Either the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, a genuine historical document, or it is fiction. If it is fiction, then somebody (or somebodies) in the early 19th century made it up.
I have read a lot of fiction, thousands and thousands of books of fiction, written by a wide range of authors covering many literary genres from westerns to historical romance. The Book of Mormon is not fiction. It bears none of the characteristic marks of fiction. In a later blog, I will explain why I say this. In this blog, however, I want to provide additional evidence that the Book of Mormon is a genuine historical document.
Why do I do this? The answer is both sobering and simple. We will all have to account to God someday for how we have treated the Book of Mormon, another testament of his son Jesus Christ.
This blog is written for those who believe the Book of Mormon is from God, to strengthen their faith and increase their appreciation for this marvelous scripture. It is written for those whose faith may be wavering. It is also written for those who believe the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.
But the Book of Mormon contains many, many Hebrew literary structures. It is full of them. How did that happen in a book supposedly written in the early 19th century? These are distinctive literary structures, very different from modern English (or 19th century English). In Blog Post #4 I dealt with the subject of chiasmus, one of these Hebrew literary structures. Here is the introduction to that blog if you don’t want to review the whole thing. Quoting myself (with some edits) from Blog #4 (in italics):
“Ancient literature, including classical Greek and Latin, and also the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible, and the Koran, made extensive use of what is called “chiastic” structures. Here is a good reference on chiasmus that will introduce you to the subject.
The idea of chiasmus is that the critical or key point of the chiasm is at the center of the structure, and that corresponding ideas parallel each other on either side of the chiasm. The ideas do not always use exactly the same words, but the thoughts and ideas are parallel. Here is an example from Isaiah Chapter 60 verses 1-3.
C for thy light is come,
D and the glory
E of the LORD is risen upon thee.
F For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
F and gross darkness the people:
E but the LORD shall arise upon thee,
D and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
C And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,
B and kings to the brightness
A of thy rising.
The focus of this chiasm is the gross darkness that covers the earth and its people. The light of the Lord is thus promised to dispel this darkness. Do you see how powerful this message is when written in this chiastic structure? Reading it this way is compelling.
Now imagine yourself listening to these verses read out loud. Imagine that you are culturally sensitized to chiasmus and chiastic structures. Imagine the speaker’s voice giving emphasis to the underlined word, and even greater emphasis on the darkness at the focal point of the chiasm. Read it out loud this way for yourself and see how much more powerful it is as the spoken word, even more so than the written word.
From blog #4 I quote: “Mormons assert that the Book of Mormon was written by a people with their linguistic roots in Hebrew from about the 6th century B.C. If Book of Mormon is an authentic book, then it likely contains chiasmi. And indeed it does—it contains many of them.”
“Many of them” is a real understatement. To be specific, the Book of Mormon contains more than 300 chiasmi (the plural of “chiasm”), an average of more than one every two pages.
Readers should understand that chiasmus is not hypothetical or a “theory” or just an idea. It is real literary device used by ancient writers (and speakers). Many non-Mormon scholars have identified and written extensively on chiasmus in ancient texts, including the Bible and the Koran. Here are just a few of the many sites you can visit to learn more about chiasmus. I recommend the Wikipedia site to start with.
About seven months ago, I bought a hard copy of the Book of Mormon reformatted to emphasize the parallel structures in the Book of Mormon, including chiasmus. Chiasmus is only one of several different Hebrew writing structures making use of parallelism, but chiasmus is my favorite…so I emphasize it this blog. I finished reading that reformatted version a few months ago. It was a wonderful experience. I will share several of my favorite chiasmi in this post, then comment on them.
It may be difficult to get your own hard copy of the reformatted Book of Mormon. Amazon does not have a reasonably priced version anymore (as of March 2016).
But, good news, you can get a PDF or read it online using one or more of the following links. In fact, I strongly recommend that you open up or download one of these PDFs before reading the rest of this blog. The PDFs are free (about 4.5 MB in size).
The section on chiasmus is given on pages xvi through xix of the Introduction. It is only a three pages long. Please read it now. You need to read this so that you are more fully prepared to benefit from the chiasmi highlighted below. (Sometime you should read the entire Introduction to this book, pages xi through xlvi, to increase your appreciation for the literary beauty of the Book of Mormon and all the Hebrew poetic structures it contains, including but not limited to chiasmus.)
OK, are you ready to proceed? 🙂
Good…here we go.
