Monday, June 16, 2008

Chiasmus III: Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Our sixth Article of Faith states: We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.

Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon has a very repetitive style. And for the same reason. The Book of Mormon is filled with poetic Hebrew parallelism.

If you've read the Book of Mormon, you know that Nephi – and other Book of Mormon prophets – quoted extensively from Isaiah. Nephi was told that John, in the meridian of time, would write certain things, and that "the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write" (1 Nephi 14:25), because John would write them. Now, there's an interesting principle of prophecy! But Nephi wasn't commanded not to write down what Isaiah had to say about those same visions. This is my interpretation, but I think that if Nephi couldn't tell us what HE saw, he could tell us what ISAIAH saw! And he did at great length. Here's a list.

  • 1 Nephi 20-21 Isaiah 48-49
  • 2 Nephi 6:6-7 Isaiah 49:22-23
  • 2 Nephi 6:16-18 Isaiah 49:24-26
  • 2 Nephi 7-8 Isaiah 50-51 & 52:1-2
  • 2 Nephi 12-24 Isaiah 2-14
  • 2 Nephi 26-27 Isaiah 29

Isaiah was born in about 775 BC. He was called to be a prophet in 740 BC and died in 695 BC. Nephi fled Jerusalem with his father's family in about 600 BC, 95 years after the death of Isaiah. I was born in 1944, 100 years after the death of Joseph Smith. Isaiah is arguably the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. And Joseph Smith is The Prophet of the Restoration, the prophet called to open the Last Dispensation. Nephi probably revered Isaiah just about the way we revere Joseph Smith.

If you look in the Book of Mormon footnotes and count the number of references to the book of Isaiah, you'll see that after the generation in which Nephi lived, Isaiah was gradually phased out of the minds of the Nephites, or at least there are fewer and fewer references to his writings in the footnotes. But Isaiah's writings were had among the Nephites, and occasionally a reference is made to Isaiah.

Jesus Christ visited the Americas immediately after his resurrection. In 3 Nephi 20-23 we find what Jesus thought about the words of Isaiah. His comments are given in the form of a Hebrew Poem. I discovered this Poem as a BYU student many years ago. I have only included the key words below: it is just an outline.

There are other poetic devices woven into and around the central theme. Notice that there are alternating references to events in the Meridian of Time in the Old World and references to events in the Last Days in the New World. Items pertaining to the ministry of Jesus Christ alternate with items pertaining to the ministry of Joseph Smith. Notice that these are also paired: they form a second chiastic structure inside the overall structure. And yet if you were to look at the plain text of these chapters you'd hardly recognize what is going on. Those two references to Isaiah at the beginning and at the ending are what first caught my attention.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, ISAIAH, explains the juxtaposition of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ in the above verses:

In a reference to the 'marred' servant of Isaiah 52:13-15, [Jesus] spoke of the servant's 'marvelous work'. While the marred servant was clearly the mortal Jesus (Mosiah 15:1-9), Isaiah's words form a dual prophecy because the resurrected Jesus said that it also referred to a latter-day servant. Latter-day Saints believe that this servant was the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the marvelous work referred to was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel (3 Nephi 21:8-11).

John Taylor wrote this about The Prophet Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it (D&C 135:3).

I have a testimony of The Prophet Joseph Smith, of the Book of Mormon, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of the Restoration of the Priesthood authority and keys. That testimony is one of my most precious possessions.

Here is the testimony of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, of the Book of Mormon. This is from his book, A Wonderful Flood of Light, pp. 31-32.

We believe the Book of Mormon because of the witness of the Spirit and because of the book's impressive internal evidences. We do not rely overly much on external evidences, but still it is good to be aware of it as corroborating information comes along.

The Book of Mormon, indeed a marvelous work and a wonder, is rich beyond our present appreciation. Examples are the apparent presence of Jewish festivals in the Book of Mormon, and extensive and precise chiasmus. When Joseph was translating the record, he could not have known of such things. Once he even inquired of Emma as to whether there were walls around Jerusalem! He simply did not know.

The demographic impact of the Restoration was very small in the beginning, but it is crescendoing in the last decade of the twentieth century and will soon flow and spread into the twenty-first century. Increasingly we shall see the Lord's words being fulfilled:

     "Righteousness and truth will I cause to 
sweep the earth as with a flood"
(Moses 7:62).

And again,

     "But first let my army become very great, 
and let it be sanctified before me"
(D&C 105:31).

The kingdom will also be constrained by conditions. Looking ahead two and a half millennia in vision, Nephi wrote:

     "I beheld that the church of the Lamb,... 
the saints of God were also upon all the
face of the earth; and their dominions
upon all the face of the earth were small,
because of wickedness"
(1 Nephi 14:12).

Regrettably, Satan's power would expand as the Lord's kingdom grew. Said Brigham Young:

     "It was revealed to me in the commencement 
of this Church, that the Church would
spread, prosper, grow and extend, and
that in proportion to the spread of the
Gospel among the nations of the earth,
so would the power of Satan rise"
(Journal of Discourses 13:280).

I encourage anyone who reads this article to get a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and pray about it. To close this article I'll show you one more chiasm from the Book of Mormon. This is Nephi's discussion with his brothers about their refusal to pray. It is found in 1 Nephi 15:9-11. I found this poem in Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon by John W. Welch, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1.

In this example, we see Nephi's recollection of his clever rebuttal to his rebellious brothers. Notice that the turning point of Nephi's argument is the piercing question: "Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?" The first half consists of the words of Nephi, and the second half is built from the words of the Lord. What better debate partner could Nephi have in his parallelism than God? The two terms which are not identical mention asking in faith as opposed to perishing. These form a contrast between the living faith which motivated Nephi, and the ominous fear of death which might, as a last resort, have motivated Laman and Lemuel.

Keep in mind that Nephi was commanded to prepare the small plates, from which all of the Book of Mormon up to the Words of Mormon is taken, but not until he had been gone from Jerusalem for thirty years. During that time he must have done a lot of thinking about his experiences, and he must have spent a lot of time organizing his thoughts. As we will see in future articles, the resulting books of 1st and 2nd Nephi are a marvel of artistic literary design. Most of all, Nephi prepared the gold plates and recorded his story on them under inspiration. I suspect chiasmus is one of the hallmarks of prophetic utterance.


At 7/5/11, 12:06 PM, Blogger 1modelcitizen said...

Thank you for sharing your gifts/talents here. Though published three years ago, it is timeless. thanks again, - brian


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