Chiastic Psalms (III): A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic Poetry In Psalms 101-150 -- By: Robert L. Alden

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 21:3 (Sep 1978)
Article: Chiastic Psalms (III): A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic Poetry In Psalms 101-150
Author: Robert L. Alden

Chiastic Psalms (III): A Study In The Mechanics Of Semitic
Poetry In Psalms 101-150

Robert L. Alden*

We are all familiar with chiasmus in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes the device is called alternation or introverted parallelism. The word “chiasm” itself comes from the name of the Greek letter chi, which looks like our English letter X. An outline of a verse, a paragraph, or even a book which conforms to such a shape is called “chiastic.” The simplest outline would be A-B-B-A, but more elaborate ones are easily discovered.

In an earlier article1 I traced the history of the study of this phenomenon in the Psalms. I will omit that history here.

I also gave several illustrations of chiasmi in individual verses, and some of these I shall repeat just to get us thinking in the right channels. Amos 6:8b reads: “I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and his palaces I hate.” Notice the verbs on the outside and the objects on the inside. Or, to put it another way, the first clause is verb-object while the second clause is object-verb. Hence the term introverted parallelism. Within the material we will be examining let us select just one of scores of verses that are chiastic within themselves. Ps 145:2 reads (in Hebrew order):

A On every day

B I will bless you

B I will praise your name

A For ever and ever

One last and slightly more complex example is from Isa 1:18:

A If be your sins

B1 like scarlet,

B2 like snow

C they shall be white;

C if they be red

B1 like crimson,

B2 like wool

A they shall be

The verb “to be” is in both “A” parts. Notice the “B” elements—two red colors and two white things. Observe the “C” elements—both are denominative verbs, but antonymous.

With that introduction let us move to the last third of the Psalter and note those Psalms that are arranged chiastically as a whole, not just within individual

*Robert Alden is associate professor of Old Testament at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver, Colorado.

verses. Let me note here that others have discovered inclusios or frames in the Psalms—that is, they have noted key words in the opening and closing ...

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