Further musings of a chiasm doubter, or, “Doubting chiasm, musing further”

We’ve all heard of chiasm, that Hebrew literary device of repeating elements in reverse order. Since 1969, when Jack Welch first suggested that the Book of Mormon contained chiasm, some Mormon apologists have argued that the presence of chiasm in the Book of Mormon is evidence of its ancient origins. Numerous chiasm articles have appeared in popular LDS magazines as well as under the imprint of FARMS, among others. Meanwhile, opponents have said, more or less, “you’re nuts.”

I’m a skeptic. I’ve always thought that the alleged chiastic patterns were simply too susceptible to cherry-picking. Today, I stumbled across another piece of evidence that buttresses my own skeptical views on chiasm. It comes from an unusual source — the small non-Brighamite Mormon sect often called the Strangites.

The Strangite sect is comprised of a few thousand members who followed James Strang after the death of Joseph Smith, rather than following Brigham Young. Strang had a number of clashes with Brigham Young over church property (he claimed legal title to various properties, including the Nauvoo temple). Eventually, in the wake of anti-Mormon violence (which didn’t distinguish between Brighamites and Strangites), Strang led his followers to the Great Lakes area. While leading his sect, subsequent to his break with Brigham Young, Strang claimed to have translated additional sacred records, including the Brass Plates. From his translations, he created various works which have scriptural value to the Strangites.

And here’s the kicker — Strangite apologists argue that these non-Brighamite works contain chiasm, proving their ancient origin. See this page of Strangite claims of chiasm.

Now, this can’t be true, can it? If chiasm is an indication of ancient origin, then Strang’s writings can’t contain chiasm, can they? Why, that would mean that Strang’s translations are ancient too! Given the claims of chiasm in Strangite works, it may be time to again examine whether it is appropriate to consider chiasm as being of probative value in establishing an ancient origin. As part of that discussion, let’s ask: How can we reconcile claims of chiasm in Alma with claims of chiasm in Strang’s translations? There are a few possible explanations.

1. One option is that Strang was the inspired one, not Brigham. (After all, how much chiasm has Brigham produced?). We’ve all followed the wrong guy. Umm, oops.

This option is pretty drastic, but bear in mind that if chiasm has strong probative value (and if Strang’s writings show chiasm) then this is an important possibility. After all, how else would Strang be able to write chiasm? Hmm, for some possibilities, keep reading.

2. Another possibility is to differentiate between “us” chiasm and “them” chiasm. This argument would be that the Strangite texts don’t really have chiasm; the book of Alma, however, does. They are just making it up, or interpreting creatively, or engaging in wishful thinking; we, however, have the real thing.

An argument along these lines would require some in-depth parsing and comparison of texts, far beyond my own expertise. I suspect that this answer will be a standard apologetic response, and it’s an understandable one. It preserves our chiasm while allowing us to discount someone else’s chiasm.

But there’s the rub. Now we’re distinguishing between good chiasm and bad chiasm. We’re admitting that some people can see patterns when those patterns really aren’t there. That’s a dangerous door to be opening, because it invites follow up questions: Is it possible that we are also just seeing patterns because of our own wishful thinking?

3. A third possibility is that “the devil made him do it.” This explanation is that Strang indeed wrote valid chiasms, but not because he was translating an ancient record. Rather, these were planted by Satan, in order to weaken the chiastic claims of the Book of Mormon.

I personally don’t find this line of reasoning particularly convincing. (I am equally dubious of the argument that “Dinosaur bones were planted by Satan to make good Mormons wonder if God really made the Earth.”). But it is a conceptually coherent explanation for Strangite chiasm which preserves some probative value to FARMS-ite chiasm.

4. Finally, maybe the whole endeavor is wrongheaded. Maybe Strangites are seeing chiasm in Strang’s works, while we see chiasm in Joseph Smith’s, precisely because apparent chiasms have no probative value at all. This could be for a number of reasons. Maybe some people (among them Joseph Smith and James Strang) were able, by regular reading of Hebrew scriptures, to absorb and adopt various “scripturese” speech patterns, whether consciously or not. Or maybe we’re all just engaging in cherry-picking interpretations of rorschach blots when we look for chiasm.

I’ve already outed myself as a chiasm skeptic, so of course I’m a proponent of option #4, myself. But I’m curious as to how proponents of extracting probative value from Book of Mormon chiasm view the claims of Strangite chiasm. Do you go with option 2? Option 3? (Not option 1, I hope!) Is there something I’m missing here?

(Note: I’m a sometime follower of chiasm discussions, and I check them out from time to time when I see them in BYU studies or FARMS review. I don’t recall ever seeing discussion of Strangite chiasm in the articles I’ve read. I googled the terms, and didn’t find anything there either. But my knowledge here is far from exhaustive; if I’m missing an apologetic discussion of Strangite chiasm, by all means, please point me to it).

171 comments for “Further musings of a chiasm doubter, or, “Doubting chiasm, musing further”

  1. April 12, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    Nice thoughts, Kaimi,
    summarizing in admirable fashion
    the weakness of the chiasmus argument —
    a method without a model.
    Your list covers all the options.
    A truly fine analysis.

  2. Jason
    April 12, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    Dave, was that a chiastic response? It sounds more like a haiku to me.

  3. April 12, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Dave, that was classic.

  4. Nate Oman
    April 12, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    Kaimi: I think it all depends on what you want chaism to do. In a sense, I think that you are stacking the deck unfairly by attacking the most extreme claims that have been made with regard to chaism, but it seems to me that there are lots of intermediate options that you are not considering. If you want it to provide strong evidence of ancient origins, then Strangite texts may present a “problem,” but one could just as easily point to chiasm in the Doctrine & Covenants.

    It seems to me that your option 4 is a bit contradicted. On one hand, you seem to say that chaism is simply a Hebraism that one can absorb by osmosis from reading the bible and would pop up if you were trying to write a scripturey sounding text. On the other hand, you suggest that chaism doesn’t exist, but is simply a product of wishful thinking. Which is it?

    For myself, I think that chaism does exist and can be found in the Book of Mormon. I think that there have been some exagerated claims made as to what is or is not chaism. I think that it has some probative value as to ancient origins but it is very, very weak. Lots of ancient texts don’t have it, and lots of modern texts do. The most interesting claims relative to chaism in my mind have nothing to do with these apologetic debates but exegesis. Chaism becomes interesting when it points out possible interpretations or internal structures of the text, rather than when it is used as fodder in the overwraught historicity debates.

  5. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    Nate,

    I would disagree that I’m attacking the “most extreme claims.” In my experience, the “chiasm as evidence of ancient origin / historicity” camp is the mainstream of Mormon apologetics.

    For example, Jeff Lindsay’s page at http://www.jefflindsay.com/chiasmus.shtml .

    Or Jack Welch’s framing: “If the Book of Mormon then is found to contain true chiasmal forms, should it not be asserted without further qualification that the book is a product of ancient Hebrews culture?”

    If you consider Jeff Lindsay and Jack Welch to be outliers, then I’m curious as to how you define the heartland of apologetics.

  6. Nate Oman
    April 12, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    Kaimi: I am talking about arguments not persons. My point is conceptual rather than demographic.

  7. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    Nate,

    Re my option 4, I’m not taking a position between the two — call them 4a and 4b, if you will — because they are both valid reasons that might lead to the conclusion of “no probative value.” They’re under the same umbrella because they give the same result. Either of them would be consistent with the existence of Strangite chiasm. If you prefer to think of them as separate list items, that’s fine.

  8. Rosalynde Welch
    April 12, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    Kaimi, I think you are unfairly characterizing the FARMS position when you say that they claim “probative” evidence for ancient origins in chiasm: there may be bastardized versions of that position that want to make this claim, but I think Welch himself and FARMS collectively always concede that “Whether one accepts the antiquity of the BoM will tend to remain, to a significant extent, a matter of faith” (Chiasmus in Antiquity, 198). Rather, chiasm is one of a number of internal evidences–that is, cirumstantial evidences–that, together with one external corroboration so far, make belief in the book’s historicity plausible, not provable.

    As a proponent of option #4, how do you explain the fact that some BoM authors appear to employ chiasm extensively, while others make no use of it at all? If Joseph had simply absorbed the structure from his knowledge of the Bible, then shouldn’t the pattern appear throughout?

    As for the Strangite chiasmus specifically: of the three examples on the page you linked to, the first is a very short passage that seems to follow a standard scriptural syntax with an embedded chiasm. The other two seem highly strained, forced to separate elements between sentences and concepts in order to make the reverse pattern fit. This is not far beyond your expertise to see.

  9. April 12, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Not to change the subject, but didn’t James Strang have himself crowned as king on Isle Royale, and wasn’t he murdered? Interesting stuff.

    Chiasm alone doesn’t prove much, but taken with other evidences for ancient origins it serves a useful supporting purpose.

  10. Ben H
    April 12, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Hm. The Strangite page makes arguments that resemble arguments I’ve seen made for the Book of Mormon. And some of the cases of chiasm people seem to see in the Book of Mormon are no more striking than these on the Strangite page. Others are significantly more striking. I think the parallel Strangite reasoning should be instructive for people trying to make well-cooked arguments about the Book of Mormon. Probably some are overblown. But I don’t think you’ve shown we have to choose between your options #1-4. Your reasoning here is very quick; I’m not convinced that the parallel is that close.

  11. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Rosalynde,

    I’m just a lawyer, but I’m having a hard time seeing Welch’s statement — “If the Book of Mormon then is found to contain true chiasmal forms, should it not be asserted without further qualification that the book is a product of ancient Hebrews culture?” — as anything other than a naked assertion of the probative value of chiasm.

    Of course, I’m at work right now; I’m pulling this phrase off of Jeff Lindsay’s site (which is one of the major online apologetics sites); perhaps it’s surrounded, in the original, with a dozen qualifications and limitations, which aren’t cited on Lindsay’s page. Or perhaps not, I’m not sure.

  12. Nate Oman
    April 12, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Ronan: Beaver Island, not Isle Royal. I believe that Strang was also a polygamist.

  13. Rosalynde Welch
    April 12, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    Kaimi, a passage from the Jeff Lindsay page you linked to:

    “While chiasmus is now increasingly recognized as a hallmark of ancient Semitic writings, it does not prove anything per se, for chiasmus does occur in some modern texts by accident. In fact, one can force a weak, contrived chiasmic pattern to fit into many texts if one is willing to work hard enough. However, if a passage shows a chiasmatic structure that is related to and enhances the meaning of the text, that is tightly and densely woven into the text, with consistent multiple layers, then one may suspect that such a passage was crafted rather than accidental. “

  14. Ivan Wolfe
    April 12, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    Dr. Suess used Chiasmus. So did Shakespeare. It’s a rather dignified and respectable rhetorical figure. Aristotle and Plato used them. Gorgias used them. Most rhetoricians from Ancient Greek to now have used them.

    Prehaps we should say the BoM was written by ancient Athenian orators. ;-)

    I’m a chiasm skeptic as well – though not as much as Kaimi. I think they are there (in the BoM), but I don’t think they show ancient origin. All chiasmus helps show is that the text is deliberately structured along certain tacit persuasion patterns. Chiasmus is like hypotaxis, parataxis or alliteration – it’s something good rhetors/poets know how and when to us to acheive certain effects on a given audience.

  15. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Yes, Lindsay’s page contains disclaimers. It also contains some strong assertive statements.

    -Summarizing a BYU Studies article as finding that “several well-known examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon appear to be intentional with a high level of confidence.”

    -“Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is evidence of an ancient origin, not conclusive proof. It is just one of several complex forms of literary parallelism that are common to other ancient Semitic writings. If these examples are real and nonrandom, then it becomes increasingly probable that the Book of Mormon is not a nineteenth century writing, but is a translation of an ancient text representing, at least in part, a highly developed literary tradition. Chiasmus is part of the intellectual evidence for accepting or believing in an ancient origin to the text.”

    Take that mix as you will. I believe the message is that chiasm should be viewed as having evidentiary value in establishing ancient origins of a text. And there is that Jack Welch quote as well, which seems to clearly take that position.

  16. John T.
    April 12, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    “Ronan: Beaver Island, not Isle Royal. I believe that Strang was also a polygamist.”

    heh, heh, heh.

  17. Wilfried
    April 12, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    Rosalynde expresses perfectly what I also feel as related to chiasm. From a lexical and semantic point of view chiasmic structures in the Book of Mormon are strikingly rich and moreover typical of certain authors. Also remarkable is the fact that they were hidden under the handwriting and plain-text first editions. The later subdivision in chapters and verses did not see the structures either. It took more than 130 years to bring them to light, but to me, as a linguist, the evidence is overwhelming when laid out in detail. Also interesting is the problem of translations of the BoM: early translators did not see the balancing as preserved in the original English version, and lost part of the lexical echo’s in chiasm by translating the same words differently. The new BoM translations have restored that aspect.

  18. Jonathan Green
    April 12, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    Kaimi, I vote for 4c:

    There is chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. There may or may not be chiasmus in the Strangite writings; I haven’t read them. The chiasmus in either or both texts proves precisely nothing because chiasmus is neither characteristically Hebrew nor characteristically ancient. Chiastic structures can be found in literatures throughout the world and from all periods. It’s nice to find it in the Book of Mormon, but it has no apologetic value.

    At least, that is a proposition I’d be willing to wager $5 on. It would take some some to document, more time than I have right now or will have soon, unfortunately. But I would guess that’s how it would turn out.

  19. Derek
    April 12, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    For everyone just joining us, whenever we use the word “chiasm” in this discussion, we really mean “chiasmi” (singular chiasmus) as evidence of ancient origins.

    Just wanted to make things clear. This completely threw me for about 10 minutes.

    I subscribe to the osmosis theory myself.

  20. JWL
    April 12, 2005 at 3:12 pm

    Kaimi —

    If you will not grant chiasm in the BoM any evidentiary value of ancient origin, how about allowing that they are evidence at least of non-Joseph Smith origin? I think everyone agrees that Alma 36 is the strongest example of potential chiasm in the BoM. It is extremely complex, lengthy, the chiastic structure is intricately tied to the message, and it fits logically in the historical situation since it comes many years after Alma’s experience and gives a much more formally structured presentation of the story than the earlier descriptions. Whether the pattern is ancient or modern, I think that it is a fair argument to say that a highly formally structured work like Alma 36 is not something that you whip off the top of your head first time through when you’re cranking away dictating pages of text a day.

  21. Jack
    April 12, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    I think passages such as the whole of Alma Chapter 36 have a rhetorical chiastic power that simply cannot be attributed to the literary strengths of a farm boy with a third grade education. If nothing else such passages ought to suggest that the BoM springs from a literary tradition that made good use of such forms whether or not they are common place in other traditions.

  22. Jack
    April 12, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    JWL,

    You’re pretty quick on the draw their, pilgrim.

  23. Kevin Barney
    April 12, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Not all purported chiasms are created equal. I would recommend John Welch’s essay “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” JBMS 4/2 (1995): 1-14, here:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=101

    In my view, chiasmus clearly exists as a rhetorical figure.

    The thing that is potentially probative about BoM chiasms is that many are lengthy and detailed. In classical literature, chiasmus is almost always an understated reversal of two elements only, and at that often simply in grammatical form that would not survive translation. Purported BoM chiasms look more like the Hebrew variety, which tend to be longer, more involved and more substantive rather than simply grammatical.

    But I agree that perceived chiastic structures are susceptible to cherry-picking. That is why Welch’s essay linked above is such an important methodological control.

    For an articulation of the anti-chiasmus argument, see Dan Vogel’s Sunstone presentation from a few years back, no doubt still available for purchase on cassette tape.

  24. Ivan Wolfe
    April 12, 2005 at 4:24 pm

    Derek –

    Chiasm is just fine. It’s an alternative form of the word chiasmus, perfectly acceptable (though not as well used).

    http://www.pd.org/topos/perforations/perf11/X.html
    http://www.societaschristiana.com/Culture/Original/ChristianRhetoric3.html

  25. john fowles
    April 12, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Kaimi, have you actually read Welch’s numerous writings on chiasmus?

    Do you realize the complexity of some of the chiasms that have been identified in the Book of Mormon and how closely they conform to the uses of chiasmus in the ancient world? Inverted parallelism was only barely being discussed by theologians in England in the 1820s; there really is no way that JS could have known about it when writing the Book of Mormon, if he did in fact write it instead of translating it. It is difficult to imagine a young man without any formal education building such intricate and complex chiasms into the text, chiasms which not only conform in form to chiasmus in ancient writings, but also which perform the same function within the text as chiasmus in ancient writings. It might not be dispositive alone, but if it happened by accident, it is just another incident of how JS “accidentally” got it all right.

