Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reading the Bible: Noticing Repetition: Simple Distant Repetition

In the first article we looked at a type of repetition called an inclusio. In that technique information is presented at the beginning of a text and at the end of a text to form a bracket, or bookends, around the unit of text. It can be compared to a sandwich: a carefully stacked meal between two slices of crafted bread.

Another very common way that the biblical authors showed how their texts were organized was by using simple repetition. But in this case the repetition occurs only at one end of the text, either the beginning or the end. The repetitions are distant from each other because of the sermon, poem, or narrative between them.

The first step is recognizing where these simple distant repetitions occur. These simple distant repetitions are often used to mark the beginning (or the end) of a new topic. They might be used as theme of a book or as motifs on a theme. Or they might be used as a trope in a book [click on those terms to get a short explanation]. But before we make an evaluation on the meaning and use of a set of repetitions we want first to identify them in their contexts.

Here we are going to look at examples of simple distant repetition in two categories. We will call them: Front-end Repetition, which are repeated words or phrases placed at the beginning of a topic; and Back-end Repetition, which are placed after a topic. Then we will look at an example of both techniques used together.

Front-end Repetition
In the book of Isaiah there are many examples of simple distant repetition that mark a new sermon or addressee. In some cases simple distant repetition is used to mark subtopics. Here we will focus on examples from the Burdens and Woes. In The Burden against Tyre we will highlight other uses of front-end repetition for the subtopics.


13:1 The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw
14:28 This is the burden which came in the year that king Ahaz died.
(v. 28 against Philistia)
15:1 The burden against Moab
17:1 The burden against Damascus.
17:12 Woe to the multitude of many people
18:1 Woe to the land shadowed with buzzing wings
19:1 The burden against Egypt
21:1 The burden against the Wilderness of the Sea
21:11 The burden against Dumah
21:13 The burden against Arabia
22:1 The burden against the Valley of Vision
23:1 The burden against Tyre
First there is a section in which subtopics are marked with imperative verbs:
23:1 Wail-(this is an inclusio with v. 14)
23:1 Be still
23:4 Be ashamed
23:6 Cross over
23:10 Overflow
23:13 Behold
23:14 Wail
Second there is a section in which the
subtopics are marked with a repeated phrase
23:15 In that day
24:21 In that day
26:1 In that day
27:1 In that day
27:2 In that day
27:12 In that day
28:1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim
29:1 Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt
29:15 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord
30:1 Woe to the rebellious children
30:6 The burden against the beasts of the South
31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
33:1 Woe to you who plunder, though you have not been plundered



Back-end Repetition
In Exodus when Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh there is a series of events that are marked by back-end repetition. At the end of each episode is a reference to Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. Three other verbal expressions accompany this, but are not used in every case. One is the statement that Pharaoh did not heed. A second is that Pharaoh did not let go. And third is a reference to the fact that this was done in accordance with the Lord’s word as the Lord had said.

When Pharaoh’s heart is first mentioned it is at the beginning of the First Plague. God mentions this to Moses as the reason Pharaoh will not let the people go. One other time Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned at the beginning of a section. This is at the start of the Eighth Plague when God states his intent to harden Pharaoh’s heart. The rest of the repetitions are back-end repetition in the narrative portions, not in speech.



7:14-25 The First Plague: Nile turns to  Blood
7:14 “Pharaoh’s heart is hard”
[The events]
7:22 Pharaoh’s heart grew hard,
and he did not heed them,
as the Lord had said.
7:23 Neither was his [Pharaoh’s] heart moved by this.


8:1-15 The Second Plague: Frogs
[The events]
8:15 Pharaoh ... hardened his heart
and did not heed them,
as the Lord had said.


8:16-19 The Third Plague: Dust to Lice
[The events]
8:19 Pharaoh’s heart grew hard,
and he did not heed them,
just as the Lord had said.


