To celebrate this 50th anniversary, throughout July and August Book of Mormon Central will publish one KnoWhy each week that discusses chiasmus and its significance and value to understanding the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other ancient literatures. Be sure to check out our other KnoWhys on chiasmus and the Chiasmus Resources website for more information. In the early, still-dark hours of the morning, August 16, , a young John W. Welch was a missionary serving in Regensburg, Germany, and chiasmus was an ancient literary technique he had only recently learned about. The possibility was tantalizing—could it be possible?
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This particular discovery is not an archeological one nor, strictly speaking, an historical one, but rather a unique type of literary discovery that helps modern minds to understand the literature of the ancient Near East. There has already been much discussion about this discovery in relation to the Bible, and now it is time that we consider it in relation to the Book of Mormon.
As a point of information, let me bring you up to date on what chiasmus is and when it was discovered in the Bible. It now appears certain that the ancient Israelites not only had a unique message to give to the world, but they also had a unique way in which to write this message down.
Chiasmus is one aspect of that way of writing, or, in other words, one of the literary techniques present in the Bible, that has recently attracted the attention of erudite scholars.
Chiasmus was first noticed by a few nineteenth century pioneer theologians in Germany and England, but the idea had to wait until the s before it found an ardent exponent, Nils Lund, who was able to lay the principle before the eyes of the world in a convincing way. But even at that, it was not until the decade of the s, after much more had been learned about the philology of early Semitic languages, that chiasmus was properly understood and unequivocally acknowledged.
Today, articles on the subject are quite common. What is it that has drawn this attention? To see this for ourselves, we had best begin with an example of chiasmus, and a convenient one is to be found in Psalms —8 , which reads translating literally from the Hebrew :. Save me, O my God, for thou has smitten all my enemies on the cheek-bone;. Well, a careful look at these verses reveals something that at first glance is not altogether obvious: namely, that the words occur in a peculiar sequence.
Everything gets said twice, and in the repetition everything gets said backwards, back to front, or in a reverse order. Consider what happens when we rewrite these verses by arranging them in the following way:. It now becomes quite clear to us that the repetition in these verses is not just a haphazard redundancy. Scholars in fact find that many passages follow this same pattern of inverted repetition, and when they do they call them chiastic.
I think it would be fair to say that the discovery of this pattern, the discovery of chiasmus, has added more insights into the nature of biblical literature than has any other single discovery of a comparable kind in modern times. Some chiasms are relatively straightforward, such as the example in Genesis —23 translating literally from the Hebrew :. It is also important for us to notice that chiasmus is not just a simple repetition; it also involves an intensification or an aspect of completion in the second half.
Quite consistently, therefore, a shift can be seen to occur at the center of a chiasm so that the bigger, more powerful, or more intense ideas will appear in the second half of chiastic passages.
Chiasmus is not limited to short passages. It may also be used to give order, emphasis, and completeness to longer passages, such as is the case in the 58th Psalm :. They shall melt away like waters, like a snail will melt as it goes along …. The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men shall say, there is a reward for righteousness. Surely there is a God that judgeth the earth.
By comparing each emphasized word in the first half of this psalm with the corresponding emphasized word in the second half, you can see the interesting chiastic order and the contrasting intensifications that have been written into this psalm. Chiasmus makes this poem harmonic, complete, and brilliant. No end is left untied.
No thought is left unbalanced. And yet it flows freely and naturally from one point to the next and back again. To an ancient Israelite this was beautiful, this was metrical, this was inspirational. A further phenomenon that we can see in the structure of the 58th Psalm is the importance of the chiastic turning point. Notice how the short prayer at the center of this psalm is marked and spotlighted. The prayer is set in the center for the very purpose of showing how prayer to the Lord God can turn everything completely around.
After the prayer the strength of the wicked melts away like the slime of a snail, while the requests of the righteous are granted.
Needless to say, the discovery of chiasmus has given us plenty to think about. It has led us to think about the nature of our sacred literature and to reevaluate the skill and deliberation with which it was written. By it many passages that were previously obscure have now become clear. Other places that once seemed disorganized have now regained their original orderliness.
Above all, we have learned once again that, if we are to judge the literature of another culture, we must not judge it according to our likes and dislikes. The fact that chiasmus was a unique and prevalent form of Hebrew writing requires us to take it into account when we consider the literary accomplishments of ancient Israel.
Let us turn now to the Book of Mormon. What we would like to know is what the discovery of chiasmus should mean for us and our understanding of the Book of Mormon. Surely it would be spectacular if this long-forgotten aspect of Hebrew literature were also to appear in the Book of Mormon.
In a sense, we might even say that it ought to appear in the Book of Mormon, it being of Hebraic origins. And furthermore, with a little luck, the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon just might help to explain its repetitious, roundabout way of saying things, which has made it hard for many people from Mark Twain on down to read and enjoy the Book of Mormon.
Thus, the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon would reveal new ways in which the Book of Mormon is true to itself, true to its general cultural origins, and truly a remarkable piece of religious literature in its own right. Opening the Book of Mormon itself, we find that it more than fulfills our expectations.
