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Noah: The Flood and the Rainbow
Video 11 of 22
There is another tool which I want to suggest to you right now, and it's called chiasmus. It comes from the Greek letter χῖ (chi) which is shaped like an X, and if you would visualize chiasmus you can visualize it in your head if it helps you to do these things, just as the letter X. If you would look at intertextuality as two parallel lines, you'd look at chiasmus as two converting lines in the shape of an X. At least symbolically. That's how you might imagine chiasmus.
Let me introduce you to this with the following idea. When you read text we often pay attention to content but we don't pay that much attention to structure. I asked you before if you think about the Torah - the Bible, being too short, that there are various literary tools which you can use to sort of expand or unzip the content in the Torah, one of those things is a focus on structure. When we read we often don't pay that much attention to structure, we just look at the content of a document. But embedded in every document is structure. It can be as simple as paragraphs, topic sentences, indentations - these are all elements of structure which we don't even pay that much attention to, but they're there and they help us understand the text.
I want to argue that there's some text where the role of structure is so profound that there is as much or more meaning encoded in the structure of the document than in the content of the document. You find such a thing in biology for example, here's the content - you can imagine this is the content of a protein molecule. But protein molecules aren't just linear strings of enzymes, they actually fold themselves into a three-dimensional thing, and it's only when they fold themselves and have that three-dimensional kind of structure that they do their jobs. Something like that, I think, is going on in very sophisticated kinds of text such as the Bible. But the role of structure is incredibly developed, almost to a point where you can't really say you understand the text if you haven't paid attention to some of the elegant structure embedded in the text.
That may, again, sound very philosophical, sort of abstract, so let me try to make it concrete and argue to you that chiasms are one of the ways in which the Bible embeds meaning into text through use of structure. Here's how a chiasm works. So a chiasm is a kind of is a kind of mirror. Here over here is just a very simple, kind of facetious chiasm: Readers don't need to write but writers do need to read. You can almost see the X pattern right over here. Readers mirrored by readers over here. Writers mirrored by writers over here. Then in the middle of the conversion point, need - conversion point over here, need. This is kind of the X pattern in a chiasm. Basically what's happening here is that this whole text - if we call this Text A - there's a mirror of Text A, an inverted mirror. B inverts the elements of A.
In a chiasm each element is mirrored by a counterpart and what happens is you have this really elegant, symmetrical pattern in the text, in which the first half of the structure reflects the second half. There's this idea in Kabalistic thought, in Jewish mystical thought, of this kind of thing happening with the Hebrew alphabet. It's called an ATB"SH system. Here is an Aleph. This is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Well this over here is a Taf, which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. If you put Aleph and Taf together, you have the phrase A"T. Well here's the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it's actually a Beit. Here's the second to last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, it's actually a Shin. If you put Beit and Shin together it spells B"SH. You get it? ATB"SH. An ATB"SH system is really a way of thinking about a chiasm, that's really a chiasm.
A chiasm is a situation where the first element of something is going to mirror the last element, and the second to first element is going to mirror the second to last element. This would continue - if you were doing it with letters - throughout the whole alphabet. It would continue with the third to first letter which is Gimmel, and the third to last letter which is Reish. With letters this is one way of thinking about it, but it doesn't have to just be with letters, it can be with paragraphs, or with sections of text as well.
That's what I want to argue is what's going on in our little story of the rainbow. If you look carefully, the rainbow is structured like this, the rainbow is structured chiastically, as an ATB"SH system. Just to again help you visualize how it works. A chiasm is an inverted, literary pattern and it runs something like this. You've got Element A, Element A is mirrored by A1, you can just look at it this way, the whole section over here is mirrored. Element A mirrored by A1. Element B mirrored by B1. Element C mirrored by C1. So believe it or not there are texts in the Torah that are actually structured like this.
So now you might say, well who cares? Why do I care about this kind of structure? It's very elegant, it's very pretty, it's artistic - if I was a museum curator maybe I would care about something like this, but if I'm just trying to read a text to understand its meaning, why would I care about this kind of structure? Well the answer is structure always sheds light on meaning. The same way that paragraphs and topic sentences shed light on meaning, chiasms are going to shed light on meaning too.
So here's what I want you to think about before you even get to look at the rainbow and try to look at see if there's a chiasm in the rainbow. I want you to ask yourself how do you think this kind of structure would shed light on meaning? If you would find any text - any text - having this kind of structure, how do you think this kind of structure would give you clues to how a sophisticated narrator might want the text that he wrote to be understood? Think about that and I'll kind of clue you in to my thoughts on it when we come back.
1. Water, Water Everywhere
2. Parallel Universes
4. The Sixth Day
5. Brave New World
6. Noah's World
7. Is There a 'Sabbath' in Noah's World?
8. Sabbath Echoes
9. Rainbows Have Seven Colors
10. A Bow In the Clouds
12. Chiasms: More Than Just a Pretty Face
13. Colors of the Rainbow
14. Numeric Centers; Thematic Centers
15. Taking Stock: Where Are We Now?
16. Sabbath's Center
17. How Tiring Was It To Create a World?
18. Rest As the Purpose of Work?
19. Positive Rest
20. What If a Parent Never Lets Go?
21. Conclusion: Two Ways to Destoy a World
22. Epilogue: Why the Rainbow Covenant is a Two-Way Street (Premium)
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