Heigh-ho, the derry-o . . .
The cheese stands alone.
from “The Farmer in the Dell”
For a melancholy introvert, standing alone is no uncommon experience. Among the areas in which I feel increasingly alone is the study of scripture.
In biblical studies, I am coming to know (read that as an intentional use of the imperfect tense/aspect — I am not in a perfected state of having arrived at the end!) a little more than “just enough to get you in trouble.” I don’t know how to use all the tools I have available, and sometimes I take the wrong exit ramp or stop at the wrong rest stop in exegetical study, but I am as confident as one can be that I’m on the right road. It is a lonely highway. . . .
Recently, during Bible class, a very good man (A)
made a very un-good statement. (B)
His statement (C)
reflects the bad ideas (B’)
of lots of other good people out there who read their Bibles. (A’)
The statement was something like this, in part: “I’m not very much into the ‘structure’ of Paul’s letters. I think verses X-Z stand alone.” And in one fell swoop — and I really don’t think he intended to do this — he undercut the very idea of the importance of literary context.
The indented layout of the five blue lines above shows chiastic arrangement. Because of my acquaintance with chiasms and my interest in biblical exegesis, and because I felt like using it as an emphatic illustration, I composed that little chiasm (in all of one minute). It’s cathartic for me, in a way.
This type of arrangement is quite common in ancient texts. Scholars sometimes disagree on the particulars, but nary a scholar worth his salt denies the prevalence or significance of such things in the rhetorical thought-patterns of the ancients. In terms of structure, the “text” above is actually very much like something that might be found in a gospel or in one of Paul’s letters. The emphasis in such a section of text is in the middle—in this case, the statement made by my sibling. My intent, then, in communicating through the chiastic structure above, is to focus attention on the statement itself, not on the person. Secondary and tertiary emphases may also be present—such as the relationship of bad statements and bad ideas (B and B’ lines).
Anyway, back to the statement itself. . . . I took it as an expression of some lack of understanding, or maybe some frustration with being confronted with new emphases on context and purposeful literary analysis in Bible study.
The thing is, the statement that “verses X-Z stand alone” was flat wrong, insofar as it went.
The intent of my brother’s heart was completely fine; he was just off-base in suggesting that we might get just as much from a short section by letting it stand alone.
In the course of reading, studying, and coming to understand a literary document, nothing stands alone.
But the cheese and I do stand alone far too often, I think. Maybe we are limburger.