Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Four Types of Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, with Implications for the Book of Mormon

Students of biblical literature and of the Book of Mormon can now access an important new volume on chiasmus, Chiasmus: The State of the Art, just published as a special supplement to the journal BYU Studies Quarterly. For subscribers (or everyone?), the PDF of the entire edition can be downloaded or individual articles can be viewed as HTML or PDF files.
Today I'd like to discuss an excellent article by Dr. David Rolph Seely, “'With strong hand and with outstretched arm' (Deuteronomy 4:34); 'With outstretched hand and with strong arm' (Jeremiah 21:5): Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah" from pages 129 to 150. He discusses four different kinds of chiasmus that are shared in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, and also compares these types to what he sees in the Book of Mormon. Here is an excerpt:

Four Kinds of Distinctive Chiasmus in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah

Various scholars have identified four distinctive forms of chiasmus in Deuteronomy that may have provided a rhetorical prototype for Jeremiah. This does not necessarily mean that these forms of chiasmus are unique to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah but that they are suggestive of Deuteronomy providing a prototype for similar figures in Jeremiah. It could be argued that these four distinctive forms of chiasmus are representative of seventh-century Judahite rhetorical tradition. The four distinctive forms are: 
  1. Chiasmus of Speaker
  2. Chiasmus in the Position of Completing a Unit of Text
  3. Chiasmus Where Particles Create Semi-chiasmus in the Middle Two Cola of Four Cola Units
  4. Chiasmus Where Rhetorical Questions Occur in the Middle of the Structure
After examining these, Seely also considers examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and shows that all but the first form are present in the Book of Mormon. Below I will tentatively propose that one famous chiasmus in the Book of Mormon may also share features of that first form, chiasmus of the speaker.

Here is what Dr. Seely writes on this category of chiasmus:
1. Chiasmus of Speaker: A distinctive form of chiasmus in Deuteronomy is the chiasmus of speaker. This means that the inversion in the chiasmus is not with the themes or the keywords of the passage, but rather with the speakers. Deuteronomy 1:20–31 illustrates a chiasmus of speakers. This type of chiasmus was first noted by Lohfink in 1960 and later discussed by Moran. Lundbom describes this chiastic structure as follows: “In Deut. 1:20–31, Moses narrates in the first person, introducing the direct address of each of the participants in the discussion—including himself—in chiastic fashion.”

The  same  rhetorical  figure  of  chiasmus  of  speaker  is  found  in  Jer  8:18–21. In this passage Jeremiah speaks first (v. 8) and then he speaks on  behalf  of  the  people  (v.  19ab).  In  the  center  of  the  chiasmus,  Yahweh speaks (v. 19c), then Jeremiah speaks again on behalf of the people (v. 20), and finally Jeremiah concludes (v. 21).

Another example of chiasmus of speaker is found in Jer 5:1–8 where the chiasmus alternates between the words of Yahweh to the search party and Jeremiah, of Jeremiah to Yahweh, and then of Jeremiah to himself. It begins and ends with the words of Yahweh to the search party (vv. 1–2 // 7–8). The second and fourth speaker is Jeremiah speaking to Yahweh (vv. 3 // 5c–6) and in the center Jeremiah speaks to himself (4–5b).


Later, as Dr. Seely explores the presence of related forms of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, he presents good examples for three of the four types but not really for the chiasmus of the speaker:

While I have not yet located an example of a chiasmus of speaker in the Book of Mormon, we can point to a similar example  involving the reversal of the subjects in the text. In Nephi’s interpretation of the block of Isaiah chapters that he has inserted into his record in 2 Nephi 12–24 that equal Isa 2–14, he gives a long historical discussion of how these Isaiah passages may help illuminate the history of the Jews, the Lehites, and the Gentiles. Nephi presents this discussion in a chiastic  form—that  also turns out to  coincide with the historical  order of the visit of the Savior to the three peoples and their acceptance of the Book of Mormon:

I find that interesting. But there may be yet another example to consider, one that may come closer to the chiasmus of the speaker form found in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. Consider Alma 36, where Alma is narrating a sacred experience to his son, Helaman. Technically, everything being said is simply Alma speaking to his son, but in this discourse, he recalls or remembers the words of various parties (his own, his fathers, his father Alma, his father Lehi, the words of an angel, the ministering of the Spirit, and the answer to his plea unto Christ--the latter two, of course, do not involve explicit spoken words, but can be viewed as acts of communication and ministering). There are multiple speakers or "living sources" here with with recipients of communication, whether explicit or implicit.

