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Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

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Chiasmus is a poetic form that is common in ancient Hebrew texts. It is a parallelism in structure rather than rhyme, a parallelism of thought or idea.

Bishop Lowth, whose lectures on Hebrew poetry in 1741 first introduced the name 'parallelism' for [the Hebrew] poetic style, pointed out that this structure, based as it is on meaning, survives translation into the prose of any language with remarkably little loss, unlike the poetry that relies on complex metre or or a special vocabulary. [1]

There are several forms of Hebrew poetic parallelism. Chiasmus refers to synthetic parallelism, which is the building up of thought, with each succeeding line adding to the first. The word chiasmus comes from the Greek letter chi, which resembles the letter X. In this poetic form, the lines creating the parallelisms form an X. This is also called inverted parallelism.

An example of chiasmus is found in Psalms 3:7-8:

Save me, O my God, for thou has smitten all my enemies on the cheek bone;
The teeth of the wicked thou has broken; to Jehovah, the salvation.

The words in these two, seemingly unpoetic lines, occur in a peculiar sequence. Everything is said twice, and in the repetition, everything is said backwards.

(a) Save me,
(b) O my God
(c) for thou hast smitten
(d) all my enemies
(e) on the cheekbone
(e) The teeth
(d) of the wicked
(c) thou hast broken
(b) to Jehovah
(a) the salvation

This example is a simple chiasm; others are far more complex. Chiasm is not just simple repetition it also involves an intensification or an aspect of completion in the second half. Chiastic form can give order, emphasis, and completeness to longer passages, such as in the 58th psalm. [2]

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

John W. Welch departed for a mission to Germany in 1964. While there, on "preparation day", he attended a lecture given by a German Bible scholar. The professor discussed the work of Father Paul Gaechter, a Catholic priest who had written a book titled, The Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew. Scholars had for many years studied chiasmus, and the lecture reinforced the knowledge that the poetic structure indicated ancient Hebrew origins of the written work. Elder Welch had been a student of Hugh Nibley at Brigham Young University before leaving on his mission. Dr. Nibley had encouraged his students to read the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.

One day in 1967, still on his mission, it occurred to Elder Welch that if the Book of Mormon were indeed an ancient text of Hebrew origin, it should contain chiasmus just as the Bible does. During his personal scripture study, he discovered parallelism in the scripture. An hour after returning to the United States, he visited Hugh Nibley, who was astounded and delighted by the discovery.

In the vol. 10 no. 1, 1969 issue of BYU Studies, Welch presented a groundbreaking article that described for the first time the distinctive patterns of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. [3]

Chiasmus appears often in the Book of Mormon, another proof of its authenticity as an ancient Hebrew text. Like the Book of Matthew in the Bible, King Benjamin's speech to the Nephites is organized in a seven-part chiastic structure [2].

References

  1. Derek Kidner, "Poetry and Wisdom Literature," in Alexander and Alexander, Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, p. 316, as quoted in the Institute Manual:Old Testament, Genesis to 2 Samuel, p. 303.
  2. Institute Manual:Old Testament, Genesis to 2 Samuel, p. 304.
  3. "How Missionary Found Book of Mormon Secret," by Michael De Groote, MormonTimes.com writer [1]

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