Chiastic Psalms: A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic Poetry In Psalms 1-50 -- By: Robert L. Alden

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 17:1 (Winter 1974)
Article: Chiastic Psalms: A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic Poetry In Psalms 1-50
Author: Robert L. Alden


Chiastic Psalms: A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic Poetry In Psalms 1-50

Robert L. Alden

Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado

All students of Bible poetry are familiar with the device of parallelism. Fewer are aware of the device of chiasmus in single verses. Almost nothing is being written on the matter of whole Psalms being in chiastic arrangement.1

The study of chiasmus is not new. Lund, in his book on New Testament Chiasmus,2 as well as in an article on Old Testament chiasmus, wrote an extensive history of the matter which is capsulized here.

In Gnomon Novi Testamenti, published at Tübingen in 1742, J. A. Bengel calls attention to the presence of chiasms in a few passages of the New Testament and makes use of the principle for purposes for interpretation … John Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, wrote a book called Sacred Literature in 1820 in which he continues the work of Bishop Lowth in the study of Hebrew parallelism… De sacra poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academicae (Oxford 1753). Jebb’s work was continued by Rev. Thomas Boys, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge, and curate of St. Dunstans in the West, in a small, but well written book entitled Key to the Book of Psalms, printed by L. B. Seely & Sons, Fleet Street (London, 1825).

This work of Boys contained only sixteen psalms. A later edition was put out by Bullinger.

In 1854 there appeared a book entitled The Symmetrical Structure of Scripture, of the Principles of Scripture Parallelism Exemplified in an Analysis of the Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and Other Passages of the Sacred Writings, by Rev. John Forbes, LL.D., Donaldson’s Hospital, Edinburgh, published by T. & T. Clark. The author frankly avows his indebtedness to Jebb and Boys,,… The most recent and also most extensive attempt to employ Jebb s introverted parallelism” in biblical studies is found in The Companion Bible issued by the Oxford University Press and edited by the above-mentioned Dr. E. W. Bullinger.3

The Companion Bible of 1914 undoubtedly reached the apex of abuse of this principle. There Bullinger sees a chiastic structure (called inversion) not only in phrases, verses, stanzas, and chapters but in entire books and even the whole Bible!

A simple maxim might be: The more detailed the chiastic structure thrust upon the literature the more vulnerable it is to criticism. So C. F. Kraft is almost uncharitable wit...

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