Samuel the Lamanite: A New Proposal for Chiasmus

Updated: Feb 24

Abstract: This article advances a newly expanded discovery of chiasmus from within the sermon from Samuel the Lamanite and measures its strengths against established criteria.


Chiasmus

Beyond any singular artifact, the discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon leaves an indelible mark upon Book of Mormon studies. Chiasmus, or inverted parallelisms, are a form of Hebraism found across the Bible and Book of Mormon. Now demonstrated prolifically, chiasmus in the Book of Mormon stamps a distinctively Hebrew “...set of rhetorical principles and techniques…” dating as early as the 7th and 8th centuries BCE. [1]


Simple inverted word orders are catchy, easily identifiable and meaningful. Consider the words of Jesus Christ from Matthew chapter 6, verse 24:


A No man can serve two masters

B for either he will hate the one

C and love the other

C’ or else he will hold to the one

B’ and despise the other

A’ Ye cannot serve God and mammon


Here, the LORD places agape love at the center of the chiasm while equally challenging our placement of that love in our life. Trying to divide agape love between God and the world creates the opposite of self-sacrificing love, it breeds division. The LORD simply and powerfully uses chiasmus to compare and contrast our love for God.


Samuel the Lamanite

Samuel, a Lamanite, preached and prophesied of the coming of Jesus Christ to the Nephites shortly before His coming. Several Hebraisms are found within the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite, including chiasmus. Whether inverted parallelisms were part of the original sermon or a way for the Nephites to organize, structure, and remember its contents, the message impacted believers and unbelievers alike.


Unbelievers threatened to kill believers who thought the prophecy to be false. Samuel’s contemporary Nephi carefully writes the fulfillment of five signs of the birth of Jesus Christ and five signs of the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ even specifically mentioned a prophecy of Samuel and its fulfillment concerning the saints’ resurrection at the time of the resurrection of Jesus himself. The following chart compares recorded fulfillment of Samuel the Lamanite’s prophesies (See 3 Nephi 23:9-12): [2]

Samuel the Lamanite Chiasmus

In his landmark work, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, Donald Parry identified eleven chiasms from Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman chapters thirteen through fifteen. He identifies over twenty five combined Hebraisms from the sermon.[3] For example, in Helaman chapter fourteen, the prophet Samuel speaks of a great and terrible destruction to occur at the death of Jesus Christ:


A (a) and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth [v21]

(b) are both above the earth and beneath

B which ye know at this time are solid

C or the more part of it is one solid mass

D shall be broken up

D’ Yea, they shall be rent in twain [v22]

C’ and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks

B’ and in broken fragments

A’ (a’) upon the face of the whole earth

(b’) yea, both above the earth and beneath


This short but decisive chiasm builds in shape like a volcano, exploding at the center theme of destruction upon the land. A prophecy of destruction at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, abundant evidence exists for the fulfillment of the destruction as described (click here to learn more about the evidence). Readers even today can consider the sheer consequences in a destruction which changes rock foundation into rubble.


Just prior to this destructive prediction in chapter fourteen, Parry marks another chiasm from Samuel regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ contrasted with the fall of Adam. While Parry covered tremendous ground identifying so many literary forms into the reformatted Book of Mormon text, his work was always meant to springboard deeper study and further research. First, consider the original chiasm identified by Parry: [4]


A that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord [v15]

B Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection [v16]

C and redeemeth all mankind from the first death

D that spiritual death

E for all mankind

E’ by the fall of Adam

D’ being cut off from the presence of the Lord

C’ are considered as dead, both unto things temporal and to things spiritual

B’ But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea even all mankind [v17]

A’ and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord


Studying out the passage in depth showed a few curious parts within his identified chiasm. Jumping out of the page within the chiasm itself are several repeated phrases not included as part of the chiasm, but clearly repetition nonetheless. Mankind, redeemeth, death, and others had multiple repetitions in exact word or meaning, some of which were not identified as part of the overall chiastic structure. Also, the center of the chiasm appeared not ideally suited as the theme due to the presence of mankind and all mankind scattered across the remaining passage. The following example keeps the structure from Parry but highlights other words being repeated and unaccounted for by this layout:


