Chiasmus, Theology, and the New Testament in Mosiah 5:10-12
Chiasmus, Theology, and the New Testament in Mosiah 5:10-12
According to Welch, “We have here six elements repeated in exactly the opposite order, everything doubled, and not for any particular reason, if it’s being written in good English or German.”3 In his view, “the repetition here is precise, extensive and meaningful. It simply strains reason to imagine that such structure in this oration occurred accidentally.”4 Welch views this passage as one of many “strong” chiasmi in Benjamin’s speeches in Mosiah:
These chiasms exhibit balance—having elements on both sides of the proposed focal point nearly equal in terms of number of words, lines, or elements—and create a convincing sense of return and completion from the beginning to the end. Similarly, the more compact the chiasm—or the fewer irrelevancies between its elements—and the longer the chiasm, the higher its degree of chiasticity.5
Is this a genuine chiasmus, and if so is it evidence that the text is translated from an ancient Hebraic text? As a research question, the possibility that the text is a genuine chiasmus must be given fair and reasonable consideration. If it is, the question of whether such a chiasmus should be considered evidence of an ancient Hebraic origin should also be considered fairly. These are two separate questions and should be treated as such. Nevertheless, the second question comes into play only if the answer to the first question is clearly affirmative.
Is Mosiah 5:10-12 a Chiasmus?
The place to begin is by examining the passage in context, with the first step simply to identify the literary unit to be considered. Verses 10-12, which Welch identifies as the chiasmus, is not a distinct literary unit. Rather, it is part of a speech attributed in the text to King Benjamin at the beginning of verse 6; the speech runs from the middle of verse 6 to the end of the chapter (Mosiah 5:6b-15). Here is the entire speech, with some of the key expressions marked and verses 10-12 indented:
and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made
for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name;
therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free,
and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.
There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh;
therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ,
all you that have entered into the covenant with God
that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God,
for he shall know the name by which he is called;
for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ
11 And I would that ye should remember also,
that this is the name that I said I should give unto you
therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
that the name be not blotted out of your hearts.
12 I say unto you,
I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts,
that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called,
and also, the name by which he shall call you.
and who is a stranger unto him,
and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
14 And again,
doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him?
I say unto you, Nay;
he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks,
but will drive him away, and cast him out.
I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you
if ye know not the name by which ye are called.
15 Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable,
always abounding in good works,
that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his,
that you may be brought to heaven,
that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life,
through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things,
in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.
When we read verses 10-12 in the context of the speech as a whole, that segment of the speech does not appear to have been composed as a distinct chiastic unit. Recall Welch’s statement that the chiasmus consists of “six elements repeated in exactly the opposite order, everything doubled.” That analysis turns out to be incomplete in a way that undermines the conclusion. Specifically, some of the key elements on which the chiastic outline is based are not merely “doubled” but are repeated more than twice in the supposed chiasmus and repeated additional times throughout the speech. These non-chiastic repetitions Welch has called “mavericks,” by which he means verbal elements similar or identical to elements used to identify the chiasmus but that “appear extraneously outside the proposed structure.” Welch rightly views such mavericks as weakening a proposed chiasmus.6 Yet they are plentiful in this passage.
First, Welch makes the word name the key element identifying the beginning and ending line of the chiasm (A and A’). However, the word name appears twelve times in the speech, including six times in the supposed chiasmus (twice each in verses 10, 11, and 12). It is especially worth noting that the precise expression the name of Christ appears not only in verse 10 but in the sentence immediately preceding (toward the end of verse 9) as well as just a few lines earlier (v. 8). There is simply no basis from the standpoint of literary analysis to regard the occurrences of the word name at the beginning of verse 10 and the end of verse 12 as marking the starting and ending points of a distinct literary unit.
