I am in the midst of reading Whitney Shiner’s book “Proclaiming the Gospel: First-Century Performance of Mark.”
In the book he argues that Mark was performed and most likely memorized for performance.
In his chapter on memorization he states that “the purpose of chiastic structures (are) most likely to be help to the memory of the performer than to guide the audience. In spite of arguments that ancient audiences would be used to following chiasms, my observation is that chiasms are generally quite hard to follow in a conscious manner.”
I think Shiner is right here, but we in this day are not usually receiving these as performances. Rather we read the text, and as we observe the text, can identify the chiasms. Therefore in our age, it seems that chiasms can be a helpful tool to see where emphasis is placed and then also reflect on how the chiasm would have been a help to the performer.
But this does caution us against putting too much weight on chiasms. If the original audience may have not picked up on them, then the exegetical significance may not be as important as we assume.
Whitney Shiner, Proclaiming the Gospel: First-Century Performance of Mark (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003), 114–115.