    BYU Studies has recently published another article on a statistical analysis of chiasmus and any potential random occurence of it. Take a look at that article as you assert your skepticism of chiasmus and its meaning in the Book of Mormon.

    Perhaps your aversion to accepting chiasmus as evidence of the historicity/authenticity of the Book of Mormon stems more from a culturally programmed aversion to the qualities of formalism as an interpretive method than from the substance of chiasmus as the genuine evidence that it is.

    Ivan: simple and obvious chiasms by Dr. Seuss or others are not really in the same category as the complex and functional (that is, their structure is not only a form in itself but also performs an established theological, pedagogical, or other significant function) chiasms that are found in ancient literature, including the Book of Mormon.

  26. john fowles
    April 12, 2005 at 4:40 pm

    Here’s the reference to the recent BYU Studies article I mentioned:

    Edwards, Boyd F. and W. Farrell Edwards, “Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?” (2004), 43:2:131.

  27. Wilfried
    April 12, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    Well said, John.

  28. April 12, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    I once read a fascinating thesis at BYU, a fictionalized account of the life of a young woman named Elvira who became the first polygamous wife of Strang (disguising herself as a male secretary at first). From what I remember, it goes up until the time when he crowns himself king.
    I thought BYU had most of their Mormon theses online, but apparantly not this one. Here’s the title info anyway, fwiw:
    Sharland, Jill Elena. The Secret Wife. 2002.

  29. Rosalynde Welch
    April 12, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    John F, I’m curious–how do you respond specifically to the Strangites’ apologetic use of chiasmus that Kaimi points out? You may be able to do a better job with it than I have.

  30. Jared
    April 12, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    I home teach a guy with mental illness. He sometimes leaves me voice mail messages that are chiasmic. He identifies himself, asks me to call him, rambles a little bit about why he wants to talk to me, asks me to call him, then identifies himself again. It’s kind of entertaining.

  31. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    The observant will note my devious attempt to mock chiasm by wording my title such that, with truncation, it appears in the “Recent comments” as “further musings of a chia.” This is my subtle way of saying that those who disagree with me have the intelligence of a chia pet. And of course, we all know how much I enjoy a discussion with a chia pet.

    Thus, I subversively destroy any seriousness that the chiasm school has.

  32. john fowles
    April 12, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    To be honest, I haven’t really thought about Strangite chiasmus. I looked at the webpage Kaimi linked, but I’m not sure I would draw conclusions from those few examples. That brief treatment certainly does not show chiasmus in Strangite writings on the level and of the complexity and function of the identified instances of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.

    Kaimi’s explanation in his # 4 almost takes as much or more faith than believing that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets who consciously built chiasmus into the text for a reason. Kaimi writes: This could be for a number of reasons. Maybe some people (among them Joseph Smith and James Strang) were able, by regular reading of Hebrew scriptures, to absorb and adopt various “scripturese” speech patterns, whether consciously or not. Or maybe we’re all just engaging in cherry-picking interpretations of rorschach blots when we look for chiasm. It seems like a stretch to assume that (1) JS could have “absorbed” the ability to create such complex and functional chiastic structures reading the KJV as a boy and then (2) unconsciously built them (lengthy and strictly conforming passages) into the text in ways that they performed the correct function.

    As far as cherry-picking, the selection provided on the Strangite website lends itself to that conclusion because it is sparse and the purported chiasms are simple. I don’t think that cherry-picking can adequately explain the complex chiasms in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps there are more substantial examples of chiasmus in Strangite scriptures than those examples. I don’t know, but if there is, then that would be something to address in more detail. It would also help to see these few chiasms in the broader textual context to see if they perform the same function as the complicated chiasms in the Book of Mormon. Perhaps some of these studies have already been done; maybe even LDS scholars have addressed possible Strangite chiasmus–I don’t know. But noting that chiasmus appears on the Strangite website from a few verses taken out of their scripture is scanty evidence to shoot down the validity of chiasmus as evidence of the ancient nature of the Book of Mormon.

  33. April 12, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    Okay, here’s a guy that recasts the entire Book of Mark in chiastic form. Does it prove anything? This is evidence of what, exactly? Does the text really display chiasmus, or is chiasmus simply projected onto the text by a motivated reader? Recall that Mark was not written as ancient Hebrew poetry, it was just working-class Greek koine prose. So chiasmus is a sign that a text is really, truly linked to ancient Hebrew poetry and poetic style, except when it’s not.

    I’ll hold by my earlier comment (first on this thread) that chiasmus is a method without a model. Specifically, people imply that chiasmus in the BoM supports some positive assertion about its translation, while refusing to specify anything about the translation process that it purportedly supports, not to mention any attempt to grapple with the presence of chiasmus in texts that have nothing to do with ancient Hebrew poetry.

  34. Jed
    April 12, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    John Fowles (#25) is right about the obscurity of inverted chiasm in the early 1820s, but the next line–that Joseph Smith had “no way” of knowing about chiasm–doesn’t exactly follow from the initial claim. If someone had published on the subject, the ideas could have floated into anyone’s hands. I think what can be said is the chances of Joseph being aware of the discussion were very small. He did not fly in those rarified circles.

    The English theologian Thomas Hartwell Horne, one of the first to introduce chiasm to the American public, published his Introduction to the the Critical Study of the Holy Scriptures, with a brief discussion of chaism, in 1825, and this book, according Michael Quinn (in some obscure footnote in Mormonism of the Magic World View), was on sale in the Canandaigua book store a dozen or so miles from Joseph Smith’s house. Quinn implies Joseph got his hands on the book and copied the form. The problem is there is no evidence Joseph bought books, no evidence he read biblical commentaries, no evidence he was a reader, period. This kind of loose association could be done with any idea–but it’s all guess work.

    One conceivable argument for the Strangite chiasmus is that knowledge of the form had seeped into American consciousness by the 1840s and early 1850s when Strang was writing. Strang was more of reader than Joseph.

  35. Jonathan Green
    April 12, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    John, I don’t think you’re presumptuous, arrogant, myopic, ignorant, carcinogenic, or harmful or fatal if concentrated and inhaled. However, your comment on chiasmus does express quite succinctly a number of things that irritate me about the usual chiasmus discussion, however.

    What is the “ancient world”? There’s no such thing. In which times, and in which literary traditions, does chiasmus occur?
    Even if we agree that chiasmus is found in the Book of Mormon and in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, what does this mean? Are there no other literary traditions in which formal, elaborate chiasmus is found? I just don’t believe that.
    ABBA is not rocket science, and the idea of elaborating and formalizing it isn’t, either. It doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing that can’t be independently invented any number of times, including by Alma.

    Also:
    As I was going to St. Ives
    I met a man with seven wives.
    The seven wives had seven sacks.
    The seven sacks had seven cats.
    The seven cats had seven kits.
    Kits,
    Cats,
    Sacks
    And wives.
    How many were going to St. Ives?

    That is a pretty elaborate chiasmus where the form is absolutely related to the function—and completely accessible to those with third-grad educations, or not.

    Finally, I want to read one book that sets forth the case for chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. I am not interested in statistical arguments or criteria for evaluation. Assuming I already accept the notion that there is at least one unquestionable example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, I want a book that will answer the question: so what? What do you recommend?

  36. Ben S.
    April 12, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    FWIW, chiasmus is not limited to Hebrew. It’s present in other Semitic languages and Greek, as well as the Popol Vuh, according to one LDS scholar with training in that field.

    Otherwise, Kevin Barney has expressed what I would have said…

  37. Jack
    April 12, 2005 at 6:54 pm

    “So chiasmus is a sign that a text is really, truly linked to ancient Hebrew poetry and poetic style, except when it’s not.”

    Dave, I know you’re being a little cheeky with the above statement, but I actually agree with it. I think most rhetorical forms probably grow naturally from their respective cultural seedbeds and are refined over time into an art form of sorts. This suggests that there would exist a full range of usage–from an inadvertent-sort-of-natural-falling-into-the-pattern kind of usage, to a fully cognizant and highly artistic usage.

  38. Jack
    April 12, 2005 at 7:07 pm

    Jonathan,

    So what? Well, I find it interesting that Alma seems to know exACTly what he’s doing with the rhetorical form in chapter 36, whereas Joseph Smith probably had little to no understanding of the form at all when he translated it. I understand that this doesn’t necessarily prove a connection with any other specific ancient tradition. But surely it says something about the literary tradition among the Nephites–or at least hints to fact that there was a Nephite literary tradition–which hints to the fact that there where in fact, uh, Nephites … in fact…

  39. Kaimi
    April 12, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    I’ll agree with Dave. We need a better model.

    Right now, what we have is Chiasm, the musical — The Book of Mormon is mostly just normal text, but occasionally some speakers suddenly burst into chiasm. Sort of like that Buffy episode.

  40. john fowles
    April 12, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Jed, I’ll do even better (hat tip to, who else, Jack Welch in a 2003 essay): John Jebb in England was the first to note chiasmus in the Bible, which he called introverted parallelism or epanodos, in his book Sacred Literature (1820) and in his correspondence with Alexander Knox in 1818-1819; furthermore, “Jebb’s claims, which had challenged the completeness and correctness of the received wisdom of the famous Bishop Lowth [who knew nothing about chiasmus], were carefully and cautiously examined in a lengthy two-part review in the December and January issues of the British Critic in 1820-21.” The reviews were in the British Critic 14 (December 1820): 580-96; 15 (January 1821): 1-22.

    I have read these reviews myself in the original crumbling volumes of the British critic in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Nothing in those reviews of Jebbs’s work could have supplied someone with the knowledge of chiasmus necessary to create as complicated, complete, and meaningful chiasm as that found in Alma 41:13-15 or that comprises the entire chapter of Alma 36, or the chiasm, for that matter, that constitutes the entire book of Mosiah. It is indeed highly unlikely that JS could have seen the book you are referring to, but even if he had, it is unlikely that it could have enabled him to create the incredibly formal and meaningfully structured chiasms in the Book of Mormon. Welch addresses this as well in the 2003 FARMS article:

    In particular, it is now evident that John Jebb’s 1820 publication became better known in certain circles in the 1820s than was previously thought. Although copies of Jebb’s work probably did not make it across the Atlantic in the 1820s, as has been previously conjectured, Jebb’s Sacred Literature was positively discussed in a large treatise on the critical study of the Bible by Thomas Horne in 1825. That edition of Horne was published not only in London but also in Philadelphia, and so information about introverted parallelism was present in the United States earlier than I and others had suspected. Yet it still appears unlikely that Joseph Smith had any knowledge of Jebb’s ideas before he completed his translation of the Book of Mormon, and the presence of chiasmus in that text remains significant. Indeed, Joseph Smith acquired a copy of the 1825 edition of Horne’s treatise, but that did not happen until January, 1834, well after the Book of Mormon was in print, as I discuss below. In addition, it would remain several years after the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 before the study of chiasmus in the Bible would receive further currency in the scholarly world.

    In his original 1969 BYU Studies article (written when he was 21 years old), Jack Welch notes five or six examples of chiasmus that are indeed far more complex than the Strangite ones that supports Kaimi’s skepticism, but he admits that these might conceivably have occured accidentally (John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies vol. 10, no. 1 (1969), p. 13 [“The shorter passages studied thus far could conceivably have occurred inadvertently (cf. Example 1).”])

    See, however, page 12 of that article for the exposition of Alma 41:13-15. The combined and then separated paired lists there make reason stare if you are arguing that JS somehow absorbed the chiastic structure from reading the KJV, from which most chiasms, which are truly crystal clear in the Hebrew, have been purged by the translators, and then either consciously or unconsciously introduced it so consistently accurately into the text of the Book of Mormon. Alma 41 alone simply devastates the arguments of chiasmus doubters; I don’t see any way around it. But Alma 41:13-15, for all of its incredible chiastic structure and masterfulness, is the least complicated of the more strident examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. Alma 36 is a whole chapter that is rigidly chiastic, both in language and form, and in ideas and function. Finally, the entire book of Mosiah maintains a chiastic form, with Abinadi’s reading of the law at the center.

    Jonathan Greene: you note that chiasmus is part of all of world literature. That is true; it shows up in the simple paired forms all the time in poetry, such as of the type that Dave started us off with here. But the use of chiasmus in the way it is used in the Book of Mormon, as well as the complex combination of straight parallelism and introverted parallelism within one overarching chiasm for a given and specific didactic purpose is confined to Hebrew poetic and prophetic tradition. Thus, chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is what it is: simply evidence that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text of the Hebrews. The role that chiasmus plays in proof of translation, I am not sure, Dave–it seems like that is beside the point. It is evidence of its ancient nature, not necessarily of its translation.

  41. April 12, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    John, the assumption of chiasmus in Nephite texts doesn’t do much good if you can’t squeeze it through the translation pipe into the English text, which is all we have. Some translation theories hold that the content was inspired but the form was solely from the mind of Joseph, so one might argue that some chiasmus originated with Joseph rather than with the Nephite text. [That makes more sense if you think of chiasmus examples in the D&C, which obviously have no link to any Nephite text. Some might hold that Joseph just thought chiastically, and the BoM chiasmus is just an artefact of his style of expression.]

    So I think that a translation model is necessary to support inferences from observed chiasmus in the form of the English text of the BoM back to the form of the Nephite text. Without a model relating the two, how can the form of the English text say anything about the form of “the literary tradition among the Nephites”?

  42. Kevin Barney
    April 12, 2005 at 8:17 pm

    Another relevant piece by Welch is “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the BoM Was Translated?” FR 15/1 (2003): 47-80:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=465

    The BYU Studies statistical study that was mentioned is availbable here:

    http://byustudies.byu.edu/chiasmus/pdf/Edwards.pdf

    See also John Welch, “What Does Chiasmus in the BoM Prove?” in BoM Authorship Revisited, edited by Noel Reynolds (FARMS); I don’t have a link for that one.

  43. john fowles
    April 12, 2005 at 8:31 pm

    Dave, chiasmus is rock solid as evidence of the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon. It is somehow easier to believe that JS thought in such complicated chiasms than to see chiasmus as evidence that the Book of Mormon is and contains ancient Hebrew scripture? If chiasmus doesn’t hold weight with you, would the discovery of a curelom corpse really do the trick? I’m having my doubts. . . .

  44. Jed
    April 12, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    John: Thanks for drawing attention to the Welch article. You argue more forcefully for chiasm than it is my inclination to do, but I admire your zeal.

    Dave raises good questions about the need for a model. I would like to see the two Johns, Gee and Tvedtness, at FARMS, do their own translation of the Book of Mormon into Egyptian and/or Hebrew with critical commentary. Tvedtness has been pointing out the Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon for years, and a translation of the entire work would help us see the strengths and weeknesses of this approach as well as reveal the stylistic elements that must have shifted between Nephi’s writings and Mormon’s–a period of many hundred years. Sami Hanna, the non-LDS Egyptian scholar who translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic, was supposedly so mesmerized by how beautifully the text translated into his native language that he sought LDS baptism. I am waiting for FARMS to take more control in this area by using their training in ancient languages on a grand scale.

    In the meantime, I believe Royal Skousen’s work offers a promising start on a translation model. I find his evidence for “tight control (as opposed to “iron clad” control), which includes translation down to the level of the word, convincing for the most part. The model uses the spelling mistakes to its advantage while leaving room for Smithisms like “adieu.” If translation was at the level of the word, that makes something like Nephite literary patterns seem plausible.

  45. Ivan Wolfe
    April 12, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    John –
    my comment on Suess was more fillpant than anything – not meant to prove much. Though I could argue the entire book of Green Eggs and Ham as well as Cat in the Hat each have “deep” chiastic structure in addition to their simple, brief chiasms.

    I could argue much of the Odyessy has a deep chiastic structure. If I tried hard enough, I could find it in the Apology of Socrates. Just because someone can find what they want to find means little. I don’t doubt there is deep chiasm in the BoM. I just doubt it proves anything other than it is a deliberately and carefully rhetorically structured text written by authors who knew what they were doing (and far beyond the abilities Joseph Smith had at the time).

    However, if anyone want to, head over to http://www.chiasmus.com and see that many Western writers have all sorts of chiasmus all over the place (check out their “Masters of Chiasmus” section).

  46. Nate Oman
    April 12, 2005 at 9:54 pm

    I do not think that chiasmus provides as strong an evidence of historicity for the Book of Mormon as does John. I think that Dave’s criticism is a bit forced as well, since those who invoke chiasmus as evidence DO have a translation model, namely a fairly tight and at times literal rendering of the text. This is the position taken by Skousen on the evidence of the original manuscript, and it is the general position of those focused on Hebraism in the Book of Mormon. There are other models ranging from inspired fiction to Ostler’s modern expansion on an ancient text. One may argue that any of these models has problems, but it is unfair to say that there is no model there.