We have long sections of text in the Book of Mormon from many distinct individuals. These include: Lehi, Nephi, Isaiah, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Benjamin, Mosiah, Abinadi, Ammon, Alma, Alma (“the Younger”), Amulek, Zeezrom, Aaron, Zenock, Zenos, Moroni (“captain” Moroni), Helaman, another Helaman, another Nephi, another Lehi, Samuel, Lachoneus, Jesus Christ, Ammoron, Mormon, Moroni (son of Mormon) and Ether.
I have selected a very few chiasmi for you to read from just a few of these people—just a few chiasmi out of hundreds of possible examples. I have done this to emphasize how each of the Book of Mormon prophets used chiasmus to emphasize their own particular prophetic messages, especially to witness of Christ.
Please use the reformatted Book of Mormon when you study each of these. You will see how the formatting makes the message of the chiasm clear—as it undoubtedly was clear to those who heard it. I also suggest you read each chiasm out loud, giving emphasis as indicated in the text.
We sit down now and read a speech that was often delivered orally before being committed to writing. (Yes, the ancients could speak this way extemporaneously without necessarily writing the chiasm down first.) The Greeks were particularly good at speaking this way. The hearers of the original words got the message they were intended to get from the oral delivery…that is part of the power of chiasmus.
- Read (out loud) 1 Nephi 3: 3-12 in the reformatted Book of Mormon. The Latter-day Saints often quote 1 Nephi 3:7 as a stand-alone verse without realizing that it is part of a larger chiasm focused on keeping the commandments of God. Nephi is the paragon of obedience in the Book of Mormon, and this chiasm makes that clear.
- But Nephi knows that keeping the commandments is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. What is that end, that final result? Now please read (again, I suggest you read out loud) another chiasm by Nephi in 1 Nephi 13: 39-42. The message of all scripture, including the Book of Mormon, is that we must come unto Christ to be saved. This fits perfectly with the message of the New Testament in St. John 21:30: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name”.
- Lehi’s teachings and revelations were mostly lost to us when Martin Harris took the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon and lost them. When we eventually receive the Book of Lehi, I believe we will find that Lehi often used chiasmus. But we do have at least one chiasm from him. The book of 2 Nephi opens with a powerful chiasm given by father Lehi in his prophetic blessing and farewell to his sons. In 2 Nephi 1: 13-23 he exhorts them to keep the commandments and, at focal point of the chiasm, he warns them of the destruction that awaits them and their descendants if they do not repent. Lehi prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem if they did not repent, and destruction of the wicked among his descendants if they did not repent. “Destruction in the absence of repentance” is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon.
- The extended allegory of the olive trees and the vineyard given in Jacob 5 are attributed to an earlier prophet named Zenos. The allegory deals with God’s great efforts over the centuries to save his children by nurturing and feeding his children on truth. God’s great exertions on our behalf, his determination to save us, is the message of the whole allegory and is summarized here in these few verses Jacob 5: 61-64.
- King Benjamin uses many chiasmi in his great discourse to his people. One of my favorites is in Mosiah 4: 11-12. These two short verses tell us how to retain a remission of our sins by remembering always the greatness of God and our own nothingness. This is hard for proud, sinful humans to hear; and it is absolutely necessary. “Remembering” the goodness and power of God is another key message of the Book of Mormon, and it is emphasized here. We forget so quickly the great works of God in our lives and in the life of the world.
- The prophet Abinadi was put to death for stating that God himself, as Jesus Christ, would come down among his people (see Mosiah 17:8). Abinadi’s testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and of the resurrection was direct and powerful. He stated it in a short chiasm found in Mosiah 15: 20-23. His hearers would have gotten the message thus delivered in the chiasm, and then it was up to them to accept or reject the message. Apparently only one person did accept Abinadi’s message, a young man named Alma, later called Alma the Elder.
Mormon-summarizing the teachings of Alma (the Elder)
- In Blog #4 I wrote about Alma 36, a great, chapter-long chiasm focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This chiasm was given by Alma (the Younger) as instruction to his son Helaman. His father Alma also focused his teaching on Jesus Christ, as he had learned of Christ from Abinadi. One example of Alma (the Elder’s) Christ-focused chiasmi as summarized by Mormon is given in Mosiah 18:1-3.
- A primary responsibility of Amulek was to bear witness to the people in the city of Ammoniah that Alma (the younger) was a true prophet, so that in the mouths of two or more witnesses every word of God might be established. Thus the judgments of God upon that city would be just. Amulek testified that he had been visited by an angel in Alma 10: 7-11. By stating his testimony in this chiastic form, Amulek’s audience would have gotten the message that Amulek wanted to convey. His testimony helped to convert some of his audience, and enraged many others. The word of God makes us choose sides.
