Chiasmus Briefly

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as “Mormons”) believe that the Book of Mormon is a record of ancient scripture, translated by their first prophet, Joseph Smith.  The Book of Mormon claims to tell the story of the lives of Israelites that migrated to the Americas, and were visited by Jesus Christ after He ascended (or, according to Latter-day Saints, after He ascended the first time).  The Book of Mormon was written on gold plates in “reformed Egyptian” by the prophet Mormon (who abridged the records of other prophets), and was buried in the “Hill Cumorah” by Mormon’s son,  Moroni.

Latter-day Saint apologists claim many examples of the ancient and Hebraic origin of the Book of Mormon, and I would just like to very briefly touch on one.

Chiasmus is probably the one ubiquitous “evidence” given by LDS apologists, believing it to be proof that Joseph Smith could not have invented the Book of Mormon, since this literary device is also found in the Bible.  The simplest form of chiasmus is “ABBA”, where the first half (AB) of the structure is balanced, or parallel, to the second half (BA).  One example of this is from the poet Ovid: “I flee who chases me and chase who flees me”.  In ABBA structure this is:

  • I flee (A)
  • who chases me (B)
  • and chase (B)
  • who flees me (A)

Other basic examples of chiasmus can be found here.

Of course, chiasmus can be much more complex, as is found in the Bible, and purportedly in the Book of Mormon.  One simple example from the Bible is found in Psalms 124:7 (NAB): “We escaped with our lives like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare was broken and we escaped.”  Formmated, the verse looks like this:

  • We escaped with our lives (A)
  • like a bird from the fowler’s snare (B)
  • the snare was broken (B)
  • and we escaped (A)

An example from the Book of Mormon can be found in Mosiah 5:10-12.

So, chiasmus is found throughout the Bible, as it is in the Book of Mormon.  But can this automatically point to the ancient origin of the Book?  I do not believe so.  It seems that in at least some of the examples given by LDS apologists of Book of Mormon chiasmus, various words must be deleted from each phrase to allow it to fit the chiastic structure.  Also, if one pays attention to their own speech or writing, we notice that chiasmus can be found when we are being repetitive.

Interestingly, a “rival” Mormon church also claims chiasmus as evidence of its own unique scripture.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, Strangite is founded on the claims of James Strang.  When the first latter-day prophet Joseph Smith was killed, there was a “succession crisis”.  Various people claimed to have been either chosen by Joseph Smith himself, by an angel, and support by believers.  Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, became President of his group, the largest, and what is now known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream church, which claims to be the original.  Joseph Smith’s oldest son, Joseph Smith III led another group of believers, known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, today known as the Community of Christ.  James Strang claimed that he held a “Letter of Appointment” in which Joseph Smith named Strang as successor.  Strang also claimed that an angel visited him when Smith died, choosing him as the next Prophet-President (probably claiming this for legitimacy in the footsteps of Smith).  Also continuing in Smith’s footsteps, Strang claimed to have discovered and translated two ancient works of scripture: the Voree Plates and the Plates of Laban.  Strang also had seven witnesses bearing testimony on the Plates of Laban, again in parallel to the witnesses of the Book of Mormon.  The Plates of Laban would be translated into the Book of the Law of the Lord.

Of course, the Utah Church denies the claims of Strang, as well as his Voree and Laban Plates being actual scripture.  However interestingly, the Strangite Church claims that chiasmus is also found in its scripture, thus pointing to the ancient origins of it!  It seems that while chiasmus is a very interesting literary structure, and is surely found in the Bible, as well as the Book of Mormon, it is also found in the Plates of Laban, so by logical extension, they also may have Hebrew origin.  It seems that scriptures, whether believed to be fake or real, can be shown to exhibit chiasmus, and while the LDS Church believes that the Brass Plates of Laban of Strang are fake (and of course as a Catholic I don’t count the Book of Mormon or the Book of the Law of the Lord as scripture), somehow chiasmus is found in it, and I don’t think they would claim that this is evidence of its ancient Hebrew origins.

So, I do not see chiasmus as evidence for or against the Book of Mormon having ancient origins.  There are many examples in existence in this time, both deliberate and unintentional.  The Strangite Plates of Laban also provide an interesting example of a work of “scripture” that the LDS Church denies, yet the Strangite church claims that chiasmus is proof of its ancient Hebrew origins.

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~ by onecatholic on September 7, 2009.

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