Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chiasmus IV: Nephi’s Outline One

In my last post about Hebrew Poetry (Chiasmus III), I presented some information about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Nephi's interest in Isaiah around 600 BC, and what Jesus Christ had to say about the prophecies of Isaiah when he visited the Nephites after his resurrection in 34 AD. In this article I'll further explore Nephi's use of Hebrew poetic imagery.

Nephi’s Outline, by Noel B. Reynolds, BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, furnished some of the information for this article.

Besides the fact that Nephi did not receive the commandment to make the small plates until some thirty years after his departure from Jerusalem, it also appears that it took him approximately ten years to write the first twenty-five chapters. This ten-year writing period, based on a perspective of thirty years, gave Nephi both the distance and the time he needed to devise a highly complex account with a carefully fashioned rhetorical structure.

Analysis reveals that 1 Nephi is part of an extended argument based on a thesis which the author announces near the beginning of his narrative and repeats in many forms throughout the book: "Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance" (1 Nephi 1:20). With this thesis as a guide, we discover that the entire book of 1 Nephi is a compilation of approximately thirty proofs of the idea that the Lord will deliver those who obey him and endure in faith. Nephi supports his thesis with a wide variety of evidence designed to appeal especially to the "stiff-necked" and "hardhearted," such as his own brothers, as well as to the righteous. Nephi’s faith is consistently poised against the murmurings and doubtfulness of his faithless brothers. His primary purpose is to persuade those whose faith might be weak, but who may be receptive.

At the end of 1 Nephi 9, we find the words, "And thus it is. Amen." Again at the end of 1 Nephi 22, we find the same words. The first use of these words seems to suggest that there are two records: an abridgment of Lehi’s record followed by an account of Nephi’s proceedings. If those few verses were removed, we would never suspect two records: Nephi is the narrator of the entire book from beginning to end. So why does Nephi divide the book in this manner? The answer is not that there are two distinct records in 1 Nephi, but rather that the book is divided into two parallel structures. 1 Nephi 9:6 serves to call our attention to that structural division. A comparison of these two structural halves reveals that the major elements of each portion are directly parallel to each other:

Lehi’s account - 1 Nephi 1-9


Nephi’s account - 1 Nephi 10-22


So 1 Nephi in its entirety starts and ends with Nephi’s thesis and is centered around it.

Notice that there are two sets of chiastic elements ABC CBA and XYZ ZYX, and that these are centered in each half of the two most important stories in each half: the expedition to obtain the brass plates, the expedition to get Ishmael and his family, the construction of the ship, and the journey on the ship to America.

Even though the story about the trip to bring back Ishmael and his family doesn’t seem to parallel the journey on the ship, analysis of the two stories reveals the following eight elements which occur in the same order in both stories:

     1. Both accounts are prefaced by a command 
given to Lehi.
2. In both accounts Nephi’s brothers first
become rebellious because of their
afflictions and lack of faith.
3. After Nephi’s exhortations, they rebel
against him and bind him with cords.
4. In the first story Nephi is given power
from God to
burst his bonds, but in the second he
specifies that the Lord permitted him to
be bound for a purpose.
5. In both instances one of Ishmael’s
daughters and others plead with Laman and
Lemuel to reconcile themselves with Nephi.
6. In the first story they are successful,
but in the second these pleas fail and the
older brothers are persuaded to relent only
when the power of God threatens them with
destruction by a storm.
7. In each case relief comes as Nephi prays.
8. Both times Laman and Lemuel repent of their
actions.

If we compare the story of Lehi taking his family into the wilderness with the story of Ishmael taking his family into the wilderness, we again find eight parallel elements:

     1. Both open with a family going into the 
wilderness because of the Lord’s command
to Lehi.
2. The departure is followed both times by the
murmuring and rebellion of Laman and
Lemuel, who desire to return to Jerusalem.
3. In each case, Laman and Lemuel are then
admonished - in the first episode by Lehi,
and in the second by Nephi.
4. Lehi testifies in the first story that
Jerusalem will be destroyed. In the second
story Nephi testifies the same thing.
5. In the first episode Laman and Lemuel seek
to kill their father, and at the same point
in the second story they seek to kill Nephi.
6. In the first story Lehi is spared as he
confounds Laman and Lemuel by the power of
the Spirit, and in thesecond story Nephi is
spared as he bursts his bonds through the
power of God.
7. Both stories then report the submission of
the rebellious brothers: in the first case
as they obey their father, and in the
second as they seek their brother’s
forgiveness.
8. Each story ends at Lehi’s tent.

By now it should be apparent that what is hidden in the Book of Mormon surpasses our wildest imaginations. We’ve been reading the Book of Mormon over and over all our lives and never appreciated that it is an absolute work of art. We’ve never dreamed of the richness of poetic imagery hidden in its pages.

I have to suppose the Book of Mormon is written this way because it "is the most correct of any book on the earth," and that God uses this kind of imagery in his revelations to the prophets.

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