Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chiasmus VI: Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, and Mormon

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the Hebrew poetry in the Scriptures. I’ve expended most of my efforts demonstrating the amazing quantity and quality of these poems in the Book of Mormon. If you found these articles interesting, then you will want to see if you can find your own Chiasms.

After the Books of First and Second Nephi, there are four short books; Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the explanatory Words of Mormon. These are then followed by the much longer Book of Mosiah. Here's a short poem I noticed in Mosiah 3:18-19.

I have made some of the parallel words bold. These outline the major messages in these verses. But there are other things that you will see as you study the poem.

First of all is the idea that an enemy to God is one who does not yield to the Holy Spirit, and conversely, if you yield to the Holy Spirit, then you are God's friend.

Another idea in these verses is that a saint is someone who has been saved, and that to become a saint is to believe in Christ.

The central idea is that this is always so, and it divides this into "from the fall of Adam" (the past) and "will be forever and ever" (the future), and puts us (now) in the very center of the poem. This message is for me right now, not for some hypothetical person.

Another message is that humility can be defined as yielding to the Holy Spirit.

All those things become more apparent when these verses are arranged as a poem. Here's another poem in Mosiah 5:10-12.

Notice that the first half refers to some hypothetical person, but in the second half King Benjamin relates these principles to each of his listeners. In what way does transgression blot the name of Jesus out of our hearts so that we forget it? Have you felt your testimony weaken when you have sinned?

"These passages are just two small parts of the very complex chiastic structure of King Benjamin's entire speech. The fact that King Benjamin uses chiasmus is completely consistent with the traditional coronation ceremony which was taking place. Benjamin's thoughts had been carefully prepared beforehand and had even been "written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice." This degree of painstaking deliberation in writing was the rule, rather than the exception, among the Book of Mormon prophets." (Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, by John W. Welch, in BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, p. 69.)

Here is a poetic outline of the entire book of Mosiah. It is up to the reader to compare these things with the scriptural references. Keep in mind that within this overall structure there are numerous other sub structures or poems, all intertwined like a tapestry. This example of Chiasmus is also taken from the John W. Welch article mentioned above:

Well, that is amazing, isn't it? When you read the Book of Omni and then the Book of Mosiah, you will notice that the story becomes rather complicated; it is hard to follow who is doing what and to whom, and where the action is taking place. Once you understand that the Book of Mormon prophets used these poetic structures, you’ll understand why the text, if read like prose, seems disorganized. It seems disorganized because it is so thoroughly organized.

The Book of Alma, which contains a wealth of chiastic poetry, comes after the Book of Mosiah. Here is Alma 13:2-9.

The word "rest" in the center of this chiasm has a connection with the priesthood and eternal life. Alma used the word "rest" four times just prior to this (see Alma 12:34-37) and four times in the concluding portions of his discourse (Alma 13:12,13,16, and 29). The "rest" of God is possible only through the Atonement of Christ through faith and repentance (Alma 12:37; see also Alma 40:11-12; 3 Nephi 27:19; Enos 1:27). The chiastic structure of Alma 13:2-9, coupled with Alma's use of the word "rest" before and after this passage adds to the power and meaning of the text in a way that can only be described as poetry. Verses 2-3 in the above also form a secondary chiasm.

Here is Alma 13:20-31. This looks better in color because the parallel elements consist of entire sentences instead of just a few key words!

This is Alma 36. Some authors say this is the greatest chiasm of them all. I think it is probably the one most people are most aware of. From what you’ve seen so far in these articles, I think you’d agree that Alma 36 is impressive, but that it is not necessarily the best tree in the forest.

There are so many great examples of Hebrew poetry in the Book of Mormon that I have a hard time calling any one of them "the best". This is Alma 37. This is one I discovered and diagrammed myself, but it can also be found on the Internet.

In addition to the examples in this article, I’ve found chiasms in Alma 5, 19, 20, 34, and 38 – and there are probably many more.

The Book of Alma is followed by the Book of Helaman. This is a chiasm found in Helaman 6:7-13.

The Book of Helaman is followed by Third Nephi. In my third article about Hebrew poetry I showed you the chiasm I discovered in 3 Nephi 20-22. After Third Nephi is Fourth Nephi, and this is followed by the Book of Mormon. Yes, one of the books in the Book of Mormon is called the Book of Mormon. If you are curious about that, ask one of your LDS friends to explain it. Here is a very small part of the complicated chiastic structure found in Mormon 8 These are verses 12-17.

I’ll leave this to you, dear reader, to analyze and ponder.


At 2/3/14, 9:10 AM, Blogger tawnja said...

Thank you for including all of these. I've been sharing chiasmus from the Book of Mormon with my seminary class, and I appreciate the effort you have taken to collect so many of them. What a great resource!


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