The Letter X: The Key to understanding the Bible (tribute to Dave Dorsey)


This post is part of the continuing series I’m doing to honor the late Dr David Dorsey.

Don’t forget to read the others:

1. Faith = Eggs in a Basket
2. Follow Mosaic Laws?

The letter X.

It’s the shape of something. It’s the shape of the structure of how the Pentateuch (and Joshua) was composed. It was authored carefully with a structure that helped ensure it was remembered in a world where people memorized stories and rarely wrote them down or read them.

Chiastic refers to the letter X (“X” is Chi, in Greek, of course).

Check out the wikipedia article on ancient literary structure:

a field that Dave contributed to that is likely one of his most enduring legacies.

It shreds the 18th century theory, borne out of cultural ignorance and literary ignorance of ancient texts. One that has prevailed for too long: The Documentary hypothesis. (This theory came about when a French medical professor (Jean Astruc) thought the Pentateuch was very oddly written. No, he wasn’t a biblical scholar or historian, sadly, but he read the Bible and wanted to postulate. (Soon after, German liberal scholars jumped on his theory, expounded on it, and proliferated it as it aided their objectives in the 19th Century.)

Reading the non linear narrative form had him confused. He postulated that multiple authors at different times probably wrote the text and then it was cobbled together. After all, some things were mentioned twice, but how could that be? Must be a mistake or proof of multiple authors lending their two shekels.

Modern narratives are written in a linear form, usually, hence the puzzlement.

Astruc was a bright man, but his acumen was clearly restricted to the medical sciences. He had never pieced together that all the ancient texts tended to be written this chiastic way as a memory aid because they had been transmitted orally at first, sometimes for many hundreds of years. The book of Job is a very good example of this. It dates back to long before Abraham.

Thankfully, our understanding of the ancients is much improved now and it’s easy to spot this same structure in ancient tales like the Iliad and the Odyssey, for instance. Perhaps it is because of the stronghold of liberal bias in the scholarly world that this poor rabbit trail tends to still be esteemed. (Truth be told, its prevalence also works toward discrediting or tempering aspects of the Bible which is a happy agenda for a great many scholars.) So, this 18th century misunderstanding still prevails.

As one understands the chiastic structure of the bible, the main points are easily underscored. The Mosaic Law for instance, centers on the importance of protecting the weak (in that culture: females, foreigners, the the poor classes), the marginalized, and the outcast. The Law then, is an excellency picture of the heart of God that should be the same as ours.

So Remember:
The climax and thrust of a passage in the first 6 books stands out in the middle and the supporting text flanks it on either side. A sandwich of meaning: the meat is in the middle.

If you’d like to understand it for yourself here’s the best book for that:



In my final tribute post, I’ll share about Dorsey’s most famous archeological discovery. It’s a great story!