    I do think that Kaimi is being crude and unfair in his characterization of the chiasmus found in the Book of Mormon, to the point where John’s rhetorical “Have you actually read any of the main articles?” seems justified. There is chiasmus in the Book of Mormon serving complex rhetorical functions. One can argue as to the significance of this fact for the historicity debates, but I do not think it is fair to characterize it as a meaningless figment of someone’s imagination. Even Quinn, who wants to argue for Joseph’s knowledge of the form based on early studies circulating in America, doesn’t deny that that the BofM text contains complex chiasmus that illuminate its structure and meaning.

  47. Wilfried
    April 12, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    Jed: “If translation was at the level of the word, that makes something like Nephite literary patterns seem plausible. ”

    Absolutely, and I tend to believe the translation was as close to the lexical level as possible in order to safeguard the intentions of the original Nephite authors. Though we have no original Nephite text to compare the translation with, the translations from English into other languages have been revealing, afterwards, as to the internal chiasmic word choice, hebraisms, and the like, of the English text. For those many translations in other languages often departed substantially from English, as translators wanted to make the style more fluent, used more synonyms and paraphrases to bring variety to the text, or squeezed in their interpretations. The official Church instructions for the retranslations of the BoM in the 1990s required a very close transposition of the English, “as literal as possible”. This helped reveal idiosyncracies of the English (and in my opinion Nephite) text.

    In a French linguistic course I teach at BYU at let my students do comparative frequency analysis between BoM chapters & books in French and in English, both on the old French translation and the new one. The computer-calculated discrepancies are revealing as to the value of literal and consistent lexical translation.

  48. April 13, 2005 at 1:01 am

    Well, I’ve probably said enough on this subject, but I would like to support my “no model” comment. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article “Translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith,” it states: Little is known about the translation process itself. Few details can be gleaned from comments made by Joseph’s scribes and close associates. Only Joseph Smith knew the actual process, and he declined to describe it in public. The article was authored by John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone.

  49. John H
    April 13, 2005 at 1:04 am

    I agree with Dave’s overall thoughts, and add with my generally oversimplified thinking that there are so many examples of people picking out meaning in art, literature, even film, that weren’t intended and aren’t there.

    Maybe chiasmus is all over the Book of Mormon; or, maybe, when someone spotted what looked like a pattern, it became much easier to spot them and keep looking. I’m open to the possibility, but I remain a skeptic myself and find chiasmus to be one of the weaker “evidences” for the Book of Mormon. I find something like the existence of gold plates to be far more challenging to my naturalistically inclined views of the book.

  50. Jack
    April 13, 2005 at 2:12 am

    I think chiasm is one of the more stark evidences of the BoM if it’s usage is juxtaposed to JS’ slim knowledge of it. Granted, it doesn’t necessarily prove the BoM’s historicity (depending on the translation “model” we go with–and I vote for Wilfried’s), but it at least lends some credibility to the idea of it being an inspired text.

  51. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 7:39 am

    Dave: Weak. The EofM article is meant as a summary. Furthermore it was written about ten years ago. Welch, Skousen, and Reynolds subscribe to a tight theory of translation. They may be wrong (I am inclined to think that they are), but it is unfair to characterize them as flailing around without method or model, however alliterative and pithy your criticism.

    As I have said, I don’t think chiasmus is any sort of a slam dunk argument in the historicity debates. I do think that it is there in the text and is exegetically interesting. As for John H., he is clearly motivated by an irrational apologetic bias against Mike Quinn :-)

  52. Jed
    April 13, 2005 at 8:47 am

    I think Nate makes a excellent point about translation models being inherent in any writing about translation. The BofM as inspired fiction postulates a model even if the model is no translation of an ancient text.

    In mentioning Skousen, I was trying to suggest the beginnings of a model that actually allows us to say something about “Nephite literary patterns,” a phrase someone on the thread used a while back. Obviously the inspired fiction model has very little to say about such patterns, because for this model, no Nephites ever existed in reality.

    I don’t see Skousen arguing for translation at the level of the word in all instances. It has been a while since I looked at his writings, but I do not recall him arguing for word-to-word translation in every single instance. He may believe it, but he doesn’t argue it (can anyone correct me here?). He finds a couple of instances of word to word, like Ammonihah, but he does not extrapolate to all words in the manuscript. He knows he does not have evidence to make the claim.

  53. Costanza
    April 13, 2005 at 8:54 am

    I think that this is one of the most interesting threads I have read here at T&S for a long time. As for the evidentiary value of chiasmus, it seems to me that for people who already believe the book to be genuine (read historically true) chiasmus provides a measure of justification for the conclusion that they have already reached. For those who have taken a position against the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the presence of chiasmus does not seem to be powerful enough evidence to change their minds. Maybe nothing could be powerful enough to do so (D&C 5:7)but if chiamsus is “rock solid evidence” then it seems to me that there should be more examples of open-minded people being convinced of the ancient nature of the Book of Mormon than there seems to be. I personally find it mildly persuasive, but then again I am starting from a believing point of view.

  54. Jed
    April 13, 2005 at 9:04 am

    I still think one way of getting at the question of a “Nephite literary tradition” is to do a linguistic analysis of 1 Nephi and Mormon. The books are separated by nine hundreds years. If the translation is word for word, would there not be linguistic drift? Think of the drift between Chaucer and, oh, say, Hemmingway or Salinger within just six hundred years. Miles apart. Even if the Nephite society is smaller and more insular, creating a bottleneck, some shift might be expected. The differences between semitic and Nephite traditions needs to be ferreted out.

    I guess I am saying I don’t think the wordprint studies go far enough into exploring writing styles. We need linguists doing the labor, not statisticians.

  55. April 13, 2005 at 9:07 am

    Quinn’s argument, in the obscure footnote that should have been a stand-alone publication so that we could all refer to it in a useful way, is that the relevant work on “inverted parallelism,” i.e., chiasmus, was advertised in the local newspaper in such a way that the primary idea of chiasmus, as well as an example of it, was available to all newspaper readers. If that’s true, it isn’t even necessary for Joseph Smith to read the newspaper to get the idea of chiasmus; all he would have had to do was listen to religiously-oriented people in his town talk about the notion once.

    It’s also possible that Smith may have created the chiasmus during the translation process. As far as I know, there’s no definitive theory as to how much control Smith had over the specific resulting language during the translation, but a standard apologetic move with respect to apparent anachronisms is to offer Smith’s position as translator as an explanation. If Smith knew about chiasmus, he might well have imported them into the text during this process. The presense (or absense) of chiasmus is therefore probably not a bulletproof test of the antiquity/modernity of the text.

    The relevant point is that Strang might well have done the same, no?

  56. April 13, 2005 at 9:08 am

    By the way, before you overinterpret my last statement, let me point out that I do in fact believe in the Book of Mormon. Just not in the evidentiary value of chiasmus.

  57. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 9:38 am

    When I said “rock solid evidence,” I meant just that–evidence, not proof. I realize now more than ever that chiasmus isn’t going to convince anyone of the ancient origin of the Hebrew scripture that is the Book of Mormon who doesn’t already have a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true. That is, after all, what many on this thread are pointing out (I am not saying that the skeptics don’t have testimonies themselves, they are just pointing out that no right-thinking person would actually be persuaded by chiasmus). So what’s the point, right? Welch might have saved his time and ink rather than open up this field to Latter-day Saints.

    Here’s the question that I can’t overcome, though: the rigid formalism of the complex chiasms simply can’t occur inadvertently. If the same people here who are arguing that such structure could have occured in the text unconsciously through JS’s absorption of such form by reading the KJV were to argue that poems by Goethe (or some other literary master) had similarly unconsciously acquired their rigid structure of Greek classical content, form, meter, and rhythm, then it would be a laughable proposition. But it somehow has legitimacy when the subject is ol’ Joe Smith, the Mormon prophet, and the existence of rigidly structured Hebrew poetic form and content.

    Fine, then, you say: JS intentionally built the chiasmus in, not unconsciously. If we are being honest, this is the only viable alternative if you don’t take the existence of chiasmus as evidence of ancient origin. (For those unwilling to open the 1969 Welch article and look at, in the very least, the chiasms in Alma 41:13-15 and Alma 36, you will likely not see my point and will continue believing that JS probably just somehow naturally “thought” in such rigid and perfected chiasms and that they thus somehow unconsciously appeared there.) Again, it would be ludicrous in the academy to assert that a writer unconsciously included such a rigidly formalistic structure as that found in Alma 41:13-15 in his fiction. Even a post-structuralist, militant anti-formalist would have great difficulty floating that argument in a graduate seminar. Even a marxist new-historicist exploding the canon by opening up newspapers or candy wrappers of the period to prove everyone wrong couldn’t carry that burden of persuasion. So, the chiasmus must be intentional, unless we are willing to use a different paradigm for the analysis of JS as a writer than for Goethe. The problem then is, given what we know about the rapid dictation of the Book of Mormon, with no mulling over line after line in great detail (which was probably even necessary for Dave to pull off his initial little chiasm), how could it have been possible for JS the writer to invent such intricate formalistic structures that are not only complex in form but also perform the correct function internally within the text and within the isolated chiasm itself? Believing he could actually do this, after what I know from my studies of German classical literature, in which some of the greatest literary minds of the modern period languished over the structure and content (the form) of individual poems for great periods of time and through numerous revisions, would actually take as much or more faith than simply believing that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text of the Hebrews. How are we to overcome this burden?

  58. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 9:47 am

    Dave, Kaimi, I really don’t get it. Dave, I usually think you’re an eminently reasonable guy. Kaimi, you know (I hope) how much I like and respect you. But on this issue it’s not at all clear to me (and maybe not even clear to you) what your critique of the chiasmus argument is, or what your counter-arguments are.

    In the bibliographic/authorship controversies with which I’m most familiar–Shakespearean authorship–disagreements rage in the introductions to almost every new edition of certain plays. No single model of authorship prevails–indeed, we know very little about how the plays were composed, transmitted, and compiled–and various arguments adopt various models. Dave, I see no reason why a single definitive model of translation need prevail in all BoM critical studies before the chiasmus claims can be evaluated–if this is what you are claiming. If you’re merely claiming that the chiasmus arguments themselves need to be based on a theoretical translation model, then this is already the case, as Nate and Jed have shown.

    Above all, the Shakespearean authorship debates are carried on *with reference to the texts themselves*–that is, they are fought out on the primary (but not exclusive) basis of textual evidence. Kaimi, Dave, let’s see your counter-arguments *based (at least in part) on textual evidence from the Book of Mormon itself*. You seem more interested in artificially inflating the chiasmus argument so that you can artificially deflate it than in actually engaging it on its own terms.

  59. John H
    April 13, 2005 at 10:31 am

    “As for John H., he is clearly motivated by an irrational apologetic bias against Mike Quinn”

    Just wait until you see me forthcoming article in FARMS. :)

  60. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 10:37 am

    On the actual translation process I think that the basic problem is that the extra-textual sources underdetermine the process so we are constantly thrown back into the text itself, which carries a whiff of circularity. This problem, as Rosylnde points out is endemic not just to BofM studies but to textual studies generally. One might point out that this problem goes both ways. Consider something as simple as naturalistic explanations of the Iasiah passages. As I understand it (and it has been a while since I looked at this) Stan Larson argues that Joseph copied the passages from the bible adding textual variants when he encountered italicized word in the KJV. The problem is that, if I remember correctly, there is no extra-textual source suggesting that Joseph consulted extensively from the Bible in dictating the text. In other words, Larson is forced to propose a model of translation/dictation from the text itself. To be clear, I don’t think that this is an illegitimate move per se. Given the relative paucity of extra-textual sources, I don’t see what else one can do. Rather my point, like Rosalynde’s, is that this not some sort of sneaky and illegitimate apologist’s trick. It is the nature of the intellectual beast, Dave’s quips notwithstanding.

    As for Kaimi (who is clearly a bad bad bad person) I do think that for his argument to carry more weight he is going to actually have to read and engage with the most sophisticated work on chiasmus and the BofM. As it is, the discussion strikes me as analogous to a person who responds to some simplistic libertarian arguments in an internet chat room and then claims that free market economics is bunk. Well no. You are actually going to have to read Hayek, Friedman, and understand something about price theory first. Battling with the op-ed version of ideas doesn’t cut it.

  61. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 10:45 am

    Rosalynde,

    The major problem is that Mormon analysis of chiasm seems methodologically flawed to me. It is too subjective, too dependent on post-hoc reasoning, too dependent on eye-of-the-beholder measurements which seem very easy to miscalculate, whether consciously or not.

    For example, look at Welch’s criteria for identifying and evaluating chiasm. And let me acknowledge that (1) Welch has done more in this field than anyone else, hands down; (2) his guidelines are a very good idea in general — he is consciously trying to bring some methodological rigor to the field.

    And yet, so many of his guidelines seem highly manipulable.

    For example:

    2. Purpose. Is there an identifiable literary reason why the author might have employed chiasmus in this text? Chiasmus is useful for several purposes, such as concentrating attention on the main point of a passage by placing it at the central turning point, drawing meaningful contrasts, aiding in memorization, or emphasizing the feeling of closure upon the conclusion of a lengthy repetition.

    More or less the entire Book of Mormon fits this qualification. As a result, this factor is useless in determining probative force. If I say “hey guys, I think I just found a chiasm in 1 Nephi 3” you can say “oh, of course, that’s an important chapter for us to be focusing our attention on.” And if not, no.

    If chiasm is so important, then why is it in somewhat out-of-the-way places like Alma 36, and absent from some of the most important verses in the Book?? Where’s the chiasm in Moroni 10:4? Where’s the chiasm in Christ’s ministry?

    Welch’s “literary purpose” prong, while well-intentioned, is useless in the probative analysis. If I find a chiasm anywhere in the book, I can look back and say “hmm, does this have a purpose for being here? Sure it does!” The essential impossibility of getting a negative answer here (especially given Welch’s broadly drawn potential purposes) means that this prong is of no probative value.

    10. Centrality. The crux of a chiasm is generally its central turning point.9 Without a well-defined centerpiece or distinct crossing effect, there is little reason for seeing chiasmus. Inverting is the essence of chiasmus, so the clearer the reversal at the center point, the stronger the chiasticity of the passage. The talionic formula stands squarely at the physical and conceptual center of Leviticus 24:13-23. Similarly, nothing could be more central to the dramatic message of Alma 36 than its well-defined centerpiece in verses 17-19, whose key terms are

    Harrowed up
    I remembered
    Jesus Christ, a son of God
    Jesus Christ, thou son of God
    I remembered
    Harrowed up no more.

    Again, we’ve got backwards-looking analysis going on. Does this chiasm have a center? Yes. Does that center make sense? Yes. So it meets this prong. And we say “ooh, a chiasm centered on Christ.”

    The problem is that if it were arranged otherwise — say, “harrowed / Jesus / remembered / remembered / Jesus / harrowed” — it would _still_ have a reasonable conceptual center. And we would be saying “oooh, a chiasm centered on our need to remember.”

    Unless the chiasm is centered on the word “and” or some non-word, it’s going to be possible to find a center. And it’s going to be possible to draw out some deep meaning from that center. And since this is the case, the need for a center becomes another prong which is highly manipulable and probably incapable (in the hands of a faithful member wishing to show chiasm) of returning a negative answer.

    14. Compatibility. The chiasticity of a passage is greater when it works comfortably and consistently together with the overall style of the author. Chiasm is more likely to be meaningfully present if its author used chiasmus or related forms of parallelism on other occasions as well. If a proposed chiastic word order is an isolated phenomenon in the writings of an author, there is a greater chance that the occurrence in question was simply accidental. Accordingly, the fact that Alma makes remarkable use of chiasmus in Alma 41:13-15 enhances even further the degree of chiasticity in Alma 36.

    This argument is tautological. Is Alma 36 chiasm? Hmm, maybe, how can we tell? Well, does he use chiasm elsewhere? Alma 41, of course! But how do we know that Alma 41 is really chiasm? Hmm, did he use chiasm elsewhere? Why, Alma 36, of course!

    12. Climax. A strong chiasm will emphasize the central element of the passage as its focal climax. Where the concept at the center is not weighty enough to support the concentrated attention of the reader and to bear the author’s paramount intention, the chiastic force of the passage is less than the case in which the idea at the center is an important one.

    Am I the only one who thinks that this factor sounds very manipulable? Am I the only one wondering how “climax” and “center” play together?

    And am I the only one who thinks that anyone wishing to could find a “climax” in any given passage? Again, this is a factor which is probably impossible to get a negative value from.

