Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Yoke of Christ: Ancient Insights Related to Grace and Works

Last year while pondering Christ's famous command to take his yoke upon us, I wondered if some of the symbolism of the LDS temple might be relevant. As I explored some early Christian and ancient Jewish concepts related to the yoke and the rest that Christ offers, I found connections to covenant making and related issues, including grace and works, that I felt were worth sharing. I also found an apparent Greek word play that adds further meaning to Matthew 11:28-30. The result of my explorations became a paper that I was encouraged to submit to the Mormon Interpreter, my first attempt at a peer-reviewed publication on religious topics. The paper is "The Yoke of Christ: A Light Burden Heavy With Meaning," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 171-217 (URL: http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/the-yoke-of-christ-a-light-burden-heavy-with-meaning/). I hope you'll take a look and share your comments.

On the topic of grace and salvation, which crops up frequently in the discussions here, I think the perspective of Christ's yoke can be helpful. Here's one excerpt from near the end of the paper, which draws upon an earlier section where I discuss the various meanings of the "rest" that Christ offers to give those who take up His yoke:
Finally, returning to the theme of entering the rest of God, Paul in Hebrews 4 clarifies the relationship between the grace that is offered and our need to labor, without which even believing Christians may be at risk of losing the blessing of the Lord’s rest. Paul thus prescribes actions to preserve that blessing, actions which we could call moving forward with the Lord’s yoke:
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. …

There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4: 1–5,9–11)
Of course, it is not the labor that merits salvation. Rather, after urging us to labor to gain access to the rest of God, Paul also charges us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Approaching the throne of grace and entering into the rest of the Lord is the ultimate purpose of the grace and mercy the Lord offers us through the Atonement. Our light burden carried forward along the way gives us no grounds to boast and in no way undermines the reality that it is through grace we are saved.

From the LDS perspective, the yoke of Christ is a useful image to describe the interplay of yielding to Christ, learning from him, and receiving at his hand blessings, guidance, and grace. “Learn of me” reminds us that the yoke is also a teaching tool, a tool for receiving direction and other blessings from the Lord as he leads us along the straight and narrow path, where our diligence is required but where his grace only can save. That perspective is hardly a Mormon innovation, but it resonates well with the teachings of scripture and with early Christian teachings. Consider, for example, the words of a prominent early Christian Father, John Chrysostom (c. 349–407 ad), Archbishop of Constantinople:
Fear thou not therefore, neither start away from the yoke that lightens you of all these things, but put yourself under it with all forwardness, and then you shall know well the pleasure thereof. For it does not at all bruise your neck, but is put on you for good order’s sake only, and to persuade you to walk seemly, and to lead you unto the royal road, and to deliver you from the precipices on either side, and to make you walk with ease in the narrow way.

Since then so great are its benefits, so great its security, so great its gladness, let us with all our soul, with all our diligence, draw this yoke; that we may both here “find rest unto our souls,” and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.

Friday, February 05, 2016

A Witness of Book of Mormon Authenticy from a Non-LDS Scholar: Translation of the Afrikaans Version

Faith promoting stories sometimes have obvious weaknesses that can justify discarding the story as just another errant rumor. This can often be the case when enthusiastic LDS believers repeat something they heard or even experienced long ago or report something they heard from someone else. Even when the story is generally accurate, there can be legitimate reasons for questioning and rejecting the story due to gaps, missing details, or outright errors such as mistakes due to details they didn't fully understand or recalled incorrectly.

The story of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans is an interesting example of a faith-promoting story that was easy to dismiss because of some apparently illogical and questionable elements. In light of newly available information, we can now correct an error or two in the story and recognize that the story has significant value. In this case, it's a story of a non-LDS scholar who stood as a witness of the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon.

The helpful new information is the transcript of the talk given by the translator, Professor Felix Mijnhard, at the special conference in Johannesburg on May 14, 1972, when he discussed his experience in translating the text. This information is shared by Charles Pyle in comments responding to "Die Boek van Mormon" at UnblogMySoul by John Pontius, who shares his recollection of Dr. Mijnhard's comments heard while he was a missionary in South Africa long ago. 

In his translation approach that commenced with the middle of the text--before he ever looked at 1 Nephi--Dr. Mijnhard found strong evidence that the text must have originally been in a language other than English. He eventually found that Hebrew was an excellent fit, for when he translated passages into Hebrew before translation into Afrikaans, awkward English suddenly made perfect sense. This didn't happen with other target languages he tried. He came to this conclusion before he read 1 Nephi and realized that the book claimed to have ancient Semitic origins.

With some the gaps filled in and errors corrected, thanks to Charles Pyle's input and the transcript of the talk Mijnhard gave in 1972, Kevin Barney at Common Consent feels that the story some of us once dismissed now makes sense, but perhaps is not as dramatic as some may have thought. I think the story is deeper than just being a case of someone noting the existence of some Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon. In any case, it's a notable example of a non-LDS scholar finding what he felt to be compelling evidence for ancient origins (and divine origins) in the Book of Mormon.

Not all that glitters is fool's gold. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another Book of Mormon Publication in a non-LDS Academic Source

Since some people refuse to seriously consider Book of Mormon evidence unless it's in a non-LDS academic sources, I'm happy to help these earnest pursuers of truth by pointing out occasional works that they can read and treasure. In addition to the work by Dr. John Tvedtnes that I mentioned in my last post, a more recent contribution comes from Noel Reynolds. I mentioned this a few weeks ago in comments to one of my posts here, but I should have highlighted it in a post of its own to help those who need peer-reviewed testimonies.
Related to the issue of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is the Hebrew tool called inclusio, in which a phrase at the beginning of a passage is mirrored at the end to mark a section. Interesting insight into a sophisticated case (or 3 related cases) of inclusio in the Book of Mormon is treated by Reynolds in a peer-reviewed publication: Noel B. Reynolds (2015). The Gospel according to Mormon. Scottish Journal of Theology, 68, pp 218-234. doi:10.1017/S003693061500006X, available for download at http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/1479/.

Reynolds' work reveals some consistent elements in the text regarding the Book of Mormon's concept of the core doctrine of the Gospel, and the way its authors use inclusio to emphasize it. It's one of many interesting subtleties in the composition of the text.

Speaking of chiasmus, one of my favorite works related to the Book of Mormon in a non-LDS publication is John Welch's chapter on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, included in the ground-breaking book on chiasmus that he edited, in collaboration with some significant scholars and published through a noteworthy publishing house.  The reference is: John W. Welch, editor, Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis (Hildesheim, Germany: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981). This scholarly work in a non-LDS press with non-LDS authors (apart from John) includes a forward from Dr. David Noel Freedman.

I recommend reading David Noel Freedman's preface to the scholarly book, Chiasmus in Antiquity, edited by John Welch. The full text of that intriguing book is available free online at the Maxwell Institute. Here is part of what Dr. Freedman has to say:

The more extended uses of chiasm raise further questions. As with much of literature, especially poetry, ambiguity and obscurity are inherent in the form and content: chiasm only adds to the uncertainty and mystery. Scholars now recognize chiasms beyond the simple type described above, chiasms which involve passages of verse or prose ranging in length from a few sentences to hundreds of thousands of words. This more complex form of chiasm is not merely grammatical but structural or intentional; it systematically serves to concentrate the reader's or hearer's interest on the central expression. The number of such chiastic constructions which satisfy both sets of criteria: inversion and balance on the one hand, and climactic centrality on the other, is substantially less than the simpler mechanical variety. But wherever they are present, these structures may add novel perspectives and unexpected dimension to the texts in which they appear.

There is yet a further extension of the term chiasm. Even more difficult and controversial issues arise when chiasm is defined in terms of thought and theme, rather than the more visible words and patterns. Inevitably a large subjective element enters into these discussions, and the presence or absence of chiasm on this level can become almost a voter's choice.

Scholars, therefore, may range between separated areas of research in their approach to chiasm. On the one extreme, the phenomenon itself can be described or defined rigorously, so that it is verifiable and often self-evident; while in this sense it is part of a deliberate pattern of composition, it nevertheless leaves the wider world of symbolism and significance to others. At the other end of the spectrum, definitions and limits are hard to determine, and speculation is rife; but large issues of meaning and intention can be raised, and important questions about the nature and significance of extended literary pieces are considered. The study of these great chiasms has enormous implications for analysis and interpretation, but the wider the scope and the more extended the reach, the less certain the results necessarily become. In the end, neither approach will escape if carried to extremes.

Only a book with many varieties of presentation can display the present state of chiastic studies. While a great deal of important work has been done across the many domains of ancient literature, the study of ancient literary techniques is still in ferment and flux. A common fund of axioms and assumptions and a single sure-handed methodology are yet to be established. The present volume reflects accurately both the ferment and the progress which is being made on a variety of fronts, and is all the more to be welcomed for bringing together the results of research in different literatures of antiquity. The editor is to be commended for his catholicity and courage, and for his own original contributions in several domains including a unique treatment of the Book of Mormon. His introduction to the whole work is indispensable. [emphasis added]

--David Noel Freedman
Dr. Freedman has been called one of the world's foremost scholars on the Bible. You can also read about him on Wikipedia. He passed away in 2008.
Welch's book is cited by Roland Meynet in Rhetorical Analysis: An Introduction to Biblical Rhetoric. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 256 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 392 pp. I don't have access to it at the moment, but according to Noel Reynolds, "Meynet credits BYU’s own John W. Welch, whose 1981 book re-ignited chiasmus studies and helpfully provided the world of biblical scholars with the first complete bibliography of chiasmus publications, enabling contemporary scholars to get a grasp on the extent and quality of the work that had already been done."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Significant Scholarly Publication Includes Two Articles on Hebrew Elements in the Book of Mormon

For those who refuse to consider Book of Mormon evidence until it appears in academic publications subject to peer review, I'm happy to report that two articles from Dr. John Tvedtnes about Hebrew elements in the Book of Mormon appear in the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics from the renowned publishing house of E. J. Brill in Leiden, Netherlands. The four-volume set was published in 2013. Brill describes the work this way:
The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online offers a systematic and comprehensive treatment of all aspects of the history and study of the Hebrew language from its earliest attested form to the present day.

The Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online features advanced search options, as well as extensive cross-references and full-text search functionality using the Hebrew character set. With over 850 entries and approximately 400 contributing scholars, the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Online is the authoritative reference work for students and researchers in the fields of Hebrew linguistics, general linguistics, Biblical studies, Hebrew and Jewish literature, and related fields. 

Access requires an academic account or payment, but you can read Tvedtnes' works on his website and see images of the printed work.

The first article is "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon":
Tvedtnes, John A.. "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon." Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics. Edited by: Geoffrey Khan. Brill Online, 2016. Reference. 21 January 2016
First appeared online: 2013
First Print Edition: 9789004176423
You can read the text at BookofMormonResearch.org in the article "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon." At the bottom you click on images to see the printed material. I recommend reading the printed version because it displays the Hebrew, while the webpage for this article does not (see image 1 and image 2).

The second article is "Names of People: Book of Mormon." Brill Online cites it this way:
Tvedtnes, John A.. "Names of People: Book of Mormon." Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics. Edited by: Geoffrey Khan. Brill Online, 2016. Reference. 21 January 2016
First appeared online: 2013
First Print Edition: 9789004176423
You can read the text at BookofMormonResearch.org in the article "Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon." The text provides Hebrew, but there it reads left-to-right instead of the normal right-to-left for Hebrew, possible an HTML or font problem, so I recommend looking at the images for the article as printed (image 1 and image 2).

Dr. Tvedtnes obviously had to be brief in these articles but has provided some tantalizing examples and good references for further study. One  problem, though, is that a couple of his examples of awkward grammar in the 1830 Book of Mormon (such as "because that ...") that look like good Hebraisms can also be explained as good Early Modern English discussed in Stanford Carmack's works. This could lead to trouble for some people, as in this hypothetical response:
My testimony was strengthened when I learned that the bad grammar in the Book of Mormon was actually good grammar in Early Modern English supporting the plausibility of divine translation with tight control beyond Joseph's abilities--and then I found out that some of that might actually be due to Hebraic influence in the original text coupled with tight translation preserving the Hebraisms. Miraculous Hebraisms or miraculous Early Modern English??--I was so confused. That's why I left and became Evangelical. It's all much more clear now with just one inerrant text.
I hope that doesn't happen to you. Hang in there. These things will be resolved with time. And maybe with the aid of further peer review.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Did Joseph Know About the Structure of the Book of Mormon, and When Did He Know It?

The details of the translation process that gave us the Book of Mormon offer a variety of mysteries and challenges, but the greatest challenge is for theories based on Joseph Smith as author and fabricator. If he or friends of his concocted a manuscript, why go through the painstaking oral dictation process? Why not just bring forth the manuscript and declare the work done? And how could the dictation process be done by looking in a hat with no manuscript present, as confirmed by multiple witnesses, not all of whom were members of the Church? The details of the Original Manuscript and Printer's Manuscript confirm the story as told by Joseph and witnesses: one document was created by oral dictation written down by scribes, and the other was created by copying from the Original Manuscript.

I'd like to highlight one aspect of those details today that are worth careful reflection: the division of the text into chapters. Here is an excerpt from Royal Skousen's 1998 article, "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon:  Evidence from the Original Manuscript" from the Maxwell Institute (here I used strikethrough instead of brackets to indicate deleted text):

The word chapter and the corresponding chapter numbers were not part of the revealed text
Evidence from both the original and printer’s manuscripts shows that Joseph Smith apparently saw some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending. Although this may have been a symbol of some kind, a more likely possibility is that the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scribe to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later.
There is considerable evidence in both manuscripts to support this interpretation. First, the word chapter is never used by any writer in the text itself, unlike the term book, which is used to refer to an individual book in the Book of Mormon (such as the book of Helaman) as well as a whole set of plates (such as the book of Nephi, meaning the large plates of Nephi).
Second, chapters are assigned before the beginning of a book. For instance, in the original manuscript, we have the following at the beginning of 2 Nephi:
         Chapter VIII

     second                Chapter I
The /\ Book of Nephi /\ An account of the death of Lehi...

Oliver Cowdery first wrote Chapter at the conclusion of the last section in 1 Nephi—that is, at the conclusion of Chapter VII in the original chapter system; our current chapter system dates from Orson Pratt’s 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon (which has 22 chapters in 1 Nephi). At this point, Joseph Smith had no indication that a new book was beginning. All he could see was the end of Chapter VII (namely, the words “and thus it is Amen” followed probably by blankness or maybe a special symbol). Later, when Oliver was adding the chapter numbers, he first assigned the Roman numeral VIII to this first chapter of 2 Nephi. But when he realized that this was actually the beginning of a new book, he crossed out the whole chapter designation and inserted (with slightly weaker ink flow) “Chapter I” after the title of the book, which originally was simply designated as “The Book of Nephi”. Later he realized that there was more than one book of Nephi, which led him to also insert the word second (with considerably heavier ink flow).
This system of assigning chapters also explains why the two manuscripts have chapter numbers assigned to the short books found at the end of the small plates (Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the Words of Mormon) as well as 4 Nephi. These books contain only one section, but at the beginning of each of these short books, Joseph Smith apparently had no knowledge that this was the case. This fact further shows that Joseph himself did not know in advance the contents or structure of the text.
Probably the strongest evidence that the word chapter is not original to the revealed text is that the chapter numbers are assigned later in both manuscripts. The numbers are almost always written with heavier ink flow and more carefully. In many cases, Oliver Cowdery took time to add serifs to his Roman numerals. On the other hand, his Chapter is always written rapidly and with the same general ink flow as the surrounding text. In the printer’s manuscript, at the beginning of Chapter XVII in Alma (now the beginning of Alma 36), the Roman numeral XVII was written in blue ink, not the normal black ink. This example clearly suggests that this part of the original manuscript itself did not yet have chapter numbers assigned to it when Oliver started to copy it, perhaps six months after it had been dictated.
Let that sink in. When Joseph finished First Nephi, he didn't know he was done. He just said chapter, and then continued dictation. When he began Words of Mormon and other short books, he didn't know there would be only one chapter and this no need for breaking it up into chapters at all. The evidence from the manuscripts suggests that as he was dictating his text, he was dictating something he was not intimately familiar with. He didn't know the structure that was to follow.

Some have supposed that his "hat trick" of dictating text could be done by just memorizing sections of an already carefully worked out document. If he were the fabricator of the document or co-conspirator using someone else's document, whether the document was memorized or just smuggled into the hat with a miraculous flashlight, he would at least have known when a book was finished and when a book was short without chapter breaks. The evidence from the manuscripts challenges theories based on fabrication by Joseph. 

A plausible theory for the Book of Mormon as a modern fabrication needs to account for witnesses--not only the numerous witnesses of the gold plates, but the witnesses of the translation process, and the surviving witnesses of the Original Manuscript and the Printer's Manuscript. Those manuscripts witness not only of the dictated, oral nature of the Book of Mormon translation, but also of Joseph's own ignorance of the structure of the text he was dictating. They also witness of Hebraisms and other artifacts of language that challenge any theory based on Joseph as the author. These witnesses need to be explained, especially the witnesses of ink and paper that continue to speak. Something fascinating is happening on those pages, and it merits further study.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Aural and Oral: The Raw Book of Mormon as Dictated By Joseph Smith

When I first examined the published text from the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, I was embarrassed at all the non-standard grammar. But now I find it to be a fascinating glimpse into the miracle of the translation process, looking at the raw language that was dictated, hour after hour, as Joseph sought inspiration as he shut out his surroundings and stared at some kind of tangible aid, a seerstone, held inside a hat.

The bad grammar issue is becoming a puzzling but fascinating topic for further research as we learn that almost everything that offends us as bad grammar, much of which Joseph and others edited out of the text later to be more standard English, turns out to be acceptable grammar in Early Modern English, especially in the years just before the KJV. That's right: the English of the Book of Mormon shows a strong pre-KJV and non-KJV influence that, based on the data, cannot be easily explained by Joseph just imitating the KJV. The reasons for this and its implications are not the focus of this post, though I will mention that Stanford Carmack has just added two more strong article giving further evidence for the role of Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon. See "Joseph Smith Read the Words" and "The More Part of the Book of Mormon Is Early Modern English," wherein Carmack examines another unusual English construct that distinguishes the Book of Mormon from both the Bible and apparently American dialects, as far as we know.

Still struggling to leave this tangent! But let me first mention that the case for strong Early Modern English influence in the original dictated language of the Book of Mormon is not driven by any kind of apologetic agenda, but by the data. Skousen and Carmack are examining surprising elements in the data and following the data through meticulous investigation. The data is pointing somewhere, somewhere interesting but perplexing. Let's see where it leads. I was quite skeptical when I first heard the argument, but I've looked at the data and have examined other hypotheses, such as the possibility of Yankee dialect having artifacts that would give rise to the textual surprises pointing to EModE influence. I've also looked at other examples of Joseph Smith's writing, such as in the 1835 Book of Commandments, to find evidence that EModE elements in the Book of Mormon was his natural language. You can roll your eyes all you want, but I challenge you to dig into the data and give me a better explanation for the network of evidence Carmack has been uncovering from many different angles. Something interesting is going on in the original text that Joseph dictated. Carmack sometimes states things more strongly or with more of an edge than I would, but I think his work is excellent and demands more careful, thoughtful consideration. Too often it is simply ignored as people say, "What? Why would God use Early Modern English? That makes no sense." The most exciting discoveries in life come when the data points to something that makes no sense in light of our old paradigms. Shaking up old, inaccurate paradigms for more accurate ones can be disorienting and painful, but it's also exciting. It's progress. So let's see where the data actually leads. If it eventually points to nothing more than Joseph's own outlier dialect of English coupled with some lucky, natural deviations in grammar inspired by the KJV and other sources, it might actually be a relief. Easier to deal with, at least.