It contains chiasms of all sorts and sizes. Some are long, some are short; some are poetical, some are practical; some are simple, some are elaborate. They all are artistic and meaningful. More often than not, the prophets of the Book of Mormon use chiasmus as a device through which they can focus our attention upon the central idea of their message. This is done by placing the central idea at the turning point of the chiasm.
Consider first Mosiah —19 :. The word order of this passage is undeniably chiastic. Another easy-to-find chiasm is at Mosiah — See if you can identify its six repeating elements! Clearly, the precise and intricate structure of this great speech adds to it to make it a masterpiece of religious literature. Another famous author of the Book of Mormon who creatively employed the principles of chiasmus to great advantage was Alma the Younger.
It was Alma the Younger whose conversion to the Lord was so powerful and rich that it affected an entire generation at the time it happened and has since become one of the most inspirational stories recorded in the Book of Mormon. Alma himself gives us two accounts of that miraculous conversion; the first is found in Mosiah — There we read the words that he spoke extemporaneously immediately after he regained consciousness; they are not chiastic. The second account that Alma gives appears in Alma —30 , at a time when Alma was an old man giving a blessing to his son Helaman.
Alma had had a whole lifetime to reflect and collect his thoughts about that great turning point in his life. In harmony with the nature of that event, he chose to express his story in chiastic form. Just look at how it turned out! Keep the commandments [and] ye shall prosper in the land 1. Captivity of our fathers—bondage 2.
Surely God did deliver them 2. Trust in God 3. Support in trials, trouble, and afflictions 3. I know this not of myself but of God 4. Born of God 5. Seek no more to destroy the church of God 9. Fell to the earth Limbs paralyzed The agony of conversion 11—16 destroyed, torment, harrowed up, racked, the pains of hell, inexpressible horror, banished and extinct, the pains of a damned soul.
I remember … the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me 17— The joy of conversion 19—22 no more pain, what joy, marvelous light, exquisite, nothing as sweet, singing and praising God, longing to be with God. Limbs received their strength again Stood upon my feet Labored without ceasing to bring souls unto repentance Many have been born of God Knowledge is of God Supported under trials and troubles, yea afflictions Trust in him He will still deliver me Egypt—captivity 28— Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land This according to his word This is truly an amazing passage of scripture, both in its rich content and in its complex structure.
Alma has skillfully framed the story of his conversion with chiastic panels for the sole purpose of drawing our attention to the centrality of Jesus Christ in that conversion. Compared with any chiastic passage in Hebrew literature, Alma chapter 36 equals or betters them all in terms of balance, rhythm, impact, and fluency in this artistic form.
Another passage in which Alma uses the chiastic form with unusual novelty and creativity is Alma — His twist here is extremely clever and unequaled in Hebraic literature. See if you can follow him as he lists four pairs of terms and then pairs two lists of four terms and reverses their order at the same time! In all seriousness and in all respects, this is a great play on words.
Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
This particular discovery is not an archeological one nor, strictly speaking, an historical one, but rather a unique type of literary discovery that helps modern minds to understand the literature of the ancient Near East. There has already been much discussion about this discovery in relation to the Bible, and now it is time that we consider it in relation to the Book of Mormon. As a point of information, let me bring you up to date on what chiasmus is and when it was discovered in the Bible. It now appears certain that the ancient Israelites not only had a unique message to give to the world, but they also had a unique way in which to write this message down.
The discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is one of the most significant scholarly contributions to understanding and appreciating the Nephite record. John W. To celebrate Chiasmus Day August 16 , this page features various resources for studying chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. We hope these resources will enrich your study and serve to strengthen your testimony of this masterful work. View Video Presentations.
Chiasmus, the Book of Mormon, and the Bible: An Introduction
Biblical Truth Bold Compassion. After attending a lecture in which the presence of a compositional feature called chiasmus in Matthew was mentioned as an example of its Hebraic style, Welch began looking for chiasmus while he was reading the Book of Mormon in German. Several weeks later Welch found an entire chapter, Alma 36, to be a long chiasmus. This article provides a fairly basic overview of the issue. Additional articles examine specific cases of proposed chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. The word chiasmus or chiasm ; plural chiasms refers to a rhetorical device using inverse parallelism, meaning that the speech or text consists of lines or other units of text that are paralleled in reverse order. A simple chiasmus consists of two lines in which verbal elements are inverted to create a memorable statement, such as the following saying of Jesus Matthew 2 :.
What Is Chiasmus and Why Is It So Important in the Book of Mormon?
Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. In the late s, a young Latter-day Saint discovered that an ancient form of Middle Eastern poetry was found throughout the Book of Mormon, suggestive of its ancient Semitic origins. This poetical form, chiasmus , a type of inverted parallelism, reaches highly artistic heights in the Book of Mormon and is difficult to ascribe to chance. Yet the information available to Joseph Smith when the Book of Mormon was translated provided nothing to guide him in crafting such structures. Could this be part of a growing body of evidence for ancient Semitic origins for the text? This page is one of several pages in a suite of " Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs " maintained by Jeff Lindsay, a Book of Mormon aficionado who takes full responsibility for this work, which is neither sponsored nor endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.