The simplest pattern of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. We can diagram two parallel lines as follows:
Inverted parallelism provides variation. It looks like this:
More complex versions of the inverted pattern appear often in the Bible. Genesis 2:5 – 3:24 provides a good example. This lengthy passage consists of seven scenes arranged as three concentric circles around a center point.
A. (2:5-17) Humankind placed in the Garden of Eden.
B. (2:18-25) Harmonious relationship between man, woman, and animals.
C. (3:1-5) Dialogue between serpent and woman about eating from the tree.
X. (3:6-7) Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree.
C′. (3:8-13) Dialogue between God, Adam, and Eve about eating from the tree.
B′. (3:14-21) God’s curse yields conflict between man, woman, and the serpent.
A′. (3:22-24) Humankind expelled from the Garden of Eden
Parallels between A and A′ include: in this passage the only… (a) references to the Tree of Life; (b) occurrences of the name “Eden;” (c) references to the east; (d) occurrences of the Hebrew word for “guard/keep.”
Parallels between B and B′ include: (a) Adam names woman/Eve; (b) In Section B, humans are naked and unashamed, while in Section B′, naked and ashamed, they return to the next-best scenario when God provides clothing for them.
Parallels between C and C′ include: These are the only dialogues in the entire passage; there are three subunits to both scenes: 3:1-5 contains three questions or statements by the serpent and woman about the tree; 3:9-13 contains three questions (with responses) from God about eating from the tree.
This structure highlights the contrast between the blessedness of the garden as originally envisioned, and the cursedness of expelled humanity. Verses 6-7 belong at the literary center because they present the critical sin that condemned humanity for all ages. This eating from the tree is also central spatially, the only event in this passage that necessarily takes place in the exact middle of the Garden of Eden.
Another Set of Rings!
A. (3:9-11) Accusing The Man
B. (3:12) Accusing The Woman
C. (3:13) Accusing The Snake
C′ (3:14-15) Punishing the Snake
B′ (3:16) Punishing the Woman
A′ (3:17-19) Punishing the Man
Here the ring structure draws attention to the conclusion of the central C and C′. This is the ray of hope in this sad passage, the Bible’s first reference to God’s Messiah, who will overcome Satan and the Curse:
He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Hallelujah! Praise be to God!
Sources: Jerome T. Walsh, “Genesis 2:4b-3:24: A Synchronic Approach,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96/2 (1977) pp. 161-77; Y. T. Radday, “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative,” in J. W. Welch (ed.), Chiasmus in Antiquity (1981) pp. 98-99; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (1987) pp. 50-51; Sidney Griedanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007) pp. 62-63, 81.