    I appreciate that a lot of thought and work goes into this area. I don’t think that Welch or anyone else is trying to be deceptive or dishonest. But I think that even Welch’s attempts to impose methodological rigor show the difficulty (impossibility?) of coming up with clear, ex ante guidelines. Whether or not these guidelines will some day be set forth, I don’t know. But the current methodology of chiasm doesn’t pass my own smell test.

  62. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 10:47 am

    Nate,

    I have a deficiency letter to write and some nasty discovery correspondence to turn to. I’ve pointed out some of the problems I see in Welch’s approach. I have a few broader critiques, which will take longer than the free time I have available today. But I promise, I’ve looked at more than the op-ed version.

  63. Jed
    April 13, 2005 at 10:58 am

    John Fowles: “Believing he could actually do this, after what I know from my studies of German classical literature, in which some of the greatest literary minds of the modern period languished over the structure and content (the form) of individual poems for great periods of time and through numerous revisions, would actually take as much or more faith than simply believing that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text of the Hebrews. How are we to overcome this burden?”

    Think outside the box, John. The strong-armed argument for chiasmus in the BofM wants to say the form was impossible for a man of Joseph Smith’s education to master, but the argument assumes that Alma and Benjamin, among other Nephites, had the education to master the form. Did they? How do we know? Are you prepared to say that Alma, a politician, rivaled Goethe’s literary genius? It may be a mistake to link chiasmus to sophistication. The form could have been folk–we practically admit as much when we call it “Hebrew.” An “American” thing does not have to be sophisticated. Isaiah, among the Old Testament prophets, was clearly educated, but we can’t say the same for Amos, Jeremiah, and others.

    John Fowles: “The problem then is, given what we know about the rapid dictation of the Book of Mormon, with no mulling over line after line in great detail (which was probably even necessary for Dave to pull off his initial little chiasm), how could it have been possible for JS the writer to invent such intricate formalistic structures that are not only.”

    It is true, as Skousen argues, that the original manuscript shows little evidence of mulling over, and strong evidence for rapidity, but it takes a leap of faith to conclude Joseph did not do any mulling over between 1827 and 1829. The same is true of concluding that the current original manuscript was the first draft. The absence of earlier drafts cannot be taken as heavy evidence there were none. If you start with the premise that Joseph Smith translated the book, the question about earlier drafts doesn’t arise, because you don’t think to ask those questions. Joseph didn’t talk of any, end of story.

    But if you start with the premise that he wrote the book, as Vogel does, the 1820s are a period of great experimention in Joseph’s life. Joseph may have been gathering literary forms during this time. There may have been earlier drafts that were not preserved as is true with other great literary productions. I think the evidence is thin for the Vogel thesis, but he does well to ask the question of earlier experimentation. Given what we know of the process of revelation (D&C 9, etc), there is no good reason why the question should not be asked. Might there have been earlier drafts of the Book of Mormon the way there were inchoate drafts of the Book of Moses and some of the early revelations (D&C 42, e.g.)? We can ask the question and still not end up with Vogel’s conclusion. We can ask the question and not end up with Ostler’s position. Experimentation or the imposition of forms doesn’t mean there were no Nephites.

  64. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 11:03 am

    ” I have a few broader critiques, which will take longer than the free time I have available today. But I promise, I’ve looked at more than the op-ed version.”

    Fair enough. We are probably simply up against the limits of the blogging medium here. I wonder to what extent the methodological problems you point out in Welch’s approach aren’t endemic to all rhetorical analysis. Is it possible to identify any literary or rhetorical structure that isn’t simply wishful thinking on the part of the interpreter? It may be that you have less of a quarrel with Welch and chiasmus than with literary theory in general. On this, I am fully on board with you.

  65. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 11:05 am

    Jed: The absence of earlier drafts cannot be taken as heavy evidence there were none. This is true even though the absence of Hebrew DNA is being taken as heavy evidence that there was none?

  66. norm
    April 13, 2005 at 11:21 am

    The notion that Joseph Smith was aware of the phenomenon of chaismus from newspaper articles, biblical commentary, or religious conversations overheard is appealing if we’re stretching to believe that the BoM must be a product of his mind alone, perhaps especially if we believe him to be the a dishonest, conniving, manipulator…

    but let’s throw on the brakes for a second. had he explicitly sought to imitate the form, that is, if he attempted to write chiastically, doesn’t it seem odd that we didn’t hear about it until Welch’s putative discovery? (I’m not convinced of the importance of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, althouhg I think it’s fun to examine. But admitting that it’s there and then explaining away like this is laughable). After all, under such a rendering of Joseph Smith, it seems he couldn’t help but advertise the existence of chiasmus, or at least have one of his co-conspirators ‘notice’ it and preach about it…

    that’s not to say it’s impossible. just odd. in fact, terribly unlikely. (of course, that’s the problem that Quinn and other have, isn’t it. the BoM itself is itself terribly unlikely taken as a whole. which is no proof that it is in fact a Nephite production, of course. but it does merit serious, consistent explanations for its origin.) coming up with an alternate author who had seriously ties to British clerical intellectuals might make the case for intentional imitation of this rhetorical form. but no such authors have surfaced, and JS, especially as Quinn prefers to view him, just doesn’t fit the bill.

    I think it’s completely possible that someone ‘think’ chiastically, I have written such chiasmus,without even trying to sound like scripture. Yes, the exposure is possible. But, Quiin better to stick to psychological explanation or dismiss the chiasmus arguments generally, rather than bring up such a weak defense….

  67. April 13, 2005 at 11:33 am

    “the argument assumes that Alma and Benjamin, among other Nephites, had the education to master the form.”

    No, it doesn’t, because they come from very different cultures. Chiasmus is reasonably assumed to have been part of the oral culture, a rhetorical technique. It wouldn’t have required literary genius nor high education for Alma to have used it. Joseph Smith did not come from such a culture.

  68. April 13, 2005 at 11:40 am

    The thing is, chiasmus isn’t that hard of an idea to get your head around. Joseph Smith was clearly a smart guy. If you don’t think so, read some of his speeches. Why do we always have to defend the Book of Mormon by claiming that Joseph Smith was too stupid to understand [relatively simple idea #X]?

  69. Jed
    April 13, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Ben S.: “It wouldn’t have required literary genius nor high education for Alma to have used it.”

    I am inclined to believe this, but I question JS not coming from an oral culture. He was not a reader in the early years but his speeches and writings are suffused with the cadences of the King James Bible. Where do these phrases come from if not through hearing? Consider also Lucy Smith’s tight remembrance of JS Sr’s dreams. How does she do that?

  70. John T.
    April 13, 2005 at 11:54 am

    68. Because it is effective in getting converts.

  71. April 13, 2005 at 11:59 am

    Tomato: I’m not arguing JOseph Smith was stupid. But, I also don’t think there is sufficient evidence to assert that Joseph Smith was consciously aware of or unconsciously emulating complex literary patterns.

    Don’t get me wrong. Not every chiasm is created equal, and I know people who go way overboard on this. There’s got to be a happy medium.

    Joseph didn’t come from an oral culture the way Israel was an oral culture…

  72. April 13, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    John F. (#32): It seems like a stretch to assume that (1) JS could have “absorbed” the ability to create such complex and functional chiastic structures reading the KJV as a boy and then (2) unconsciously built them (lengthy and strictly conforming passages) into the text in ways that they performed the correct function.

    The problem for those not of our faith, of course, is that the delivery of gold plates by an angel is an even bigger stretch. Religious and creative masterpieces (and frauds) are rare, but not as unheard of as angelic visits. Hence operations of the same Muse that inspires other rare (but not unheard-of) creative feats is more likely to the outsider.

    My recollection from somewhere is that Welch presented Alma 36 in detail to J. H. Charlesworth, the great authority on the pseudepigrapha. His response? Not agreement that the passage is likely of ancient authorship, but something along the lines of, “Mormons are fortunate—their book is very beautiful.”

    Wilfried (#17): Interesting that the evidence is compelling to you, with your technical expertise. Is it persuasive to any of your Gentile colleagues? If not, why not?

  73. April 13, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Jed (#34): The problem is there is no evidence Joseph bought books, no evidence he read biblical commentaries, no evidence he was a reader, period. This kind of loose association could be done with any idea–but it’s all guess work.

    Apologists often make fun of the notion of Joseph reading all these books, but perhaps that’s a straw man. I don’t know that it’s necessary for Joseph himself to have obtained and read the books. If he listened to and often had discussions with learned divines who did read such books (Joseph tells us he attended various meetings as often as he could; he was also in a debating society), that’s another possible path of transmission. The question is not “Did he read the book?”, but, “Was this notion `in the air’ and accessible to someone intensely interested in religion?”

  74. April 13, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Jed (#34): The English theologian Thomas Hartwell Horne, one of the first to introduce chiasm to the American public, published his Introduction to the the Critical Study of the Holy Scriptures, with a brief discussion of chaism, in 1825, and this book, according Michael Quinn (in some obscure footnote in Mormonism of the Magic World View), was on sale in the Canandaigua book store a dozen or so miles from Joseph Smith’s house.

    My recollection of this footnote (not accessible to me at the moment) is that it is remarkable even for Quinn, in both its length (several pages) and a perhaps unfortunate willingness to approach slander. Nevertheless, I think I recall him pointing out discussions of ‘introverted parallelism’ or somesuch as early as, I don’t know, the late 1700s or something.

  75. Wilfried
    April 13, 2005 at 12:53 pm

    Christian (72) asked me the question: “Interesting that the evidence is compelling to you, with your technical expertise. Is it persuasive to any of your Gentile colleagues? If not, why not?”

    Jack Welch told me of his experience when discovering chiasmus while he was on his mission in Germany. I guess other have heard this. I render from memory: he showed his discovery to a professor in ancient writings by having him read a page in the BoM, but without a first look at the title page. The professor acknowledged the chiasmic structure. Then he turned to the title page and his attitude changed completely. I think this is what we will always see: as soon as some “gentiles” hear it is a book of which we claim it was given by an angel etc., it becomes very difficult to assess the content objectively.

    But there are “Gentile colleagues” who are genuinely impressed and puzzled by the BoM because its very existence in breadth, richness, variety remains to be explained. The French professor Marc Chadourne, who studied the BoM extensively, wrote in his book “Quand Dieu se fit Americain” a number of splendid pages to express his admiration and puzzlement before the astonishing “miracle” of this book.

    “Is it persuasive to any of your Gentile colleagues?” Well, many of my colleagues, in the broad sense of academia, did not remain Gentile: there are all those who were converted by this book, the Keystone of our religion. A conversion combining intellectual conviction and spiritual confirmation.

  76. April 13, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Wilfried, thank you for sharing those interesting (even compelling) experiences—and so promptly, too!

  77. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 1:21 pm

    Christian: Quinn’s written comments might be libelous but they cannot be slanderous. Slander is spoken and libel is written. There are different burdens of proof for each sort of claim so the distinction is more than semantic. You will have to forgive my inability to pass up an opprotunity for legal pedantry.

  78. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    Nate,

    Pedantry is a term for usage in the context of serious discussion. For similar acts while blogging, the proper terminology is “quibbling.” Please make a note of it.

  79. Jonathan Green
    April 13, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    Ben S., I agree that the orality of Joseph Smith’s culture is going to be much different than in OT-era Hebrew. But I don’t think we can regard it as a full-fledged literate culture, either. Has anyone looked for chiasmus in, say, sermon collections from early 19th-century New England?

    John Fowles: To disagree with Nate, I think that text-internal formalist literary analysis could form the basis of a strong argument. Quatrains might happen by accident, but sonnets don’t. Show me classical meter and form, and I would agree completely that, folloing your example, Goethe knew his Greek poetry. Chiasmus only offers us form, however, and even that is open to much interpretation. Moreover, the chiastic form is simply not all that formal. It’s just one list and then the list reversed, which seems like a slim innovation to base much of an argument for cultural transmission on.

    John, thanks for the link to Welch’s 1969 article. There are some problems with it, for example from p. 3: “The Hebrews tradition, unlike the written Greek tradition, was oral.” In fact, the most prominent focus of scholarship on Homer after 1930 was arguing for (or against) and examining the implications of the oral composition of the Homeric poems–but this isn’t a huge oversight in an article written by a 21-year old. What I find a more significant oversight in the Mormon Studies work I’m familiar with since then is the focus on chiasmus as a type of literary formalism, as if it were the equivalent of a written form like the sonnet. But Welch introduces chiasmus as a verbal art form arising in the context of oral culture and oral memory. Where is the book or article that carries this thought to its conclusion? Who has looked at the Book of Mormon as the product of an oral culture? If I’ve missed something, I’m open to bibliographic suggestions.

  80. April 13, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    Nate, yes, thanks for correcting my sloppiness!

    Since we all enjoy picking nits (thankfully my wife took care of this when it was once necessary for one of our daughters), I was curious about your remark early in the thread about the “overwraught [sic] historicity debates.” Are they overwrought because the BoM is obviously historical, or obviously not historical? Or because the question is obviously unresolvable, or obviously irrelevant?

    (Let me say also that I’m a great admirer of the impressive rhetorical triangulation, a la Bill Clinton/Dick Morris, achievable by the use of words like “overwrought” and “boring”. Rhetorically positioning oneself above the fray must work fabulously on juries. What could better convey level-headedness, even-handedness, sure-footedness, and all-around gravitas? (Other than demonstrating over a period of time that one actually has one’s stuff together, of course.) Do they teach this stuff in law school?)

  81. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    I think that the historicity debates are overwrought because people tend to become worked up and accusatory about them. On one side, there are those who claim that believers are hopelessly biased at best or consciously dishonest at worst in their presentation of evidence. (See, e.g., Quinn’s accusations against Welch). On the other side, there are those who claim that critics are all pursuing a master agenda to bring down the Church out of some deep sense of hatred, etc. etc. etc. Things have a tendency to become ad hominem and both sides tend to overstate their arguments.

    For myself, I believe that the BofM is in some sense an ancient document. I believe that there really was a guy named Nephi and a guy named Moroni, etc. I even think that there is some pretty good evidence in support of this basic position. On the other hand, the rejection of the BofM seems entirely plausible and intellectually defensible to me. I think that those who hurl glib accusations of intellectual incompetence are overwrought.

    As for rhetorical triangulation and the like, I will leave that to the literary critics and others versed in such arcane and specialized deconstructions. I learned the rule against perpetuities in law school, and I learned to be suspicious of clear answers. It is not clear to me that I learned much more than that.

  82. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    Christian wrote Nevertheless, I think I recall him pointing out discussions of ‘introverted parallelism’ or somesuch as early as, I don’t know, the late 1700s or something. If Quinn’s footnote does state this, then it is either misinformation or it is playing loose with the notion of Hebrew poetry and chiasmus. He is certainly referring to Bishop Lowth who wrote on Hebrew poetry in the late 1700s. But as I noted in my comment # 40, Jebb was the one to find introverted parallelism within that poetry, and he published those findings in 1820. Jebb also explicitly discussed Lowth’s failure to notice introverted parallelism in his study of Hebrew poetry.

  83. April 13, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    Who has looked at the Book of Mormon as the product of an oral culture? If I’ve missed something, I’m open to bibliographic suggestions.

    BYU Linguistics professor William Eggington has done some studies here. I’ve haven’t read his work, however, so I don’t know if he considers the issue of chiasmus.

    “‘Our Weakness in Writing’: Oral and Literate Cultures in the Book of Mormon.” F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1992.

  84. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    Jonathan # 79 wrote Moreover, the chiastic form is simply not all that formal. It’s just one list and then the list reversed, which seems like a slim innovation to base much of an argument for cultural transmission on.

    But this is the part where I have difficulty with the chiasmus skeptics. This observation betrays that you have not examined the complex chiasms that I am discussing. Alma 36 is a good example, but I wanted to highlight Alma 41:13-15 for a reason. In those verses, the chiasm is much more complex than “one list and then the list reversed.” There is a double-element list with a single-single consecutive list extraction. This structure is too organized to be either chance or unconscious regurgitation from cultural absorption. It is analogous to the strict meter in a poem of German high classicism. This also goes for 1 Nephi 17:36-39 which artfully integrates direct parallelisms into the working structure of the traditional “one list and then the list reversed” chiasm. These complex structures are what beg explanation; not the “one list and then the list reversed” chiasms that you refer to and that are found in the Strangite documents. In fact, the skeptics’ arguments actually do work against those Strangite chiasms precisely because, if the extent of the chiasms is as shown on the website, then Kaimi’s concerns are legitimate. But Kaimi still hasn’t spoken to the complex and highly structured chiasms that exist in the Book of Mormon.

  85. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 3:24 pm

    John,

    I think that Alma 41 is a great example and shows the problems of giving probative weight to chiasmus.

    First, the purported B lines DO NOT really match. They share similar motifs, but they AREN’T the same. In fact, they’re quite different. B1 contains its own internal list of 3 matched pairs, which are not present in B2; B1 contains specific concepts which B2 does not.

