Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chiasmus V: Nephi’s Outline Two

The information in this article (unless otherwise noted) was adapted from Nephi’s Outline, by Noel B. Reynolds, in BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, p. 131-149.

Further analysis reveals a secondary chiastic structure underlying 1 Nephi 1-9:

It is remarkable that Nephi was able to write each of these stories so that he could use them in parallel with two other stories which themselves do not occur in parallel!

There is also a secondary chiastic structure underlying 1 Nephi 10-22.

Many of the parallels of this chiasm are self-explanatory. The structural requirements of this chiasm explain why Lehi’s exposition of his own vision of the tree of life and the prophecies of the Jews and gentiles were left out in the first report, but included at this later point. We can also see why Nephi’s discussion of how one can come to know the mysteries of God is in a slightly different order in the second half of 1 Nephi as compared to its occurrence in the first half. Its position in the chiasm of the second half apparently has priority.

The sheer complexity of the Book of Mormon account, the quantity and quality of its poetic devices, and the beautiful tapestry they weave are absolutely amazing!!!

A system of parallels similar to the ones in Chiasmus IV and Chiasmus V is found in the four lesser stories of 1 Nephi.

Here is a comparison of the story of Lehi and his family traveling from the valley of Lemuel to the land Bountiful in the wilderness and the story of their journey by ship to the promised land.

      1. Each story begins as the voice of the Lord 
commands Lehi to depart on a journey.

2. In both instances the group gathers all
their provisions and their seeds. (It is
noteworthy that the only three references
to these seeds occur exactly in the
parallels that have been mentioned.)

3. In the first they depart across the river.
In the second they put forth into the sea.

4. The journey has barely begun before Nephi’s
brothers begin murmuring in the first case
because of the difficulties resulting from
the loss of Nephi’s bow, and in the second
because they have forgotten the divine
power that has brought them there.

5. In the first story Nephi successfully
rebukes the murmurers. In the second story
he has no such success. As we’ve seen in
examples of parallelism given in earlier
articles, parallel items are frequently

6. Because of his success in the first story,
the families receive instructions from the
Liahona. In the second story, at the
corresponding point, the Liahona ceases to
function. Another opposite. In the first
story Nephi explains that the Liahona works
only by faith, which is the explanation for
its failure to work in the second story.

7. The death of Ishmael, the afflictions of
his daughters, and the attempts of Laman
and Lemuel to kill Lehi and Nephi are
paralleled in the second story by the
report of Lehi and Sariah’s grief
(almost unto death) and suffering due to
the sins of Laman and Lemuel.

8. In the first story the voice of the Lord
chastens Laman and Lemuel, thus sparing
the lives of Lehi and Nephi. In the second
story only the Lord’s power in the storm
can soften Laman and Lemuel’s hearts.

9. In each case, the chastening is followed
by a period of travel. In the first story,
the Lord nourishes the group for eight
years in the wilderness. In the second,
Nephi guides the ship for many days by
following the Liahona, which now functions

10. The first story concludes as the families
arrive in Bountiful, pitch their tents,
and find much fruit and honey. The second
story ends as they arrive in the promised
land, pitch their tents, and find beasts
in the forest and a variety of ores.

One reason for the use of this parallelism is that significant ideas can be emphasized by their placement in a chiasm. I will give two examples (of my own) from 2 Nephi chapter 9. The first example is in verses 24-26. As you can see, the central theme is that the power of God will deliver us. The word "atonement" brackets this central statement on either side. And above and below "atonement," we see "mercy" paired with "justice" and "have claim" paired with "satisfieth the demands" We see in the surrounding text that mercy applies to those who have not a law given, but that those who have the law must repent, be baptized, and "have perfect faith in" God, which is compared to "and endure to the end" in such a way that we may come to the conclusion that they are the same thing.

The second example is in the first three verses of the same chapter. Notice that the central message is that the covenants of the lord are for every generation, from the beginning of the earth down to its end; that the true church is like the promised land; that Jacob’s purpose in speaking to his people, and in reading the words of Isaiah to them, is that they might know concerning the covenants, and that as a result of knowing them they may rejoice and lift up their heads forever. Notice that before and after the central theme are two small chiasms that emphasize in parallel the covenants that have been covenanted (to use the Hebrew way of saying things), and the resulting blessings that will be bestowed; that both these are centered on the Lord; and notice the way brethren, house of Israel, and children are placed as the makers of the covenants and the recipients of the resulting blessings.

You will have to study this for a while before you can begin to appreciate it. Even though I discovered it and diagrammed it I need to look at it for a while before all the different things that are going on here become clear. You'll also note that I've stopped highlighting the key words. I'll leave that to the reader as sn exercise.

When I was outlining 2 Nephi chapter 9 for this article, I noticed that I kept rearranging the parallelisms I discovered. They seemed to fit together in many different ways. Brother Reynolds says,

We do not have access to Nephi’s ideas about the rules governing the use of literary structures. .. The rules for chiasmus were obviously very broad, and they varied considerably from one culture and period to another. .. Without direct access to their rules it is difficult to analyze fully the structure of their writings. In reconstructing hypothetical outlines we are not certain how to handle sections of text that do not fall neatly into a pattern or that fit a pattern in an obviously unbalanced way.

You may recall my theory that the word order may have been changed in some instances when Joseph Smith translated the unsealed third of the golden plates from ancient Hebrew into English. I've translated a lot of my material into Spanish, and the word order in that language messes up some of the Chiasms and makes others better. Brother Reynolds continues,

There are undoubtedly other aspects of my hypotheses which may raise doubts in the minds of readers. .. In this article I have attempted to identify only a few such elements. As others are identified, the patterns suggested here will undoubtedly be revised or even replaced. The more creative response there is to the hypotheses of this article, the more my objectives in writing it will be fulfilled.

Brother Reynolds, like the writer of this "unread blog", liked feedback. Recall that the story of how Nephi obtained the plates of brass and the story of the building of the ship, which were shown in a previous article in this series to be parallel, are also chiastic. None of the other stories is chiastic.

Obtaining the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3-5):

Building the ship (1 Nephi 17-18):

There are other examples of Hebrew poetry in the Book of Mormon that I'll show you later. I hope these things make you more excited about studying the Book of Mormon.

I am looking forward to the day when the Lord lets us have the sealed two-thirds of the Book of Mormon, the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, the visions of John that Nephi was commanded not to write, and the writings of the prophets of the lost Ten Tribes. I’m pretty sure we’ll have to read the Scriptures we’ve already been given before any of that can happen.


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