Second, Welch makes the one word called found in verses 10 and 12 the markers of the second and second-to-last lines of the chiasmus (B and B’). Yet the word called appears six times in the speech (vv. 7, 9, 10, 12, 14) along with one occurrence of the present-tense form call (v. 12). The six occurrences of called include two that immediately precede the supposed chiasmus (v. 9). See how the occurrences of the words name and called are in expressions that closely parallel the ones selected by Welch as marking elements of the chiasmus (labeled with capital letters):
ye shall be called the children of Christ (v. 7)
there is no other name given (v. 8)
take upon you the name of Christ (v. 8)
the name by which he is called (v. 9)
he shall be called by the name of Christ (v. 9)
take upon him the (A) name of Christ (v. 10)
be (B) called by some other name (v. 10)
this is the name that I said I should give unto you (v. 11)
the voice by which ye shall be (Bʹ) called (v. 12)
the (Aʹ) name by which he shall call you (v. 12)
the name by which he are called (v. 14)
What one finds here is a fairly repetitious passage in which the words called and name are repeated numerous times. The following table presents a full list of all of the occurrences of these two words in the speech, with the ones identified by Welch as marking the two outermost parts of the chiasm noted with their respective letters:
|7 called||7 name||8 name||8 name||9 name||9 called|
|9 called||9 name||10 (A) name||10 (B) called||10 name||11 name|
|11 name||12 name||12 (Bʹ) called||12 (Aʹ) name||14 name||14 called|
There is simply no indication in the text that the occurrences of the words name and called in the places designated by Welch begin and end a distinct literary unit or stand in a special relationship to each other in the way the chiasmic outline requires. In fact, the most striking parallel to Welch’s line A comes not in verse 12 but in verse 8:
take upon you the name of Christ (v. 8)
take upon him the name of Christ (v. 10)
The fact that the clearest parallel to the supposed opening line of the chiasmus comes several lines earlier is sufficient grounds for rejecting the chiasmic outline.
It is true that the expression “the left hand of God” is found only twice in the speech, in verses 10 and 12. This is actually one of the better parallels, so far as having the potential to contribute to the case for an example of chiasmus. As Welch points out, these are the only two occurrences of the expression “the left hand of God” in the Book of Mormon.7 However, once again the larger context of the speech needs to be taken into account. The expression “the left hand of God” occurs in contrast to the expression “the right hand of God” that appears earlier in the speech. Indeed, there is a very clear parallel between these expressions in verses 9 and 10:
A And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this
B shall be found at the right hand of God,
C for he shall know the name by which he is called;
D for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Aʹ And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever
Dʹ shall not take upon him the name of Christ
Cʹ must be called by some other name;
Bʹ therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
These two sentences clearly parallel one another very closely. Each sentence consists of four lines or fragments, with each of the first four lines of the first sentence having a specific, verbally similar parallel in the second sentence, though not in the same order. Ironically, if one skipped line A and began in mid-sentence with line B, this bit of text would look like a nice chiasmus! But this would be clearly wrong, since line A is paralleled by line Aʹ; and line Aʹ does not make any sense as the center of a chiasmus.
The second sentence states the converse of the first sentence, i.e., what happens to someone who does not do what the first sentence commends. Each line of the second sentence except for the first contrasts with the corresponding line of the first sentence. In terms of literary analysis, therefore, it makes no sense to treat verse 10 as part of a literary unit distinct from verse 9.
This brings us to the interior part of the chiasmus that Welch found. It will be helpful to quote just this part of the text here:
This is the best part of Welch’s proposed chiastic outline. The key terms remember, blotted out, and transgress(ion) appear only in these places in the entire speech. If this segment of the speech did not end in mid-sentence, it might constitute a passable or decent chiasmus. However, ending the chiasmus in mid-sentence significantly weakens the case, just as beginning a chiasmus in mid-sentence would not work in verses 9-10. Here again, Welch himself has made the point that a strong case for chiasmus requires that the chiasmus begins and ends at natural literary divisions of the text, and especially not in mid-sentence:
A chiasm is stronger if it operates across a literary unit as a whole and not only upon fragments or sections which overlap or cut across organizational lines intrinsic to the text…. To the extent that the proposed structure crosses over natural boundaries, unnaturally chops sentences in half, or falls short of discernible boundaries in the text as a whole, the more dubious the suggested chiasm becomes.8
The presence of other mavericks, or repetitions that do not fit the chiastic outline (“the name” three times, and “your hearts” in Dʹ and Eʹ), further weakens the proposed chiasmus.
