What about Hebrew Poetry in the Book of Mormon?


this page is still under construction

Here is some interesting material though....

One of the most popular arguments for the the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon is the ubiquitous presence of hebrew poetry.  Examples of this type of literary construct are easy to find on LDS websites like www.lightplanet.com and www.ldsfair.org .   Chiasmus comes in several forms.  These forms include line forms, symmetry, parallelism, and chiastic patterns, as defined by Adele Berlin "The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism [Bloomington, Ind., 1985]) and Wilford Watson (Classical Hebrew Poetry [Sheffield, 1984]).


if/ and conditional sentance consruct

cognate/acusative dreamed a dream

chiasmus lon


Chiasmus and the Book of Mormon

By Sandra Tanner

Some LDS writers are trying to establish the historicity of the Book of Mormon by maintaining that it contains a poetic style, sometimes used in the Bible, called chiasmus (see: [link] for a description of chiasmus.). They also point out that this style was not identified as 'chiasmus' until after the time of Joseph Smith. Thus, they reason, his use of it in the Book of Mormon demonstrates that it is a translation of an ancient text. However, a brief investigation shows just the opposite.

First, this poetic style has always been in the Bible. Whether anyone had a name for it or not is beside the point; the style was present for Joseph Smith to imitate.

Second, the Doctrine and Covenants has examples of the same pattern. Since Joseph Smith dictated the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, and it is not claimed that they were translations of ancient writings, obviously this pattern was part of Smith's style. The Pearl of Great Price and Joseph's diary exhibit similar patterns.

A thesis at BYU by Richard C. Shipp, "Conceptual Patterns of Repetition in the Doctrine and Covenants and Their Implications" (Masters Thesis), arrives at a similar conclusion. Although Mr. Shipp was not trying to disprove chiasmus claims in the Book of Mormon, his study shows that Joseph Smith had picked up both the rhythm of chiasmus and parallelism. In his 1832 first vision account, Joseph claims that he had studied the Bible since he was twelve, so it is quite conceivable he picked up this style from his studies.

In the Oct. 1989 Ensign article, "Hebrew literary Patterns in the Book of Mormon," there is mention of a book on Hebrew poetry, dated 1787, which discusses the poetic style of parallelisms. The term "chiasmus" is never used, but this book clearly shows that Hebrew poetic styles were recognized and studied even before Joseph Smith's time.

LDS scholar Blake Ostler, in reviewing the book Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, commented:

The wordprint analysis by Wayne Larson and Alvin Rencher questions once again the theory that Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spaulding authored the Book of Mormon (pp. 158-88). This theory continues to surface, though thoroughly discredited, because of the suspicion that the prodigious narrative, theological insight, and biblical knowledge manifest in the Book of Mormon were beyond Joseph's limited education and mental abilities. In computer studies of noncontextual word frequencies to measure unconscious language patterns, word groupings from nineteenth-century authors were clearly distinguishable from Book of Mormon word groupings. Further, the individual Book of Mormon prophets had distinct and contrasting styles from one another. Such decisive findings may give pause to even the most vehement critics of the Book of Mormon and put to rest once and for all the theory that either Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spaulding authored it.

David D. Croft, a University of Utah statistician, has questioned the validity of Larsen and Rencher's major premise that an author-specific wordprint exists ("Book of Mormon Wordprint Examined" Sunstone [March-April 1981]: 15-21). Notwithstanding well over a dozen studies cited by Rencher and Larsen supporting this premise, Croft's skepticism is supported by studies on the works of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. According to Howard Hong, an expert on Kierkegaard's writings, computer studies demonstrate that the Danish philosopher could adjust his wordprint in relation to various pseudonyms he assumed in his works, though perhaps not as frequently or distinctively as those in the Book of Mormon.

Croft criticized the first version of the wordprint study printed in BYU Studies by asserting that a wordprint could not survive translation. This criticism is answered in the Book of Mormon Authorship version. Wordprints of twelve German novellas translated by a single translator demonstrated a statistically significant difference that was not altered by the translation (p. 177).