Now to today's actual post. Exploring the words of the Original Manuscript and especially Skousen's Earliest Text no longer embarrasses me. Instead, I am thrilled at the echo of Joseph's voice as he dictated raw text not taken from a carefully prepared manuscript from some scholarly collaborator or committee of technical advisors and ghost writers, but from inspiration as he shut out the world and transmuted text from gold plates into ink and paper laden with a treasure in archaic English. Numerous witnesses of this rapid translation work, including at least one non-LDS witness, consistently described what happened and make it clear that the process involved oral dictation that was copied by a scribe.

Joseph was not using a manuscript. He dictated text and the scribe wrote it down. That became the Original Manuscript. It was then copied and delivered to the printer. Remnants of these manuscripts today clearly witness to the reality of these processes, with abundant evidence that the Original Manuscript was the result of scribes hearing words and writing them down, while the Printer's Manuscript shows evidence of scribes seeing words (on the Original Manuscript) and copying them down. This evidence has been discussed in many of the works of Royal Skousen, such as his "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript." For example, there are many cases where we can see scribal mistakes due to mishearing the spoken text. One example from Skousen:

 In 1 Nephi 13:29 of the original manuscript the scribe (not yet identified, but designated as scribe 2) wrote down the following: 
& because of these things which are taken away out of the gosple of the Lamb & exceeding great many do stumble 
Obviously, scribe 2 misheard “an exceeding great many” as “and exceeding great many”. The scribe’s use of the ampersand (&) shows that the error was not based on visual similarity. Hearing an, the scribe interpreted it as the casual speech form an’  for and.
Other interesting changes can be seen in the Appendix of The Earliest Text giving "Significant Textual Changes." For example, when Nephi quoted Isaiah 14:19 in 2 Nephi 24:19, Isaiah's "raiment of those that are slain" apparently was misheard and was written as the "remnant of those that are slain." A natural aural mistake for someone writing oral diction. "I have removed the borders" in Isaiah 10:13 became "moved the borders" in Nephi's quotation in 2 Nephi 20:13. "Found the kingdoms" in Isaiah 10:10 became "founded the kingdoms" in 2 Nephi 20:10. Likewise Ramah from Isaiah 10:29 became Ramath in 2 Nephi 20:29. These are examples of apparent errors that entered into the early Book of Mormon manuscripts that were or, in some cases, may still be in need of correction. These kind of errors from the aural and oral nature of the Book of Mormon translation process don't just occur in quotations from the Bible, of course. They are found throughout the text, but I think their presence in the Isaiah passages are significant because it reminds us that even the Isaiah passages weren't created by just dragging out a Bible and copying from it (related: "Did Joseph Use a Bible?"). Those passages were probably also dictated. And as far as we know, based on what multiple witnesses saw and based on the evidence we can see in the Original Manuscript and Printer's Manuscript, the text was dictated and recorded by scribes. Nobody saw a manuscript that Joseph used. Nobody saw a Bible that he pulled out when it was time for Bible quotes. It looks like that oral dictation process was in use steadily.

If there was a time when a Bible was used to simplify the translation work, I would guess that it would be for Isaiah 4 through 9 quoted in 2 Nephi 14 through 19, where Skousen's list of significant changes in the Appendix shows a gap, while there seem to be periodic changes in the chapters before and after due to possible scribal errors. That could be because a more careful and accurate scribe was used during those chapters, or for other reasons. (I also think this section probably isn't covered in what we have left of the Original Manuscript, though I haven't checked yet.)

On the other hand, whether there are scribal errors or not, there are numerous other apparently intentional changes in the Book of Mormon's quotations from Isaiah and other parts of the Bible. Some are subtle, such as the recently discovered Hebraism in 2 Nephi 12:2 as it quotes Isaiah 2:2 One little word is changed as that becomes when, but in so doing, significant meaning is added in the process as an interesting Hebraism is introduced in a way that is relevant to the Restoration. Subtle, but cool. See Paul Hoskisson, "Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah" at Mormon Interpreter.

And yet, of course, there are still problems. The text quoted seems to follow the KJV when it is good enough, and "good enough" includes errors (generally of no doctrinal significance) in the KJV that some folks insist should have been fixed if Joseph really was inspired. I'm all for total perfection, even in details that don't really matter,  and often demand it in others. Fortunately it's not part of my set of expectations for the Book of Mormon. Human errors have not been completely excised, whether they are errors from Nephite writers, Joseph Smith, scribes, typesetters, or, whoever else had a hand in the Book of Mormon and its translation, including whoever is responsible for those puzzling Early Modern English elements. Stay tuned, and keep your paradigms ready to roll.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Faithful Latter-day Saints Dealing with the New LDS Policy on Same-Sex Marriage

Many Latter-day Saints have struggled with the Church's new guidelines in the Handbook of Instructions on dealing with same-sex relationships and children raised by same-sex couples. It's a sensitive issue for many, especially those of us who have close family members who are gay or who are otherwise strongly affected by the issue of same-sex marriage. While the Church's statements to clarify the guidelines have been helpful (see the context provided by Elder Christofferson at MormonNewsroom.org and the recent letter from the First Presidency with some clarification), it has still been easy for Latter-day Saints to feel pain and confusion over this highly charged, sensitive issue, especially when we see bitterness or disappointment from those we love.

For those who are confused and disappointed by the policy guidelines regarding families same sex marriage, I'd like to point to the example of one woman who has been an inspiration to me and many others here in Asia and in other parts of the world. She's given me permission to share a letter she wrote to a friend about her personal struggle with the new guidelines. I think the way this faithful woman dealt with the issue is an excellent example for how to deal with these kind of challenges intelligently, but also with patience and faith. I don't know if the conclusions she draws about the need for some kind of policy like this are correct, for that involves complex legal matters. I need to explore that matter later, but for now, I want to call attention to the approach she took.

She has given me permission to use her name, but I'll just call her "Jeannie G." Here's the letter:

Dear N----,   

Like you, I was upset by the new church policy on gay family members when it was first announced. Many members who don’t personally know any gay people (or think they don’t know any) seem to be less troubled by the new policy. But for those of us who have gay friends and family members, it was hard not to feel distraught.

I would like to share with you my experience in dealing with this issue in hope that it might help you in your own struggle.

In recent years I have been heartened by the small but significant steps taken by the Church to provide support to gay members and their families.  These include: Acknowledging the difference between feelings and behavior. Advising parents to support their gay kids, and not to kick them out. Encouraging gay members to stay with the church, because we need them, and creating the mormonsandgays.org website.  All showed much needed acceptance and respect for a maligned group of members who didn’t ask to be gay. As the website states: “With love and understanding the Church reaches out to all God’s children including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

After these efforts, the new policy seemed to take a step backwards. It first struck me as unkind and unnecessarily painful. My heart goes out to gay members who still have a testimony, or are trying to salvage their testimony, while hoping to find a supportive environment in the Church that they love. I was heartsick with the implied message of the new policy: “You are not wanted here. The Church is no longer your home.”

I am extremely grateful for the gospel. I grew up in a difficult family situation. I could not have survived without the support and direction of the Church. The gospel saved me. So it pained me to think that the innocent children of gay members would be excluded from the resources and strength of the Church community.

I have found the gospel provides rich satisfying truths and a clear logic. I was totally baffled by the new policy that seemed to have none of those defining hallmarks.

After a three week struggle with many heartfelt, tearful prayers, I got an answer. Most of my inspiration comes in the night or early morning, as did this. I awoke one morning to find this answer: The Church had to do it. With legalized gay marriage, the Church is now vulnerable to being sued by some LDS gay couple claiming a right to a temple sealing. Children of gay couples could also sue, thus the need for them to formally disavow the gay lifestyle should they join the Church at age 18. The policy was not intended to divide family loyalties. It is to provide legal protection to the Church. Understanding the legal reasoning, despite my negative first impression, helped me see that the Church is not trying to denigrate those with same sex attraction. Although it creates a wrenching dilemma for gay members, I now see that the general authorities clearly had to institute this new policy.  Currently it would be difficult to sue with the religious guarantees that presently stand.  I believe the church is putting the policies in place now for the future safety and well being of the institution.

Although it would have helped if the Church had reiterated the positive message from the website while announcing the new policy, I hope that gay members can still find solace from mormomsandgays.org website. It’s still up and running.

I worry that with married gay members now facing a disciplinary council for apostasy, some members might feel justified in condemning or mistreating all gay people. We need to remember the policy was established not to condemn gay members, but rather to protect the temple. As disciples of Christ we are to give succor and support to all those who struggle, whether gay or straight. That love and support is needed now more than ever in these difficult times.

I hope this has been helpful.


This woman is a powerhouse of compassion and intelligence, and if you know her personally, I think you would agree. I always learn something from her. Thank you for caring and for your example of dealing with a challenging, difficult issue. 