In conclusion, Mosiah 5:10-12 is not a strong example of chiasmus. Mosiah 5:11-12a has some features of a chiasmus but would also be weakened by its arbitrary ending point and its inclusion of maverick elements. The appearance of a chiastic-like pattern may be acknowledged, but it is not rhetorically or literarily polished enough to constitute a strong example of chiasmus. It certainly cannot be considered evidence of the text originating from an ancient Israelite source.
Is Mosiah 5:10-12 Part of an Ancient Text?
Although Mosiah 5:10-12 is not a strong example of chiasmus, this negative finding does not negate the possibility that the passage is part of an authentic ancient text translated by Joseph Smith. Not everything in the Book of Mormon needs to be a chiasmus to be ancient. So the finding that this passage is not really a chiasmus does not make the text modern, but merely leaves the question open.
Benjamin’s Name and Rhetorical Wordplay?
Before turning to the evidence for the text’s modern origin, one other argument for the antiquity of the passage will be considered briefly. Matthew L. Bowen has argued that Benjamin’s references to the Nephites bearing Christ’s “name” as his “sons and daughters” and being on his “right hand” are “rhetorical wordplay” on the name Benjamin, a Hebrew name that meant “son of the right hand.”9 (In Hebrew, ben means “son,” and yamîn means “right” or “right hand.”) If the wordplay was intentional, it would not be likely to have originated with Joseph Smith, since in 1829 he almost certainly would not have known the derivation of the name Benjamin. Thus, Bowen’s conclusion, if valid, would seem to support the antiquity of the passage.
Without delving in depth into the various assumptions and methodological issues here, four observations seem sufficient to warrant caution about placing any weight on this argument. First, if Benjamin had intended to engage in such wordplay, it is odd that he never once refers to his own name in any way. Second, Benjamin’s references to the believing Nephites as Christ’s “sons” and “daughters” significantly weakens the case. It would have been more plausible without the unnecessary and repeated addition of “and his daughters.” Third, the speech contains only one reference to “right hand” but two references to “left hand,” which shifts the emphasis away from the word that is most crucial for the supposed wordplay. And fourth, one can find the same cluster of references to “right hand,” “name,” and being God’s “sons” or “children” in Moroni 7:26-27, where there is obviously no wordplay with the name Benjamin involved.
There are, however, other considerations that strongly support the conclusion that Mosiah 5:10-12 is part of a modern composition, not an ancient text. Three lines of evidence are relevant here.
Does Not Fit Ancient Mesoamerica
First, Mosiah 5 contains statements that do not fit the ancient Mesoamerican context in which most LDS scholars locate the main Book of Mormon narrative. Specifically, the speech includes references in Mosiah 5:14 to “an ass” (i.e., a donkey) and a person’s “flocks.” We know from the rest of the Book of Mormon that these “flocks” would have consisted of sheep or goats (2 Ne. 5:11; Enos 1:21; see also Mosiah 2:3; 5:14; 7:22; 9:12, 14; 22:2-11; Alma 1:29; 5:37-41, 57-60; Hel. 6:12; etc.). Yet ancient Mesoamericans kept almost no domesticated animals (dogs and turkeys were the main exceptions). There were no sheep, goats, or other similar animals, and no animals were kept for use in the production of clothing. “Mesoamericans had no knowledge of the wool of large animals until the Spanish introduced sheep in the sixteenth century, so plants were the basis for all their cloth.”10 Similarly, ancient Mesoamericans did not domesticate donkeys or any other beasts of burden. The Spanish introduced to Mesoamerica in the sixteenth century both the practice of herding livestock and many specific animals for that purpose, “including chickens, horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle.”11 Yes, hypothetically the Nephites might have been somewhat familiar with the imagery based on knowledge of the scriptures their ancestors had brought with them on the brass plates. However, such imagery would at best have been archaic and disconnected from their own culture and environment. Explaining the references to an ass and flocks as archaisms seems implausible in the setting of Benjamin’s speech.
