Story of discovery: stichometry as objective of research

Where does one get the idea of counting lines or even syllables? Indeed, that is a longer story. Starting point was the observation that different text passages seem to have the same size. The attempt to explain this result led to a gradual refining of the methods. Finally we came to realize that the authors have worked in an incredibly careful way.

First discoveries

1963 It began while reading “Homo faber” of the Swiss author Max Frisch. A young student of theology in Tübingen began to move back and to count the pages. In the book’s architecture the issues of technique and nature are interrelated several times, and this in passages structured similarly and approximately in the same size. Max Frisch was an architect by profession, obviously he also constructed his literary works.
1963 At the same time, a new edition was published of a guide through the Maulbronn monastery, once written by Gustav Lang, the grandfather, now “revised and corrected” by the grandson. Has growing up in former monasteries stimulated the sense for symmetry and proportion, even beyond the field of architecture?
1966 In biblical studies some initial observations were made concerning the New Testament, in particular concerning the structure of Acts.

From Nestle lines to the GNT text

1973 A seminar with students in Houston, Texas, brought two important findings on Acts:
  • The book is structured in axial symmetry, the axis being the apostles’ council (15:1-35);
  • Counting lines seems to be rewarding: Acts 7:2-16 = 7:17-34 = 41 lines in Nestle25.
1977 “Kompositionsanalyse des Markusevangeliums” (1,2 MB) with the following results (among others):
  • structured in analogy to a tragedy, with peripeteia and anagnorisis after Mk 8:22;
  • journey in Mk 8:22–10:45 as central part, correspondences in the parts before and after;
  • Mk 3:7–8:21 = 2nd main part (505 Nestle lines) = ⅓ of Mk 1:1–16:8 (1515 lines);
  • Mk 3:13–6:6a = 6:6b–8:21 (246/245 Nestle lines): parallel-built halves of the main part;
  • remarks on Romans: 1:1–4:25 ≈ 5:1–8:39 ≈ 12:1–16:23 (251 / 255 / 262 Nestle lines);
  • similar remarks on the Gospel of John: 1:1–6:71 ≈ 7:1–12:50 (624 / 636 Nestle lines).
1983 Continued studies on Matthew, now based on the lines of GNT3 instead of Nestle26, e.g.:
  • Mt 9:35–18:35 as central main part, parables in 13:1-52 as symmetry axis;
  • relation of the golden ratio: Mt 8:1–9:34 / 5:1–7:29 = 147 / 240 lines = 0.6125 !
  • How are the ancient authors able to realize such subtle proportions?

The stichos as standard line and the Fibonacci sequence

1986 Discovery in Acts that 18 GNT lines happen to correspond to about 21 stichoi of 15 syllables:
  • The number 21 belongs to the Fibonacci sequence of approximations to the golden ratio.
  • Acts, Mark and Romans seem to be built up from blocks of 21, 13 and 8 stichoi.
  • Assumption: a stichos of 15 syllables has to be posited besides the proven stichos of 16.
Gradual recourse to the original numbers of stichoi in analyzing the New Testament writings:
  • first by simple conversion of the counted GNT lines into stichoi (by the relation 21/18),
  • then successively on screen, by dividing the GNT text into lines of 15 syllables.

Ephesians as first example of a stichometrical analysis

1994 First attempt to analyse a composition stichometrically with Ephesians as example
(dedicated in 1996 to Prof. Käsemann’s 90th and Prof. Hengel’s 70th birthdays, unpublished):
  • disposition of the whole letter by a modulus of 21 stichoi, with a total of 17x21 = 357;
  • in the central main part Eph 4:1-16, the soteriological and the ethical themes overlap;
  • the parts before (1:1–3:21) and after (4:17–6:24) are of the same size (160 stichoi each);
  • the exact symmetrical structure may reproduce the symmetry of a body or temple;
  • the study contained additional hints on Mark, Romans, Revelation, and a letter of Cicero.
1999 The article “Schreiben nach Maß” (358 kB) describes the stichometrical approach programmatically
  • a review of all available references concerning the ancient stichometry;
  • function of the stichos as measure in particular in rhetorical training and for the authors;
  • proof that the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence have already been known in antiquity.
2003 Articles on “stichometry”: first in Calwer Bibellexikon, abridged version 2004 also in RGG4.
2004 “Ebenmaß im Epheserbrief” (440 kB): new version of the analysis of 1994/96, now published in NovT.