Update, Jan. 5: Whatever the reasons are behind the policy, I think those who strongly disagree with it should realize that people with different views on gay marriage are not necessarily driven by hate or bigotry. Too many people are trained to think--a word I use loosely--that those who disagree with them must be VEPs (Very Evil People). There is a genuine debate here, as there is on many social issues, and intelligent people can be on both sides, even intelligent non-Nazis. To assume that the guidelines and policies related to gay marriage are driven by bigotry and hate is neither fair nor reasonable. See "The Brethren are not Bigots" by Cassandra Hedelius, a thoughtful and valuable post.

Since we don't have infallible leaders, it is possible for mistakes to occur. Faithful Latter-day Saints who disagree with a decision or policy can fairly wonder if it's a mistake, and if so, hope that it will be swiftly corrected. On the other hand, we should also be willing to ask if perhaps there is something we personally don't yet understand or see properly. We should have the courtesy and civility to recognize that leaders who view something differently aren't necessarily bad people or failed leaders, and may have legitimate reasons for their view that we don't yet appreciate. That's a reasonably faithful approach to sustaining our mortal leaders. Denouncing them is not.

For those interesting in understanding this issue, an excellent discussion is provided at FAIRMormon.org in "A Look at the Church’s New Policy on Children of Gay Couples." This touches briefly about some of the legal issues that could be involved and may suggest that Jeannie G.'s conclusion has merit. It also carefully explains what the policy does and what it doesn't do. What you've heard about it may not be very accurate or fair.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Communist Party

On Dec. 24, as we were at the Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai on our way to Hong Kong, I was touched by the abundant Christmas themes on display and the frequent use of the words "Merry Christmas"--not "Seasons Greetings," "Happy Holidays," or "Merry Xmas," but the greeting that sends frigid shivers up the spines of some folks because it reminds them that there is some kind of  religious concept or religious figure that was once associated with Christmas, before it was fully incorporated (now owned as part of a joint venture between Amazon and Google). Fortunately, China's Communist Party, which owns and operates the airports and much more, isn't afraid to spread a little authentic Christmas cheer. Here's a view of the passenger carts that scurry around the airport. Most adorable Communist Party ever!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas at the Mosque (in Hong Kong)

On Christmas day, I visited the Jamia Mosque in Hong Kong, and it was a highlight of our day. It was my youngest son's idea. It began with his desire to try the world's longest outdoor escalator system in the Mid-Levels section of Hong Kong, where many consecutive escalators allow you to scale a steep section of town that is loaded with interesting restaurants and shops. Along the way up, he saw a mosque and suggested we visit. All of us were interested and hoped to learn a little more about an important world faith, so off we went.

It was a Friday and an open-house day. My wife wasn't sure if she would be able to come in, but we were warmly greeted by a tall, friendly man who encouraged all of us to enter and have a look. I told him we'd like to learn a little more about his faith. He was so happy to share! Our new friend, Othman, comes from Yemen, and was passionate and eloquent in sharing his beliefs. I thought to myself that many of us could learn from him and his kind, enthusiastic manner in sharing his faith.

I was both pleased but saddened when he told us how excited he was about our visit, for in his years there at the mosque, he's never had people just come up and say "We'd like to learn more, please." He said Christians sometimes come to say critical things, like "Why did you people blow up our buildings in New York?" or "Why did you kill those people in France?" While he speaks Chinese, Chinese tourists don't want to talk and just come in to take photos and then rush away. So he was delighted to have curious people actually listening and asking questions. I was glad we did, but sad that we seemed to be the first. Sigh.

Since he was from Yemen, I also took a moment to ask about the Nihm Tribe in Yemen, the ancient tribe whose tribal area has been labeled as "Nehem" or "Nehhm" on some old maps. When I said "Nihm," I pronounced it incorrectly. Othman helped us with the correct pronunciation. I would transliterate it as something closer to "Nehem," with a hard, guttural "h". He confirmed that the tribe is ancient, prominent, and important in Yemeni history--something Book of Mormon students may already know since it relates to Nahom in the Book of Mormon. 

Take time to visit your local mosque and say hello from Jeff and Othman!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Lesson from the Great Sign of the Birth of Christ in the Book of Mormon

One thing has long puzzled me about the Book of Mormon account of the birth of Christ. Why did the believers mourn and begin to fear that Samuel the Lamanite's prophecy had failed regarding the promised sign of Christ's birth?

The Book of Mormon has a scene where Samuel the Lamanite gives a prophecy of a dramatic sign to come the night before the birth of the Messiah. In five years, there will be a night when it stays bright as the sun sets, giving a sign of the Savior's birth. From Helaman 14 we read:
[1] And now it came to pass that Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophesy a great many more things which cannot be written.
[2] And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
[3] And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
[4] Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
[5] And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.
[6] And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.
[7] And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth.

Over the next five years, many other less dramatic signs have come to pass, which are easily handled by the critics with arguments similar to what we often hear today in discussions, say, of Book of Mormon evidence, as we read in Helaman 16:
[16] Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.
[17] And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
[18] That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?
[19] Yea, why will he not show himself in this land as well as in the land of Jerusalem?
[20] But behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true.
[21] And they will, by the cunning and the mysterious arts of the evil one, work some great mystery which we cannot understand, which will keep us down to be servants to their words, and also servants unto them, for we depend upon them to teach us the word; and thus will they keep us in ignorance if we will yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.
[22] And many more things did the people imagine up in their hearts, which were foolish and vain; and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come.
[23] And notwithstanding the signs and the wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land. 
 Lucky guesses and logical fallacies, nothing worthy of any interest.

The anti-Messiah sentiment in Nephite society had become powerful among the movers and shakers in their society, so powerful that a plan was even concocted to provide a final solution to manage the divisive, retrograde believers who were such a roadblock to progress. The opportunity came with the apparent failure of Samuel's prophecy and the huge momentum this gave opponents of the Church, as we read in 3 Nephi 1:

[4] And it came to pass that in the commencement of the ninety and second year, behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people.
[5] But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.
[6] And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.
[7] And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass. 

 This was a difficult time for the believers, for the argument against their faith was strong enough, in spite of other prophecies and signs having been fulfilled, that they began to be very sorrowful, wondering if the sign had actually failed. I presume that some turned from their faith at this point, and that it was the "true believers" who held on and waited, as we read next, and as we read of the audacious and intolerant deadline imposed by those in power:
[8] But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.
[9] Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
The prophecy would be fulfilled right before the deadline given, but it does not appear that the believers were dealing with the arguments against them by saying, "Hold on, guys. Samuel said five years, and it's only been 4.9. Nothing is supposed to happen yet." No, they were worried and fearful.

Going back to Samuel's prophecy, he doesn't exactly say that the sign would come in five years. He says five years will pass, "and then" the sign will come. So it's after five years. Five years and a month? Six months? I'm not sure. But I suspect that the prophecy became widely understood as a sign to come in five years. After five years had passed, the critics could rejoice and the believers began to fear. There's a subtle point in Helaman 14:2 that I didn't notice until yesterday, right before I gave a talk in sacrament meeting and was inspired by the Primary children having just sung about Samuel the Lamanite. As I was wondering about that prophecy and the misunderstanding, that's when I noticed Helaman 14:2's wording, and decided to change my talk to emphasize that story. I asked people if they would be able to hold onto their faith in that day, with such influential arguments and popular sentiment against it? And can they hold onto it today, when there is still much we don't understand, in spite of many signs, miracles, and blessings we have received? That's another story. Here's what happens with the story in Third Nephi 1:
[10] Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
[11] And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
[12] And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord, all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
[13] Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
[14] Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfill all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son -- of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
[15] And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
[16] And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
[17] And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.
[18] For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.
[19] And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
A wonderful story to ponder as we remember the birth of Christ long again in a manger in Bethlehem (part of the ancient "land of Jerusalem" per Alma 7:10 and the Dead Sea Scrolls and Amarna Letters, but that's another story, too.)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36

Executive Summary

In exploring Noel Reynolds' hypothesis that some material in the Book of Moses may have been present on the brass plates that Nephi used, I wondered if Nephi or other authors might have referred to "chains of darkness" in Moses 7:57. Though that phrase is not used in the Book of Mormon, I found 2 Nephi 1:23, quoting Lehi, combines "chains" and "obscurity," where "obscurity" can have the meaning of darkness. Further, there may be a Hebraic wordplay behind Lehi's words when he tells his wayward sons to "come forth out of obscurity and arise from the dust," based on the similarity between  ʼôphel (obscurity) and ʼâphar  (dust). Further exploring this connection pointed to the significance of the theme of dust in Lehi's words and the surrounding passages from Nephi and Jacob, building on analysis from David Bokovoy and an important paper of non-LDS scholar Walter Brueggemann on the rich symbolic and covenant-related meanings of "rising from the dust" and "returning to the dust" in the Bible.

Brueggemann informs us that rising from the dust invokes themes of creation and receiving life, of covenant making and keeping, of receiving power and authority from the Lord, of enthronement and kingship, of receiving glory and of being resurrected. Returning to the dust, on the other hand, can be a symbol of death, of breaking covenants, and of loss of status and authority.   Brueggemann's work adds new layers of meaning to Lehi's words and the surrounding text, especially Nephi and Jacob's usage of Isaiah. Lehi's dust-intensive speech, drawing upon the "Arise from the dust" theme in Isaiah 52:1-2, is actually sandwiched between two repeated quotations of the same dust-related passage of Isaiah--a puzzling redundancy were it not for the poetic emphasis it adds.

Recognizing the usage of dust-related themes in the Book of Mormon can enhance our understanding of several passages. An appeal to the Book of Mormon's use of dust-related themes may even help fill in some gaps in the complex chiastic structure of Alma 36 and add meaning to other portions of that voice from the dust, the Book of Mormon.