The structure could be mapped as:

A. Alma urges Helaman to give ear to his words and keep the commandments (v. 1) [source: Alma's words]

B. Alma reminds Helaman of the story of their fathers ("our fathers") and their deliverance (vv. 1-3) [source: "our fathers"]

C. Alms shares his own testimony and story with Helaman, urging him to hear his words and learn that he might be blessed (vv. 3-5) [source: Alma's words]

D. As he sought to destroy the Church of God [by speaking to other against it] (v. 6), an angel descended and spoke to Alma and his brethren, causing Alma to fall and lose strength (vv. 6-11) [source: an angel]

E. Alma, in torment over what he had done (vv. 12-16), recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ (v. 17) [source: Alma's father]

F. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God (v. 18) [source: Alma, speaking to Christ]

F'. Christ answers Alma with forgiveness and joy (vv. 19-20) [source: Christ answering Alma]

E'. Filled with exquisite joy, Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had written, describing what he saw in the heavenly court (vv. 21-22) [source: "our father Lehi"]

D'. Alma regains his strength and stands, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and speaks to others to build up the Church (vv. 23-25) [source: the Holy Ghost]

C'. Alma testifies that the word imparted to him has blessed many and has blessed him (vv. 26-27) [source: Alma's words]

B'. Alma appeals to the deliverance of their fathers ("our fathers") from captivity (vv. 28-29) [source: "our fathers"]

A'. Alma urges Helaman to keep the commandments to be redeemed. "Now this is according to his word." (v. 30) [source: Alma's words]

If we view the text with a lens of the source being cited or referred to and the directionality of communication (including ministering), rather than just key words and concepts, it does seem to divide into sections with a chiastic structure of its own. But some of this structure does rely on repeated concepts or keywords, so it's not entirely based on implied or explicit sources. It could be simplified to something like this:

A. Alma speaks to his son, citing the deliverance of their fathers

B. Alma recounts his "anti-ministery" to destroy the Church

C. An angel descends and speaks to Alma

D. In torment, Alma recalls the words of his father ("my father") about Christ

E. Alma cries out to Christ, the Son of God

E'. Christ implicitly answers Alma with forgiveness and joy

D'. Alma sees what Lehi ("our father Lehi") had seen in the heavenly court

C'. Alma is filled with the Holy Ghost

B'. Alma recounts his ministry to others to build up the Church.

A'. Alma speaks to Helaman, citing the deliverance of their fathers. 

There is certainly some poetic license being used here, but does that exceed the bounds of what might have been intended in the poetry itself by an author familiar with Hebraic rhetorical forms such as chiasmus? In other words, could this be viewed as a form of a chiasmus of the speaker? I'm not sure but welcome feedback.  

The references to fathers is interesting. Referring to Lehi as "our father Lehi" does strike me as a potentially deliberate device to link his and Lehi's vision of God and the heavenly court to his own father's prophecies of the coming of Christ, the Son of God. The tight relationship between the visitation of the angel and his loss of strength and the visitation of the Holy Ghost and his regaining of strength and arising seems to link the ministering of the Spirit to the words of the angel in this parsing of the chiasmus, in spite of the Spirit not using words in filling and fortifying him. 

Alma 36 is a complex chiasm, not just because it has many steps in its fully mapped structures based on related words and themes, but because in the "messy" parts there is actually a lot of structure that seems to call out for additional lenses to be viewed, like the chiasmus of the speaker lens. This may be related to some concepts I once explored in the article, “'Arise from the Dust': Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 3: Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus, Alma 36),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 295-318. Speculative, yes, but I think there is more artistry to Alma 36 than anyone simply reading the English translation would have ever noticed until scholars began teaching us about the rhetorical and poetical devices of the ancient Hebrews, which we can still be seem shining through the translation process.