However, the issue of translation raises a problem of internal consistency in Book of Mormon Authorship. In order to make sense of applying a wordprint analysis, one must assume that the "translation process was both direct and literal, and that each individual author's style was preserved" (p. 179). However, for B. H. Roberts to explain nineteenth-century anachronisms and King James Bible quotations he had to assume that "Joseph's vocabulary and grammar are as clearly imposed on the book as a fingerprint on a coin" (p. 13). If the expressions and ideas in the Book of Mormon are partly the result of Joseph's attempt to communicate the translation, then the nineteenth-century theological ideas and biblical quotations can be explained as a result inherent in the translation process. If these expansions are indeed Joseph's, however, then they should reflect his wordprint. To assume that Nephi had access to a King James Bible or that he was acquainted with nineteenth-century Arminian theology in the sixth century B.C. is beyond the bounds of competent scholarship. Yet this is precisely what must be assumed if the wordprint is to be taken seriously. Even given this criticism, however, the results of the wordprint study must be explained. Perhaps the wordprint analysis tells us more about computers than about the Book of Mormon.

. . .

Book of Mormon Authorship has made a prima facie case for the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon. It fails, however, to respond to scholarly criticism in some crucial areas. For example, since Welch first published his study on chiasmus in 1969, it has been discovered that chiasmus also appears in the Doctrine and Covenants (see, for example, 88:34-38; 93:18-38; 132:19-26, 29-36), the Pearl of Great Price (Book of Abraham 3:16-19; 22-28), and other isolated nineteenth-century works. Thus, Welch's major premise that chiasmus is exclusively an ancient literary device is false. Indeed, the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon may be evidence of Joseph Smith's own literary style and genius. Perhaps Welch could have strengthened his premise by demonstrating that the parallel members in the Book of Mormon consist of Semitic word pairs, the basis of ancient Hebrew poetry. Without such a demonstration, both Welch's and Reynold's arguments from chiasmus are weak.

(Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter, 1983, p. 141-143)

Since chiasmus occurs in many languages its use in the Book of Mormon does not prove either its Semitic origin or that it is a style peculiar to inspired ancient scripture. In fact, many nursery rhymes have this same type of structure (e.g. Hickory Dickory Dock).

Interestingly, even the followers of James J. Strange, rival to Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon for leadership of the LDS movement, argue for Chiastic structure in Strange's book of scripture. Here are examples from the Strangite web site:

Here is beginner's example of chiasmus from the Book of the Law of the Lord, chapter 39, section 1, which shows good rhythm. Notice that line A parallels line A', and line B parallels line B':


B AFTER THE MANNER of the follies of other men;

B' but AFTER THE MANNER that is seemly and convenient,


Here is a more complex example from the FIRST CHAPTER of the 1851 Book of the Law of the Lord, with God skillfully placed in the center of the structure:

A Thou shalt not TAKE the NAME of the Lord thy God in VAIN:

B thou shalt not USURP dominion

C as a RULER; for the NAME of the Lord thy God

D is great and glorious ABOVE ALL OTHER NAMES:

E he is ABOVE ALL,

F and is the ONLY TRUE God;

F' the ONLY JUST and upright King


D' he ALONE hath the RIGHT

C' to RULE; and in his NAME, only he to whom he granteth it:

B' whosoever is not chosen of him, the same is a USURPER, and unholy:

A' the Lord will not hold him guiltless, for he TAKETH his NAME in VAIN.


Chiastic structures in Joseph Smith's writings do not prove them authentic any more than those in James Strange's book prove his writings to be inspired. As one person pointed out on the Recovery From Mormonism Board, "The chiasmus 'evidence' is like trying to prove from a piece of music that its composer must have studied music theory. And yet there are tons of music, fulfilling the basics of music theory, produced by people who couldn't even read and had no formal training whatsoever."

Further comments on chiasmus can be found in our Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 96G-96I; Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 17, no. 4, Winter 1984, "Ancient Chiasmus Studied," by Prof. John Kselman, p. 146-148; Dialogue, vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 1993, "Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity," by Brent Metcalfe, p. 162-171. Also, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. by Brent Metcalfe, Signature Books, SLC, 1993, ch. 9, "A Record in the Language of My Father: Evidence of Ancient Egyptian and Hebrew in the Book of Mormon," by Ed. Ashment, p. 329-394.



