Jonah 1:3 – Chiastic Structure

Continuing an occasional series of studies in Jonah, here is an analysis of the structure of Jonah 1:3.

It is recognised that Jonah 1:3 constitutes a small chiasm, and this is perhaps a good place to show how structural and numerical (word count) aspects can work together in texts both to confirm proposed structures and to enhance meaning.

I was first alerted to this chiasm in Jonah 1:3 by the very helpful analysis provided by—a site which I wholeheartedly recommend. Here is a diagram  showing the structure:


It is clear that the 21 Hebrew words making up verse 3 contain a number of symmetrical elements. These are:

1)             Each clause of the structure begins with a verb, and all of these verbs have the same grammatical form and structure (technically they are all “qal waw consecutive imperfect  (wci) 3ms” verbs), and they all have Jonah as the subject.

2)             The opening and closing clauses (A and A`) have, in addition, the identical expression “away from the presence of the Lord” – in corresponding locations.

3)             Also, A and A` have matching “infinitive constructs” in corresponding locations.

4)             B and B` match being made up of just two words, a verb followed by a noun.

5)             The word “to Tarshish” occurs 3 times, in symmetrical locations—being found in corresponding locations in A and A`, but also in the central clause, C`. Furthermore, the form of the word is identical in A and A`, but slightly different in C.

However, there is one surprising, apparently assymetrical, feature, and that is that the important word   וַיֵּ֨רֶד   (way·yê·reḏ)  “and he went down”, occurs twice, once in B and again in A`  – hence  the  two occurrences do not appear to be symmetrically located.

It is here, I suggest, that word counts come to our rescue! The two occurrences are in fact symmetrically located by word count! There are 21 words altogether in the verse, and the first occurrence of וַיֵּ֨רֶד  is the seventh word from the beginning, and the second occurrence is the seventh word from the end (counting backwards—this is after all, a chiastic structure!!):

So:  verse is also structured as follows:

P                  6 words

Q                             וַיֵּ֨רֶד

R                                          7 words

Q`                            וַיֵּ֨רֶד

P`                6 words

I hope to continue this series with further structural analyses, and also to present Jonah in a much, much more positive light than many of the modern commentators!



Categories: Chiastic and Other Structures, Jonah

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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