The story told in this video, of the 1967 discovery of Chiasmus in The Book of Mormon by missionary John (Jack) Welch, is a miraculous evidence of the restoration by itself. But, together with recent stats showing that chiasmus, a literary device used heavily in ancient Hebrew writings, was purposefully woven into The Book of Mormon, rather than there purely by accident, is a strong evidence of the book’s Hebrew roots.
So this Evidences video, I want to talk about chiasmus, and particularly about the discovery of chiasmus and some fascinating recent statistics on its use in the Book of Mormon. But the discovery itself is a phenomenal witness of the Restoration in my mind. But chiasmus, the technique is used in writing to help to really stress a point that you’re going to make.
So this was used lot by the ancient Hebrews. And it would basically be a, they call it inverse parallelism. So you’d start out with the key point that you want to put in the middle, and then you would build to that point, and then boom, and then you would go down away from that point in the same fashion going back. A, B, C, D, E, E, D, C, B, A, that type of thing.
So okay, so I want to tell the story of the discovery of chiasmus that happened in 1967, and it is a witness to the Restoration. It was done by Jack, John Welch, he goes by Jack, Jack Welch when he was serving on his mission in southern Germany. So leading up to it, there’s these little nuances, little tiny aspects to this, and you can see the divine thread going through.
But he went to BYU, had Hugh Nibley as a Book of Mormon professor, really installed in him this deep desire to study the scriptures deeply, and especially the Book of Mormon. He went on a semester abroad to Salzburg in Austria and actually learned German there, read German, learned how their universities work, the European universities, which came in handy in the story.
So he’s called to the Southern German mission. While he’s serving, he ends up going to this area called Regensburg, and it’s in Southern Germany, but it happens to be different than most of Germany. Germany’s a very Lutheran country. This was a part of a counter-reformation. It was a very Catholic city, and also a very academic center focused part of the country.
But so one day, he just happens to be walking by and sees on a bulletin board a advertisement for a lecture series that was going to be held at, it’s called the Priesterseminar, but it was at the university, and it was just a few blocks from their home, but at this European local university, that’s where young men go to learn to be Catholic priests, this Priesterseminar. But the topic was going to be on the New Testament, and it was going to be on a Friday morning, which was actually their P-day, they call it their diversion day, their day off essentially. That morning they would be available to go, and I do think how interesting. How many missionaries would choose to do that on their P- days. So again, another, keep thinking these divine threads going through this.
But so they go and they don’t wear badges at this time, and they’re there, kind of incognito. It’s okay, it’s open to the public, but the professor was really excited to talk about a book that he had just read by a Jesuit priest named Paul Gaechter, and it was called the Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew. And he talked about how Matthew was written to a Hebrew-reading audience, and they would have appreciated this literary style.
And Hebrews used this a lot because they memorized a lot of things and it helped them to memorize things, quite frankly. So it was definitely a big part of this oral tradition that they had. It would help them in the memorization aspect. But so he said you can see this in the Book of Matthew. Even the big structure of Matthew itself, there was this big macro structure, and they called it chiasmus. He had never heard of that term, Jack Welch hadn’t. And thought it was really quite fascinating. It was maybe something they could even talk to people about as they went about their missionary work.
So on the way home, he stopped at a bookstore, and they just happened to have this rare book, it had been published a few years prior. I think it was 65, but it was a rare book, but they happened to have it at the bookstore. So he got the copy of it and here’s the interesting thing. 10 days later, so this date will become extremely important in a few minutes when I mention it again. August 16, 1967, at four in the morning, he is woken up to a voice.
And here’s exactly what the voice says, “If chiasmus was anything like evidence of Hebrew style in the Bible, it must be evidence of Hebrew style in the Book of Mormon.” So he’s really excited, as he has this experience he’s like, “Well, okay. I’m going to start looking for it.” And he says, “Where should I start? