June 4, 2011

Alma 36 Chiasmus

Today I was reading in Alma 36 about Alma the elders conversion story and was reminded that it was a type of poetry called chiasmus.  I love the content of this chapter as it describes Alma's experience as well as the hidden meaning in it.  I used an article from Jeff Lindsay to help explain this further:

Alma 36: A Masterpiece of Chiasmus

The most powerful and beautiful example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon - and perhaps anywhere! - is Alma 36. (See the full text of Alma 36 - but without delineation of the structure.) The structure is obviously chiastic, but there are some very sophisticated and elegant perturbations which have been the subject of careful and lengthy analysis (Welch, 1991, Welch, 1989, and Brown, 1988). Welch (1989, 1991) presents several levels of chiasmic structure. Here I reproduce the overall structure, which is Level 1 in Welch, 1991. In addition, he analyzes the complete text to show the extensive chiasmic detail, including fascinating relationships between larger paired sections and the subtle use of weaving factors (transitions) that provide remarkable unity and a smooth flow of thought throughout the chapter. Welch also assess the degree of chiasticity, showing that this is not a contrived example or chance occurrence but fits objective criteria for intentional and deliberately crafted chiasmic structures. Finally, a comparison of other accounts of Alma's conversion story in the Book of Mormon show that only this one is presented in chiasmic form, indicating that this passage, crafted about 20 years after the initial experience he describes, had been carefully reorganized to yield a masterful and poetical statement of his conversion.
So here it is, Welch's outline of the overall structure of Alma 36. (Again, this is only scratching the surface of the rich structure in this chapter, but what a scratch!) Only the key phrases and concepts (sometimes paraphrased) are shown, with the verse number. The entire text of Alma 36 is also available.
(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)
   (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) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3)
          (j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)
           (k) BORN OF GOD (5)
            (l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)
             (m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)
              (n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)
               (o) PAINS of a damned soul (16)
                (p) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17)
                 (q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)
                 (q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)
                (p') HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19)
               (o')  Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)
              (n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)
             (m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)
            (l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
           (k') BORN OF GOD (26)
          (j') 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)
         (i') and RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY (28)
     (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)
 (a') This is according to his WORD (30).
Note the focal point of this story, the key element in his conversion story: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As Welch notes, Alma shows that it was not the angel or his suffering or the prayers of others that caused his conversion. It was not until he remembered that his father had taught of the atonement of Christ and then exercised faith to call upon Christ that his conversion occurred, bringing a rapid change in which guilt and the pains of hell were replaced with joy and a taste of heaven. I find this story to be powerful and moving, and knowing the underlying chiasmic structure greatly enhances my appreciation of this marvelous text.
Critics, of course, will complain that (i') is out of place. Actually, the structure that Alma is using is somewhat more complex and elegant than can be shown with the simple synopsis presented above. The full structure can only be presented by treating the entire text. (E.g., there are other small chiasmic structures and other forms of parallelism within the overarching structure.)
Source: http://www.jefflindsay.com/chiasmus.shtml#alma36

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