Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reading the Bible: Noticing Repetition, Lists

How to recognize and learn from a special kind of repetition called a List, where terms or ideas are variations on a particular category, purpose, or idea.

In the previous articles we looked at the Inclusio, at Simple Distant Repetition, and at Chiastic Structures. In this article we will look at a special case of repetition that often relies on the reader filling in unwritten repeated information.

Everybody uses lists. Many of the oldest documents we have from Egypt, Sumer, Akkad, Mari, Ebla, and Babylonia are lists or documents that contain lists: taxes, inventory, grocery, calendar appointments, vocabulary tables, offerings, gods, children, and many other things. Just in the previous sentence there are two lists!

Lists are a type of repetition. A list consists of a connection and a number of entries that share this connection. The connection may be explicitly repeated for each entry, but very often the connection is left unrepeated. The ordering of the entries may or may not be important to the list. The number of entries which make up the list may or may not be important. The List is a very flexible style of repetition. We are going to start by looking at simpler examples where the entries of the List hold the same grammatical position as each other.

A few well known examples of lists in the Bible are genealogies (Genesis 5, 10, Matthew 1, etc); the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5); the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), Love is ___ (1 Corinthians 13); the qualifications of a bishop (1 Timothy 3); the censuses (Numbers 1-6, 26); the offerings of Numbers 7. Lists are pervasive throughout the Bible and pervasive in life.

A very common format for a list is to name the connection shared by all the entries then name the first entry. The connection is no longer mentioned but rest of the entries are listed consecutively. In making the list one could write out each entry as a full sentence.
At the grocery store buy batteries.
At the grocery store buy milk.
At the grocery store buy eggs.
At the grocery store buy toilet paper.
At the grocery store buy ten pounds of flour.
But this is cumbersome. Anything on that list is understood as being the object of the phrase “At the grocery store buy…” In our practice the piece of paper contains only a list of items.

If there are more complex instructions that need to be noted, those are often included on the paper.
Batteries, two AA, and one 9volt
5 doz. Eggs
Toilet paper, make sure to get a dozen, but make sure it’s soft.
10 lb. Flour, use the coupon for the store brand.

But even when more specific directions like this are added, a statement of the connection is still unnecessary.

In a letter, sermon, or historical narrative there is a need to make the main connection more explicit. In Scripture this is done at the beginning or at the end of the list. We will call this explicit statement of the connection the main proposition. Sometimes the main proposition is repeated through the list. But in each case the main proposition is understood by the reader as if it were repeated for each of the entries on the list.

1 Timothy chapter 3 provides a nice example of a simple list in verses 2-3. Then the entries in verses 4 and 6 each required a bit of expansion. The final entry does not quite conform to the verb of the main proposition stated at the beginning of the list, but it is still a qualification in the list. So in this item the main proposition is reframed to include this qualification.

2 A bishop then must be ...
the husband of one wife,
of good behavior,
able to teach;
3 not given to wine,
not violent,
not greedy for money,
but gentle,
not quarrelsome,
not covetous;
4 one who rules his own house well,
having his children in submission with all reverence
5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house,
how will he take care of the church of God?);
6 not a novice,
lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside,
lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The verb of the main proposition is written only once, but it applies to all the entries except the last. The last item in the list of qualifications requires a different verb. It is introduced with the word “moreover,” which is an adverb that attaches the next statement to the previous list.

Now let us look at the use of a complex style of list in 1 Corinthians 13. In the first part, verses 1-3, there is a complex set of subordinated lists. Each of the entries could have been written out in eight full statements. But Paul uses a more abbreviated list form to amplify.

The reader infers the main proposition from the structure:
Suppose I have virtue X, if I have not love, then X is of no value.
Without going into a more elaborate analysis, just notice that the hypothetical conditions at the front-end of the list are occasionally left unrepeated. And the final phrases are left unstated until the end of each condition. By leaving the result unstated through the list the author forces the reader to backfill the left out phrase, leading him to mentally review the previous conditions.

We can lay out the opening list visually like this:

I speak with the tongues
of men

and of angels
but have not love
I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal
And though
I have
the gift of prophecy

and I understand                     
all mysteries

and all knowledge

and though
I have
all faith,
so that I could remove mountains

but have not love

I am nothing
And though
I bestow
all my goods to feed the poor

and though
I give
my body to be burned
but have not love
it profits me nothing.

The complex structure of the first list in this chapter contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the list which immediately follows. In the second list (verses 4-7) the subject is repeated only three times for the fifteen entries on the list. These repetitions are at the beginning of the list. And because there are no hypothetical conditions throughout the list, the reader easily understands that the subject “love” applies to all the verbal phrases which follow.

Love suffers long 
and is kind; 
love  does not envy; 
love  does not parade itself, 
is not puffed up; 
does not behave rudely, 
does not seek its own, 
is not provoked, 
thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, 
but rejoices in the truth; 
bears all things, 
believes all things, 
hopes all things, 
endures all things.
Love  never fails. 

The final mention of “Love” closes the list transitioning to a repetition of the three themes which opened this section. This repetition of this short list from earlier forms an inclusio enveloping the list of how love acts. In this short list the proposition is repeated in full for each element.

But whether there are prophecies, they will fail;
whether there are tongues, they will cease;
whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

Through the conclusion of the exposition on love, Paul uses list repetitions. In some places he lays out explicit repetitions in the lists, and in other places he forces the reader to fill in repetitions of his main proposition.

Formatting text like we have in this article helps to bring out the parallelism of the repetitions visually.

For  we know in part 
and  we prophesy in part. 
10  But when  that which is  perfect  has come, 
then  that which is  in part  will be done away.
11  When  I was  a child,
I spoke  as a child,
I understood  as a child, 
I thought  as a child; 
but when
I became  a man, 
I put away  childish things. 
12  For now  we see  in a mirror, dimly,
but then  face to face. 
Now  I know  in part,
but then  I shall know  just as I also am known.
13  And now  abide  faith, 
these three; 
but the greatest of these is love.

We have looked at just a couple examples of examples where the Biblical authors make use of repetition in the form of a list. Some lists in Scripture may be made up of complete repetition of the propositions all the way through. Some lists may deliberately eliminate the written repetition of the proposition leaving it to the reader to fill it in. Lists can be constructed with the main proposition at the front-end of the list, or at the back-end of the list (as in 1 Corinthians 13 “but have not love…”).

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