A major ring, says Mary Douglas, (pp. 32-33), is a triumph of chiastic ordering. […] A Chiasmus is a rhetorical technique that pairs two items the other way round: AB – B’A‘. Mary Douglas shows spontaneous short chiastic forms in the speeches of an old gardener:

A These young plants don’t want too much water;        

B Don’t water them every day,         

C Water them every other day.

B‘ If you water them on Monday, do nowt on Tuesday, water them on Wednesday.

A‘ Too much water isn’t good for these young plants

The Gardener has even a center in his chiastic speech: A B – C – B‘ A‘.

This is the structure of a very short ring that may be found in many short episodes in the Gospel of Mark. I have looked into it and randomly found two small rings with chiastic structure.

Example 1: Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

A 40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

B 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 

C 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 

B‘ 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 

A‘ 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

This short paragraph from the first chapter of the Gospel has all characteristics of a chiastic talk and serves as a small ring within the Gospel.

The parallel readings are the following: A man with leprosy talks to Jesus in the first sentence. The last sentence has an allusion to the man, again: „he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.“ The news being his sentences of belief in the first paragraph: „If you are willing, you can make me clean.“

The B-B‘ paragraphs have Jesus talking instead of the man with leprosy. First he reaches out his hand and repeats the talk of the man in first person: „I am willing“, he said, and adds in the second person: „be clean“. B‘ has him admonishing the man that he should not talk to anybody but show himself to the priests who are to declare him as clean so he can go home to his family.

C is the center of the text and shows the result of the talks. „Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.“ It is a repetition of the first and last talks of the man with leprosy: if you a re willing, you can make me clean, as well as of Jesus‘ words in B: I am willing, be clean. The same situation is described in various persons of the same verbs, repeated again and again.

Example: Mk 8, 22-26 Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

Mk 8, 22-26 has the same structure, again with a central sentence in C.

A 22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 

B 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

C 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

B‘ 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 

A‘ 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

This example works itself around the opposition seeing vs. blind. The central message is in the middle where the blind man admits that he is already seeing, but not very well. This can be seen as an allegory of the people hearing the Gospel: they already see the good news but not clearly, they already believe but do not know everything. This connects the episode with others in which Jesus admonishes the disciples that they still do not see or believe.

The central sentence is framed by B-B‘, two sentences in which Jesus does something with the eyes of the man, spits onto them, then puts his hands onto them. If anybody asked himself why Jesus heals in two halves, the answer is the structure of the ring. He heals in two halves of the structure while the man sees in the center.

In short, this episode is not about the healing of a blind man but an allegory about belief. The central loading in the middle shows this perfectly. The blind man is healed but cannot see sharply but only blurred. This is not because Jesus would not have been capable to heal him properly in the first place. But an example for the working of Heilsgeschichte: Jesus heals a first time in B; this is his first coming to earth about which the apostles and the Gospel gives witness.

After Jesus‘ first coming people see but not clearly. This is an allusion to St. Paul’s saying in the Letter to the Corinthians: „11 When I was a child, I spake 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 through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.“

As St. Paul denotes that „now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face“ the second healing represents the second coming of Jesus after which people will see not more darkly but clearly.

A and A‘ frame the story with the man being brought to Jesus and being sent away by him.

This is the way in which this small ring works in the Gospel of Mark.

(c) Cornelia Soldat