- Mormon often gives us editorial comments in chiastic form. A short one is found in Alma 19: 6-7, commenting on the conversion of King Lamoni and the light of God that had illuminated his mind and soul. Do you see how powerfully the chiastic structure contrasts light and dark?
Samuel the Lamanite
- Samuel’s preaching to the wicked Nephites focused in part on the coming of the Savior to visit the descendants of Lehi. One such testimony of Samuel regarding the coming of Christ is given in Helaman 14:2-8 as a chiasm. The sign of the Lord’s coming was to be a day and a night and a day as if there were no night, and that great sign was at the focal point of the chiasm, right where it should be.
I had intended to give only ten chiasmi, but I want to do two last ones, one by the Lord Jesus Christ and another by Moroni. Twelve is a good number for someone who wishes to be a follower of Christ. 🙂
- The Savior structured many of his teachings to the Nephites in chiastic form. One example is actually a nested, or double chiasm, given in 3 Nephi 18:27-35. Note the Lord’s concern for his people. He wants us to take the Sacrament worthily in remembrance of him. But we are not to cast out those who are unworthy. Their sins may cost them their membership in the church if they do not repent. Nonetheless, we are to continue to minister to them and help them to repent, and return to Christ.
- Chiasmi need not be long to be powerful. The primary function of the Book of Mormon is to serve as another witness that Jesus is the Christ. Moroni begins his own book, the last book of the Book of Mormon, by offering his witness of Jesus Christ, a witness that is so strong that he will suffer death rather than deny the Christ, Moroni 1: 2-3. I think all the chiasmi benefit from being read out loud. This one absolutely should be read out loud to appreciate it.
Well, almost done with this blog. The next time I read the Book of Mormon (later this year), I will read the reformatted version, out loud, trying to speak it with the emphasis indicated by the formatting. As I do so, I expect to have receive more light and truth that will bring me closer to Christ.
I recommend you do the same thing.
As you read the Book of Mormon, you might be alert to the presence of all the beautiful Hebrew literary structures that the good people who prepared this reformatted version (bless them!) may have missed. I did so and I think I found my “very own” chiasm in the Book of Mormon, one that was missed in this particular version.
Look carefully at Alma 15:5-11 and reformat these verses with verse 8 at the focal point: “If thou believest in the redemption of Christ, thou canst be healed.” Do you see the four parallel ideas on either side of that focal verse? Start with “they found him on his bed, sick” and end with “Zeezrom leaped on his feet”, those are the first and last of the parallel elements. See the others now? 🙂
So to my fellow believers in the Book of Mormon, I hope that your faith and your testimony have been strengthened by this blog. I hope that you see how this way of approaching the Book of Mormon, as a book full of Hebrew literary structures, can help you receive additional light and knowledge from the Savior. I hope it will help keep you strong in the faith and valiant in your testimony of Jesus Christ. I hope you will believe even more strongly that through the redemption of Christ, we all can be healed.
My own faith in Christ’s redeeming power has healed me many times, both spiritually and physically, and I expect to be healed again and again through his grace and mercy, as I continue through my life and into the next life.
For those who do not believe the Book of Mormon to be true, or whose faith may be wavering, I ask that you consider this question in the silent honesty of your own soul: how it was possible for any modern writer to write this book?
Can you write a chiasm about a serious subject? Can you write the twelve I have quoted above? Or can you write 300 of them, so finely tuned to the larger messages of the Book of Mormon and the individual experiences of the different authors of the Book of Mormon and woven so seamlessly into its text?
No, you cannot. I certainly cannot. We just do not write this way. But ancient writers and speakers can and did.
The Book of Mormon is true. It is a genuine historical book, not a work of fiction. And because it is true, Joseph Smith was a true prophet, right to the day he was martyred, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be to understand or accept what we think we know of some of Joseph’s actions and teachings. Because it is true, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also true, no matter how socially unacceptable some of its teachings may sometimes be and no matter how obviously fallible and human its leaders and members are, were and will always be. It is indeed the restored church of Christ here on the earth in these last days, preparing the way for the Lord’s Second Coming. The Book of Mormon truly is another witness that Jesus Christ is the living Son of God.
On this Easter Sunday, March 27, in the year of our Lord’s grace 2016, I bear my own solemn witness to you that Jesus is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world and that the Book of Mormon is true and a true witness of Christ. The tomb is empty. As testified by the Book of Mormon and by ancient and modern prophets alike, the Savior lives!