    Second, the purported A lines don’t match all that well, either. Two major concepts present in A2 (condemnation and justification) are not present at all in A1.

    And yet you suggest that these match up like high formalism. They don’t. This isn’t like strict meter, because it’s requiring way too much flexibility to go from point A to point B.

    I like Alma 41:13-15. I think it’s a pretty, intricate structure. I also see no reason to believe that that structure must have come from old Hebrew literary traditions.

    Chiasm is like horoscopes for the LDS. If I look at my horoscope from yesterday, and I _want_ to match up events that happened yesterday with various phrases from my horoscope, I’ll almost certainly be able to do so. That doesn’t mean that horoscopes are a valid prediction of the future.

  86. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    FYI, an online site with the Alma 41 breakdown is at http://www.cometozarahemla.org/chiasmus/chiasmus.html . I don’t think that Welch’s original article on Alma 41 is online, but this site has a chart (borrowed from Welch, I believe).

    The chiasmus is:

    a) My son, the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back
    b) evil for evil carnal for carnal devilish for devilish –
    w1 w2 good for that which is good,
    x1 x2 righteous for that which is righteous,
    y1 y2 just for that which is just,
    z1 z2 merciful for that which is merciful;
    c) Therefore my son see that thou art
    z’1 merciful unto your brethren,
    y’1 deal justly,
    x’1 judge righteously,
    w’1 and do good continually;
    c) and if ye do all these things, ye shall receive your reward, yea,
    z’2 ye shall have mercy restored unto you again,
    y’2 ye shall have justice restored unto you again,
    x’2 ye shall have righteous judgment restored unto you again,
    w’2 and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
    b) For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again and be restored;
    a) Therefore the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner and justifieth him not at all.

  87. April 13, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    Kaimi, it’s a little unfair for you to place them on par with horoscopes, but I agree that at times our desire to see patterns and signs can stretch the imagination. It reminds me of medieval efforts to illuminate all texts with Christ, regardless of their relevance.

    A pattern can be seen in the text: who put it there? What culture did it come from? Are we applying readings and views post facto? Those are interesting questions. But a far better question in my view is examining our real motivations for such investigations and determining whether they are in harmony with the purpose of the Book of Mormon itself — will chiasm bring us any closer to Jesus?

  88. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    John,

    Or, to make clear, look at Alma 41 in normal context:

    13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish — good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.

    14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

    15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.

    Seems pretty clear to me that verse 13 is a Seven Item List of pairs. Of those Seven items, if we want to make this a chiasm, the first three are culled out, segregated into line B, and matched up with a non-list on the back end. Meanwhile, the remaining four are spun as little mini-chiasms with multiple matching lists.

    Why do items 1, 2, and 3 on the list get one treatment while 4, 5, 6, and 7 get another?

    Or looking at it this way — if you just read verse 13, standing alone, and said “how would I make a chiasm out of this?”, would the answer possibly be “well, let’s basically ignore 3 of the 7 list items, matching them up to a generic phrase, but give the other 4 the deluxe treatment and a couple of matching mini-lists”?

    This looks like ends-based matching up to me. This is horoscope reasoning. Downplay the ones that don’t match, emphasize the ones that do, and viola, my horoscope looks like it has predictive force.

    As Simon and Garfunkel said, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

  89. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    Another example from http://www.cometozarahemla.org/chiasmus/chiasmus.html#_1_7 :

    O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom
    in thy youth
    yea, learn in thy youth
    to keep the commandments of God.

    Notice that, even in this simple example, recognition of the structure enables a deeper awareness of Alma’s message. Alma is here defining wisdom: To learn to be wise is to learn to keep the commandments of God.

    And Kaimi pulls out his hair.

    FIRST, even under the terms of the proponent, this isn’t so much as an ABBA structure. Instead, even according to the proponent, this is an ABBC structure. But then we can realize that C = A. And it’s a chiasm, how touching. WELL OF COURSE IT’S A CHIASM IF YOU DEFINE C TO BE EQUAL TO A, AFTER THE FACT!! Sigh.

    Second, I don’t think that this is even validly labeled an ABBC. Let’s break this passage down by concept, as neutrally as possible, trying to label each concept potentially at play here:

    (1) O, remember, (2) my son, (3) and learn (4) wisdom (5) in thy youth (6) yea, learn (7) in thy youth (8) to keep the commandments (9) of God.

    The conceptual pattern then goes:

    A-B-C-D-E-C-E-F-G.

    Even accepting the proposition that “keep the commandments of God” is the same as “wisdom” — or that D = FG, we still have

    ABCDECED.

    In particular, the CDE contrasts with the CED. That’s neither repetition nor reversal, it’s jumble.

    Thus, I can’t make myself believe that even this relatively simple verse is a valid chiasm.

    Pretty, yes. Succinct, yes. Poetic, yes. But not chiastic.

  90. Costanza
    April 13, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    Wow Kaimi, you really are frustrated by this whole chiasmus thing! I have to say that I find your (dis)proofs both amusing and compelling.

  91. Jack
    April 13, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    Kaimi,

    Perhaps Alma wanted his son to remember the rewards of doing good. And, so the chiasm culminates in the idea of “righteousness” and trails off the with the kinds of things that are restored to the righteous.

    You’re right that we can read just about anything we want into a text if we look hard enough. However, I think the greater task at hand is to prove how this passage and other notable “chiastic” passages are NOT intentionally constructed to be so.

  92. Jack
    April 13, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    My last comment was in response to #88

  93. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Jack,

    My own intuition is that, particularly in the spoken sections of the Book of Mormon (including this one), the speaker may use repeated motifs to achieve a sort of poetic resonance and reinforcement. We see this all the time in good public speaking, with phrases such as “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” These lines resonate, they’re poetic, they’re pretty; I don’t think that they’re evidence of Hebrew learning.

  94. Lone Star
    April 13, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Good question, Steve. What is the motivation for chiastic investigations. They are interesting, for one. They appear to unlock the core meanings and intentions and elegance of sacred texts written by God’s prophets. Even more personal, chiasms salve the pain heaped upon us from two sources: scholars and critics. It pains us as a people to have our sacred text ignored by the scholarly world. We crave respectability. If chiasms really exist, outsiders have to take notice. This means also that critics who look to the scholars are silenced. It pains us to see our sacred texts and our most cherished beliefs battered around by the critics. Thus chiasms are a kind of defense against our own worst fears–shame heaped upon us by scholars and critics. We desparately want them to be true.

    –The gospel according to Freud.

  95. Jack
    April 13, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    Kaimi,

    You may be right that they’re not evidence of Hebrew learning, and I admitt that I may be straying off topic, but what I find so striking about these constructs in the BoM is that they’re hardly a product of Joseph Smith’s training (or lack thereof). So what is to be done with the more obvious BoM chiasmus such as Alma 36? To what do we attribute it? IMO, it at least points to a viable literary tradition that JS was not trained in.

  96. Kevin Barney
    April 13, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    Re: 79 looking for bibliography dealing with orality in the BoM, you might consider my article, “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in the BoM,” JBMS 4/2 (1995): 15-81. It is tangential in that it doesn’t really explore your orality question, but is really more devoted to formularity. Still, it is grounded in insights that derived from Homeric scholarship that was profoundly rooted in oral formularity, so there is some overlap there.

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=102

  97. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Jack,

    Agreed. I think that that kind of poetic resonance is pretty hard to reconcile with Joseph Smith’s training and education. There are a few conceptually coherent ways to explain it:

    1. Revelation does it pretty well. :)

    2. Spaulding / Spaulding II (with their baggage).

    3. Brodie’s charismatic genius theory — Joseph really was a very-high-level creative talent. (But then why does he sound so illiterate and uncouth in other settings?).

    4. Aid of Rigdon / Cowdery / Elvis / man on grassy knoll . . .

    5. Deny that the book is all that complicated. (Difficult to do with a straight face).

    The strength of the Book of Mormon is a major strong point for church supporters. We have weaker points (e.g., polyandry) but this is not one of them.

  98. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    Kaimi, congratulations on finally engaging with the text, and congratulations on appearing finally to hone in on a single argument. You seem to be arguing that the textual patterns observable in certain BoM passages are not chiastic; is this fair? (Previous iterations of your objection seem to have included: it’s impossible to verify the existence of any kind of formal characteristic in texts; there are no textual patterns in the BoM; chiasmus has no identifiable characteristics; the forms are chiastic but don’t prove Hebrew connection; and a number of combinations of these.)

    But if that is your argument–that the structural patterns in Alma 36, 41, and other passages are deliberate, observable, and complex but not chiastic–then you are just plain wrong on this point. The Alma 41 passage you discuss above does demonstrate a meaningful degree of chiasticity. Rhetorical figures are not discrete and fungible objects that one drops into texts: a figure can be highly metaphorical or weakly metaphorical, highly rhythmic or weakly rhythmic, highly repetitive or weakly repetitive–and this does not mean that “metaphor”, “rhythm,” and “repetition” are meaningless, wishful projections. The passage in Alma 41 demonstrates at least two strongly correlated instances of reverse parallelism in verse 13 and 14: it is chiastic. The seven item list you point out is easily separable into the 3+4 division by the negative and positive values of the items. The passage as a whole is not a simple, straightforward chiasm, but it does demonstrate significant chiasticity. And this is not a retraction or diminishment of the responsible FARMS work on chiasmus: degree and strength of chiasticity, rather than your crude “is it a chiasm or not” technique, has always been their approach.

  99. April 13, 2005 at 5:25 pm

    Rosalynde: chiasticity??

  100. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    Jed (re #63): I find the possibility that Joseph understood D&C-style revelation to be a genre rather than an event (as we usually think of it) to be quite compelling, and I think there’s evidence for a certain kind of “experimentation” by Joseph and Oliver with the form. But Joseph always handled the BoM very differently than he did the revelations: as Givens points out, Joseph hardly seemed to care about the content of the book; what mattered, according to Joseph, was its origin and existence. Joseph seemed distinctly uninterested in even the doctrine of the Book of Mormon, let alone its formal properties.

  101. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 5:36 pm
  102. April 13, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    That don’t make it a real word, RW! But mostly I’m just playing around.

    Still no answer to my email, btw?

  103. John Donne
    April 13, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    The chiastic structure of this thread is finally becoming clear to me.

    A. Do not question the existence of chiasms,
    B. because if you do, in print,
    C. those who married Welches,
    D. John F.,
    E. Jack Welch’s son-in-law, and
    E.’ Jack Welch’s daughter-in-law,
    D.’ Rosalyde F.,
    C.’ those who married Welches
    B.’ will come after you, in bold print,
    A.’ So do not question the existence of chiasms

  104. April 13, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    Nice, JD.

    Although shouldn’t there be a ‘chupacabra’ at the center?

  105. D. Fletcher
    April 13, 2005 at 6:02 pm

    Kaimi,

    I think I mentioned to you over dinner that I personally don’t believe the Book of Mormon can be proved or disproved. It is… not appropriate to submit it to analysis or scholarship. The Book of Mormon is a tool of conversion; that’s what it was written and designed to be, and how it has worked these 200 years. Chiasm or not, FARMS or not, I personally believe the Church and all its adherents and critics would be better off understanding the true power of the Book is in its entreaty to the heart, not in its ancient authenticity or historicity. Sorry in advance to anyone connected to the Welches.

    :)

  106. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 6:09 pm

    Rosalynde,

    For a literature person, you’ve managed a remarkable misreading of my own argument. My argument all along has been that chiasm is sufficiently suspectible to cherry picking that I doubt its probative value in showing ancient origin. All of my comments come neatly within that argument. This was what I said in my original post, and the comments follow up on it.

    #5, 11, 15 — arguing with you that people actually do use chiasm in a probative way
    #7 – brief explanation for Nate
    #39 – purported findings of chiasm don’t have a conceptual plan (like Buffy episode where people burst into song), dovetails with the idea that this is cherry-picking
    #61 – Welch’s criteria are too wishy-washy, and therefore allow cherry picking.
    #85 ff – giving examples of why I don’t think it works.

    And your own summation — “previous iterations of your objection seem to have included: it?s impossible to verify the existence of any kind of formal characteristic in texts; there are no textual patterns in the BoM; chiasmus has no identifiable characteristics; the forms are chiastic but don?t prove Hebrew connection; and a number of combinations of these” — is sufficiently misleading that I wonder if you’re not criticizing your own fictional anti-chiasm bugbear, rather than engaging my arguments.

    Meanwhile, you do seem to have backed off of your own early “no one thinks this really proves anything” assertions, as those became untenable.

    So, let’s see. I’ve already granted repetition and resonance in Alma 41. I haven’t claimed that it’s not a poetic passage, and I think that some kind of poetic resonance was exactly what the author intended. Reverse parallelism is a pretty way to argue or to make a point. But the bad matches are still there, like a fly in the pudding. Like it or not, B1 and B2 just don’t match up. You’re telling me that the author created a beautiful, intricate triple list for matched elements in the second part of verse 13, and then _completely ignored_ matched elements in the first half, because those are “bad”?

    The basic conversation is this:

    Kaimi: Does it follow the rule?
    Rosalynde, John, others: No, but we can explain! You see, bad things don’t always follow the pattern. And, some concepts line up differently! And hey, it turns out that there’s a plausible explanation for each little variation! Why, this isn’t rule-bending at all, it’s creative poetic license!

    No matter how creative your little explanations, it’s a paradigm that is highly susceptible to cherry picking. You don’t bother to examine why a particular chiasm would vary from the normal form until confronted with one that doesn’t conform. And when that happens, you invent a reason why it diverges. This is the essence of cherry picking.

    Now I’m back to my horoscope — I’ve got to figure out what’s going to happen tomorrow after all.

  107. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    Steve, when you were in Utah didn’t you see the signs for the new subdivision ChiastiCity?

    It’s right at the midpoint of American Fork and Spanish Fork.

  108. April 13, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    Rosalynde, I didn’t see that subdivision, but I do own a chiastity belt.

    That’s the best pun I’ve made in a long, long time.

  109. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    (sigh). You can’t make a chiasm joke without a little reverse parallelism, Steve. Maybe people do things that way up in Canadia, but not down here in the lower 48.

    Down here in th lower 48, people do things differently than in Canadia, Steve. Reverse parallelism is part of jokes about chiasm.

    Sigh.

  110. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Kaimi: I am still confused as to whether you are claiming

    (1) Chiasmus as a literary form does not exist.
    (2) Chiasmus as a literary form cannot be identified in the BofM.
    (3) The presence of chiasmus in the BofM is not probative as to ancient origin.

  111. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    D., Jack Welch isn’t trying to prove the BoM true with chiasmus. When he learned about chiasmus in a Catholic seminary as a missionary in Germany, because he already knew the BoM was true, he figured that since it was also ancient Hebrew scripture, it must also be in the BoM. So he looked and found it. In a way, this is the opposite of trying to use chiasmus to prove the BoM true. It is using a knowledge that the BoM is true to inspire an academic study for the literarily and poetically inclined.

    JD # 103, very nice chiasm. Thank you.

  112. April 13, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    John Donne:

    You reveal yourself as an imposter, sir. The real John Donne composed songs and sonnets, epithalamia, elegies, divine poems and sonnets, letters, epicedes and obsequies, epigrams, satires, latin poems and translations, devotions, sermons, and metempsychosis–but never ever chiasmi.

  113. D. Fletcher
    April 13, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    Hi, John,

    I understand that. But I feel that everyone seems to want verification about the Book of Mormon. They want historical verification, they want literary verification, they want scholarly verification, so we can stick our noses up in the air and say, “see, we had the truth all the time.” Many people in the Church (and out) based their testimonies on the veracity of Joseph’s claims about the origins of the Church — not on what they feel from what they read in the Book. I still believe the Church would be better off to disband FARMS (if that is their business to do) and tell everyone to stop looking for verification other than the spirit.

    How about that for a conservative viewpoint? I don’t think the Book of Mormon can be proved, and it might do us some disservice to try.

  114. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    My personal theory is that the so-called “sonnet” form does not actually exist. People simply purport to find this style in John Donne’s writings as a kind of wishful thinking in a vain attempt to show that Donne was somehow influence by Petrarch and other Intalian writers. I don’t dispute that Donne’s work is lyrical and pretty, but I simply don’t see the “sonnets” that everyone else is pointing out. Indeed, the whole enterprise seems rather misguided and methodologically ungrounded to me. After all, I am not even convinced that Italian writers exist….

  115. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    Nate,

    I’ve never argued #1. That would be silly.

    Hmm, do I detect someone concealing herself under the name Ganyme — err, Lodge?