Methodist Theology in the Pre-Christian Americas
Second, Mosiah 5 reflects the Holiness theological tradition that Joseph Smith inherited from his early association with the Methodist movement. This is something easily missed if one does not have the requisite background knowledge of the history of Christian theology. A rather clear example comes at the beginning of the passage:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God…. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:2-5)
The above statement by the Nephites to King Benjamin is saturated with themes that are distinctive of the Wesleyan doctrine of holiness. Of course, Wesley based his teaching on the New Testament, and much of the language he used was biblical. Still, it is the way these elements were brought together in Wesleyan doctrine that was distinctive. One of the chief characteristic ideas of Wesleyan doctrine was the idea commonly known as “entire sanctification.” This was (and is) the idea that the Spirit does a sudden, dramatic, one-time work in the hearts of believers that changed the direction of their lives from disobedience and evil deeds to obedience and good works. Those in whom this work of the Spirit took place had an absolute assurance of their status as children of God.
One will not, of course, find every element of the above passage in Mosiah 3 paralleled in one Methodist text. The presence of Methodist ideas in the passage does not mean that Joseph plagiarized those ideas, but that they indirectly yet clearly influenced him. This influence was one in which the distinctive way that the Wesleyan movement interpreted and expounded the New Testament teaching on the new birth, sanctification, and the Spirit is reflected in the Book of Mormon. The point may be illustrated by a single sermon of John Wesley:
(I.) 11. …He that now loves God, that delights and rejoices in him with an humble joy, and holy delight, and an obedient love, is a child of God…. Thus, the testimony of our own spirit is with the most intimate conviction manifested to our hearts, in such a manner, as beyond all reasonable doubt to evince the reality of our sonship.
(II.) 5. Again, the Scriptures describe the being born of God, which must precede the witness that we are his children, as a vast and mighty change….
12. “But how shall I know that my spiritual senses are rightly disposed?” …And the outward fruits are, the doing good to all men; the doing no evil to any; and the walking in the light, [1 John 1:7] — a zealous, uniform obedience to all the commandments of God.12
Again, I am not at all suggesting that Joseph was dependent on this particular sermon. Remarkably, though, Mosiah 3 contains numerous verbal echoes of Wesley’s sermon, attesting to the fact that the way these ideas are put together in Mosiah 3 is Wesleyan. It would be implausible for Benjamin, speaking in the second century BC, to be teaching at all about being born of God through faith in Christ. The fact that the Book of Mormon represents him as having done so in characteristically Wesleyan fashion renders the passage historically implausible in the extreme.
Dependence on the New Testament
Third, as with much if not most of the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3 exhibits significant influence from the New Testament, as the table below shows.
