Category Archives: book copies

Chiasmus seen on the streets of Hampstead Garden Suburb!

Some while ago I wrote a series of posts on the subject of ancient middle eastern poetry (for example One of the topics I covered was chiasmus, a literary device where parts of a phrase or pair of lines of poetry are crossed over. A good example from the biblical book of Joshua is:

     Then still the Sun
and Moon was stopped

Now, at the time I commented that this is only rarely seen these days. Well, the other day I was walking in Hampstead Garden Suburb (in North London) when I saw a courier van making a delivery. Imagine my delight when I saw that the slogan on the driver’s cab was “Delivering the promise that others promise to deliver”!

How cool was that? It certainly made me look twice, and if I ever had need for courier services – which admittedly is unlikely just now – I’d look them up. Now, that part of London has a large Jewish community, and good representation of other middle eastern groups as well. So I did wonder if this was a bit of long-standing cultural identity being expressed in a commercial slogan. Whatever the case, it was great to see chiasmus alive and well in the year 2012!

To track down examples of chiasmus in In a Milk and Honeyed Land, why not check out and get your very own copy!

Book signing at Cornerstone Books

Here’s some exciting news! On Saturday November 17th I have been invited to do a book signing event of In a Milk and Honeyed Land at Cornerstone Books, just up the road from me in North Finchley. Should be a good time – I shall be there from 10:30 or so until 3:30 or so, and Cornerstone say that they will put on cake and coffee!

A few weeks to get myself ready for this…

Cornerstone’s contact details are:
Cornerstone Books, 45-51 Woodhouse Road, London N12 9ET, 020 8446 3056,

Some new places to browse ‘In a Milk and Honeyed Land’

The last few days have seen some more opportunities opening up for In a Milk and Honeyed Land, both online and in the real world.

First we have kindlemojo ( who have placed it in their ‘Historical Fiction’ collection.

Then Daunt Books ( have taken copies in their Hampstead and Belsize Park branches, which are the two nearest to where I live here in north London.

Let’s hope they both do well…

Kephrath and a matrilineal society

I have been asked a couple of times why I chose to make the society that lived in Kephrath and the other three towns in In a Milk and Honeyed Land a matrilineal one. As Damariel says to the Egyptian priest Senenptah while in Gedjet (Gaza) “we reckon descent through the mother”. But more than that, houses in the four towns are the property of women rather than men. It is not the same as a matriarchy, where women rule the culture, though the two may in some places have gone hand in hand. The book makes clear that the four towns were customarily ruled by a male chief, and that those who served as seers and priests did so as married couples. Both sexes play key parts in the day-to-day organisation of the towns, but nevertheless households are defined by the oldest woman there, not the oldest man.

There are a couple of answers to this, depending if one is talking about the historical basis or the narrative purpose. History first. It seems clear from numerous archaeological findings, chiefly religious amulets and the like, that women in the Middle and Late Bronze Age (about 1800-1200BC approximately in the ancient near east) were regarded with much more equality and played a much more significant role in social decisions than was the case in the Iron Age (1200BC through to Roman times). So, since I am writing about a society that was still living in a Late Bronze style, I wanted the place of women to be recognised as crucial by the townspeople themselves. In this sense, chief Mahur-Baal’s desire to turn the four towns into a male-dominated kingdom was a little ahead of his time – by about the year 1000BC similar kingdoms were in place all around the region, including ancient Israel, and judging from archaeological relics, women then occupied a much more subordinate position.

We have no specific evidence as to whether the Gibeonite towns really did have a matrilineal society, and such detailed evidence is unlikely ever to be brought to light. The accounts in the Hebrew Bible of Jacob’s trip out to Mesopotamia contain some hints that this was the practice further east, at least in some places. For example, Jacob moves into his new wife’s house to live there, rather than setting up his own household or taking her back to his own father’s home. But the details here can only be seen through the editorial choices of the later scribes who collated earlier traditions into what we now call the Bible, and the process has left us with only some of the information we would like.

From a narrative point of view, the choice presented some challenges. First and foremost, it meant making sure that I stayed true to that particular vision of the society, and avoided slipping into a “normal” perspective. There were a great many times when I found that I had written that someone went to “his” house rather than “her” house. So the choice involved a lot of self-discipline, and discovering just how entrenched some verbal habits can be.

