Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

3
The Quest for the Theory behind the Diptychs
Truth as Dialogical (Binary/Diptych-Like)

The diptych arrangement has four features: the fact, the underlying reason, the origin, and the implication. In other words: Is it true? And if so, then Why? When? And so what?

The question of its truth—the establishing of the fact—was already discussed in chapter 2 and will be dealt with more fully on a case-by-case basis, particularly under the recurring heading “complementarity of the two panels. ”

The questions of its origins and its implications will be dealt with in subsequent chapters. Chapter 4 will discuss origins (whether original or redactional), and the commentary will deal with the implications, with the way diptych structure clarifies the text.

In the meantime, this chapter concentrates on why. Why diptychs? Why not recount the story in straight, linear fashion? What is the theory or rationale behind such an arrangement? It does not seem possible at the moment to give a definitive answer to this question, but there are clues.


The Complex Nature of Reality
(the Diptych as Mind-Opening)

Diptych structure may be due partly to the mind-set implicit in features of Hebrew poetry, particularly the way such poetry holds diverse elements in balance. The opening lines of Isaiah 40, for instance, “have a clear binary structure” (Fitzgerald, 1990, 12:8); and, in general, “the biblical line consists of two balanced cola” (12:11). Furthermore, balance occurs not only within lines but between lines: “The internal balance characteristic of the OT line does not exhaust the possibilities for balance in poetry. It is frequently extended to larger units …several lines or quite commonly two lines” (12:14). This basic phenomenon—balance—is sometimes described as parallelism (synonymous, antithetic, synthetic, Fitzgerald, 1968, 13:15–16). There is no clear limit to the ways in which one element may balance another (Fitzgerald, 1990, 12:11).

One form of balance or parallelism is particularly important, namely inversion: something already said is repeated or quoted, but in a form that is reversed or inverted (Bailey, 1996; Beentjes, 1996). This poetic phenomenon provides a clue to some of the relationships within the diptychs of Genesis. Sometimes

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