  116. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 6:41 pm

    D.: One might still be interested in the literary structure of the BofM simply to understand what it is saying better rather than as evidence of its origins. Indeed, to the extent that chiasmus is really interesting, I think this exegetical aspect is more important than any particular apologetic.

    BTW, do you actually read what is published by FARMS? Admittedly, much of it is apologetic in a way that you find misguided, but much of their work is also exegetical. Are you also opposed to attempts at interpretation? Should I simply feel the text?

  117. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 6:42 pm

    Nate,

    If you’ve got a Braille edition, that’s exactly what you should do.

  118. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    Kaimi: Okay, since you are willing to admit that chiasmus may in fact exist, under what conditions do you believe that it can be confidently identified?

  119. Jed
    April 13, 2005 at 6:47 pm

    I am now convinced that Kaimi has the degenerative brain disease chiasmatica. If he would do a few chiasthenics I’m sure he would be feeling better.

  120. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Nate,

    I’m not sure. I know that current explanations don’t pass my sniff test. It’s readily apparent to me that anyone with a bit of energy and creativity can find chiasm all over the place.

    See, e.g., this fellow’s explanation (found in a quick google of “chiasm bible”) of why the Declaration of Independence is a chiasm: http://www.greaterthings.com/Parallels/Other-chi/DecIndep.htm . Or the Strangites. Or any number of others.

  121. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 6:55 pm

    Fair enough Kaimi, but you must understand why people find it frustrating to argue with your nose.

  122. Kevin Barney
    April 13, 2005 at 6:59 pm

    I googled “chiasticity” and got 12 hits, all related to the BoM. So it appears to be a neologism. But it is a well-formed one, and a necessary one. If that word didn’t exist, we would need to make up a substitute to talk efficiently about the relative chiasm-ness of various structures. I use the word “chiasticity” myself.

  123. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 7:01 pm

    Nate,

    I’ve presented more arguments than just my nose here, and you know it. I’m not claiming to offer a superior alternative model; I am saying that the existing model looks like bunk. And I’ve given good reasons for this. So let me ask you:

    -Do you think that Welch’s criteria aren’t highly manipulable?

    -Are you bugged at all by the convenient ex-post devaluing certain portions of Alma 41? (“Well, if we ignore _this_ part of the list, it suddenly looks like a chiasm!) (That’s exactly what Welch’s criteria say _not_ to do!)

  124. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 7:13 pm

    Further random complaint:

    Mosiah 5:10-12 is held out as a chiasm. Well, let’s look.

    a) And now . . . whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ
    b) must be called by some other name;
    c) therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
    d) I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name . . .
    e) that never should be blotted out,
    f) except it be through transgression;
    f’) therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
    e’) that the name be not blotted out of your hearts . . .
    d’) I would that ye should remember to retain the name . . .
    c’) that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
    b’) but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,
    a’) and also, the name by which he shall call you.

    Ahh, chiasm. So it’s apparently a device used for emphasis. And this chiasm emphasizes . . . transgression. Yep, that’s the central focus here. We’ve got a lot of themes — name of Christ, called by Christ, etc, and what’s being emphasized is good old fashioned transgression. Further drives home the point that you can center a chiasm on anything, so the presence of a “center” doesn’t really demonstrate anything.

    And what about literary context? Well, let’s see. King Benjamin’s last words. His people have just accepted Christ, and he’s overjoyed. He’s just given them one of the most memorable talks ever, about service to others. And so now, with his dying breath, he chooses to . . .

    . . .send them a little poem which is centered on the concept “transgression.”

    I can’t be the only one who finds that a little unconvincing.

  125. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 7:26 pm

    Kaimi, I think that your analysis of Alma 41:13-15 is off.

    Your central support is that what you identify as B and B’ do not match and that it leaves a severed series of three “bad” adjectives. Thus, it is an example of a post-hoc and contrived effort to force an otherwise pretty and poetic couple of verses into an example of chiasmus. Your analysis, however, is more of an example of a post-hoc effort to force a conclusion than is Welch’s conclusion that Alma 41:13-15 is a tight and correctly functioning chiasm.

    What you are overlooking is the function (and content) that is married to the form in chiasmus. If you check out the chiasmus as Welch lays it out in his 1969 article, this becomes easier to see. The 1969 article is online at BYU Studies in pdf form. Check out page 12 for the layout of Alma 41:13-15.

    You wrote in # 85: First, the purported B lines DO NOT really match. They share similar motifs, but they AREN?T the same. In fact, they?re quite different. B1 contains its own internal list of 3 matched pairs, which are not present in B2; B1 contains specific concepts which B2 does not.

    I don’t know what “specific concepts” you see in B that are not also in B’, but the absence of the internal list of 3 in B’ in no way establishes that B and B’ are not chiastically related. In fact, I think it is more reasonable to argue that the B elements that you claim do not match actually do match, and they matches precisely.

    You claim that B,

    evil for evil
    carnal for carnal
    devilish for devilish–

    does not match up chiastically with B’

    For that which ye do send out
    shall return unto you again
    and be restored
    ;”

    Because you claim that these two passages do not correspond chiastically, you assert that the list of three in B must really be part of the list of seven, rather than a 3+4 split. However, Welch’s conclusion follows more readily than your reading, which feels more like a post-hoc forced conclusion to support your particular argument than does Welch’s conclusion.

    First, look at the content of B and B’. B defines “restoration” by describing a bringing back of evil for evil, carnal for carnal, devilish for devilish. You say that since these are “bad” adjectives and therefore don’t fit with the four subsequent “good” adjectives, Welch had to sever them off and pretend they match with B’ in order to make the chiasm work, which you claim doesn’t work and thus this isn’t a chiasm, although it might still be pretty (you are willing to grant Welch that much). But contrary to your analysis, B’ performs exactly the same function as B and corresponds tightly and chiastically with B. Like B, B’ also defines “restoration,” but this time, instead of repeating the list of three adjectives used to define restoration in B, B’ explains the significance of those pairs in B: “For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again and be restored” (in other words, as already shown in B, “evil for evil, carnal for carnal, devilish for devilish”). Now remind me again–how do B and B’ not match up or share the same ideas, even precisely the same ideas?

    Second, your argument # 88 that the verse contains a list of seven, so obviously Welch is forcing a conclusion by positing the 3+4 division because a natural reading in context reveals that the seven are supposed to be together, is faulty. Remember that the verses are a subsequent and, frankly, arbitrary imposition on the text. It doesn’t matter that verse 13 contains all seven adjectives. That doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the (literary) imagination, that it is more natural to read the “bad” adjectives with the “good” ones and thus the chiasm is broken because there is no correspondingly reverse-extracted list of the bad adjectives (of course, in making that argument you are completely overlooking the fact that B and B’ do correspond chiastically both in form and function).

    Finally, look more closely at the chiastic rigidity and also complexity of the double-element list with a single-single consecutive list reverse-extraction. Specifically, we have a w1w2 x1x2 y1y2 z1z2 double-paired list to compare with two consecutively matched single-single reverse-extraction lists, in which e.g. w1 corresponds to w’1 in the first single reverse list and then precisely again with w’2 in the reverse extraction list, but only after the rest of the first reverse extraction list is run through from w1-z1 without missing a beat:

    w1w2
    x1x2
    y1y2
    z1z2

    z’1
    y’1
    x’1
    w’1
    z’2
    y’2
    x’2
    w’2

    This is indeed forced, but not by Jack Welch. Rather, it is a creation of the author, whether that is JS or Alma or some British cleric ghost-writer yet unknown. In short, there is no way that this happened naturally as a result of pretty rhetorical form such as “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” as you argue above. It is an intentionally created structure, not in the meter of Greek classicism or German high classicism, but in the chiastic formalism of ancient Hebrew poetic and prophetic usage. It is a chiasm. So either JS intentionally added it in there in perfect form straight from his mouth, the BoM is an ancient text of the Hebrews, or John Jebbs made an unknown visit to New York circa 1829 to assist in this conspiracy that then lay dormant for 140 years until Welch discovered it. Perhaps JS built it in, intending to “discover” it later to convince people that the BoM was of ancient origin (after he had schooled his people on chiasmus first, of course) but then forgot to do so.

  126. Nate Oman
    April 13, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Kaimi: No and no. My nose is not prickling. I have no special feelings. It doesn’t seem any more wooley headed that most rhetorical or formal analysis of literary forms, a genre about which I admit I know very little. I actually find the form in Mosiah to be quite compelling. For example, the rhetorical questions put by Benjamin to his audience in the immediately following verses relate to transgression (v. 13-14) and the final peroration immediately prior to the “Amen” in verse 15 exorts his hearers to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works.” I don’t see that there is anything at all odd or forced about the idea that a prophet calling a people to repentence would focus on transgression and good works.

    On the other hand, I have a very bad sense of smell.

  127. Kaimi
    April 13, 2005 at 7:52 pm

    John,

    Agreed that it is a creation of Joseph Smith. But I don’t think that it takes Hebrew scholarship to create an imperfect chiastic structure, and as I’ve said before, I think that general principles of poetic repetition and resonance cover that ground just fine.

    Nate,

    You do agree that false chiasm is possible, right? What principles do you suggest for determining which chiasms are real or false? Or are you equally sanguine about the Strangite chiasms, and the Declaration of Independence? That Jefferson, he’s sure a smart feller.

  128. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 7:56 pm

    Looks like I forgot to close a bold tag and it looks like the spacing I included to show the double-paired list and single-single reverse extractions got lost.

    In what ways is it an imperfect chiasm?

  129. john fowles
    April 13, 2005 at 8:12 pm

    In # 125, that is.

    Kaimi, I actually think that your arguments can apply to the Strangite examples on their website. If that is all they have, then it is scanty evidence of ancient origin. Such simple instances could occur randomly or unconsciously out of rhetorical experience. The issue, however, is that the BoM has such complex and highly structured chiasms that resist your accusation that they are not intended but rather are forced by people looking for them. As I have written in detail in # 125, the chiasm in Alma 41:13-15 is only “imperfect” and thus an example of a forced conclusion if you completely ignore the significant and unartificial ways that B and B’ correspond. The completeness and complexity of the double-element list with a single-single consecutive list reverse-extraction indicates formalistic intention. It actually is a perfect chiasm because all of the elements are accounted for , they correspond, (B does match B’, you can’t really argue that it doesn’t), and it is sealed off with the concept of restoration, the discussion of which concept the entire structure is meant to achieve.

  130. April 13, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    Does Kaimi have a birthday coming up? Because if he does, I know the perfect present! There is a version of the BoM out there that is typeset in poetic form, to point out all the various structures that he dislikes so much.

  131. April 13, 2005 at 9:37 pm

    What you really need to do is look at Samuel the Lamenite’s preaching — and ask yourself if the real reason his work wasn’t included in scripture was its lack of contemporary poetic value, which is why they don’t say much when Christ asks them why his prophecy is missing. Raw, hammer blow use of a similar form.

    Or compare Mormon’s weaknesses in the form compared to Alma’s. It is interesting that so often when someone is quoted, rather that summarized or abridged for narrative, they are writing in poetry, and the differences in the quality.

    Fun stuff.

    In fact, one can force a weak, contrived chiasmic pattern to fit into many texts if one is willing to work hard enough. However, if a passage shows a chiasmatic structure that is related to and enhances the meaning of the text, that is tightly and densely woven into the text, with consistent multiple layers, then one may suspect that such a passage was crafted rather than accidental.

    Bore repeating.

  132. April 13, 2005 at 9:46 pm

    Rosalynde (#100): I’m not sure Joseph’s interest in the BoM’s origen and existence and disinterest in its content are necessarily surprising or significant. It’s a familiar pattern for many Ph.D.s: The credential is important to them, but they’re sick of the content and are anxious to move on to something else. (I wouldn’t be surprised if many never open their thesis after its binding.) Joseph was never one to rest on his theological laurels; he was always on to bigger and better things, and I suspect would have so continued if he had lived to be 85 years old.

    I do think the lack of interest in the forms may be a nontrivial point, as Norm pointed out earlier, for if it had been intentional on Joseph’s part it could’ve been pointed to as buttressing its ancient and divine origen.

  133. Jack
    April 13, 2005 at 10:04 pm

    Ethesis,

    I think your comment speaks well to the concern about a lack of consistent chiasmus throughout the BoM (which was spoken of earlier somewhere on this thread–can’t remember who–)

  134. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    Kaimi, it would make for criminally tedious reading for me to cite the specific comments in which you have advanced your sweet-smelling bouquet of arguments–but I will immediately do so if you challenge me to a duel at sunrise by the river. Meanwhile, I firmly stand by my charge that you have supplied no counter-argument to which I can definitively respond: your nose, though undeniably handsome, makes for a difficult debate partner. (And for what it’s worth, I’m not aware of having backed off any arguments: my comment #98 dealt with the simple presence of chiasmus in the passage, not its evidentiary value.)

    And if you are complaining that “chiasmus” is insufficiently rigorous as an analytical term, then I must most strenuously object to your use of “general principles of poetic resonance” as an alternative: uh, what? Kindly direct me to the criteria for “general principles of poetic resonance.”

    Let me replay our conversation in a different key (unfairly exaggerated, to be sure):

    Kaimi: Look, look, some random person has put up a website claiming that “People Magazine” can be scanned into iambic pentameter! But it DOESN’T scan into iambic pentameter, so iambic pentameter is just a figment of English teachers’ overheated imaginations!
    Rosalynde: Uh, Kaimi, “People Magazine” doesn’t scan, but a Shakespeare sonnet does. Iambic pentameter exists.
    Kaimi: But look, here’s a line–no FIVE lines–that don’t scan perfectly! Sure, they’re rhythmic, but they’re not true iambs, and not true pentameter. So you just see iambic pentameter wherever you want to, and ignore it when it doesn’t fit! You haven’t accounted for the divergence of these lines ahead of time in your criteria–so you’re CHERRY-PICKING!

    If you think that the objections that have been raised to your musings are “invented” “creative little explanations,” perhaps the discussion we need to have is whether “critical reading” is a viable intellectual endeavor at all. Now THAT could get tedious! :)

  135. Blake
    April 13, 2005 at 11:24 pm

    I agree with Kaimi. Chiasmus occurs in a vast array of literature and there is a very good explanation — it is often linked to a loci mneunomnic device widely used among orators and preachers. Here is how it works: think of the various things you remember upon entering your house in the order they appear as you walk into the house. It is a common mneumonic to attach something to be remembered to each locus (thus called the loci mneumonic) or thing. Walk into your house and create a list of things to be remembered by attaching some peculiar association to it so that you remember it by each thing or locus. Now walk back out of your house in reverse remembering the same loci or things that elicit the memories. Voila, instant chiasmus! Further, I believe that we can demonstrate fairly sophisticated chiastic structures in the D&C, Book of Moses and Book of Abraham — as well as Homer, Cicero etc..

    Nor do I believe that the presence of chiasmus supports a more or less tight translation where the structure of the sentence is preserved. What is essential to chiasmus in the BofM is not sentence structure but recurring ideas — and such ideas can recur without preserving sentence structure (indeed, the KJV translators preserved several chiasms without being aware of its presence at all). Thus, the chiastic structures in the BofM are easily explainable by use of the loci mneumonic system.

    Having said that, there is a further study that needs to be done as to the types of parallels that will count. Hebrew and Greek writers used antithetic, synonymic, staircase, inverted, synthetic, and natural (word pair) parallelisms as poetic devices. A futher study needs to be done to see whether the parallels in the Book of Mormon, D&C etc. are based on word-pairngs that are natural for the Hebrew world view (e.g., sheol/grave,) merely biblical words pairs (e.g, hell/pit) appearing in the KJV translation, or parallels that really resonate only in English (e.g., good-bye/so long). My own research suggests KJV based pairings in all of Joseph Smith’s writings or those that came through him as translator.

  136. April 13, 2005 at 11:24 pm

    John (#82), I looked at the Quinn footnote again. Here is the statement I remembered that connected chiasmus to Lowth (1787):

    Horne mentioned in his 1825 text and footnotes (2:448, 451, 451n1, 522-23) the publications by Anglican bishops Lowth and Jebb as his principal sources for this discussion of “introverted parallelism” (now called chiasmus).

    Not having examined the sources myself, I’m left scratching my head about your (and I guess Welch’s? Hard to tell, with your square brackets) claims about Jebb and Lowth in #40 and its contradiction to Quinn’s representation of Horne’s attribution.

    But I think Lowth is ultimately tangential, and that Horne (1825) is the more direct potential hit. Jebb and Quinn would each have motive for their respective spins on Lowth, who would represent an early (1787 in English) recognition of chiasmus (not by that name, but that’s irrelevant). But Quinn shows diagrams of “Parallel Lines Introverted” from Horne (1825), complete with indentation, if Quinn’s representation is faithful. Moreover, Horne was advertised for sale in 1825 in Palmyra, and was also available for sale and lending in Canandaigua.

