Friday, May 26, 2017

Fact-Checking the Torah -- chiasmus

The author’s next step in the redefinition combined with the fallacy of ambiguity to propose that a certain phrase dealt with material chiastically.
Chiasmus is a term used in a number of fields. In logic, it pairs items for comparison.
I’ve used chiasmus in this sense in legal briefs. When my case is similar to a case that came out the way I want my case to come out, I write my brief paralleling the similar issues and using similar language (as well as citing to the other case).  It tells a judge that it’s logical for her to decide my case the same way because it is stare decisis, which I discussed long ago.
Among scholars working in the oral part of SWLT (Rule 4), chiasmus is sometimes substituted by the term “ring structure.” A ring structure is a repeated phrase followed each time by similar or different material. Think of the poem “Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe. Each verse starts off “Hear the bells,” then it tells what kind of bells and then it describes the circumstances under which they are ringing.
Initially, in oral traditions studies, chiasmus meant a ring structure that promoted memorization and helped with oral reproduction of a work. Poets often intend for their work to be performed; reading poetry aloud was a popular pastime in Regency and Victorian England and America. It was felt to lead to formation of artistic taste and diction and, when memorized, could add artistic content to normal conversation.  Chiasmus is natural to poetry in almost every culture.
Lately I have seen studies that claim the ring structure promotes the action, because after each introductory repeat, there is a new episode in the narration.
I have also seen claims that the ring structure lets the narration display varying attitudes about the same issue because after the repetition can come sarcasm, humor, and so on.
In some papers chiasmus is part of the parallelism that introduces kennings; it’s a reminder of what the other term in the kenning is supposed to be.
So apparently chiasmus is coming to be a portmanteau word that covers repetition and everything associated with it in oral material. That amounts to a low redefinition.
The paper I am talking about is not about oral narratives or poetry. So the first redefinition in the article is that ring structure also applies to non-narrative material, in this case, Talmud. That’s not necessarily a valid procedure, as I will show in the last part of this blog. But it’s another hurdle that the author fails to overcome – he doesn’t prove that he is applying the right terminology to what he’s trying to do.
The author then says that just because a scholar identifies chiasmus in his material doesn’t mean it has an oral origin. Talmud is known to have an oral origin. So that’s a red herring (another fallacy). We don’t need to prove that Talmud is oral in origin. We need to prove that it has ring structures. That’s for next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved


  1. Reminds me of something I think came from Buber's Good and Evil about how ancient Hebrew poets used repetition of form/restatement to both establish a sound trope and to show the importance and connection of the phrase repeated. It has been a long time (47 years) since I read Buber, so there is a high probability it is an incomplete or inaccurate recollection.

  2. I know what you mean, I'm not even sure I read it but I think I did. I'll have a lot to say about repetitions in the last part of this blog which will start about the end of June.