Looking at patterns in the Book of Mormon

Over on Mormanity in Jeff's post on Alma 36 and chiasmus (see also his follow-up) I asked about finding a community for discussing potential chiasms. In one of my comments, I promised to post something, and here it is.

In Alma 26:6-8 there are what I think are some interesting parallelistic patterns, an extended parallel, a simple parallel, and a chiasm. Here's my attempt at laying them out:

A Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the
storm at the last day;
B yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by
the whirlwinds;
but when the storm cometh
C they shall be gathered together in
their place,
A that the storm cannot penetrate to
B yea, neither shall they be driven with
fierce winds
C whithersoever the enemy listeth to
carry them.

But behold,
a they are in the hands of the Lord of the
harvest, and
a they are his;

A and he will raise them up at the last day.
B Blessed be the name of our God;
C let us sing to his praise, yea,
C let us give thanks
B to his holy name,
A for he doth work righteousness forever.

So, what do you think?

Oh That I Were Quoted in Context

Alma 29:1

O THAT I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

This scripture is quoted frequently by members of the LDS church to help instill a desire to do missionary work. It seems to capture the drive to bear testimony and share the gospel very well. For me though, it has begun to take on a second meaning -- a warning about taking scriptures out of context.

In Alma 29, Alma the Younger begins with this heartfelt exclamation, but over the next few verses repents and recants his wish (see vv 3, 6-7, and 8).

In fact, Alma 29 becomes a great example of how seeing hebreaisms can help clarify scriptures. Alma 29 is composed of two large chiasms (vv1-7 and 8-17) which encapsulate at least 6 smaller parallel patterns (vv 2, 4-5, 9, 9-10, 11-13, and 15-16) (See Donald Parry. TheBook of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns. 1992. pp 260-1.) Looked at through this view, you can still see the powerful message about missionary work as well as awarning against aspiring to roles outside your stewardship -- and the desire to pull a verse out of context is harder to justify.


The Pivot Pattern, and a mental lightbulb

I'm not done putting my thoughts about Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers into a readable state, but I thought I'd better try to get a couple of more things written in the meantime.

While reading Jeff Lindsay'spage on "Bicola, Tricola, Paired Tricola, and Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?", I got interested in Bicola and Tricola. I went hunting and found The Pivot Pattern in Biblical Hebrew as another reference. It wasn't about the same thing. Rather, a specific kind of tricola in which the 2nd colon "belongs semantically to the first and third cola alike." (Wilfred G. E. Watson) -- for example:

Hearken unto the voice of my cry,
my King, and my God,
for unto the will I pray.
(Psalm 5:2)

I was pretty excited as I read the paper, and went to look at the examples that they listed. Then, I hit a problem:

citationexample translationKJV translation
Joel 4:20 (Joel 3:20)

So Judah forever
is inhabited
and Jerusalem from generation to generation.

But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation.
Genesis 4:24

If seven times Cain
is avenged
then Lamech seventy-seven

If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold

The pivot pattern shows up well in a very literal translations, but not so well in the KJV. This presents a problem, the Book of Mormon is closer in style to the KJV than the literal translations used in the paper. So it looks like I'm going to need to try to get a bette rhandle on deconstructing the Book of Mormon text to get at the original (Hebrew) structure to see the pivot patterns that I believe are there.

Any thoughts?


Really Understanding the Scriptures

When I wrote "Scriptural exegesis can really only be performed by individuals in a ministerial role -- anyone else lacks the context to really understand how the scriptures should apply to our lives." in Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, I had misremembered Hall's comments and inadvertently combined two points. He didn't claim that the fathers believed that you must be a practicing minister to be a successful exegete, but that you needed to be a practicing Christian and that their ministerial role added a dimension of practicality to their understanding of the scriptures. Neither of these ideas is new. In them, I hear echoes from conference talks and lesson manuals.

Developing a love of the scriptures should be more than an act of Christian duty, is should be a Christian activity (as opposed to an academic exercise). The scriptures were written under the influenceof the Holy Ghost and are more effectively read under the same influence. Prayer, pondering, keeping the commandments, and living up to the covenants we've entered into keep us attuned to the voice of the Spirit and will help open our minds to the scriptures.

Serving in a ministerial capacity helps focus our attention in scripture study on those practical matters pertaining to our stewardship. Our service provides a laboratory for working out the real world application of the lessons we learn. The insights that we gain as we pray, ponder, and study the scriptures, while seeking the Lord's help in our callings, will cast new light on the scriptures. (I see this as one of the blessings of magnifying a calling.)


Listening to the music of the Scriptures

One of the points that really struck me about the description of the fathers in Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers was the idea that they read the scriptures differently than we do. Christopher Hall (the author) presents threereasons:
  • The first is that the fathers operated in a very different milieu than we do.
  • The second has to do with their temporal proximity to the scriptures (Hall calls it 'Hermeneutical Proximity')
  • The third is that the scriptures were a large part of their personal and communal lives.
The idea that the culture we live in serves as a lens for our study of the scriptures makes sense. Our day to day concerns flavor the questions we bring to our reading. Our preconceptions color the answers we find.
Their temporal proximity to the scriptures provides the fathers with access to a number of clues that we lack. For example, Hall points to the intertextual links between different books in the scriptures -- links that we might miss. He points out Matthew 5:5, which several of the father's connect with Moses (and in the case of Theodoret Numbers12:3) as a case in point.
The deep inclusion of the scriptures in early fathers' lives came about through several means. Many of the fathers expected that a reader wanting to understand the scriptures would read them frequently and intensely, even several hours a day. The stories and songs in the scriptures formed a part of community life, Hall compares their role to that of music today. Finally, educational models of the day focused on memorization, giving the father's anadmirable well from which to draw as they read.
How does all of this affect me? Well, first, I can read the fathers -- reading their exegesis can give me the opportunity to see through a different lens, gaining insights that I might have missed on my own. Next, I can try to apply their tools to my own scripture study -- trying to avoid applying my cultural preconceptions to the scriptures; developing an understanding of the the textual methods of the day; and immersing myself in the scriptures through reading alone, as a family, and through listening to the scriptures being read or sung.


Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers

I've just checked out Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers from my local library (again). I really enjoyed the book the first time around, but recently, I've started thinking about some of the themes in it and how they apply to my feelings about Mormonism. I wanted to reread the book to refresh my understanding of three points in particular:

  • (from the book) Scriptural exegesis can really only be performed by individuals in a ministerial role -- anyone else lacks the context to really understand how the scriptures should apply to our lives.

  • (from the book) Early christians interacted differently with the scriptures than modern christians do, because they read (and sang) them communally.

  • (from the book) There is a real benefit to modern christians who will make the effort to read the patrilogia. The insights of these men might challenge modern assumptions, but can also shed light on the scriptures because of their proximity to them.

  • (a personal take) Conference talks (especially those by Apostles) are similar in many ways to the patrilogia. Do I spend enough time studying them (especially those that pre-date my membership in the Church)?

Hopefully as I spend some time re-reading, I can put my thoughts about the above into bloggable shape.