Ancient Scriptures: Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

One of the most oft-cited evidences for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon is the occurrence of chiasmus. FARMS writer John Welch discovered chiasmus in this book back in the 1960's. Chiasmus is basically a repetitive textual construction that often has a form such as ABCDD'C'B'A'. It occurs frequently in the Bible, and its occurrence in the Book of Mormon is claimed as evidence for the book's Hebrew roots. Many examples of chiasmus in various texts can be found on the internet, and when I was shown that this was in the Book of Mormon in high school I found it extremely convincing evidence that the book was ancient. But how good is chiasmus as evidence really? There are several points we should consider before concluding that chiasmus supports Book of Mormon antiquity.

First, in the church chiasmus is sometimes mistakenly believed to refer exclusively to ancient Hebrew poetry. While it occurs there, chiasmus is also found in other writings in many cultures over the last 3000 years, including Shakespeare and many other great writers of English literature. It is used as a rhetorical device in such writings, and I would suspect that even writers and preachers in Joseph's locale may have used it, whether consciously or unconsciously. Thus, Joseph could have been exposed to the style without having to translate it from ancient plates. For examples of chiasmus outside of the Bible, see www.chiasmus.com.

Second, many of the examples from the Book of Mormon that I have seen appear to be arbitrary. There may be better examples than the ones I have seen, but I have yet to find them. Even when I saw supposed chiasmus in high school the choice of phrases to include in the chiastic structure seemed to be arbitrary, but I realized that I was just a high school student and did not trust my own judgment. If some guy with a PhD at BYU said this was great evidence for the Book of Mormon, then I believed it. Here is an analysis of chiasmus in Alma 36 from www.lds-mormon.com (see this website for the actual passage that is discussed):

The first thing that we note is that there is an awful lot of repetition in this passage. In fact, this is a feature of the Book of Mormon in general... Given that there is so much repetition, does this not increase the chances that at least some passages would display a roughly chiastic structure? Especially when we depart from the strict definition of a chiasm, and note that there are a number of elements that have no parallels, and still others that have parallels that are outside of the chiastic structure.

Take, for example, the phrase 'born of God'. It occurs four times in this passage (and seven times in the book of Alma). Two of these occurrences are worked into the chiastic structure by Welch - verses 5 and 24. A third occurrence, in verse 26, can also be worked into the structure, because it occurs between elements L and J. The fourth occurrence, in verse 23, is found between elements M and L. If, as Welch asserts, this passage were deliberately intended to be chiastic, why would the author include elements that break the structure? A similar problem afflicts element I, which is actually misplaced in the chiastic structure. Again, to labor the point, the phrase 'harrowed up' occurs three times (verse 12, 17 and 19). Two of these, verse 17 and 19, can be worked into the chiastic structure. The third, in verse 12, cannot.

In short, it is my belief that Joseph Smith did not intend for Alma 36 to be chiastic. He was probably completely unaware of the technique. The chiasms that Mormon researchers find all over the Book are, in fact, a result of the incredible amount of repetition contained therein, and are well within the bounds of probability. This, coupled with the rather loose definition of a chiasm employed by the researchers, wherein they can include only those elements which fit the structure, and discard those elements which don't, results in a large number of imaginary chiasms in the Book.

The third point is that chiasmus is in the Bible, and by picking up the style and language of the KJV Bible Joseph would have naturally included such stylistic elements, whether consciously or unconsciously. In fact, chiasmus is found in Joseph's other writings and revelations, including the D&C. D&C 1, 88:34-38, 93:18-38 and 132:19-26 all contain examples of chiasmus. Here is an example from a letter of Joseph's to Emma, written while he was in Liberty jail (this is just an outline):

A. My Dear and Beloved Companion of My Bosom, in Tribulation, and Affliction
  B. My Lovely Children
    C. A Traitor to the Church . . . Be Careful Not to Trust Them
      D. We May Have Our Families Brought to Us
        E. I Hope for the Best Always . . . Oh May God Have Mercy on Us
          F. I Do Not Know Where it will End . . . Determined to Exterminate
        E. I Have Some Hopes . . . [God] will Extend Mercy in Some Degree
      D. I May Send for You to Bring You to Me
    C. Pray for Deliverance . . . Be Faithful and True to Every Trust
  B. Those Little Children
A. My Kind and Affectionate Emma, I am yours forever