Markus and 1 Peter as test cases

2006 Study “Maßarbeit im Markus-Aufbau”, 1st version dedicated to Prof. Hengel’s 80th birthday.
2009 Print version in two parts (I. “Stichometrische Analyse” (1,2 MB), II. “theologische Interpretation” (448 kB)):
  • progress on 1977: analysis now on the basis of stichoi and with Fibonacci proportions;
  • disposition: with a modulus of 34 stichoi, and a total of 48x34 = 1632 stichoi;
  • the sections of Galilee and Judea (1:14–8:21 / 10:1–16:8) are exactly 21x34 = 714 each;
  • Mark’s composition is regarded as a literary piece of art and a theological achievement.
2009 Stichometrical analysis of 1 Peter (626 kB) (unpublished):
  • consistent outline in three parts, structured according to theological aspects;
  • the disposition is based on a modulus of 21 stichoi, the total is 13x21 = 273 stichoi;
  • comparable total in James (273) and partial sums in Matthew, Luke, Romans (8x34 = 272).

Overall picture on the web

2010 Installation of the homepage
  • stichometrical tables, initially for Mark, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, James and 1 Peter;
  • announcement of similar tables to be prepared for the other New Testament writings;
  • possible expansion of this kind of analysis to other ancient literature.
  • Goal: broad acceptance of the stichometrical approach as a helpful tool.
Completion of the analyses of the New Testament writings:
2011 Galatians (287 kB), Revelation (659 kB), Romans (849 kB), Matthew (1.0 MB), Philippians (252 kB), John (702 kB)
2012 Pastoral epistles: the only NT writings probably disposed with a stichos of 16 syllables (1. Timothy (299 kB), 2. Timothy (290 kB), Titus (242 kB))
2013 Luke (1.2 MB), Colossians (279 kB), 1. Thessalonians (288 kB), 2. Thessalonians (271 kB)
2014 Acts (902 kB), 2-3 John (214 kB)
2015 2 Corinthians (612 kB), Philemon (227 kB), 1 John (337 kB), Jude (287 kB), Hebrews (497 kB), 2 Peter (283 kB)

Presentation in English and in charts:

2012 40 years later: visit in Houston/Texas with a Sunday school lesson on stichometry
2013 EABS meeting in Leipzig: paper on the stichometry of Romans (published in 2017)
2014 Conference on Luke-Acts in Roskilde/Dänemark: paper on the “Architecture of Acts”.
SBL meeting in Vienna: paper on “Stichometry as a Useful Tool” (9.6 MB)
2017 SBL meeting in Berlin: papers on the stichometry of 2 Corinthians and Hebrews (696 kB)
2018 SBL meeting in Helsinki: papers on Matthew and John, for the first time with charts
2019 International SBL meeting in Rome: paper on Luke
Enlargement of the homepage by a new category “charts”
Installation of the English version

List of publications on stichometry and symmetry

of Friedrich Gustav Lang

Gustav Lang, Führer durch das Kloster Maubronn. 9. Neuauflage 1963.
Durchgesehen und berichtigt von Friedrich Lang. Brackenheim, 63 Seiten.

Sola gratia im Markusevangelium. Die Soteriologie des Markus nach 9,14–29 und 10,17–31. (809 kB)
In: Rechtfertigung. Festschrift für Ernst Käsemann.
Herausgegeben von J. Friedrich, W. Pöhlmann, P. Stuhlmacher. Tübingen 1976, 321–337.

Kompositionsanalyse des Markusevangeliums. (1,2 MB)
Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 74, 1977, 1–24.

„Über Sidon mitten ins Gebiet der Dekapolis“. Geographie und Theologie in Markus 7,31. (937 kB)
Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 94, 1978, 145–160.