Background: Digging into Dust

In recent posts I've discussed a hypothesis from Noel Reynolds about the relationship between the Book of Moses and the brass plates of Nephi. Along with the theme of the devil, one concept in the Book of Moses not mentioned by Reynolds that I also see in the Book of Mormon is the symbol of the chain. In Moses 7:26 and 7:56, Enoch sees Satan with a great chain, and we see that people are held captive in "chains of darkness" until the judgment day. When I read that after reading Reynolds, I wondered if there might a relationship in the Book of Mormon. Chains and the captivity of Satan are themes there, but I was disappointed to not find "darkness" and "chains" used together in the text.

Finding that connection might be helpful in exploring influences on Nephite writers but would not be significant in terms of LDS apologetics since the Bible also mentions chains and its obvious link to captivity. Rev. 20:1 mentions a great chain associated with the bottomless pit, and "chains of darkness" are mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, though possibly connected back to the Book of Enoch mentioned in Jude 14. First Enoch, published in 1912 from a text in the Ga'ez language, often called "Ethiopic," mentions great iron chains and has often been asserted to have connections to the passages from Peter and Jude (The Book of Enoch or First Enoch, transl. by R.H. Charles (Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 2000), pp. 105-108, 141). Both Peter and Jude write of angels who sinned and are held in chains of darkness until the judgment day, aligning well with the discussion of Satan's rebellion in heaven in the Book of Moses and also with Moses 7:57, where Enoch sees spirits in prison in "chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day." But in the KJV Old Testament, the connection between chains and darkness doesn't seem to be there, so if Nephi or others used a similar term, perhaps it was known from the brass plates. However, Psalm 107:10 could also be relevant. In the KJV, considering the context of verses 9-11, this speaks of rebellious souls who "sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron." But several other translations use "chains," such as the NIV for Ps. 107:
10. Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11. because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
While I didn't find "chains of darkness" or similar phrases in my first search of the Book of Mormon, I soon noticed 2 Nephi 1, Lehi's speech to his sons, where verse 23 may be relevant:
  1. And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
  2. That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body.
  3. Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
  4. Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.
In verse 23, a connection between chains and darkness is provided, though not verbatim. In the entry for obscurity in the 1828 dictionary of Noah Webster, the first definition listed for obscurity is "Darkness; want of light." Ah, another link in the chain.

In that verse, chains are contrasted with the armor of righteousness. Obscurity and dust are linked, and possibly contrasted with Nephi, "whose views have been glorious"--vision and glory (light) are in contrast with obscurity (darkness) and dust. The Hebrew word for dust, (H6083 in Strong's Concordance) is   `aphar, which comes from H6080, the primitive root ʻâphar, "meaning either to be gray or perhaps rather to pulverize". The gray aspect of this word would seem to go well with obscurity.

Obscurity and dust are both mentioned in Isaiah 29, a part of Isaiah that Nephi quotes heavily, so it is reasonable to assume that similar Hebrew words were used in Nephi's statement. In Isaiah 29:4, the speech that whispers from the "dust" (actually occurring twice there) is from Strong's H6083, `aphar, mentioned above. This word occurs 15 times in Isaiah, always translated as dust except in Is. 2:19, where it is "earth." Most occurrences of dust in Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament are from the same root (accounting for 15 of the 17 cases in Isaiah), though "dust" in Is. 5:24 and 29:5 is taken from a less common root, 'abaq, referring to an especially fine powder. It occurs 6 times and accounts for less than 5% of the occurrences of "dust" in the Old Testament (KJV). (Analysis done using the Blue Letter Bible app from BlueLetterBible.org.)

The KJV word "obscurity" in Isaiah 28 is tied to Strong's H652:
ʼôphel, o'fel (from H651, ʼâphêl); meaning "dusk:—darkness, obscurity, privily,: while ʼâphêl is "from an unused root meaning to set as the sun; dusky:—very dark."
So "obscurity" could be ôphel/ʼâphêl, while "dust" is probably from ʻâphar. To me, that looks like a potential wordplay that I don't think has been noted. This seems to add to the parallelism and poetry of Lehi's words, in a passage that appears to draw from Isaiah 52 and, perhaps, a touch of the Book of Moses or related content on the brass plates.

Later I would find chains linked to darkness in other verses. Alma 5:7 speaks of souls who were in a "deep sleep" and the "midst of darkness," in describing those who were "encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell," facing destruction. But they were liberated as the chains of hell were loosed, causing their souls to expand and thus they did "sing redeeming love." In adjacent verses at Alma 26:14-15, we also have both: chains and darkness
  1. Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?
  2. Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
  3. Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
Chains in the Book of Mormon are frequently associated with Satan or hell, captivity, destruction, and encirclement. Chains are also often associated with shaking and trembling, as in 2 Nephi 1:13 ("shake off the awful chains", spoken by Lehi the "trembling parent" in vs. 14); 2 Nephi 1:23 ("shake off the chains"); 2 Nephi 9:44-45 ("shake of the chains" in parallel to shaking of garments and shaking off iniquities in v. 44), 2 Nephi 28:19 (the great and abominable church "must tumble to the earth" in vs. 18, and then in vs. 19 "the kingdom of the devil must shake . . . the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains").

In the Book of Mormon, those who once were encircled with the chains of hell but are freed may be described as "encircled" with God's love, per Alma 26:15 above, or encircled with the robes or righteousness, as Nephi writes in his psalm (2 Nephi 4:33, after asking that he may "shake" at the appearance of sin in vs. 31). They are to be lifted up (the "arise" motif ) at the last day, and also tend to break out into song. In addition to Alma 26:13-15 above, also see Alma 12:5-6,11,17; Alma 5:6-11; Alma 13:29-30; and the last place where chains are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Alma 36:18:
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
Interestingly, "encircled about by the chains of death" is how Alma sums up his miserable state as he turns to the Lord. This is at the heart, the pivot point, of the Book of Mormon's most famous chiasmus. Could it be related to Lehi's words and the themes associated with dust? Could there be more to Alma 36 than previously recognized?

I think so. To explain, though, I need to share some further information that I feel will be relevant. I apologize for the dusty detour that follows.

Key Insights on Dust from Bokovoy and Brueggemann

After finding the theme of darkness and chains apparently embedded in 2 Nephi 1:23, and finding what looks like a possible wordplay, I searched for further commentary to see what others had found. This took me to David Bokovoy's blog at Patheos.com, where his 2014 discussion of Lehi's poetic speech to his sons shows how Lehi draw upon the theme of "rising from the dust" in Isaiah 52:1-2. The excerpt below from Bokovoy follows Grant Hardy's formatting for the poetic portions of the Book of Mormon (Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Chicago: Illinois Press, 2005), pp. 62-63):
At the end of his life, the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi called his children together and delivered a series of final sermons.  Facing the prospect of his own mortality, Lehi encouraged his sons to wake up and avoid spiritual death. While facing physical death, Lehi used resurrection imagery in his final effort to inspire his sons:

O that ye would awake;
awake from a deep sleep,
yea, even from the sleep of hell,
and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound,
which are the chains which bind the children of men,
that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery
and woe.
Awake! and arise from the dust,
and hear the words of a trembling parent,
whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave,
from whence no traveler can return;
a few more days and I go the way of all the earth…
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness.
Shake off the chains with which ye are bound,
and come forth out of obscurity,
and arise from the dust (2 Nephi 1:13-14, 23).

Lehi’s poem clearly draws its inspiration from Isaiah 52, a poetic text that seeks to reverse the sufferings experienced by the exilic community through a promise of royal restoration:

Awake, awake;
put on thy strength, O Zion;
Put on thy beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city:
for henceforth
there shall no more come into thee
the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down,
O Jerusalem:
loose thyself from the bands of thy neck,
O captive daughter of Zion (Isaiah 52:1-2)

Lehi’s sermon features the dual imperative “awake, awake,” the image of being loosed from bands, arising from the dust, and putting on armor of righteousness/beautiful garments.  The Book of Mormon sermon, therefore, clearly echoes this poetic refrain from Isaiah 52.
Many people are puzzled by a phrase in Isaiah 52:2: "Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down." If you are shaking yourself from the dust, why would you sit down in it after rising? But the meaning is not to sit back down in the dust, but to arise and sit on the throne that God has prepared. This will become more clear below as we explore how the theme of dust in the ancient Near East and in the Book of Mormon relates to enthronement and related themes. But first, let's see how Lehi's speech ties to subsequent writings of Nephi and Jacob.

According to Bokovoy, Nephi shows that he accepts Lehi's charge to "awake" shortly after recording Lehi's speech when he records his own psalm:
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.
Rejoice, O my heart,
and give place no more for the enemy of my soul (2 Nephi 4:28).
Nephi's words strengthen the case for Nephi as Lehi's successor and the legitimate king over the Nephite people.

I should add that Nephi also fortifies his acceptance of Lehi's plea when he asks God in verse 31 to make him that he "may shake at the appearance of sin," following Lehi's command to "shake off the chains with which ye are bound" and Isaiah 52:1 with "Shake thyself from the dust." Dust, chains, shaking, are connected to enthronement, life, resurrection, and glory. Nephi's acceptance of Lehi's commands and his worthiness as authorized leader of the Nephite people should come as no surprise, of course, since Lehi already endorsed Nephi in his speech in 2 Nephi 1 and observed that, in contrast to the chains and obscurity hindering his wayward sons, Nephi's "views have been glorious." Sight and glory stand in contrast to the chains, dust and darkness encircling the wicked.

Two chapters later, Jacob explains that he is about to read words from Isaiah that Nephi asked him to discuss (2 Nephi 6:4). He then begins reciting and discussing Isaiah, starting with Isaiah 49:22 and then Isaiah 50, 51, and finally concludes with the same passage that Lehi drew upon, Isaiah 52:1-2 ("Awake, awake, … shake thyself from the dust….").