    Who knows if Joseph saw these diagrams himself, or heard some learned preacher discuss or preach on Horne’s 1825 work? The probability seems admittedly low, but for most people, not as low as an angel with gold plates.

  137. April 13, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    D. (#105): It is… not appropriate to submit it to analysis or scholarship.

    I was at first incensed by this statement. How dare anyone place boundaries on inquiry!

    But I think it raises a legitimate point. The Lord could not possibly have intended that detailed, intellectually discerned evidence be peoples’ means to belief in the BoM’s truthfulness, for the availability of such evidence has not been uniform over time, and peoples’ ability to understand and evaluate such arguments is far from uniform today. Nate’s point about intellectual engagement’s possibilities for understanding and appreciating the text are well taken, but I can sympathize with the idea that its use as “evidence” could almost be taken as blasphemous, a denial of God’s power, offensive to God’s stated means of proving truth: revelation to each individual. ‘I will show them I am able to mine own work,’ he says; he himself makes the conviction accessible to any and all, including the (intellectually) weak things of the earth; he needs no defenders of the faith to do the heavy lifting of convincing on his behalf.

    That said, intellectual argument and evidence are fair game for purposes of falsification. How’s that for stacking the deck? ;)

  138. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 11:36 pm

    Blake, the chiasmus in Helaman 6 is an example of a Hebrew word-pairing, in which “Zedekiah” and “the Lord” are the crux pair in verse 10: in English the word pair “-iah” and “Lord” is not apparent, whereas in Hebrew (I’m told) it’s clear.

    And, if I may, I’m not sure that you do agree with Kaimi, because Kaimi doesn’t accept any passages in the Book of Mormon as examples of chiasmus.

  139. Blake
    April 13, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Rosalynde: Thanks for pointing out this possibility. I’ll have to take a closer look, though Zedekiah (tzedek -iah or “justice of Yahweh”) could be a parallel with “Lord” (sometimes “Yahweh”), often Lord could also be Adonai and no parallel would occur — without an underlying Hebrew text it is difficult to know. But this is an exciting possibility worth checking out.

  140. Rosalynde Welch
    April 13, 2005 at 11:45 pm

    Oops, sorry Blake, I didn’t realize that you were still around, and I added to my comment #138 while you were posting #139. Sorry to make it look like you only responded to part of my comment.

  141. Ben H
    April 14, 2005 at 1:04 am

    For King Benjamin to emphasize transgression by the chiasm in 5:10-15 is anything but random, Kaimi. He calls them together, so he can “rid my garments of your blood” (2:28). He warns them against obeying ‘the evil spirit” (32), reminds them they are eternally indebted to their heavenly Father (v34), and describes the pain of sinners in the presence of God as “an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth” etc. (v38). After telling them how Christ will come to save them from their sins, he offers the well-known passage on the “natural man”(3:19), and reiterates his point about the “lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable”(v27). After they view themselves “in their own carnal state” (4:2) he reminds them of their “nothingess”, and elaborates from v13 to v28 how many ways they must avoid sin, finishing by saying the list is not exhaustive (vv29-30). His people make a covenant, described in 4:1-6, and the chiasmus centering on transgression follows shortly (vv10-15). Christ as the means of escaping sin has been the point of his whole speech, but if anything he seems to have been emphasizing sin, so that people will feel the need for Christ. The closing chiasm gives Christ more air time, in terms of words, which makes sense since the people have accepted him, but transgression maintains a place of emphasis. That makes plenty of sense.

    As for Alma 41:13-15, you’re ignoring the fact that the first 3 items in your 7-item list are all bad things, whereas the rest are good. It is hardly a uniform list of seven items. Rather, the items are grouped in two sets. The choice to give the good the deluxe treatment isn’t exactly random, since after all the point is to tell his son to be good rather than sinning, and the first three are implicitly addressed again last, not just by saying, “For that which ye do send out shall return”, but by continuing, “therefore the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner”, i.e. the person who does evil, carnal, devilish things. Alma’s whole point, remember, is that restoration doesn’t mean that Corianton will be “restored”, so to speak, “from sin to happiness”. The point is that happiness (goodness, mercy, justice) is the response to righteousness, not wickedness (v10). Ergo, the contrast. It ain’t the only way one could write a chiasm, but it ain’t no way random.

  142. Ben H
    April 14, 2005 at 1:21 am

    Blake, several people have said things about chiasmus outside the Hebrew tradition, but are there Greek or other non-Hebrew sources showing chiasmus on the scale of Alma 36? or even something like Mosiah 5:1-15?

  143. Matt Evans
    April 14, 2005 at 7:42 am

    Blake,

    The loci mneumonic system can’t explain chiasmus because the system doesn’t depend on repeating the list or in repeating it backwards, as chiasmus does. The mneumonic system is simply a way to learn items in sequence. When a writer chooses to repeat the already-stated items again, only the second time in reverse order, they are appealing to a rhetorical or literary aesthetic, not to a mneumonic. If I use the system to remember my shopping list, for example, I imagine lettuce on the threshold, eggs on the entry table, apples in the drawer, and bacon underneath. Because the system teaches only to remember Lettuce, Eggs, Apples, Bacon, my decision to write the redundant sequence “Lettuce, Eggs, Apples, Bacon, Bacon, Apples, Eggs, Lettuce” can’t be attributed to the loci mneumonic system.

  144. Nate Oman
    April 14, 2005 at 9:03 am

    Um Blake, I don’t think that you are agreeing with Kaimi, although I think that Kaimi’s argument is a bit confused so your position is forgiveable. It seems to me that we have two distinct questions. The first question is whether or not the BofM contains examples of complex chiasmus or whether such examples are “cherry picking.” The second question is whether or not th presence of chiasmus (assuming that we agree that it is there) is strong evidence of ancient origins.

    I take is that Kaimi is offering a negative answer to the first question, claiming that purported examples of chiasmus aren’t actually there and are simply post-hoc, wishful thinking on the part of over-eager apologists.

    It seems to me that you are willing to concede that chiasmus does in fact exist in the text, but are somewhat skeptical as to how much evidence it provides for ancient origins. What this means, of course, is that you agree with me not with Kaimi!

    I think that your point with regard to translation is well taken, although I think that if we adopt your midrashim theory of translation, then it becomes increasingly difficult to claim that the presence or absence of chiasmus tells us anything about Nephite literary patterns.

  145. Jonathan Green
    April 14, 2005 at 9:37 am

    Thanks to all for the bibliograhpic references. I’ll try to catch up on my reading before the next T&S chiasmus steel cage match.

    Rosalynde, I don’t think the comparison to lines of iambic pentameter will hold up. Languages have natural rhythms and prefer particular syllable structures, and iambic meter fits English well. There are several examples of English ‘found poetry’ that scan perfectly, some even including rhyming quatrains. There are no found sonnets, however, because the sonnet imposes more requirements of poetic form. Chiasmus doesn’t have that same degree of formality. I don’t think chiasmus occurs by accident, but I do suspect chiasmus happens in many places.

    The argument that John Fowles and others have ably presented is that the examples of chiasmus in the Book or Mormon are far longer and more elaborate than anything outside of Semitic. I have serious reservations about the exclusiveness of elaborate chiasmus to Semitic literatures, but I don’t have a counter-example at hand or time at the moment to look for one. So I’ll set aside that point for now.

    What I can disagree with, however, is the focus on the formality of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon that forces its proponents to plead for matched pairs that do not actually match, and which has consequences for the poetic and doctrinal interpretation. It leads to the needless multiplication of elements for the sake of finding complexity.

    For example, one specimen of chiasmus brought up here and in Welch’s 1969 article is Mosiah 5:10-12, which begins: “And now it shall come to pass, that whosever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.” If you want to find chiasmus, you divide the poetic structure of the text here, because it allows for nice parallelism to to v. 12. However, it artificially breaks the connection to v. 9, for which the parallelism to v. 10 is much stronger: “And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” Verses 9 and 10 are even chiastic, but only of the garden variety ABBA type. But rather than a simple chiasmus about the left and right hand of God, we end up with a complex chiasmus about transgression, as Ben H. reiterates above. I agree that recognizing chiasmus can help efforts to interpret the Book of Mormon, but striving to find complex chiasmus can divide up the text just as artificially as any chapter division.

    The other example that’s been discussed here is Alma 41:13-15. I absolutely agree that good/righteous/just/merciful in v. 13 are chiatastically parallel to merciful/justly/righteously/good and then the second sequence of mercy/justice/rigteous/good in v. 14. But that’s the end of a chiasmus that is already interesting enough: there is no parallel to the evil/carnal/devilish of v. 13. The word ‘restoration’ is the topic of the whole passage, as seen in v. 12, and the use of the beginning and end of 13 and 15 doesn’t necessarily mark the beginning and end of a chiasmus. We can have either a plausible and interesting poetic form, with four items repeated twice chiatastically, that doesn’t quite fit the straitjacket pattern of chiasmus; or we deal with elements that don’t fit by special pleading (John, that’s what you’re doing with them in #125) or by leaving them out of the chiastic structure (as in Welch’s 1969 article). In this case, smaller is better.

  146. Nate Oman
    April 14, 2005 at 9:54 am

    A note: For those who wish to find poetic forms inserted by accident, I strongly suggest picking up the book _The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld_, which shows that Rummy’s off the cuff remarks in press conferences frequently employ poetic forms such as hiaku, iambic pentameter, and the like. Fun stuff.

  147. john fowles
    April 14, 2005 at 10:12 am

    Jonathan, you seem to be taking Kaimi’s position that “evil for evil, carnal for carnal, devilish for devilish” doesn’t correspond to is chiastic match “For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again and be restored.” This is really curious to me, given your background in literature (it might be excusable for Kaimi as first and foremost a lawyer interested in the precision of terms). It is true that Welch leaves these two corresponding idea pairs out of the structure, so to speak, in the 1969 article. I haven’t spoken with him about why he did this. To me it looks clear that the latter iteration, i.e. B’, is simply an explicit definition of what B is expressing directly. When there is a bringing back of “evil for evil, carnal for carnal, devilish for devilish,” it is an example of the principle “For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again and be restored.” Then with A and A’, you have the concept of “restoration” opening and closing a chiasm that examines the concept of “restoration.” In other words, to limit yourself to the center of the chiasm deprives the chiasm of its full didactic effect. That is why in examining possible instances of chiasmus, it is necessary to go as far out as the chiastic structure permits to find the opening and closing lines of the chiasm. In this case, your skepticism about whether B correspons to B’ without special pleading is what causes you to cut the chiasm short and exclude its topic sentence, so to say, i.e. A and A’.

  148. john fowles
    April 14, 2005 at 10:23 am

    By the way, what makes “special pleading” or, in other words, academic examination and explanation, inherently illegitimate in ferreting out the extent of a chiasm? Are you suggesting that chiasms are merely word focused and not idea or concept focused as well?

  149. Blake
    April 14, 2005 at 10:37 am

    Nate: You are correct that I agree with you: there is chiasmus in the BofM and it is not mere cherry picking. It is well developed and quite sophisticated — and when we look at the types of parallels we can see that they are not merely synonymic parallels but also antithetic, spiral, synthetic and so forth. However, it is not good evidence of antiquity since it also appears in JS’s other works and a lot of other places — including modern works. The loci mneumonic device is one reason why it appears so ubiquitously. What is more probative of antituqity is whether the types of parallels are Hebrew or semitic in nature rather than based upon a world-view more common in Enlish (complicated by the fact that English is influenced by the Hebrew literary world and the bible). Kevin Barney has looked at such pairings in an article in the Jornal of Book of Mormon Studies.

    Yes, there are chiasms in the Illiad and Oddesey and also in Cicero’s works that organized entire chapters or books. Moreover, I disagree with Matt in #143. The loci mneumonic was used quite creatively — so I get door, hall-tree, sewing-machine, piano, couch, table — and then rather than merely repeat the list I walk back out of the house in reverse order: table, couch, piano, sewing-maching, hall-tree, door. Now I attach concepts to these things to remember them: remembrance, God, repentance, Christ, atonement, darkness, light — and then I walk back out of the house: light, darkness, atonement, Christ, repentance, God, remembrance. Now I build a talk or oratory around this list that takes several pages or chapters. Now I invert the ideas by using an antithetic parallel: foreget, devil, sin, Christ, rejection of atonement, light, darkness. Then I reverse it — as you can see, I can get a very sophisticated oratory or literary presentation based upon this loci – and that is exactly how it was used by ancient orators when they studied rhetoric.

  150. Kaimi
    April 14, 2005 at 10:43 am

    This reminds me why lawyers shouldn’t argue with literature folks. Rosalynde not only avoids the question, she also makes it look like it’s my fault that she’s avoiding the question. Silver-tongued? No doubt. (I suspect that if she put her mind to it, Rosalynde could not only pick my pocket, but also convince me after the fact that I actually gave her permission to pick my pocket). But is her argument ultimately convincing? I remain skeptical.

    I suspect that we may have a failure to communicate. Different people are using the term chiasm to mean different things. For Rosalynde, chiasm is apparently any of a number of chiastic patterns which may or may not have any actual probative value. For others, like John, chiasm is a rock-solid indication of Hebrew origin.

    There are various repeated motifs and patterns in the Book of Mormon. If calling those “chiasm” makes you happy, then go ahead and call them chiasm. Whether or not you call them chiasm, repetition, or late-for-breakfast, they are sufficiently non-rigorous that they don’t necessarily evidence Hebrew origin. They show a nice poetic sense and ability to turn a phrase, but lots of people have shown those attributes. (Not the least of whom is our resident silver-tongued pickpocket).

    If “chiasm” is being used in what we might term the Fowlesian sense — clear examples of Hebrew poetry that could have only come from that culture — then I reject its presence in the Book of Mormon.

    After all, what is the gain from calling Alma 41 chiasm? Why not call it a cool new form of Nephite poetry? Your lexical move in calling it chiasm, Rosalynde, betrays an underlying apologetic motive. Can’t we appreciate it for being a pretty poem without having to say “and it’s a _Hebrew_ poem too!”

  151. Matt Evans
    April 14, 2005 at 11:41 am

    Blake, stating the concepts and then repeating them in reverse order for effect is chiasmus, not the loci mneumonic. How speakers remembered the order of the concepts to facilitate a chiastic presentation is irrelevant to the question of whether their presentation is chiastic. Now that I see you recognize chiasmus in the Book of Mormon (Comment 149), and think the remaining question concerns only whether the presence of chaismus suggests an ancient origin, I agree with you.

  152. Blake
    April 14, 2005 at 11:54 am

    Matt: My point is that orators anciently adopted a rhetorical device that resulted in chiasmus without even being aware that there is a literary form of chiasmus — it was just the way their memory worked. Of course, the result is the same either way — it results in chiasmus. So I think that we are in agreement. JS could have used the same mneumonic device — or it could have been Alma. Given my theory of midrashic expansion I don’t believe that poetic devices that are dependent on tight control translation are preserved. However, I believe that looser structures such as chiasmus that are not dependent on sentence structure or exact word-for-word translation may be preserved even in translation.

  153. Kevin Barney
    April 14, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    I just remembered that I made some ancillary comments on chiasmus in my “Isaiah Interwoven,” FR 15/1 (2003): 353-402:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=478

    The relevant extract is copied below for your interest:

    In 2001 Dan Vogel gave a lecture on chiasmus and the Book of Mormon.9 In the course of that presentation, Vogel mentioned two issues to which I believe Parry’s appendix 2 has relevance. First, Vogel argued that reversals of exact, or near exact, words do not constitute “real” chiasmus. To distinguish these structures, he used the word antimetabole (Greek for “a turning about in the opposite direction”). He argued that of the forty-nine nonbiblical, simple (by which I take it he meant reversals of two elements only) chiasms in the Book of Mormon, only three10 are based on differing words and therefore can be said to be “real” chiasmus; the others are some form of antimetabole, or same-word reversals. On what basis Vogel rejects antimetabole as “real” chiasmus is completely unclear to me. Vogel himself acknowledged that Wilfred G. E. Watson accepts such structures as chiasmus (in his terminology called “mirror” or “literal” chiasmus), and I for one am a fan of Watson’s work on Hebrew poetry. Just because Vogel has found simple same-word reversals in modern advertising slogans does not mean that same-word reversals cannot constitute “real” chiasmus reflecting a genuine ancient Hebrew poetic device.11 A quick survey of Parry’s appendix?2 reveals seventeen examples of such same-word reversals in Isaiah.12 It really does not matter to me whether we call these chiasmus or antimetabole; I am comfortable that they do represent a legitimate Hebrew poetic device.13 If they do not, then someone forgot to tell Isaiah, easily the greatest of the Hebrew poets.