8:20-32 The Fourth Plague: Swarms of Flies
[The events]
8:32 Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also;
neither would he let the people go.


9:1-7 The Fifth Plague: The Livestock
[The events]
9:7 But the heart of Pharaoh became hard,
and he did not let the people go.


9:8-12 The Sixth Plague: Boils
[The events]
9:12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them,
just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.


9:13-35 The Seventh Plague: Hail and Fire
[The events]
9:34 And when Pharaoh … hardened his heart, he and his servants.
9:35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hard;
Neither would he let the children of Israel go,
as the Lord had spoken by Moses.


10:1-20 The Eighth Plague: Locusts
10:1 God speaking to Moses before the plague
“Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants,
that I may show these signs of Mine before him”
[The events]
10:20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart,
and he did not let the children of Israel go.


10:21-27 The Ninth Plague: 3 Days Darkness
[The events]
10:27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart,
and he would not let them go.


Combinations of both Front-end and Back-end Repetitions
Both front-end and back-end repetitions can occur in the same book. Genesis uses eleven front-end repetitions to mark the beginning of the spread of the generations, generally followed by the events of significant persons in those generations. These are the called the Toledoth in Hebrew. In English this word is translated variously as “generations” “genealogy” or “history.” These larger units are tied together with two events in the opening chapters of Genesis. First is the command to Adam and Eve “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.” in Genesis 1:28 and repeated to Noah in Genesis 9:1. Second is the Promise of the Seed Who would crush Satan’s head and reunite exiled humanity back with God. (Genesis 3:15)

Back-end repetition marks the end of sections which focused on particular individuals who carried the Promise of the Conquering Seed of the Woman. There are four of these back-end repetitions in Genesis. These back-end repetitions are the notices of deaths: of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Part 1 Six Day Creation and Sabbath: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Gen 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth
Part 2 Origin of Man 2:7-25,
Origin of Sin 3:1-24 (the Promise of the Seed of the Woman)
The Children 4:1-26
(Cain, the firstborn, is Not the Promised Seed)
(The Substitute at the end of the section, Seth Bears the Promise)


Gen 5:1 This is the book of generations of Adam  
Down to Noah and his sons: Shem, Ham, Japheth
Part 3 The Multiplication of Man’s Sin 6:1-8
Gen 6:9 These are the generations of Noah
Part 4 Destruction Renewal 6:11-9:28
Ends with death of Noah


Gen 10:1 And these are the generations of the sons of Noah
Part 5 Scattering of Mankind 11:1-9
Gen 11:10 These are the generations of Shem  
[No interlude between genealogies]
Gen 11:27 And these are the generations of Terah  
Part 6 Leaving Ur stopping at Haran 11:28-32
Abraham receives the Promise of the Seed 12:1-25:10f
Ends with death of Abraham


Gen 25:12 And these are the generations of Ishmael (Not the Promised Seed)
[No Interlude between genealogies]
Gen 25:19 And these are the generations of Isaac (Bearer of the Promised Seed)
Part 7 Isaac to Jacob 25:20-35:29
Ends with death of Isaac.


Gen 36:1 And these are the generations of Esau (Not the Promised Seed)
[No Interlude between genealogies]
Gen 36:9 And these are the generations of Esau, father of Edom in Mount Seir
Part 8 Jacob in Canaan 37:1
Gen 37:2 These are the generations of Jacob (Bearer of the Promised Seed)
Part 9 Joseph and his Brothers 37:3-50:26
Ends with deaths of Jacob and Joseph


The techniques of simple distant repetition can be used in other ways. They also can be used in conjunction with other forms of repetition, like the inclusio (as we saw in Isaiah 23). Some readers may notice that in the Plagues there are a few examples of inclusio used with back-end repetition.

The goal here is to lay out examples of these techniques of repetition so we are more able to identify them. When we can identify these types of repetition we are better able to read the Scripture and understand the Bible according to the way the writers arranged their texts.

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