Bokovoy sees Jacob's use of this passage, following Nephi's assignment to him, as further cementing the legitimacy of Nephi's reign and establishing the authority of Nephi and Jacob.

Bokovoy sees the issue of Nephite leadership and authority and the use of Isaiah 52:1-2 as especially meaningful in light of a scholarly work that establishes a connection between "rising from the dust" and kingship, enthronement, and authority. The source is Walter Brueggemann's 1972 publication, "From Dust to Kingship," Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, vol. 84, no. 1, 1972; (the link provides only the first page and a means to purchase).  I feel that Brueggemann's work offers some gems of insight for the Book of Mormon, the record we often call "a voice from the dust."

Brueggemann's study of this topic began with an investigation of 1 Kings 16:2, where the Lord tells Baasha that “I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel.” But then the antithesis is given: “Behold I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house,” referring to Baasha losing his status as a ruler and becoming dust again. This is tied to the Creation story, where we read that God formed man out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), and that we are dust, and will return to dust (Gen. 3:19). (After being formed from the dust, Adam and Eve are put in charge of caring for the garden--in other words, they are given authority and responsibility.)

I should add that in light of modern science, we can say that we are not only formed from the dust of the earth, but from the dust of the stars and the cosmos, and that the whole earth has been formed from the dust of space. Dust is such a fitting word to describe the origins of our physical bodies and even the world around us. The Creative work of God in bringing about His ultimate goals begins with forming us from the dust.

Brueggemann builds on the 1967 work of J. Wijngaards, "Death and Resurrection in Covenantal Context (Hos. VI 2)," Vetus Testamentum, vol. 17, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1967), pp. 226-239.  Wijngaards observed that “dying and rising” describe the voiding and renewing of covenant relationships, and that calls to “turn” or “repent” involve changing loyalties or entering into a new covenant. He also cites other scholars who found that New Testament themes of resurrection are built on Israel’s ancient enthronement rituals, and that when Christ was “raised up” from the dead "on the third day," the concept was dependent upon a variety of related Old Testament passages. “The important gain of these studies is the recognition that the motifs of covenant-renewal, enthronement, and resurrection cannot be kept in isolation from each other but they run together and serve to illuminate each other" (p. 1).

Brueggemann's exploration of the dust theme in the scriptures led him to conclude that rising from the dust is tied to divine covenants. To keep sacred covenants is to rise from the dust--not only to rise, but to also be endowed (my term) with power and authority. Rising from the dust is a symbol of enthronement, which I believe is God's ultimate goal--His work and His glory--in creating us from the dust in the first place. Brueggemann explains that to break covenants is to return to the dust and to lose one's position of authority. Dust is used to describe the status of the covenant maker:
Behind the creation formula lies a royal formula of enthronement. To be taken “from the dust” means to be elevated from obscurity to royal office and to return to dust means to be deprived of that office and returned to obscurity. Since the royal office depends upon covenant with the appropriate god, to be taken from the dust means to be accepted as a covenant-partner and treated graciously; to return to the dust means to lose that covenant relation. …To die and be raised is to be out of covenant and then back in covenant. So also to be “from dust” is to enter into a covenant and to return “to dust” is to have the covenant voided. Dust is not to be taken literally but as a figure for being out of covenant, impotent and unimportant, or as Wijngaards has suggested, “dead”. The dramatic movement of dust to life to dust [Gen. 2:7, 3:9, 1 Kings 16:2-3] is in fact imagery describing the fortune and standing of the royal occupant. (pp. 2-3; emphasis mine)
Since my explorations on this topic began with 2 Nephi 1:23, where "dust" and "obscurity" are linked and seem like an poor fit in the midst of easily recognized parallels, it was intriguing to read Brueggemann's statement that "To be taken 'from the dust' means to be elevated from obscurity to royal office and to return to dust means to be deprived of that office and returned to obscurity" (emphasis mine). That fits Lehi's speech nicely. Brueggemann's finding that rising from the dust is also related to kingship, to enthronement, to covenant keeping, and resurrection also fits beautifully with Book of Mormon usage.

Brueggemann explains that being in the covenant means having royal power and authority, and being out of the covenant means losing such power and status. Being in the dust, without power or authority, is contrasted to “sitting with princes” in 1 Samuel 2:6-8. Thus “the phrase ‘from the dust’ appears here also as a formula relating to enthronement.” Thus "sitting" in 1 Samuel 2:6-8 is akin to the "sit" in Is. 52:2, where "arising from the dust" and "sitting" are both references to enthronement. The 1 Samuel passage ends with a reference to the creation: “for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.” (p. 3) This reference points to the stability that comes from sound kingship.

Brueggemann considers resurrection an important theme related to rising from the dust. He explains that resurrection in the Old and New Testaments is clearly linked to "rising from the dust," and says that these related themes run into each other and reinforce one another (p. 1).

Let's turn briefly back to Wijngaards' work, the foundation for Brueggemann's analysis. Wijngaards looked at Hosea 6:2 and its reference to reviving and rising on the third day. He also examined the related ancient Near Eastern theme of gods dying and "rising on the third day" (p. 228). He also notes that revival from sickness was a symbol of resurrection from God (p. 229), and that "killing" was used metaphorically to describe dethroning a king and removing people from power (p. 231) or with replacing one king/lord with another (p. 232), an act that has covenantal implications. Thus raising someone to life can refer to entering into a covenant, and death and killing can refer to breaking the covenant. There are ancient Near Eastern contexts, according to Wijngaards, where these concepts have rich covenantal implications, and one of the key words associated with these concepts is yada, to know, as in a covenant relationship (p. 237). Finally, in this study of Hosea 6:2, Wijngaards concludes that the verse means this:
Jahweh is said to "revise" and "raise" his people when "on the third day" he will renew his covenant with them. This renewal is called a "raising from death to life" because it will restore the reign of blessing and fertility that are consequent on and inherent in good covenantal relations. (p. 237; emphasis original)
Repentance, accepting and keeping covenants, enthronement, and resurrection are tied together, as are the themes of covenant breaking, dying, loss of power and status, and obscurity--these are part of the complex of interlocking dust-related themes that we should consider in Lehi's speech and related passages of the Book of Mormon.

In Part 2 of Bokovoy's post on the "arise from the dust" theme, he notes that Christ also cites Isaiah 52:1-2, and that Moroni quotes it to conclude the Book of Mormon, a fitting closure in light of Lehi's early words. Here is Moroni 10:30-31:
And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.
And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.
This is a call to enter into a covenant relationship with the Redeemer, to acquire every gift that he offers--gifts that are good (echoing Nephi's name perhaps), a reminding us of Lehi's plea to his children to "arise from the dust" and, in parallel to putting on the armor of righteousness that Lehi spoke off (contrasted with the chains Satan offers), Moroni asks us to put on our beautiful garments, garments that are linked to (or a symbol of) the covenants of the Father with us. These garments may well refer to the robes and garments of the Temple, where we lay hold of every good gift and learn to cast out Satan and reject his evil gifts. Satan's gifts, like his chains, are those of darkness, or rather, the "obscurity" that Lehi begged his wayward sons to flea. Come forth out of obscurity, shun evil gifts and covenants, arise from the dust, and put on beautiful garments tied to holy covenants from the Father, and do this by coming unto Christ.

A Dusty Inclusio Around Lehi's Words?

A Hebraic language pattern also found in the Book of Mormon is inclusio. Wikipedia gives a reasonable description:
In biblical studies, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure, which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section, although whether this material should consist of a word or a phrase, or whether greater amounts of text also qualify, and of what length the frames section should be, are matters of some debate. Inclusio is found in various sources, both antique and new.

While this may not be evident to many of the Bible's modern lay readers, the Hebrew Bible is actually full of literary devices, some of which, having fallen out of favor over the years, are lost on most modern readers. Inclusio, of which many instances can be found in the Bible, is one of these, although many instances of its usage are not apparent to those reading translations of the Bible rather than the Hebrew source.

Particularly noteworthy are the many instances of inclusio in the Book of Jeremiah.
This form of bracketing or framing by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a passage is related to chiasmus, which sometimes can seem like "recursive inclusio." As with chiasmus, the presence of inclusio is easily missed by modern readers reading translations of an ancient Semitic texts such as the Bible or (in my opinion) the Book of Mormon, so it is an area of ongoing investigation, with inclusio, like chiasmus, only having been relatively recently discovered in the Book of Mormon, well over a century after publication. A recently discovered example of inclusio in the Book of Mormon, coupled with apparent Hebraic wordplays, was just published: "Nephi’s Good Inclusio" by Matthew L. Bowen at Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.

There appears to be a notable example of inclusio in the way Isaiah is quoted both before and after Lehi's speech in 2 Nephi 1-3 and the related passages from Nephi and Jacob in 2 Nephi 4-6 and the preceding chapter, 1 Nephi 22. Back in 1 Nephi 19 quotes material no longer extant in our Bible from the brass plates, and then says that in order to "more fully persuade [his people] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scripture unto us" (1 Nephi 19:23). Nephi then begins quoting Isaiah 48 in 1 Nephi 20 and Isaiah 49 in 1 Nephi 21. Interestingly, when he quotes Isaiah 49:13, he adds two phrases:
Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
One Hebrew root sometimes translated as "establish" is quwm, Strong's H6965, which is the same root used in Isaiah 52:1 for "arise." It occurs as "establish" 27 times in the OT, but far more frequently as "arise," "rise," or related terms. If this was the word Nephi used and presumably was found in the brass plates, it would fit some aspects of the "rise from the dust" theme. In view of the dust-related themes that follow and Abinadi's later discourse on another verse in Isaaih 52 ("how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet…"), I suggest that this addition may be meaningful, and that feet + mountains + rejoicing/singing paint a picture of the redeemed ascending the cosmic mountain, Mount Zion or the House of the Lord, where they have risen away from and have been washed from from the mundane dust of the world. There they have accepted the Lord's covenant , have put on the Lord' beautiful garments, and in joy received the enthronement or endowment of power and grace that the Lord offers.

