Hebrew Literary Patterns in Book of Mormon


One of the most impressive types of Hebrew poetry is called parallelism. Robert Lowth is usually credited with drawing attention to the importance of this form. Though others before him had mentioned parallelism in passing, his two-volume work, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1787), developed the idea of poetic structures in Holy Writ. He defined poetic parallelisms as words, phrases, or sentences that correspond, compare, contrast, or repeat. More recent scholars, like Adele Berlin, extend the definition to include both equivalent phrases scattered throughout a text as well as parallel words and sounds in dissimilar phrases.  

Words or phrases can be parallel by appearing as synonyms or near-synonyms (heart/soul, statutes/commandments, preacher/teacher); repetitions of identical phrases (cry unto him/cry unto him); antonyms (holy/unholy, poor/rich); complementaries (bow/arrows, river/sea); inflections of the same root (to judge/a judge/judgment/judgment seat); gradations (holy/most holy, thousands/tens of thousands); superordinates (wine/drink, gold/metal); or reciprocals (to retire/to sleep, to eat/to be full, sin/pain of conscience).

Though the Book of Mormon was written in non-Hebrew script, patterns such as parallelisms could still be used. Above, characters reportedly copied by Joseph Smith from the gold plates. (Copy of original characters obtained in 1903 from David Whitmer’s heirs.)

The Book of Mormon is replete with parallelisms. The poetic patterns serve, as they do in the Bible, to emphasize messages, define and expand them, make them more memorable, and structure them. One form of parallelism, chiasmus, has been extensively studied, but surprisingly, almost nothing has been written on the abundance of other parallelisms in the Book of Mormon. Here is a review of some other types of parallelisms found in the Book of Mormon.

Simple synonymous parallelism. Perhaps the basic parallelism found in the scriptures is simple synonymous parallelism, in which the second phrase repeats or echoes the idea of the first. When the prophets introduced an idea, then repeated it in different words, their hearers could more easily grasp their meaning. The idea thus received a double emphasis (the fundamental effect of most parallelisms). Abinadi, for example, underscores what the Resurrection does for us by pairing two phrases that echo each other (Mosiah 16:10):

Even this mortal shall put on immortality,

and this corruption shall put on incorruption.

girl studying scripturesSimple synthetic parallelism. As a rule, simple synthetic parallelism consists of two phrases in which the second explains or adds something new or instructive to the first. The following example shows how the second element defines the first (Moro. 8:17):

I am filled with charity,

which is everlasting love.

The structure also can establish relationships between actions, as in the next example (2 Ne. 4:23), where the situation in the second phrase is the result of the situation in the first phrase:

Behold, he hath heard my cry by day,

and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime.

Simple synonymous parallelisms: 1 Ne. 1:15; 1 Ne. 17:47; 2 Ne. 9:52; 2 Ne. 25:2; 2 Ne. 30:11; Alma 34:32; 3 Ne. 5:21; 3 Ne. 20:42; 3 Ne. 29:5; Ether 6:10


By Donald W. Parry, Ensign Oct 1989 Read the rest of this very revealing article at: http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=b2182150a447b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

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