|Mosiah 5||New Testament|
|the manifestations of his Spirit (5:3)||But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal (1 Cor. 12:7)|
|rejoice with such exceedingly great joy (5:4)||rejoiced with exceeding great joy (Matt. 2:10)|
|that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God (5:5)||The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented (Rev. 14:10)|
|And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (5:7)||But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)|
|There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh… (5:8)||Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12)|
|I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you. For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called. (5:12-14)||
To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. (John 10:3-5)
the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12)
|Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works (5:15)||Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58)|
That these verbal parallels between Mosiah 5 and various New Testament passages reflect an author’s actual use of the New Testament is evident in two ways. First, some of the verbal correspondences are simply so great that they must be explained by some form of literary dependence. This is most clearly the case for the verbal parallel between Mosiah 5:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:58, for example. Second, in most of these instances the Book of Mormon contains additional occurrences of verbal correspondences to the same New Testament texts, some of them quite extensive. These include the following passages:
- John 1:9-14 (Mosiah 16:9; Alma 5:48; 9:26; 13:9; 3 Nephi 9:16-18)
- John 10:1-17, the Good Shepherd passage (1 Nephi 22:25; Alma 5:57; 3 Nephi 15:16-24; Ether 12:33)
- Acts 4:12 (2 Nephi 25:20; 31:21; Mosiah 3:17)
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (Moroni 10:8-17)
- 1 Corinthians 15:58 (Ether 12:4; there are also at least eight other correspondences to 1 Corinthians 15 scattered throughout the Book of Mormon)
- Hebrews 4:12 (Helaman 3:29)
- Revelation 14:10-11 (2 Nephi 9:16, 19; Alma 12:16-17; see also Jacob 3:11)
This evidence is so strong that there really can be no reasonable grounds for doubt that the Book of Mormon is dependent in numerous passages on the New Testament, and more specifically the New Testament in the King James Version.
Conclusion: Mosiah 5 is a Modern Text
Let’s review the findings of this study. Mosiah 5:10-12 is not a strong instance or example of chiasmus; its chiastic-like appearance is too brief and inconsistent as well as too unrelated to the natural structure of the passage to qualify as a clear instance of chiasmus. The possibility of a chiasmus here is simply not strong enough to constitute evidence that the text was composed by someone familiar with that literary device. There is certainly no basis here for viewing the text as having its origins in ancient Israelite culture.
Lacking any other cogent evidence for the antiquity of the passage (the suggested wordplay on Benjamin’s name is too weak to count as such evidence), we discussed three lines of evidence for viewing the text as modern. We explained that the text refers to domestication of animals that were not part of the ancient Mesoamerican context in which LDS scholars locate the Book of Mormon narrative. This mismatch is itself good evidence that the author of the Book of Mormon was a modern writer whose story simply does not fit into an ancient setting. We then noted two direct lines of evidence that the text is modern: its Wesleyan or Methodist theology, and its heavy dependence on the New Testament.
The conclusion that Mosiah 3 is a modern composition, produced by someone who at the time was influenced by Methodist views of salvation and sanctification, is by far the best explanation of the evidence. Joseph Smith fits this description perfectly, whereas Mormon, the supposed Nephite prophet of the late fourth century, clearly does not.
1. John W. Welch, “The Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: Forty Years Later,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16, 2 (2007): 79-80.
2. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 10, 1 (Autumn 1969): 8 [reprint ed.]; “Discovery of Chiasmus,” 80; and in many other publications. I have added the capital letters at the beginning of each line for ease of reference.
3. John W. Welch, “Forty-five Years of Chiasmus Conversations: Correspondence, Criteria, and Creativity,” FAIR Conference, 2-3 Aug. 2012.
4. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis, ed. John W. Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981; reprint, Provo, UT: Research Press, 1999).
5. John W. Welch, “Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin’s Speech,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom”, ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998).
6. John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/2 (Fall 1995): 7.
7. Welch, “Forty-five Years of Chiasmus Conversations.”
8. John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, 2 (Fall 1995): 6.
9. See Matthew L. Bowen, “Becoming Sons and Daughters at God’s Right Hand: King Benjamin’s Rhetorical Wordplay on His Own Name,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/2 (2012): 2-13.
10. Patricia Rieff Anawalt, “Weaving,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America, Davíd Carrasco, editor-in-chief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 2:324.
11. Romero Frizzi, “Herding and Livestock,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, ed. Carrasco, 2:6.
12. John Wesley, “The Witness of the Spirit (Discourse I),” Sermon 10, in Sermons on Several Occasions, 4 vols. (1771), online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.