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Marie appelée la Magdaléenne (Marie, Marie-Madeleine)

Site historique consacré à Marie, surnommée "la Magdaléenne" (alias Marie de Magdala, alias Marie-Madeleine)

Chiasmus: The Secret of John's Gospel

Recommended Book on Academia / Livre recommandé sur Academia

Mary Magdalene The Unsuspected Truth (Part XX)

The secret of the Gospel according to John: characters cross-shaped (chiasmus) in John 19, 25. Neither three nor four characters here, but only two: Mary Magdalene alias Jesus’s mother and his sister (in law): Mary wife of Clopas.


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    • How many women are named by John in this verse?
  • Only two: Mary of Magdala and Mary wife of Clopas.
    • Precisely. And these two women are none other than “the mother of Jesus” and “the sister of his mother” (her sister-in-law, in fact). Because John speaks here, in all and for all, of only two women: he presents them, then he names them, but in reverse order.
  •  In reverse order?
    • Yes, in order to form a chiasm, that is to say a cross figure. Here is the right cut: 

And by the cross of Jesus stood his mother (A),

And the sister of his mother (B),

Mary, the wife of Clopas (B),

And Mary of Magdala (A). 

  • So this is a chiasmus?
    • Yes. As you know, chiasmus is a rhetorical figure based on symmetry. It opposes one to the other two propositions having the same words (or synonyms) or identical ideas but in reverse order. The four crossing members then appear in the form of an A-B / B-A cross diagram.
  • Which means that the first member (A) corresponds to the fourth (A), and the second (B) to the third (B) ...  
    • Exactly. Combined in a diagonal arrangement, the four elements – A-B on one side, B-A on the other – are reflected as in a mirror. The chiasmus makes it possible to create particularly striking formulas.
  • For example?
    • “You have to eat to live, not live to eat”.
  • Of course, we read that in The Miser… But was this type of figure known in the time of Jesus?
    • Not only known but used. Molière himself borrowed this famous formula from a classic author.
  • From a Greek or Latin rhetorician, I suppose ...
    • That is it.
  • But what about the evangelists?
    • There are also several chiasms in the synoptic gospels, for example: “The last shall be first, and the first last.” Or again: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
  • And what about John?
    • In John’s gospel too, for example: “My kingdom is not of this world. If of this world were my kingdom …” But beware! Quite often it happens that the translation eliminates the chiasmus.
  • Do all chiasms have this same arrangement?
    • No. There are, in fact, several types of chiasmus. Some chiasms relate to longer developments and operate on a larger scale, on narrative units. It is no longer then the few words of the same syntactic unit that are repeated in reverse order but rather the main ideas of a larger section.
  • Do we also find this type of chiasmus in the Gospels?
    • This type of chiasmus is quite common in the Old Testament but is less frequent in the New Testament, with the exception – precisely – of the Gospel of John. The whole last part of John follows a chiastic structure.
  • Including chapter 19?
    • Especially chapter 19. Raymond Edward Brown, not to be confused with Dan Brown …
  • Oh no, not him, please no! [laughs]
    • I suggest that we take a break.
  • All right. 


Mary Magdalene

The Unsuspected Truth

Part XXI

Mary Magdalene

The Unsuspected Truth

Part I

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