Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon claims to be a record written by a series of ancient Hebrew prophets to "the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God." (Book of Mormon Title Page) If this claim were true, there should be evidence that the author(s) of the Book of Mormon was/were familiar with Hebrew poetic and rhetorical structuring.

As it turns out, the Book of Mormon is indeed ripe with many forms of Hebraic poetic rhetorical devices. One example is that of what has been called chiasmus. Chiasmus "is a form of parallelism used as a poetic structure in some ancient writings from the Middle East and Greece". (J. Welch, "Chiasmus in Alma 36," FARMS Working Paper WEL-89a, Foundations for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1989). This form of parallelism is very common in Jewish literature, including the Book of Mormon.

Without a doubt, the leading authority on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is John W. Welch, a scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute who, while on his mission in Germany in the 1960's, discovered chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. (The interesting account of his discovery is in the newest edition of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=448)

Professor Welch has written extensively on this issue, so I will not repeat everything that he has already discussed. Nevertheless, these few examples of chiasmus will serve as a good example as to the Hebrew nature of the Book of Mormon.

Mosiah 3:18,19:
(Men will drink damnation to their souls unless)
(a) They HUMBLE themselves

(b) and become as little CHILDREN

(c) believing that salvation is in the ATONING BLOOD OF CHRIST;

(d) for the NATURAL MAN

(e) is an enemy of GOD

(f) and HAS BEEN from the fall of Adam
(f') and WILL BE forever and ever

(e') unless he yieldeth to the HOLY SPIRIT

(d') and putteth off the NATURAL MAN

(c') and becometh a saint through the ATONEMENT OF CHRIST

(b') and becometh as a CHILD

(a') submissive, meek and HUMBLE.

Mosiah 5:10-12:
(a) And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the NAME of Christ

(b) must be CALLED by some other name;

(c) therefore, he findeth himself on the LEFT HAND of God.

(d) And I would that ye should REMEMBER also, that this is the NAME

(e) that I said I should give unto you that never should be BLOTTED out,

(f) except it be through TRANSGRESSION;
(f') therefore, take heed that ye do not TRANSGRESS,

(e') that the name be not BLOTTED OUT of your hearts.

(d') I say unto you, I would that ye should REMEMBER to retain the NAME

(c') written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the LEFT HAND of God,

(b') but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be CALLED,

(a') and also, the NAME by which he shall call you.

Alma 41: 13-14:

O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish--

(a,a) GOOD for that which is GOOD;
(b,b) RIGHTEOUS for that which is RIGHTEOUS;
(c,c) JUST for that which is JUST;
(d,d) MERCIFUL for that which is MERCIFUL.

(d')Therefore, my son, see that you are MERCIFUL unto your brethren;
(c') deal JUSTLY,
(b') judge RIGHTEOUSLY,
(a') and do GOOD continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward;

(d'') yea, ye shall have MERCY restored unto you again;
(c'') ye shall have JUSTICE restored unto you again;
(b'') ye shall have a RIGHTEOUS judgment restored unto you again;
(a'') and ye shall have GOOD rewarded unto you again.

But these are not all the examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. Entire sections, such as Alma's discourse to his son, seem to have been edited by Mormon in such a way that they, for added emphasis, are structured chiastically. (See bottom page).

These interesting Hebraic elements in the Book of Mormon are strong evidence that the book was written by someone familiar with ancient Hebrew rhetorical and poetic strategies. Considering that Joseph Smith did not study Hebrew until 5 years after the Book of Mormon, this further makes him an unlikely author of the text.

Note: This has been but a very short introduction to this issue. The reader, therefore, is encouraged to follow up by reading the following.

This website gives a good introduction to the issue with an excellent bibliography for further research.

Also see:

From Alma's discourse:

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)
(d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2);
(e) for they were in BONDAGE (2)
(f) he surely did DELIVER them (2)
(g) TRUST in God (3)
(h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3)
(i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3)
(j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)
(k) BORN OF GOD (5)
(l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)
(m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)
(n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)
(o) PAINS of a damned soul (16)
(q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)
(q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)
(o') Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)
(n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)
(m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)
(l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
(k') BORN OF GOD (26)
(j') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26)
(h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27)
(g') TRUST in him (27)
(f') He will deliver me (27)
(e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29)
(c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30)
(a') This is according to his WORD (30).

Book: Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World

Book of Mormon scholarship under the prominent LDS researchers today has been the mainstay of arguments for a different understanding of pre-Columbian populations in the Americas. At a certain point in recent history, that began to change as new publications, often independently authored, brought to light other theories and evidences that have the potential to change the consensus of typical American Indian studies.

One of those publications is "Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World" by Charles C. Mann. Published in 2005, this book outlines an alternative to previously held conclusions about pre-Columbian American civilizations as well as a new way of viewing the events that followed European contact with the Americas.

Mann is not LDS, which makes his work all that more interesting to me. I find it refreshing to see that we are not the only ones who question the status quo when it comes to ancient American research. There is much more to be discovered that will cast new light on our currently held understanding about ancient American civilizations.