The Isaiah quotations before Lehi's speech begin with 1 Nephi 20, quoting Isaiah 48:1 "O house of Jacob, who ... are come forth out of the waters of Judah," to which Joseph Smith added a clarification: "or out of the waters of baptism." This chunk of Isaiah begins with a reference to a former washing for those who are now breaking the covenant, and end in 1 Nephi 21 with the closing verses of Isaiah 49, giving a powerful image related to dust and enthronement/dethronement while also emphasizing the theme the primary topic of Lehi, redemption and salvation through the Redeemer:
  1. Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
  2. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
  3. For shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captives delivered?
  4. But thus saith the Lord, even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.
  5. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Kings and queens will bow down and lick up the dust of those who are gathered by the Lord--what an amazing reversal that again employs the relationship of dust to enthronement.

When I read these words, I cannot help but think of another related image: that of the King of Heaven bowing down before his mortal disciples to wash the dust from their feet shortly before His crucifixion. Surely He who took on a tabernacle of dust descended below all things, even below the dust itself as he entered the grave for three days and three nights. That act must be considered in light of its profound links to the role of dust (or dust and feet) in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon.

That is the first bracket. The second bracket occurs after Lehi's Redeemer-centric words in 2 Nephi 1-3, after Nephi's Psalm where he accepts Lehi's charge to "awake, awake" and "shake" at sin (in light of Bokovoy's analysis, showing his worthiness to serve as the legitimate heir of Lehi as ruler over the Nephite people), and after Jacob's introductory comments in 2 Nephi 6, where Jacob announces that he is now going to read the words of Isaiah that Nephi has asked him to teach. These are carefully chosen passages, but with a surprise, for the next chunk of Isaiah is unnecessarily redundant. Jacob begins quoting Isaiah not from where Nephi left off, but repeats verses that Nephi just quoted. A redundant oration is understandable, but given the limited space on the small plates of Nephi and the difficulty of engraving, a redundant quotation involves genuine labor and certainly intent. But why? This new excerpt from Isaiah begins with Isaiah 49:22 and quotes the verses about licking of dust from the feet, and the reference to the Redeemer.

This redundant section may have seemed like sloppiness to casual readers and critics, but it is highly thematic and is a clever use of a Hebraic literary tool, inclusio, to bracket and highlight the dust-related themes of the chapters in between, and to emphasis the importance of this dust- and Redeemer-related passage in Isaiah. Jacob then continues in Isaiah until he gets to Isaiah 52:1-2, the dust-related passage that underlies Lehi's words--and perhaps more of the Book of Mormon than we realized before.

One rough way of portraying the structure here is:
A. First Isaiah passage
Beginning: 1 Nephi 20:1 (Is. 48:1): Arising from the waters of Judah (baptism)--as if washed from dust

End: 1 Nephi 21:22-26 (Is. 49:22-26): Kings and queens to lick the dust off the feet of the covenant people of Israel; all shall know the Savior and Redeemer.

B. Words of Nephi, Lehi, and Jacob in 1 Nephi 22 and 2 Nephi 1-6, with Lehi's repeated references to Isaiah 52:1-2 and themes of dust, deliverance from captivity, and redemption.

C. Second Isaiah passage
Beginning: 2 Nephi 6:6, quoting Is. 49:22-23 (kings licking dust from the feet) in 2 Nephi 6:6-7, and then continuing with Is. 49:24-26 in 2 Nephi 6:16-18, then Isaiah 50 in 2 Nephi 7 and Isaiah 51 in 2 Nephi 8.

End: 2 Nephi 8:24-25, quoting Is. 52:1-2 ("Awake, awake . . . Shake thyself from the dust, arise, sit down, loose thyself from the bands of thy necks, O captive daughter of Zion."
It's more than "just" inclusio. You could say this is a textual example of going "from dust to dust." Nephi appears to be using the structure of his words, including the choice of Isaiah passages to cite, to frame and amplify a core theme for the Book of Mormon.

With that background, let's dust off the chiasmus in Alma 36.

Dusting Off a Loose Portion of Alma 36

The chiastic nature of Alma 36 has been a popular topic for LDS apologists, and one that the critics have learned to criticize. It is too fuzzy, too loose, they argue, and with some fair points. The beginning and end of the chiasmus are strong and compact, and the center point, where Alma turns to Christ, is also distinct and relatively compact. The portions in the middle, though, are of a different nature, with some steps in the chiasmus spread out as a general concept covering multiple verses where critics can accuse us of looking for patterns that aren't there. There is a reasonable response to this objection: when relating history, there are things that need to be said that won't fit nicely and compactly in a chiasmus. But at the pivot point, generally the most important part of the chiasmus, and at the end points, which are also particularly important, the chiasmus is clear and strong in Alma 36. The middle ground is still chiastic, though necessarily more diffuse.

Here is a typical framing of Alma 46, taken from John Welch, "A Masterpiece: Alma 36," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. J.L. Sorenson and M.J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991) showing his proposed structure of the verses:

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)


   (c) DO AS I HAVE DONE (2)

    (d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2);

     (e) for they were in BONDAGE (2)

      (f) he surely did DELIVER them (2)

       (g) TRUST in God (3)

        (h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3)

         (i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3)

          (j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)

           (k) BORN OF GOD (5)

            (l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)

             (m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)

              (n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)

               (o) PAINS of a damned soul (16)

                (p) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17)

                 (q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)

                 (q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)

                (p') HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19)

               (o') Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)

              (n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)

             (m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)

            (l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)

           (k') BORN OF GOD (26)

          (j') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26)

        (h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27)

       (g') TRUST in him (27)

     (f') He will deliver me (27)

         (i') and RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY (28)

     (e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29)

    (d') Retain in REMEMBRANCE THEIR CAPTIVITY (28-29)

   (c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30)


(a') This is according to his WORD (30).

Some loose spots include item i' in verse 28 apparently showing up a verse late (I'm not sure why--a slip or a necessity?) and big gaps or significant looseness around item l (the concept of destroying the church of God, verses 6-9), item m (MY LIMBS paralyzed in verse 10) and item n (fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD. verses 14-15).

Shortly after reading Brueggemann, I reread Alma 36 to respond to a critic at Mormanity challenging the validity of Alma 36 as a significant achievement. As I looked at the weakest spots,  I noticed some dust-related terms that caught my interest:
7. earth did tremble (shake) beneath our feet … fell to the earth … fear of the Lord
8. …the voice said unto me, Arise. And I arose and stood up
9. …destroyed … seek no more to destroy the church of God
10. … I fell to the earth … three days and three nights …
11. …destroyed … destroy no more … fear … destroyed … fell to the earth and did hear no more
The earth trembles, the dust of the ground is shaking under their feet, and he falls down, toward the dust. A possible relationship with dust themes?

Alma has broken the covenant and is at risk of losing his status and even life. Surprised by an angel, amazed at God's power and reality, he falls to the earth, to the dust. As Lehi commanded his sons, the angel commands Alma to "Arise." Literally, he is to arise from the ground, from the dust. He stands, but cannot remain standing in light of his sinful state. He faces destruction for the work of destruction he has done. The flame of guilt ignited, he falls again to the earth, to the dust, and is as if dead, as if in the grave for three days and three nights. And again we are told that faced with destruction, in fear and amazement, he fell to the earth and could hear no more.

He falls to the dust and then falls again.

On the other side of the pivot point, where item m' refers to limbs receiving strength in verse 23, there may be even more parallels in this chiasmus:

22. Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.
23. But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.
24. Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
25. Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;
26. For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.

In light of Brueggemann's work, falling to the earth in Alma 36 may do much more than just convey Alma's great fear, but may serve as an equivalent to returning to the dust, invoking these symbols:
  • physical death
  • spiritual death (falling away from God)
  • rebellion, sin, breaking the covenant
  • losing power, authority, life
  • destruction
The association of death with falling to the earth is reinforced with many elements, including references to destruction, the deathlike state of his body, suffering the pains of hell, and Alma's being in this state "for three days and three nights" (v. 10), an apparent reference to the prophesied time that Christ would spend in the grave (see Nephi's prophecy in 2 Nephi 25:13, and the related prophecy of Zenos on the brass plates, mentioned in 1 Nephi 19:10), which is also consistent with the theme of rising on the third day discussed by J. Wijngaards in the above-mentioned work, "Death and Resurrection in Covenantal Context (Hos. VI 2)."

The possibility that Alma's fall to the earth is meant to be associated with the dust-related themes introduced by Lehi is reinforced by the words, or rather word, of the angel to fallen Alma: "Arise" (v. 8). This word is repeated as Alma states that "I arose and stood up," unnecessarily redundant unless Alma were reinforcing the word "arise" (possibly from quwm in Hebrew). Alma even explicitly mentions Lehi in Alma 36:22.

In considering the terms that could stand in contrast to such a fall to the dust of the earth, what could be more appropriate in this context than being "born again" with its implications of spiritual renewal, entering into the covenant, and receiving life, power and grace from God? Just as our "loose" upper midsection of the chiasmus mentions Alma's fall to the earth three times, the related section in the lower midsection also mentions being born again three times.

In light of the dust/death/fall themes in the upper midsection and the contrasting concepts of being born again and entering into the covenant with God in the lower midsection, perhaps the sparse, amorphous mid-sections of the chiasm's wings are actually loaded with more than previously realized when Brueggemann's insights are added.

