test Cases,” Joshua Berman, MAARAV 21.1-2 (2014): 57-69.

Proponents of a literary method in biblical exegesis often detect alleged chiastic structures. It is easy to demonstrate such structures within the limits of a verse or two. However, when proposed chiastic structures are extended to larger units, such as entire chapters, many become skeptical. It becomes appropriate to ask whether the proposal reveals more about an interpreter’s creativity than the original author’s intention. Consequently, some have proposed rather rigid methodological controls for determining when an alleged chiastic structure is legitimate and not merely contrived.

In this article, Joshua Berman makes a significant contribution to the discussion. He observes that scholars, when establishing criteria for analyzing chiastic structures, “generally insist that common words and repeated words cannot be considered probative” (p. 57). He challenges this assumption, using the acrostic poems of Lamentations 1-2 as test cases.

Before analyzing Lamentations 1-2, Berman says that a chiastic structure, to be legitimate, must fulfill certain criteria (pp. 57-58): (1) “The parallel components of the structure must be congruent—that is . . . easily recognized as distinctly similar.” (2) “The structure as a whole should avoid gaps” and have “uniform” spacing. Verses should not be skipped when “inconvenient.” (3) “The proposed structure should neatly encompass the boundaries of an easily recognizable pericope.” (4) Finally, “the components of the structure should be significant and not randomly selected.”

Berman examines Albert Condamin’s proposed chiastic structure of Lamentations 2, which consists of eleven paired elements. According to Berman, the outline meets the first three criteria but “rests on shakier ground” when it comes to “the significance of the elements” (pp. 60-61), since it is difficult to know when a pattern is random or by design. Berman demonstrates that the pattern is “statistically significant,” not because of the “individual identity” of the terms chosen, but because of “the distinct pattern that they form” (p. 63). Those who deny design must, according to Berman, back up their objections with “statistical evidence...

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