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Most Appropriate Thanksgiving Message for This Day: President Nelson on the Power of Gratitude

I just listened to President Nelson's short message delivered at noon (Central Time) via Youtube. I always enjoy listening to this kind, wise man, but he greatly exceeded my expectations. I feel it was the most appropriate and beautiful message that could be delivered as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, a message that can our minds away from political strike, anger, and division and instead fill us with the gratitude that can heal us and bring us closer to God. What an inspired message! And he gave us an inspired challenge to spend the next week sharing thoughts of gratitude each day on social media, using the hashtag #GiveThanks, to be a force for good across the globe. Truly inspired!



I'll start with one of the miracles that I ponder almost daily, certainly weekly, that fills me with wonder and delight at the handiwork of God. Can you guess what I'm talking about? Yes, ATP synthase! The amazing complex of proteins that acts like a finely tuned motor with a rotor that spins around 200 times a second cranking out energized reactants as enzyme structures open and close endlessly, turning the oxygen we breathe into the chemical energy that runs every cell and organ of our body. Fiendishly clever is the wrong word, and diabolically clever is worse! We need better words for cleverness. Divinely clever might work, but few use that expression. Why not? Satan's cleverness is a dead end while the Lord's gives us everything, including the breath of life and the motorized enzymes that give us life from each breath we take. 

Here are a couple of videos explaining what go on in mitochondria and show some different animations of the incredible whirling motors that catalyze formation of ATP to give our bodies energy:


These whirling motors of ATP synthase would quickly stall if they were not given the "fuel" of hydrogen ions (protons) atoms pumped into one portion of the mitochondria by another stunning mechanism, a complex of proteins that are precisely tuned to pump protons "uphill" across the membrane into the hydrogen-rich zone that drives the rotors. Check out the electron transport chain:

These wonders are just the beginning of the brilliant molecular machinery that makes life on this planet possible -- and even joyous. We should life our voices in praise of God's Creation every day. I'm so grateful that it's possible to be alive, thanks in part to the miraculous chemical engines in our mitochondria. What a marvel life is!

Monday, November 09, 2020

Video of My Presentation with Noel Reynolds, “'Strong Like Unto Moses': The Case for Ancient Roots in the Book of Moses"

On Sept. 18 and 19, 2020 in Provo, Utah, the Interpreter Foundation sponsored a virtual conference, "Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses." Dr. Noel Reynolds and I collaborated on a paper that I presented, joined by Noel in the Q&A session. The presentation and our Q&A are in the Youtube video below. You can also read a draft of the paper on the Interpreter Foundation website, where you can also see the video and listen to the audio recording.

In our paper, we propose that the extensive textual relationships between the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon is not easily explained by Joseph just relying on Book of Mormon language when he later dictated the Book of Moses, for many of the relationships suggest a direction of dependency from the Book of Moses to the Book of Mormon, as if something like the Book of Moses were on the brass plates used by Book of Mormon writers. In some cases, it is as if the Book of Moses text provides the backstory that Book of Mormon writers allude to, wherein knowledge of the relevant Book of Moses passage adds meaning to the allusions in the Book of Mormon text. Interestingly, writers most familiar with the brass plates like Nephi tend to provide the heaviest textual linkages to the Book of Moses. Further, the heavy relationship between the two texts is not evident when we compare the Book of Mormon with the Book of Abraham. The dozens of textual parallels not based on the KJV may provide an unexpected and fascinating insight into the ancient roots of both the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon, via its ancient roots in the brass plates. 

We recognize that this is a controversial position, but please consider the data presented in the paper and briefly summarized in the presentation before you dismiss the hypothesis.

An array of other speakers participated in the conference. The Interpreter Foundation is providing free access to the papers and to video recordings of most of the presentations. The presentations include: