Question: Was knowledge of chiasmus available in Joseph Smith's era?

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Question: Was knowledge of chiasmus available in Joseph Smith's era?

Some work had been published on Hebrew poetry previous to the publication of the Book of Mormon

If critics of the Book of Mormon are to make their case for 19th century authorship, they need to demonstrate that Joseph Smith had access to and relied on contemporary research into Hebrew parallelism. John Welch recently summarized the issue:

I would qualify or clarify my position simply to assert a very low probability that Joseph Smith knew anything about chiasmus in 1829, being careful not to imply, claim, or suggest complete ignorance of this literary form in America at that time.

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Although further information may yet come forth to change this view (and I welcome any other information that may come to light), I do not believe that Joseph Smith knew anything about chiasmus from [contemporary] publications, even though it is remotely possible that he could have. While one cannot be sure on such matters, and more work probably remains to be done on this topic, I know of no evidence that [such works] reached America, let alone Palmyra or Harmony, in the 1820s; and no copy of [the major work of the period] was found on the book lists of the Manchester library, which contained very few religious books of any kind (only 8 of its 421 titles were religious).

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And finally, even assuming that Joseph Smith had known of chiasmus, the following observation, which I made in 1981, still stands: "There would still have remained the formidable task of composing the well-balanced, meaningful chiastic structures...which are found in precisely those portions of the Book of Mormon in which one would logically and historically expect to find them." To me the complexity of Alma 36 seems evidence enough of this point. Imagine the young prophet, without notes, dictating "extensive texts in this style that was unnatural to his world, while at the same time keeping numerous other strands, threads, and concepts flowing without confusion in his dictation."[1]:75,76,80

Notes

  1. John W. Welch, "How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 47–80. off-site