As well as that, keeping the roles of both men and women central as regards the culture of the four towns – while also keeping their roles quite different in other ways – has always seemed to me a key ingredient of the description of the land as ‘flowing with milk and honey’. The phrase evokes a setting of lavish and unashamed femininity, and serves in the Bible as a balance to what seems to some people a very male-centric world view. To make the land flow with milk and honey, I chose to have the four towns live in a way that defines the family households in terms of women.

So the choice seemed to me to be a credible one in terms of the history of the Gibeonites, and was definitely one that fitted the vision of their society that I wanted to portray. Let me know what you think! To buy In a Milk and Honeyed Land in kindle and other ebook formats, or in soft-cover and hard-cover, check out

Kindle edition now released

Yes, the Kindle edition is now out!

In a Milk and Honeyed Land eBook: Richard Abbott: Kindle Store

— or — Kindle Store

I will update the main page later today

‘In a Milk and Honeyed Land’ and ancient poetry (2)

The last blog entry looked at a simple example of a parallel couplet:

Joe cooked the main course
    Mary made the sweet

They are called parallel because matching words are placed at the same place along each line – Joe and Mary, cooked and made, and main course and sweet. This time we’ll look at some variations of this simple pattern that poets in the ancient world used to give flexibility and interest to their work.

One way was to drop the verb from the second line, and use the “extra space” gained by doing that to add some description for one or other of the remaining words. The technical term for this is “verb deletion”.

So we could have

Joe cooked the main course
    Mary the special sweet


Joe cooked the main course
    Skilful Mary the sweet

In both cases the logic of parallel lines means that you do not really need the verb made on the second line – the pattern of the first line makes it obvious what is going on. The use of an adjective here means that something more of a background story can be hinted at. So the second of those examples suggests that the two of them divided up the jobs because Mary was particularly adept at desserts. But if instead we said:

Joe cooked the main course
    Time-pressed Mary the sweet

then the background issue is not that of skill, but of opportunity.

Perhaps the most important ancient world variation on the parallel couplet is called chiasmus, from a Greek word with the broad meaning of crossing over. To do this, we reverse the order of the second line:

Joe cooked the main course
    The sweet was made by Mary

Now, instead of corresponding parts being in the same place on their lines, they swap over. Joe is at the start of the first line, Mary at the end of the second. Main course ends the first line, sweet starts the second. If you were to join the matching pieces of each half of the couplet with straight lines, then a simple parallel couplet would have these lines going vertically down the screen or page. With chiasmus, the lines form an X on the page or screen, the Greek letter chi (as in chi-asmus).

As well as giving some variation for the sake of interest, and avoiding an endless series of parallel couplets, chiasmus also gives the poet a chance to give some overall shape to the poem. It is quite common to have a couplet using chiasmus at the centre of a poem, or at some other logical place where there is a turning point of mood or action. Perhaps if we were to write the rest of the Joe and Mary poem, the first half might be all about Joe, and the second half all about Mary, with the chiasmus helping to make the changeover. In this way, the poet can also indicate more serious changes, such as from defeat to victory, sin to repentance, despair to hope, and so on. It can be a very compact and versatile way to indicate a change of situation. Sadly, many modern translations of the Hebrew Bible and other ancient poems do not keep the particular pattern of chiasmus, but change the word order back into direct parallel lines.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land includes some fragments of poetry using these variations. Both kinds can be found in the oath that Damariel swears to Nepheret shortly after they set out towards Kephrath. He starts with chiasmus:

Listen, all you gods of the nations,
    in the divine assembly take note.

He then moves on to verb deletion, omitting the verb in the second half of the following couplet and lengthening the description of himself to a short phrase:

Record the words of Damariel,
    the oath of the son of Yeresheth.

He completes the verse part of his promise with another chiasmus:

Nepheret’s freedom was bought for her pleasure,
    and for her own delight has she been released.

Of course, these words were not supposed to be carefully crafted and designed poetry, but part of a promise he made up on the spur of the moment outside Gedjet (modern Gaza). I have assumed that the habits of speech and rhythm that he knew in his “professional” life would spill over into parts of conversation that he might consider to be formal, such as this promise.

There are actually a great many examples of chiasmus scattered through the book, as it is a literary device that I am very fond of. Some, like the examples above, are embedded in a poem or portion of direct speech, but many others can be found in the descriptive text. Still others can be found on a larger scale again. See how many examples you can find where chiasmus is used to steer and shape the plot.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land may be purchased online – see for a list of vendors.
Or ask your own local bookshop to obtain a copy – ask by title or else ISBN number:

Paperback: 978-1-4669-2166-5
Hardcover: 978-1-4669-2167-2
e-Book: 978-1-4669-2165-8