    Vogel not only rejects chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, he also rejects the intentionality of chiasmus in the Bible. That is, he would acknowledge that the form appears to be present in some passages, but he would argue that the ancient author did not intend it; it is simply an artifact of random reversals in a paralleling literature. I could not disagree more strongly with Vogel’s conclusion, but I doubt that a way to “prove” authorial intentionality or unintentionality exists.14 Ultimately, perceptions of intentionality are a subjective matter. Nevertheless, I would encourage interested readers to peruse Parry’s appendix 2 and come to their own conclusions about whether the form was really intended by Isaiah. I feel confident that it was and that the occasional reversal of parallel elements was not random at all but was a fully intended variation meant, among other things, to relieve the tedium of the repetitive style. As for longer chiasms, I suppose ten thousand monkeys randomly typing could eventually come up with something like the elegant, tightly woven chiasm at Isaiah 60:1-3, but it would take a very, very long time indeed.

    While I am pursuing this brief aside on chiasmus, I will say that I did agree with some of what Vogel had to say. His presentation was essentially a call for greater rigor in dealing with the phenomenon of chiasmus, and I am all for that. Many people seem to believe that God speaks in chiasms and that not only the whole of scripture-but just about everything else, from the Declaration of Independence to the phone book-was written in chiasmus. Chiasmus seems to have captured the popular imagination in an undisciplined way. On the Internet in particular, a certain “chiasmus a-go-go” character is evident in some people’s attempts to make use of this rhetorical form. Responsible scholars need to lead the way and show care, caution, and rigor in talking about chiasticity. If an element is out of balance in some way, we should not try to hide that. We should affirmatively note the problem for readers and deal with it forthrightly in concert with the other criteria of chiasmus. Such weaknesses by themselves do not mean that a passage is not chiastic, but they need to be appropriately weighed in the context of the posited structure as a whole.

    9. Vogel, Sunstone Symposium presentation.
    10. The three Vogel would allow are 1?Nephi 17:38; 2?Nephi 3:1; and Alma 9:12. A quick look through the catalog appended to my “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995): 15-81, suggests an additional seven simple chiasms not dependent on same-word reversal: 1?Nephi 17:30; 2?Nephi 25:4; Mosiah 11:29 and 12:1; Alma 60:22; 3?Nephi 9:19; and Ether 6:9. I suspect that there are others as well; Book of Mormon scholars have tended to focus on the longer, more complicated examples of chiasmus rather than the simple ones.
    11. Vogel has also discovered references to antimetabole in early rhetorical handbooks such as those of Samuel Knox (Baltimore, 1809) and John Newton (London, 1821), where the form is called epanados (Greek for something like “a return along the way,” used to indicate repetition of a sentence in inverse order). I am a great admirer of Vogel’s ability to ferret out such information from early sources, but I am very skeptical that Joseph Smith was influenced, directly or indirectly, by such high literary handbooks. See John W. Welch’s article, “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?” in this number of the FARMS Review, 47-80.
    12. Isaiah 5:20 (three occurrences); 6:10; 7:22; 11:13; 22:22; 27:5; 34:4; 35:1-2; 44:21; 45:1; 48:21; 50:4; 56:5; 57:15; and 59:16-17.
    13. Before I ever knew someone would try to make an issue out of same-word repetition, I commented on the phenomenon and gave references to scholarly discussion of the subject. See Barney, “Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs,” 24 n. 25.
    14. See the excellent analysis of John W. Welch, in “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (1995): 1-14. Vogel criticized this article for not being as rigorous as that of other Bible scholars he prefers. It appears to me that Welch covers all the same basic concepts, with a few controversial exceptions (such as nonparalleling central elements; but it is not clear to me that central elements necessarily need to have a parallel member). He also criticized Welch for not showing examples, but I think the basic concepts articulated by Welch are abundantly clear as stated.

  154. Steve L
    April 14, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    I just think it’s funny that the comments on this thread are listed as “Further musings of a chia”

  155. Matt Evans
    April 14, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Blake, I agree with your point about the ancient orators, but I wouldn’t attribute their use of chiasmus to “the way their memory worked.” It wasn’t the way their memory worked, or the mneumonic devices they used, that led them to state their ideas and then repeat them in reverse order; but rather a rhetorical and literary aesthetic, the same aesthetic that appealed to the Hebrews. (It wasn’t an orator’s memory that caused him to state his ideas twice, or the second time in reverse order.)

  156. john fowles
    April 14, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    Kaimi, if Alma 41 is a chiasm, which Welch sufficiently establishes based on the nature and use of chiasmus in ancient Hebrew writing (and the absence of such use, though not the absence of chiasmus altogether, in other ancient literary cultures), then what is to be gained is simply to show that the Book of Mormon is either an ancient text of the Hebrews, or JS knew how to intentionally make it look like it was (though he never pointed out the chiasmus as a proof of such). If these things are chiams, then calling them such does not reveal an apologetic agenda; rather, it reveals an academic agenda. After all, if some 4th-century manuscript turns up, written in Greek but dealing with Hebrew topics, and a (non-LDS) researcher finds that many passages are rigorously chiastic and points that out as further evidence of the text’s Hebrew origins, that is indeed apologetic, but only in the sense that any academic inquiry of any kind and the resultant academic conclusions drawn from the evidence found is apologetic.

    Since it appears that no amount of scrutiny of the highly structured nature of the Alma 41:13-15 chiasm will convince you that it is actually and literally “chiasmus” in the same way that numerous OT passages are chiasmus (and numerous non-LDS scholars of the OT agree these OT passages are chiastic), what is your response to Alma 36? This is even more intricate and the structure sustains itself over a much longer passage of the text.

    By the way, it seems like your argument that these BoM passages might be poetry of some kind but aren’t chiasmus also necessarily applies to OT passages that scholars claim are chiasmus. Why should OT passages identified as chiasmus by OT scholars since Jebb in 1820 be chiasmus but BoM chiasms not really be chiasmus at all but rather something else that might resemble chiasmus?

  157. JWL
    April 14, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    Kaimi —

    Having slogged through this thread since my previous comment at #20, I am not going back to try to quote you precisely, but I think somewhere you have stated that you do agree that many of the BoM passages claimed to be chiastic are complex and poetic in ways relevant to their substantive meaning. Your objection is that you are unconvinced that they strictly support certain claims that have been made about them adhering to some supposedly unique ancient Hebrew form of chiasmus and their consequent use as proof that those passages are fairly literal translations of original writings by ancient authors with Hebrew backgrounds. However, what would you make of a looser claim along these lines:

    The BoM contains many passages with intricate rhetorical structures which are uncommon or unknown in English. Some are so intricate that many LDS writers have even claimed that they correspond to a complex form of inverted parallelism called chiasmus. Chiasmus has been particularly noted in the Hebrew Bible, although so obstuficated by traditional translations that it was not recognized until the 19th C. Of course, use of chiasmus is widespread in other langauges as well and not all of the examples claimed for it in the BoM are clearcut. However, regardless of whether these passages are definitively identical to Hebrew usage, their presence illustrates the unexpected complexity underlying the BoM text. Given Joseph Smith’s lack of education and other evidence of significant literary skill, together with the rapidity with which the text was apparently produced, this complexity of language lends credence to the view that Joseph Smith was translating rather than authoring the BoM text.

    Note “lends credence” rather than “proves,” a contribution toward a preponderance of the evidence argument rather than a hardcore beyond reasonable doubt standard.

  158. Kaimi
    April 14, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    Jim,

    I apologize for your having had to slog through the comments. Slogging is never fun. :P

    I can get on board with your formulation. It harmonizes well with my assertion on #97, that this is not an easy phenomenon to explain away.

    I noted that a few other possibilities are conceptually coherent (Brodie’s genius theory, various iterations of “Rigdon did it”) but I don’t find them particularly convincing myself. I don’t think that one can, with a straight face, say that it’s a normal book that any yahoo could have come up with. The viable options seem to be angel/translation, Brodie/genius (sometimes hard to reconcile with other early JS showing some difficulty with language), Spaulding variations (which have their own baggage), or Sidney did it (has its own difficulties). The alternative explanations aren’t particularly strong.

  159. Ben S.
    April 14, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    I was told of a particularly interesting paper on this topic (though my memory of the details has blurred a bit since then.)

    The author has found several chiasmi in which certain elements involve wordplay, but only in Semitic. The example related to me had a chiasmus with Laman (or the Lamanites, can’t remember) in one slot, and “unfaithful” in the other- Laman (if pronounced Lahmahn as it probably should be) and Semitic la ‘aman “not faithful” would be quite an interesting pair. If the paper can make strong arguments, I think that would be evidence that at least some of these poetic structures are deliberate.

    I haven’t seen the paper, but it sounded fascinating. There do seem to be such wordplays in the BoM that disappear in translation, (such as Jershon/inheritance in Alma 27:22) and I find these to be highly indicative of a Semitic vorlage and stronger arguments than chiasmus.

  160. Jonathan Green
    April 14, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    John, I do in fact agree with Kaimi on the chiasmus in Alma 41. For the A-A’ part (about restoration), I think it’s unpersuasive to regard it as an outer bracket because the topic of the whole passage is restoration. It might be the first and last lines of the chiasmus, or it may merely continue the topic from the preceding verse and restate it at the end without being in itself poetic. There’s no way to know based on the English text. Similarly, the B-B’ insists on a parallel between the three specific words evil/carnal/devilish and a very general description of restoration. I don’t find it convincing, especially because the specific words good/righteous/just/merciful are then replayed very literally in the opposite order. Once we have the chance to consult Mormon’s original documents, I might be proved wrong. Until then, insisting that the weaker parallels belong to the chiasmus obscures the case that can be made from the parts that are not questioned.

    Loosening up the standards to allow distant synonyms or circumlocutions opens a hole big enough to drive a truck through. Insisting on repetition of words and syntactic units of similar length in any proposed chiasmus might mean that we have to label many or most examples as suspect, or trim them back from seven elements to four, but you only need one absolutely convincing example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon to make it a potentially significant discovery. A bunch of questionable examples only invite suspicion that the whole enterprise is “chiasmus a-go-go” (to steal Keven Barney’s unforgetable term).

  161. Jack
    April 14, 2005 at 9:59 pm

    Well, let’s call it something else then–since there’s a whole lot of SOMEthing going on that can’t be merely attributed to the winds of chance.

  162. Jack
    April 14, 2005 at 10:18 pm

    I thought this one was interesting:

    http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=147

    “Nephi’s Convincing of Christ through Chiasmus” by David E. Sloan.

    Though someone who knows more about this stuff might be able to point out flaws in his paper, I think it’s worth t

  163. Jack
    April 15, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    Let me fix that last sentence:

    Though someone who knows more about this stuff [than I do] might be able to point out flaws in his paper, I think it’s worth t[aking a look at it–if no other reason than the way he addresses the complexity in Nephi’s text by virtue of chiasmus]. Interesting…

  164. Michael H
    April 16, 2005 at 8:29 am

    I thought the old Seventh East Press (BYU) put this all in perspective when, in the early 1980s, it explained chiasmus as:

    Hickory dickory dock,
    the mouse ran up the clock.
    The clock struck one,
    the mouse ran down,
    Hickory dickory dock.

  165. Blair Bryant
    April 18, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    Following is an extract from item 60 (above) by Oman. In the first six sentences I find a chiasm. I have studied chiasms and have concluded that one can find chiasms in virtually EVERY written language. I have never yet failed to find chiasms in a coherently written document on a given subject. The chiasms are due to the unconscious organization of written materials by a human mind. The more intelligent the individual who writes, the more complex are the chiasms. They are NOT indicative of ancient writings or the divinity thereof. Only when I see complex chiasms delicately and intricately connected and interwoven through a message do I feel that the intelligence behind the structure of the chiasms is of divine origin. But rich and multifaceted chiasms are definitely found in the scriptures. In most secular writings they are simple, and straight-forward as the one shown below.
    Usually, the author is totally unaware that he has created chiasms. Thus, for the most part, it is NOT a purposeful method of writing.
    My point? I wouldn’t consider Oman’s chiasm to be ancient or divine. It just IS.

    . Oman said:
    60. On the actual translation process I think that the basic problem is that the extra-textual sources underdetermine the process so we are constantly thrown back into the text itself, which carries a whiff of circularity. This problem, as Rosylnde points out is endemic not just to BofM studies but to textual studies generally. One might point out that this problem goes both ways. Consider something as simple as naturalistic explanations of the Iasiah passages. As I understand it (and it has been a while since I looked at this) Stan Larson argues that Joseph copied the passages from the bible adding textual variants when he encountered italicized word in the KJV. The problem is that, if I remember correctly, there is no extra-textual source suggesting that Joseph consulted extensively from the Bible in dictating the text.

    A [T]he basic problem is that the extra-textual sources underdetermine the process
    B This problem, as Rosylnde points out is endemic
    C Consider …. naturalistic explanations of the Iasiah [sic] passages.
    B’ Stan Larson argues that Joseph copied the passages
    A’ The problem is that…. there is no extra-textual source suggesting that Joseph consulted extensively from the Bible

  166. Jack
    April 19, 2005 at 12:11 am

    Blair,

    That’s a fun comment. However, I don’t think that it proves that certain writers in certain traditions did NOT know that they were following a chiastic form. One can use just about any art form as an example. Those artists who have more training will tend to be more cognizant of the forms involved during the creative process while those who have an abundance of talent with less training will tend to get it “right” intuitively though they may be less cognizant of the forms.

  167. A. Greenwood
    April 19, 2005 at 12:35 am

    Also Blair’s example isn’t very convincing. It’s only a little chiastic.

  168. Blair Bryant
    April 21, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    My point was that there are chiasms in almost EVERY coherent writing. I took just the first one that had a fairly lengthy statement about a single subject. I could do that with almost any of the reasonably long statements in this series of comments.

    Chiasms are ubiquitous and indicate nothing regarding the ancient nature of a document or of its divine source. While a skillful writer may enhance the chiasms if he makes an effort to do so, they are typically produced totally without the writer knowing that he is producing them.

  169. Blair Bryant
    April 21, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    I took the first paragraph of item 153 as a random choice–just to see if I could find another chiasm. It was a pretty lengthy paragraph on the same subject and what did I find?

    A. Vogel argued that reversals of exact, or near exact, words do not constitute “real” chiasmus
    B of the forty-nine nonbiblical, simple (by which I take it he meant reversals of two elements only) chiasms in the Book of Mormon, only three are based on differing words and therefore can be said to be “real” chiasmus
    C On what basis Vogel rejects antimetabole as “real” chiasmus is completely unclear to me
    B’ Vogel himself acknowledged that Wilfred G. E. Watson accepts such structures as chiasmus
    A’ Just because Vogel has found simple same-word reversals in modern advertising slogans does not mean that same-word reversals cannot constitute “real” chiasmus

    Here, Kevin Barney is extracting someone elses comments, but wouldn’t you say that C is a statement of Barney’s position? And, typical of chiasms, you can read the entire chiasm from beginning to end, AND IN REVERSE ORDER and get the same basic message.

    They’re Everywhere, they’re Everywhere!…..

  170. Blair Bryant
    April 21, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    I found another one in John Fowles’ item #57.

    John Fowles #57, last paragraph.

    A. JS intentionally built the chiasmus in, not unconsciously….this is the only viable alternative
    B [Y]ou will likely not see my point and will continue believing that JS probably just somehow naturally “thought” in such rigid and perfected chiasms and that they thus somehow unconsciously appeared there.
    C it would be ludicrous in the academy to assert that a writer unconsciously included such a rigidly formalistic structure
    B’ So, the chiasmus must be intentional,
    A’ [H]ow could it have been possible for JS the writer to invent such intricate formalistic structures that….perform the correct function internally within the text and within the isolated chiasm itself?

    Note that I am not taking isolated words in finding these chiasms. I am taking whole phrases and sentences and finding the parallelisms. Chiasms truly are EVERYWHERE. All their existence means is that an intelligent person wrote the paragraph. Any reasonably intelligent person WRITES IN CHIASMS! And, regardless of what John Fowles or anyone else thinks about what their presence means, so does he (write in chiasms, that is).

    Now, I am definitely a Book of Mormon believer. I also ‘believe’ in the presence of chiasms. What I do NOT believe in is the idea that the presence of chiasms is evidence which connects the BOM to an ancient writing or is a sole indication that the BOM is of divine origin (which I believe it IS.).

  171. Juliana Gould
    April 24, 2005 at 8:06 pm

    Anyone curious about chiasm ought to read the definitive book on the subject:

    THE SHAPE OF BIBLICAL LANGUAGE
    by John Breck

    It is the most complete and detailed introduction to the subject available today.

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