Monday, November 20, 2017 1 comments

Thoughts about chiasmus

A few weeks ago I went to an institute class on the Book of Mormon that talked about literary forms in the Book of Mormon. They talked about parallelism and  chiasmus and how John Welch was made aware of chiasmus in the Bible and how he discovered it in the Book of Mormon too. 

I remember my first exposure to the form of chiasmus. A BYU professor taught about it in my Book of Mormon class back in 1998, and at the time I thought it was terribly far-fetched. The teacher pointed out how a whole chapter in Alma was one massive chiasmus, and my skeptical mind doubted this was a real thing and wondered how anyone would have figured it out.

Well, this institute class answered that. John Welch had been taught to see chiasmus in the Bible (see link for 10 minute Youtube video on the story) and had opened the Book of Mormon randomly and noticed repeated two repeated words, then similar ideas above and below that repetition.  He’d stumbled on the middle point of emphasis, and then found the parallelisms that spread outward from there.  The wording didn’t have to be identical; it was the theme that could be repeated.

That made more sense to me.

And then it struck me how fabulous it was that this form was used in scripture. If it is the idea or theme that is repeated, then the exact wording isn’t as important.  In contrast, take the poetic idea of rhyme. A poem that rhymes is very difficult to translate across languages because the same words in another language may not rhyme. You lose part of the cleverness and artistry in translation.  But parallel ideas and themes presented in chiastic form will remain unchanged, no matter the language.

I’ve run across an edition of the Book of Mormon that has actually worked at all kinds of places where parallelisms and chiasmuses appear, and uses indentation to make those forms more obvious.  It’s fascinating to run your eye along the page and see the form. (But it’s more difficult to read.)

And then something else occurred to me.  I remembered Moroni’s lament about weakness in writing and stumbling over word placement, worrying the gentiles would mock his writing.  Could it be possible that he assumed the gentiles would know parallelism and chiasmus and see where he couldn’t get it to work quite right? Could it be he worried the gentiles would dismiss his message because he couldn’t achieve the highest literary form as often as he wanted to?

He didn’t know we would be so much more interested in the flow of meaning than in the form. He didn’t know we’d know almost nothing about the literary structure they were trying to shoehorn their message into. After all, chiasmus is an optimization problem, as a writer tries to structure his message in a pattern of repeating ideas. (There is always a risk that the form will start to torture the meaning and read awkwardly.)  If the Book of Mormon writers ever do chiasmus badly, and we don’t quite see how it goes, it is probably because they departed from the form in greater service to the meaning, and we can be grateful for that.
Saturday, November 18, 2017 0 comments

Power to deliver, to light or darkness

67 When I called again there was none of you to answer; yet my arm was not shortened at all that I could not redeem, neither my power to deliver.
68 Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea. I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink, and die for thirst.
69 I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering.
70 And this shall ye have of my hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow. (D&C 133:67-70)

In this section the Lord is warning what His answer will be to those who do not repent—that they will suffer the consequences of their rebellion.

The part that tells of the natural phenomena that happens at the Lord’s rebuke I used to interpret through the lens of the story of Exodus and the children of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, as though it is a promise of all the ways the Lord can manipulate nature to bring the salvation of His people. (He parted the Red Sea, parted the Jordan river, plagued the Egyptians with darkness, along with other afflictions) I interpreted it this way because a lot of it is a quotation (or a reworking of a quote) from Isaiah 50:2-3, and so many times Isaiah makes reference to the events of the Exodus to teach.

But I’ve realized there is yet another interpretation for it that is a warning. It is a warning to the Saints about the awful consequences of losing the Spirit if they sin and have to be excommunicated. The natural phenomena are used figuratively to represent the major negative spiritual changes that will happen—your sea can be dried up. Your river can become desert. Spiritual life can die. The bright sunny sky will turn very dark for you. Happiness turns to misery. At His rebuke, all of this will happen because of His great power.

That’s pretty dire, and from time to time we are reminded of accounts of a few early church members who were pretty high up in church leadership who left the church and they had this kind of experience.

So, I think when the Lord says He has power to deliver, it is a two-sided thing. He has power to deliver us from sin, but if we don’t repent, He has power to deliver us over to darkness.

None of us want that.

I’m grateful to know of the Lord’s great mercy and long-suffering and patience to us all and how many times and all the ways He invites us to come unto Him. I love verse 67 that says even though so many times we don’t answer the Lord’s call, the Lord still has power to redeem and deliver. Whether or not we believe in Christ, He still has power to save, so why not choose to believe?  We have to keep turning to Him.

Thursday, November 16, 2017 0 comments

Satan’s attempt to further destroy Zeezrom

After the tragedies and difficulties at Ammonihah, we get this little bit:

3 And also Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness, for he supposed that Alma and Amulek were no more; and he supposed that they had been slain because of his iniquity. And this great sin, and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat.
4 Now, when he heard that Alma and Amulek were in the land of Sidom, his heart began to take courage; and he sent a message immediately unto them, desiring them to come unto him. (Alma 15:3-4)

I notice that Zeezrom began to be tormented about his sins, and he thought his wickedness caused the deaths of Alma and Amulek. He had no knowledge of their true fates, but he assumed the worst. It is easy to understand that he might feel like he deserved to suffer for what he did.

But on the other hand, it could be argued that he didn’t deserve to feel this way because when we look at his actions, even though he began by attacking Alma and Amulek, his heart changed, and he began to defend them instead.  But that seemed to count for nothing with him. Something made him forget his more recent better works and only remember his wickedness.

Satan really wanted Zeezrom to be miserable, so he played upon Zeezrom’s ignorance about Alma and Amulek’s fates and put a ton of blame and torment upon him, using Zeezrom’s awakened conscience against him.

Happily, when Zeezrom heard Alma and Amulek were alive and in Sidom,, this immediately showed him his fears concerning them were false. This gave him the courage to act and call them to come. It would take courage to again face those he had feared he had so badly wronged, but he did it, and through more faith in Christ, was able to gain full relief from the rest of his suffering.

I think there’s an important lesson for us here. Satan tries to make our sins seem so awful that there is no hope. He wants us conscious of our awful state, but he also wants to catastrophize the consequences and steal our hope that we can ever escape, or repent, or improve—all to make us miserable.  (And he will try to make things seem particularly bad when we are tired, hungry, lonely, bored, stressed, or sick.) We just have to remember that Satan LIES. Things are not as bad as he makes them seem.   We have to take courage and act in faith, believing that Christ can heal us, help us, give us strength, forgive us, save us.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 0 comments

Answering according to the Spirit

21 And this Zeezrom began to question Amulek, saying: Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you? Now Zeezrom was a man who was expert in the devices of the devil, that he might destroy that which was good; therefore, he said unto Amulek: Will ye answer the questions which I shall put unto you?
22 And Amulek said unto him: Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord…

I love that Amulek says he will answer questions according to the Spirit of the Lord. Shouldn’t we all go through our lives with that same determination to follow the Spirit as to whether we answer questions or not, and take our answers according to the Spirit?

Amulek’s Spirit-led answers brought out important doctrines that were under deep scrutiny, and he might have had reason to feel worried about how they would be received, but he followed the Spirit, and that made his answers powerful enough that Zeezrom was ultimately affected to the extent that he decided to change and become more honest. Amulek’s spiritual honesty inspired Zeezrom to be honest with himself about the consequences of what he was doing.

I also notice that aside from revealing Zeezrom’s little trap, Amulek spoke mostly about general principles of repentance, accountability, and judgment.