Chiasmus is a literary technique in which two or more ideas are presented in a “criss cross” structure in order to make a larger point or produce an effect. It is a technique employed to lay emphasis on what the speaker wants to communicate.
Chiasmus was popular in ancient literature, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin and can be found in texts such as the Old Testament. The technique was first recognised in the nineteenth century but took until the 1960’s to be truly understood and accurately explained.
An example of chiasmus would take the following form
Idea 3 – (sometimes called the turning point)
In the Old Testament an actual example can be found in Psalms 124:7
Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.
This can be shown as a chiasm as follows:
A – Our soul is escaped
B – as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers
B – the snare is broken
A – and we are escaped
Some chiasms are simple like the above whereas others are much more complicated. Some are accidental whereas others are deliberate.
Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon
Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon was first found by John Welch in 1967. Welch was a missionary for the church serving in Germany who attended a university lecture on the subject of chiasmus in Hebrew writings. Believing the Book of Mormon to be of Hebrew origin, Welch searched the Book of Mormon that day for evidence of chiasmus. His findings were the subject of his graduate thesis on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.
Donald Parry in his paper, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted proposes 25 evidences of chiasmus or Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon. Some examples are shown below:
A – they humble themselves
B – and become as little children
C – believing that salvation is in the atoning blood of Christ
D – for the natural man
E – is an enemy of God
F – and has been from the fall of Adam
F – and will be forever and ever
E – unless he yieldeth to the Holy Spirit
D – and putteth off the natural man
C – and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ
B – and becometh as a child
A – submissive, meek and humble
John Welch proposes the following as chiasmus
A – My son, give ear to my words
B – Keep the commandments of God and ye shall prosper in the land
C – Do as I have done
D – in remembering the captivity of our fathers
E – for they were in bondage
F – he surely did deliver them
G – Trust in God
H – supported in their trials, and troubles, and afflictions
I – shall be lifted up at the last day
J – I know this not of myself but of God
K – Born of God
L – I sought to destroy the church of God
M – My limbs were paralyzed
N – Fear of being in the presence of God
O – Pains of a damned soul
P – Harrowed up by the memory of sins
Q – I remembered Jesus Christ, Son of God
Q – I cried, Jesus, Son of God
P – Harrowed up by the memory of sins no more
O – Joy as exceeding as was the pain
N – Long to be in the presence of God
M – My limbs received their strength again
L – I labored to bring souls to repentance
K – Born of God
J – Therefore my knowledge is of God
H – Supported under trials, troubles and afflictions
G – Trust in him
F – He will deliver me
I – and raise me up at the last day
E – As God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity
D – Retain in remembrance their captivity
C – Know as I do know
B – Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land
A – This is according to his word
Jeff Lindsay explains the importance of the seeming misplacement of i
Could Joseph have known and done it purposefully?
Some work was done about chiasmus by 1829, but we do not know of any books having reached America let alone Palmyra, there certainly were no books in the local library. Joseph also didn’t really read a lot. No-one knew about it until 1969, why would Joseph have kept it hidden if it was evidence of the book’s authenticity?
Joseph would also had to remember the chiasmus order when he dictated the text word for word.
Were they just accidental?
Some chiasmus is accidental. Remember he dictated the book. Are they deliberate. Some of Joseph Smith’s letters and revelations contain parallelisms
According to Carl J. Cranney’s study they are found in the right places such as sermons
…letters contain the lowest percentages of parallelisms (averaging 10.4% parallelized verses). It would make sense that letters back and forth that existed as written documents of some kind would have been quickly written with little regard to poetry and likely little need for memorization (which would be facilitated by parallelistic patterns). One would therefore expect to find that letters exhibit parallelistic structures less frequently than other genres. This is borne out by the data.
…it is fascinating that the two texts with 0% parallelisms come from Lamanite/Gadianton robber leaders
…it is clear that the sermons, as a whole, are remarkably diverse in frequency of parallelistic structures, but every one of them contains a higher percentage than any of the letters
…with the exception of Zeniff ’s record, all the texts that were primarily to be circulated in written form contain a lower percentage of parallelized verses than any of the texts intended mainly for oral delivery. A substantial statistical difference exists in the percentage of parallelized material between the different genres of which we have more than one example. The texts for oral delivery, in which we would intuitively expect to find higher percentages of parallelisms, are precisely where we find them. This strongly suggests that these parallelisms are not being generated accidentally.
The results of this analysis clearly indicate that these parallelisms are not accidental. If the parallelisms were accidentally generated, we would expect them to show up randomly. They do not. 1
The examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon provides evidence for the book being of ancient origin.
- Carl J. Cranney. 2014. The Deliberate Use of Hebrew Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon. [ONLINE] Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol23/iss1/8. [Accessed 2 July 2017].