Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Monday, October 30, 2006

Flood Poetry

The Genesis Flood story is actually written in Hebrew Poetic form, as our Lesson Study for this quarter is about to visit the flood story the following gives some information on this subject.

What's a 'chiasm' anyway?:
One of the most interesting and intricate biblical literary structures is called a chiasm. It takes its name from the Greek letter chi, written X, because it has a structure that crosses over somewhat like an 'X.' Or a form suggested by its conforming to the > shape of the left half of the Greek letter chi, which is drawn like the English X. The "outer" elements, designated A, A', are the "frame,". In a chiasm, the various elements of a writing are related to each other in parallels so that the first and the last are parallel, the second and the second from the last are also parallel, and so on. There can be two or more elements.

The most simple example is the saying of Jesus: "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." The chiasm is first - last - last first, forming the pattern, A,B, B',A'. But the structure can be developed even more to have a central element that stands by itself, around which the other parts circle, and can serve as a center and theme for the whole writing. It might be helpful to think of chiasm as saying things forwards and backwards.

Chiasms appears frequently in New Testament gospels and epistles, a literary form in which the sequence of the material presented in the second portion of a literary block is presented as a mirror image of its presentation in the first portion of that block (e.g., A B C C' B' A'). Examples of this form in history are well documented in Homeric and classical Hellenistic education and are frequently found in the Old Testament, especially in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). Paul was probably aware of the many passages in the Old Testament that featured the device. Examples are as diverse as Gen. 33:10-11 and Ps. 2:9. Modern interpreters have found chiasmus very helpful in unpacking such difficult passages as Mt. 7:6. When the innermost element of a chiasmus is unpaired, it is said to have "climactic centrality," the whole structure tending to give emphasis to the element at its focal point. Examples of this phenomenon include Eccl. 11:1-12:8 ("but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment"), Heb. 12:1-2 ("keeping our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of the faith"), Lk. 1:6-25 (the annunciation), and even Jn. 1:1-18 (by the incarnate Word we become children of God). There are both large scale (where the echoed element is a phrase, sentence or idea) and small scale (where it is words or sounds that are echoed).

The diagram of the chiastic structure of the Flood Story is as follows. It is taken, with some small
modifications, from Gordon J. Wenham, "The Coherence of the Flood Narrative," VT 28 (1978): 336-48.

A Noah (6:10a)
..B Shem, Ham, and Japheth (6:10b)
...C Ark to be built (6:14-16)
....D Flood announced (6:17)
.....E Covenant with Noah 6:18-20)
......F Food in the ark (6:21)
......G Command to enter ark (7:1-3)
.......H 7 days waiting for flood (7:4-5)
........I 7 days waiting for flood (7:7-10)
........J Entry to ark 7:11-15)
.........K Yahweh shuts Noah in ark (7:16)
..........L 40 days flood (7:17a)
...........M Waters increase (7:17b-18)
............N Mountains covered (7:19-20)
.............O 150 days waters prevail (7:21-24)
..................X GOD REMEMBERS NOAH (8:1)
.............O' 150 days waters abate (8:3)
............N' Mountains tops visible (8:4-5)
...........M' Waters abate (8:5)
..........L' 40 days (end of) (8:6a)
.........K' Noah opens window of ark (8:6b)
........J' Raven and dove leave ark (8:7-9)
.......I' 7 days waiting for waters to subside (8:7-9)
......H' 7 days waiting for waters to subside (8:10-11)
.....G' Command to leave ark (8:15-17)
....F' Food outside ark (9:1-4)
...E' with all flesh (9:8-10)
..D' No flood in future (9:11-17)
..C' Ark left (9:18a)
.B' Shem, Ham, and Japheth (9:18b)
A’ Noah (9:19)

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