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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Chiasmus and Bible translation

A very common literary pattern throughout the Bible is called chiasmus, in which two halves of a given text are mirror images of each other. According to Ralph Terry in the Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics (1996:7(4).1-32) based on his dissertation, Paul employs this pattern some 25 times in I Corinthians on three different levels: words, grammatical constructions, and concepts.

An example of chiasmus on the word level occurs in I Corinthians 6:13:
Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods…

Another example occurs in I Corinthians 12:12:
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body … (NKJV)
As you can see, the pattern reflects the form of the Greek letter X chi, from which the name chiasmus is derived. The ancient Hebrews and Greeks readily recognized this pattern, but people who speak other languages are often confused by it. To avoid confusion and misunderstanding in The Better Life Bible, I’ve frequently eliminated the chiastic pattern of repetition and expressed the meaning in a manner that is more natural and clear in English.
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At Thu Mar 02, 07:36:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Which volume was the original article in?

Would chiasmus be more of a Hebrew pattern in origin?

At Fri Mar 03, 05:02:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

It's probably indigenous to just about every literature on the planet.

There's study with lots of valuable literature in the notes here (beefy PDF; or if that doesn't work, it's the second article on this page).

One would need, too, to distinguish chiasm at the clause level, and that at the paragraph/passage level. The former could be a distraction or worse in translation, and so could perhaps be left without corresponding structures in the target. The latter would show up in any case, I reckon!

There is a huge bibliography on "chiasmus". The technique often brings with it some element of significance, even at the clause level, so one would want to think carefully about obliterating it as a rule.

Once again, I suppose, it's "horses for courses". A one-size-fits-all translation is an impossible goal. There's room in the world for more than one approach!

Isn't there? :)

At Fri Mar 03, 07:32:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

David concluded:

Once again, I suppose, it's "horses for courses". A one-size-fits-all translation is an impossible goal. There's room in the world for more than one approach!

Isn't there? :)

I would think so, David. I know that I personally benefit from using more than one kind of Bible version.

At Fri Mar 03, 09:19:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Dan, Excellent!!

I've just posted a related message on my blog entitled Chiasmus in Exegesis for anyone who might be interested.

As my fellow bloggers here on BBB know, chiasmus is one of my favorite topics. Why? Because it is a key factor into understanding a significant number of Bible texts. Dan has pointed out that the modern reader can get confused with a too straightforward translation of a chiasmus. I say, "Amen!" On my blog, I encourage the analytic reader to become much more aware of the chiastic pattern the original authors used.

In either case, whether serious seeker or serious student, getting all readers to understand the original intent is what the Better Bible Blog is all about.

At Fri Mar 03, 12:33:00 PM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...


Wayne added the volume and number of the article to my post.

I see that DavidR responded to your second question.


Thanks for including the link to your related blog post, which was also excellent.

At Sat Mar 04, 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I agree that there is a place for more than one Bible version in major languages. But don't forget that there are very many languages in the world which don't have even one Bible version. That puts a rather different perspective on the continuing initiatives to produce yet another English version for yet another tiny niche market or to compete in an already saturated general market.


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