A that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord

B Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection

C and redeemeth all mankind from the first death

D that spiritual death

E for all mankind

E’ by the fall of Adam

D’ being cut off from the presence of the Lord

C’ are considered as dead, both unto things temporal and to things spiritual

B’ But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea even all mankind

A’ and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord


Researchers propose several chiasms which expand far beyond the scope of a single verse to entire chapters or book compositions. Many of the chiasms of this length are extremely fruitful to study and equally as powerful in application as the chiasm from Matthew chapter six or the destruction prophecy of Helaman fourteen. While valuable to study, the wider the chiasm being proposed, the higher the standard for researchers to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt if any given passage is chiastic. “Not every occurrence of repetition, balance, inclusion, or symmetry will amount to something that should be called chiastic…” [5]


In other words, wide nets catch more fish but not always the right kind. Did Parry identify a chiasm or did the sermon given by Samuel the Lamanite simply include tremendous amounts of repetition in words and phrases? Breaking apart and expanding the chapter exposes that Parry indeed caught part of what is a chiasmus, but the formation needed additions and adjustments.


New Chiasmus Proposal

A that ye might hear and know (repeated 4 times) [v11- 12]

  1. the judgements of God which do await you because of your iniquities

  2. the conditions of repentance

  3. the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning

  4. the signs of his coming

B (a) to the intent that ye might believe on his name(b) repent of all your sins

(b’) ye may have a remission of them (a’) through his merits [v13]

C another sign...a sign of his death [v14]

D (a) he surely must die that (outcome 1) salvation may come

(a’) he dieth to bring to pass the (outcome 2) resurrection of the dead[v15]

E (a) thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord

(b) this death [v16]

(c) bringeth to pass the resurrection and

F (a) redeemeth

(b) all mankind from that first death---that spiritual

death for

(c) all mankind

G by the fall of Adam

H being cut off from the presence of the Lord

H’ are considered as dead, both to things

temporal and to things spiritual

G’ the resurrection of Jesus Christ [v17]

F’ (a’) redeemeth

(b’) mankind

(c’) even all mankind

E' (a') and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord

(b') it [the resurrection] [v18]

(c') bringeth to pass the conditions of repentance

D’ (a) repenteth (outcome 1) is not hewn down and cast into the fire

(a’) repenteth not (outcome 2) is hewn down and cast into the fire

C’ there cometh upon them a spiritual death, a second death...they are cut off again

to things pertaining to righteousness

B’ Therefore repent ye, repent ye [v19]

A’ lest by knowing these things and

  1. Not doing them

  2. Suffer yourselves to

  3. Come under condemnation

  4. Brought down unto this second death

It appears clear the prophesy and sermon imparted by Samuel the Lamanite has been structured on the golden plates in a beautiful chiastic form. This might even show intentional arrangement of the content by Mormon or another redactor while compiling and engraving the final plates. The message bookends with an appeal for knowledge to drive action. The front end is given so the listener or reader would know the coming and judgments of Jesus Christ. The latter end demonstrates the consequence for the hearer of not obeying Jesus Christ. With the knowledge given, adherents are admonished to repent. The sign of the death of Jesus Christ is contrasted at the end with the future spiritual death of the unbeliever who becomes cut off from the presence of the Lord. The death of Jesus (on one side) and resurrection (on the other side) both have an effect. The Lord's death offers two key things: an offer of salvation and the resurrection of all mankind. A repeated warning comes from those who do not head the call for salvation: without repentance unbelievers are "hewn down" and "cast in the fire". At the center of the chiasm the consequence of the fall is counterbalanced by the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


This layout offers a much fuller and complete understanding of both the Hebraic structure in the Book of Mormon and call to repentance in order to obtain the eternal hope offered through Jesus Christ. Mankind does not need to suffer the eternal judgment of the fall of Adam, but must come to Christ in order receive redemption.


References:

[1] Noel B. Reynolds, "Rethinking Alma 36," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, no. 34 (2020): 282.

[2] John W. Welch and Greg Welch, Samuel the Lamanite's Prophecies, (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1999).

[3] Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute for Religious Research, 2007), 423-431.

[4] See Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, 428.

[5] John W. Welch, “Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 2 (1995): 3.