Chiasmus in
is a much-needed and very welcome volume of essays devoted to the study of a
single linguistic and literary phenomenon, aptly if not always accurately
described by one Greek word, itself derived from the form of the Greek letter
chi (= X, i.e., a cross or cross-over). Chiasm occurs
to one degree or another in most languages and literatures, though with varying frequencies and effects. A comparative study of this widespread
phenomenon, especially in ancient literatures where it occurs in great
abundance is highly commendable.

basic figure of chiasm simply involves the reversal of the order of words in
balancing clauses or phrases. Since the cross-over effect is not required in any language, it is an optional and often deliberate
practice which serves one or several different purposes. Questions are
generally raised, at this level, not about the existence or identification of
the device, but rather about its significance and force in the overall
structure. Is it more than a trivial inversion, or does it have some arcane or
aesthetic validity with palpable or subliminal meaning?

more extended uses of chiasm raise further questions. As with much of
literature, especially poetry, ambiguity and obscurity are inherent in the form
and content: chiasm only adds
to the uncertainty and mystery. Scholars now recognize chiasms beyond the
simple type described above, chiasms which involve passages of verse or prose
ranging in length from a few sentences to hundreds of thousands of words. This
more complex form of chiasm is not merely grammatical but structural or
intentional; it systematically serves to concentrate the reader’s or hearer’s interest on the central expression. The number of such chiastic constructions which satisfy both sets of criteria: inversion
and balance on the one hand, and climactic centrality on the other, is
substantially less than the simpler mechanical variety. But wherever they are
present, these structures may add novel perspectives and unexpected dimension
to the texts in which they appear.

is yet a further extension of the term chiasm. Even more difficult and
controversial issues arise when chiasm is defined in terms of thought and
theme, rather than the more visible words and patterns. Inevitably a large
subjective element enters into these discussions, and the presence or absence
of chiasm on this level can become almost a voter’s choice.

therefore, may range between separated areas of research in their approach to
chiasm. On the one extreme, the phenomenon itself can be described or defined
rigorously, so that it is verifiable and often self-evident; while in this
sense it is part of a deliberate pattern of composition, it nevertheless leaves
the wider world of symbolism and significance to others. At the other end of
the spectrum, definitions and limits are hard to determine, and speculation is
rife; but large issues of meaning and intention can be raised, and important
questions about the nature and significance of extended literary pieces are
considered. The study of these great chiasms has enormous implications for
analysis and interpretation, but the wider the scope and the more extended the
reach, the less certain the results necessarily become. In the end, neither
approach will escape if carried to extremes.

a book with many varieties of presentation can display the present state of
chiastic studies. While a great deal of important work has been done across the
many domains of ancient
literature, the study of ancient literary techniques is still in ferment and
flux. A common fund of axioms and assumptions and a single sure-handed
methodology are yet to be established. The present volume reflects accurately
both the ferment
and the progress which is being made on a variety of fronts, and is all the more to be welcomed for bringing together the results of research in
different literatures of antiquity The editor is to be commended for his
catholicity and courage, and for his own original contributions in several
domains including a unique treatment of the Book of Mormon. His introduction to
the whole work is indispensable.

Noel Freedman