Jubilate: Apostelgeschichte 17,22–28a(28b–34).
Pfingstmontag: Apostelgeschichte 2,22–23.32–33.36–39. (162 kB)

In: Gottesdienstpraxis, Serie A, VI. Perikopenreihe, Band 4: Ergänzungsband Exegesen.
Gütersloh 1989, 92–94. 109–111.

13. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Lukas 10,25–37. (205 kB)
In: Gottesdienstpraxis, Serie A, I. Perikopenreihe, Band 4: Exegesen,
Gütersloh 1990, 136–139.

Himmelfahrt: Apostelgeschichte 1,3–4(5–7)8–11.
Pfingstsonntag: Apostelgeschichte 2,1–18.
12. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Apostelgeschichte 9,1–9(10–20). (229 kB)

In: Gottesdienstpraxis, Serie A, II. Perikopenreihe, Band 4: Exegesen.
Gütersloh 1991, 97–100. 103–107. 144–147.

4. Advent: Lukas 1,26–33(34–37)38.
3. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Lukas 15,1–3.11b–32. (192 kB)

In: Gottesdienstpraxis, Serie A, III. Perikopenreihe, Band 4: Exegesen.
Gütersloh 1992, 14–17. 123–126.

Kantate: Apostelgeschichte 16,23–34.
6. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Apostelgeschichte 8,26–39.
12. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Apostelgeschichte 3,1–10
16. Sonntag nach Trinitatis: Apostelgeschichte 12,1–11. (465 kB)

In: Gottesdienstpraxis, Serie A, IV. Perikopenreihe, Band 4: Exegesen.
Gütersloh 1993, 96–98. 129–132. 151–153. 162–164.

Ebenmaß im Epheserbrief – Stichometrische Kompositionsanalyse,
mit einem Anhang zu Ciceros Brief Ad familiares 7,1 (130 kB).
Ernst Käsemann zum 90. am 12.07.1996, Martin Hengel zum 70. am 14.12.1996
(bisher unveröffentlicht, 40 Seiten + 10 Doppelseiten Textbeigaben).

Schreiben nach Maß – Zur Stichometrie in der antiken Literatur. (358 kB)
Novum Testamentum 41, 1999, 40–57.

Art. Stichometrie. Calwer Bibellexikon, Neuauflage 2003, 1274–1275.

Ebenmaß im Epheserbrief. Stichometrische Kompositionsanalyse. (440 kB)
Novum Testamentum 46, 2004, 143–163.

Ebenmaß im Epheserbrief. Ein Beispiel für Stichometrie in Kunstprosa.
In: Lyrik – Kunstprosa – Exil. Festschrift für Klaus Weissenberger zum 65. Geburtstag.
Herausgegeben von Joseph P. Strelka. Tübingen 2004 (= Edition Patmos Band 9), 143–162.

Art. Stichometrie. Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4. Auflage, Band 7, 2004, 1732.

Erbauung nach Plan im 1. Petrusbrief. Theologische und stichometrische Kompositionsanalyse (626 kB)
(abgeschlossen 2009, unveröffentlicht), 24 Seiten.

Maßarbeit im Markus-Aufbau. Stichometrische Analyse und theologische Interpretation.
Teil 1 (1,2 MB): Biblische Notizen Nr. 140, 2009, 111–134; Teil 2 (448 kB): Nr. 141, 2009, 101–115.

Abraham geschworen – uns gegeben. Syntax und Sinn im Benediktus (Lukas 1.68–79). (196 kB)
New Testament Studies 56, 2010, 491–512.

Disposition und Zeilenzahl im 2. und 3. Johannesbrief. (1,2 MB) Zugleich eine Einführung in antike Stichometrie,
Biblische Zeitschrift NF 59, 2015, 54–78.

Adam – Where to Put You? The Place of Romans 5 in the Letter’s Composition.
In: Textual Boundaries in the Bible: Their Impact on Interpretation (Pericope 9, ed. Marjo C.A. Korpel and Paul Sanders, Leuven: Peeters, 2017) 189–218 (online starting 10/2020).

Observations on the Disposition of Hebrews.
Novum Testamentum 61, 2019, 176–196.

Remarkable Proportions in the Disposition of 2 Corinthians.
Catholic Biblical Quarterly 82, 2020, 649–669