This example is from the "Davidic Chiasmus" web page, a site designed to show that chiasmus is the Lord's style of speaking and that it can be found in modern and ancient prophetic writings. This may be true, but it weakens the argument that chiasmus is evidence for Book of Mormon antiquity if chiasmus is ubiquitous in the writings of Joseph Smith. Mormon author Blake Ostler wrote:

Book of Mormon Authorship has made a prima facie case for the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon. It fails, however, to respond to scholarly criticism in some crucial areas. For example, since Welch first published his study on chiasmus in 1969, it has been discovered that chiasmus also appears in the Doctrine and Covenants (see, for example, 88:34-38; 93:18-38; 132:19-26, 29-36), the Pearl of Great Price (Book of Abraham 3:16-19; 22-28), and other isolated nineteenth-century works. Thus, Welch's major premise that chiasmus is exclusively an ancient literary device is false. Indeed, the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon may be evidence of Joseph Smith's own literary style and genius. Perhaps Welch could have strengthened his premise by demonstrating that the parallel members in the Book of Mormon consist of Semitic word pairs, the basis of ancient Hebrew poetry. Without such a demonstration, both Welch's and Reynold's arguments from chiasmus are weak. (Dialogue, Vol. 16 no 4, pg. 143)

Since then attempts have been made to show the word pairs mentioned, but again the evidence is weak (Ashment 1993).

Furthermore, John Welch has claimed that no one in Joseph's area knew about chiasmus in the Bible when the Book of Mormon was written. For example, Welch said "So I think that there was really very little chance - what should we say, a statistically insignificant chance - that Joseph Smith had any awareness of this through regular scholarly channels" (Welch, Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, FARMS 1994, p. 18, cited in Quinn 1998a, p. 503-504). In spite of Welch's repeated assertions to the contrary, several books which discussed this issue were available in upstate New York in the 1820's including one at a bookstore near Joseph's home. One such book, Thomas Horne's Introduction To the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, published in a U.S. edition in 1825, said:

The grand, and indeed the sole characteristic of Hebrew Poetry, is what Bishop Lowth entitles Parallelism, that is, a certain equality, resemblance, or relationship, between members of each period; so that in two lines, or members of the same period, things shall answer to things, and words to words... [these are] those passages in which the same sentence is expressed not precisely in the same words, but in similar words, more full as well as more perspicuous, and concerning the force and meaning of which there can be no doubt (cited in Quinn 1998a, p. 500).

This book was advertised in a paper read by the Smith family, The Wayne Sentinel, on April 6, 13 and 20, 1825. The advertisement mentioned that this work dealt in part with Hebrew poetry. The work itself gives several examples of chiasmus from the Bible, including Isaiah 27:12-13 and Psalm 84:5-7. Furthermore, the 1818 edition of this work, published in London, was on sale at another local bookstore in 1820. Although this information has been available for some time, John Welch continues to claim that knowledge of chiasmus was unavailable to Joseph (see Quinn's discussion of the issue in Quinn 1998a, p. 499-504).

Joseph probably didn't read such books, but with the preaching and great interest in the Bible in his neighborhood, it is not unreasonable to think that he may have spoken with someone who did read the book, or at least knew about chiasmus. It is certainly possible that someone may have pointed out a few Biblical examples of Hebrew poetry to Joseph. It's clear that Joseph was intensely curious about religion and the Bible in his youth, and as his mother said, he was inclined to think often and deeply about the religious issues of the day. In the church we repeatedly make the mistake of underestimating how well-versed Joseph could have been in the religious ideas of 19th century upstate New York. If he and his family were seeking a church as much as they said they were, then it is very likely that they were aware of publicly known discoveries that were being made about the Bible. Personally, I doubt that Joseph consciously tried to create chiasmus in the book, especially since I have not seen any examples that couldn't be better explained by Joseph's effort to mimic the language of the King James Bible.

Chiasmus then, for these reasons, cannot at this time be used as evidence for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon.

In conclusion, who wrote the book of mormon?  I don’t know.  I do agree with LDS faithful in that I do not believe that Joseph Smith wrote it.  I also do not believe that it was written by ancient prophets.  There is good evidence that it was written by 18th century authors with limited knowledge of ancient american history.