The loose section, comprising verses 5 to 15 on the upper side and verses 23 to 26 on the lower, spanning elements k, l, m, and n in Welch's mapping of the chiasmus, actually has more than just 4 little phrases in common. There are multiple concepts with multiple dimensions interspersed in a complex passage. Rather than neatly parse it as a simple linear chiasmus, look at the interwoven block of themes.

The first section has these major themes:
  • Alma falls to the earth. After being told to "arise," he arose and stood up but soon falls again. He is literally "fallen again" in the presence of an angel, fallen from God. His falling to the earth is mentioned three times (vv. 7, 10, 11).
  • Alma is like one who is dead. He can't move his limbs (v. 10), his can't open his mouth (v. 10), and he can't hear (v. 11). Three times we learn that his body isn't working: limbs, mouth, and ears are not functioning.
  • He is not only as if dead, but as if in hell, experiencing the pains of a damned soul (vv. 12-13). Body and soul are affected.
  • Alma was seeking to destroy the Church of God. This is mentioned 3 times (vv. 6, 9, 11). Speaking of destruction, he is warned that he will be destroyed if he keeps seeking to destroy the Church of God.
  • He has not kept God's commandments, meaning that he has departed/fallen from the covenant (v. 13). Worse yet, he has led others away from God, causing them also to die, or he "had murdered many of his children" (v. 14), causing inexpressible horror at the thought of coming into God's presence.
  • He yearns to "become extinct [dead] both soul and body" (v. 15)..
  • These events are precipitated by the appearance of an angel (v. 6), who speaks to the sons of Mosiah with the voice of thunder (v. 7).

Now compare that section from verses 6-14 with the related loose section on the other side of the pivot point, verses 23 to 26, which has these major themes:
  • Alma returns to life (physically) and is born again (spiritually), in contrast to being "extinct both soul and body" and in contrast to his deathlike state before.
  • Being "born of God" is mentioned three times (vv. 23, 24, 26) in this section.
  • He regains the use of his limbs (v. 23) including his feet. His mouth functions for he "manifests" his change to the people (v. 23) and helps others to taste as he tastes (v. 24). His eyes function for he helps others to "see as I have seen" (v. 26). This is in contrast to the three ways his body wasn't working properly before.
  • Now he can arise without falling: he stands upon his feet (v. 23) and is able to "labor without ceasing" (v. 24).
  • His labor now is not destroying the church of God, but bringing others to repentance, that they might also be born of God and be filled with the Holy Ghost (v. 24). Thus, instead of "murdering" others (recall Wijngaards' point about killing and dethronement), he is giving them newness of life in the covenant. Now "many have been born of God" because of his work (v, 26). In bringing souls to repentance, he is implicitly warning them of the destruction sin brings, as the angel warned him.
  • In helping others enter into the covenant with God, he now has "exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors" (v. 25) instead of fear and horror.
  • The role of the angel in speaking to Alma before is parallel to the function of the Holy Ghost and the Lord who fill Alma with great joy and impart God's word to him (vv. 25-26).
Alma's fall to the dust, involving the spiritual death of his soul and the apparent physical death of his body are described in multiple, intertwined ways in the upper mid-section, and they are reflected in the description of Alma's new "born again" state in the lower section. From death to life, from sin to repentance,  from destruction of the Church to building it, from fear and pain to joy, from murdering others to giving them life, all made possible by the divine grace initiated by an angel, amplified by the Holy Ghost, that this lost and fallen soul might rise from the dust literally and figuratively to be born of God.

With the perspective that comes from understanding the Book of Mormon's use of dust-related themes as introduced by Lehi and used multiple times right up to the closing page of the Book of Mormon, we find that a large gap in the otherwise brilliant chiasmus of Alma 36 becomes much more meaningful. A loose, sparse section in the mid upper-section previously mapped with only a few parallel words among many verses actually becomes a relatively tight cluster of intertwined themes, with almost every major concept being reflected on in the corresponding section below the pivot point.

As for the "chains of darkness" in the Book of Moses that began this study and took me to the theme of rising from the dust, yes, chains are also mentioned in Alma 36, but "chains of death." In fact, they are mentioned almost at the very pivot point of the chiasmus where Alma turns to Christ, and then in contrast to the chains of death, Alma beholds light and experiences joy:
17. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
The encirclement of chains of death in Alma's dust-like state of spiritual death is later contrasted with another form of encirclement:
22. Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.
In addition the Welch's mapping that leaves some gaps where the chiasmic content seems sparse, the somewhat densely packed content brought out by exploration of the Book of Mormon's motif of rising from the dust with related thematic elements (keeping covenants, receiving glory and power, being revived or resurrected, or, as Alma puts it, born again) gives us more noteworthy parallels to consider. This material can be remapped in multiple ways, though I prefer to leave it as a cluster of dust/death related themes above the pivot, and life/born again themes below.

One approach to mapping it is to consider different strands of parallel structures almost as if  they are themes in a fugue, weaving in and out of the main structure and not necessarily aligned with the primary pivot point. Thus, superimposed on the overarching structure Welch proposed, we may also add  strands such as:

Death and Destruction Strand
Three days and three nights - like dead (v.10)
  loss of body functions (can't speak, limbs don't move, can't hear) (vs. 10-11)
    destroy, destroy (v. 11)
      fear (v. 11)
      amazement (v. 11)
    destroyed (v. 11)
      torment for sins (v. 12)
      remembered all my sins (v. 13)
    murdered/destroyed others  (v. 14)
      inexpressible horror (fear) (v. 14)
  extinction of body and soul (v. 15)
three days and three nights - like dead (v. 16)

I think three days and three nights as a symbol of death and revival needs to be considered here as part of Alma's structure. It's a beautiful fit for the dust-related themes of the Bible and possibly the brass plates. 

Encircled/Surrounded Redemption Strand
A plea to Jesus Christ (v. 17)
   encircled by the chains of death (v. 18) 
      liberated, sees light (v. 19)
         joy as exceeding as my pain (v. 19)
         joy as exquisite as my pain (v. 20)
      saw God (v. 21)
   surrounded by angels (v. 22)
Singing and praising God (v. 22)

Once again, when the chains come off, there isn't just light and joy, there is singing. I like that!

Divine Voice Strand
God, by the mouth of a holy angel, made things known unto me (v.5)
   my unworthiness (v. 5)
   seeking to destroy the church of God (v. 6) 
God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way (v. 6)
The angel spake unto us, as with the voice of thunder (v. 7)
   the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; (v. 7)
   we all fell to the earth in fear (v. 7)
      The angel's voice said unto me: (v. 8)
         Arise (v. 8)
         I did arise, and stood up (v. 8)
      I beheld the angel, and he spoke: (vs. 8-9)
   destroyed, destroy (v. 9)
   I fell to the earth as if dead (v. 10)
The angel spake more things unto me, but I did not hear (v. 22)

For the "Divine Voice" strand, contrasts occur in the lower half of the overall chiasmus, with reference to the word of God that been has imparted to Alma (vs. 26), the words he now imparts to others to bring them to God (vv. 23-26), and, of course, the voice of angels who are singing and praising God (v. 22) as well as his own praise of God (v. 28).

Rising Strand (emphasis on "rising from the dust/ returning to the dust" themes)
Lifted up at the last day / delivered from trial, troubles, afflictions (v.3)
   born of God (v. 5)
      Fell to the earth / arise, arose / fell to the earth (vv. 7-10)
          three days and three nights, limbs cease working, (v. 10)
             racked with eternal torment (v. 12)
                presence of God: inexpressible horror (v. 15)
                    yearns to be extinct, to not stand (v. 15)
                in presence of God (v. 15)
                    three days and three nights: death (v. 16)
                       pains of a damned soul, torment (vv. 16-17)
                          Jesus Christ atones for sins of the world (v. 17)
                          (to break) the chains of death (v. 18)
                       pains removed (v. 19)
                sees God sitting on his throne, singing, praising (v. 22)
                    yearns to be there (v. 22)
          limbs receive their strength (v. 23)
       stands upon his feet (v. 23)
   born of God (v. 23)
Raised up at the last day / supported in trials, troubles, and afflictions (vv. 27-28)

The "Rising" strand looks at the chains as a potentially significant term linked to the motif of rising from the dust, and naturally also includes the "lifted up" and "raised up" passages at the ends.  

Like the main chiasmus, the "rising strand" also works better if either of phrases "raised up" or "lifted up" (at the last day) are moved slightly, for then two more elements fit a cleaner chiasmic structure ("trials, troubles, and afflictions," and also being "delivered").  Welch's outline above labels the latter instance, element i', as out of place, which is a logical suggestion for the overall structure, but the "Rising" strand works better if the first instance, "lifted up" in verse 3 is just moved up a few words in the text, so that elements i and h in the first part of the chiasmus are switched.  It works better because it gives more emphasis to the theme of rising, putting it at the end points of the strand and closer to the end points of the main chiasmus.

These strands are crude initial efforts and don't necessarily mean anything. These strands may not be intentional and could be wishful thinking on my part (finding false positives, etc.), but in any case I find the "rising from the dust" theme of the Book of Mormon to be a potentially important lens to understand some of its passages. It seems that Nephi was keenly aware of those themes in the way he framed Lehi's speech in an inclusio with redundancy from Isaiah followed by a nice build to the critical Isaiah 52:1-2. Alma's contrast between falling to the earth, being like dead, and then being born again and freed from the chains of death also suggests awareness and intelligent use of those concepts. However you map it or unpack it, there is a lot going on in Alma 36 and I think a lot more going on in the Book of Mormon than we may have realized. What a remarkable voice from the dust!