Alma 36

September 1, 2008
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In Sunday School I was assigned to teach Alma 36-39. I decided to concentrate on Alma 36.

I refused to use the word “Chiasmus” during the lesson. I’m not an expert in ancient Hebrew poetry, so I thought I’d leave such arguments to others. And really, I don’t care. What I did want to emphasize was the structure of Alma’s thoughts about his own redemption. Alma has structured his thoughts beautifully and very creatively.

Alma 36 uses a series of thoughts that lead up to Jesus Christ, and then reverse back out, often with the reverse thought. For example, first his limbs get paralyzed then after he turns to Jesus they can move again. First he tries to destroy the Church, then he wants to build it up. Etc. You get the picture. It’s stunningly beautiful.

I was worried that a discussion about if it’s a Chiasmus or not would detract from the beauty and what we can learn from Alma’s intended structure.

Luckily I made it all the way through the class with only one woman mentioning it was “a type of poetry” but she didn’t even mention that it was Hebrew-ish or ancient poetry. There is a PhD in my class that was the editor for the Arabic Book of Mormon and I was very lucky he didn’t bring it up and derail the lesson.

This was my hand out for the class. It’s a slightly modified version of Jeff Lindsay’s web presentation to keep things symmetrical. The numbers in parenthesis are the verse.

Grab a Book of Mormon and follow along:

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)
 (b) KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS of God and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (2)
  (c) DO AS I HAVE DONE (2)
   (d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2);
    (e) for they were in BONDAGE (2)
     (f) he surely did DELIVER them (2)
      (g) TRUST in God (3)
       (h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS(3)
        (i) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)
         (j) BORN OF GOD (5)
          (k) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)
           (l) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)
            (m) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)
             (n) PAINS of a damned soul (16)
              (o) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17)
               (p) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)
               (p') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)
              (o') HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19)
             (n')  Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)
            (m') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)
           (l') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)
          (k') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
         (j') BORN OF GOD (26)
        (i') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26)
       (h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27)
      (g') TRUST in him (27)
     (f') He will deliver me (27)
    (e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29)
   (d') Retain in REMEMBRANCE THEIR CAPTIVITY (28-29)
  (c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30)
 (b') KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (30)
(a') This is according to his WORD (30).

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  • miss_mae

    i taught the same lesson in sunday school yesterday, and i completely forgot about the chiasmus! we didn’t even get all the way through the lesson, so it was probably a good thing. but thanks for the reminder!

  • Hawkgrrrl

    I remember when they showed us this in college. It’s a pretty simplistic form of poetry to create, and many of the “chiastic” couplets are easy to reproduce; one of this length would require some deliberation. Regardless of it being a poem or not, I have always loved Alma 36.

  • John Nilsson

    Would someone hearing this read aloud sense the poetry more quickly than someone reading it? I find it difficult to note these patterns until someone points them out. I usually mentally note “repetition of theme already covered” and move on to the next verse.

  • Holden Caulfield

    Since the KJ version of the Bible is without question “poetic”, does this create a need to find poetry in the BOM? Do prophets need to be poets? Personally, I do not find the BOM poetic in any sense. To me, the language simplistic, although in the original BOM it was creative. “Numerority” (apparently Joseph’s word for a large number of things) in Alma in the 1830 version comes to mind.

  • Bruce Nielson

    “Since the KJ version of the Bible is without question “poetic”, does this create a need to find poetry in the BOM?”

    Alma 36 will have to be judged for what it is.

  • Bruce Nielson

    “I find it difficult to note these patterns until someone points them out. I usually mentally note “repetition of theme already covered” and move on to the next verse.”

    John, I am the same way, for both the Bible and the BoM. Cauldfield said that the Bible is beyond question poetic. Yet I never noticed till I was told.

  • Bruce Nielson

    “one of this length would require some deliberation”

    I agree, Hawk.

    I had the thought occur to me that it may not be an intentional “chiasums” per se because I have no reason to believe (or disbelieve) that the Nephites brought such a form of poetry with them from the old world. It could be a creative author coming up with or discovering for their own the beauties of a Chiasumatic (is that a word?) pattern, for all I know.

    But either way, it’s obivous a lot of effort went into the structure of what was being said.

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Would someone hearing this read aloud sense the poetry more quickly than someone reading it?

    I should note that John Welch found the patterns when he started outlining the Book of Mormon as he would cases for law school. The patterns jumped off the pages in his notes.

    On the other hand, the completely different form that Samuel uses (and I suspect that the reason they had for not recording things he said, and that they did not feel like expressing to Christ, was that he did not meet contemporary standards of artistic grace) jumps out when you read it. Hammer strokes instead of brush strokes.

    Appropriate for his audience too.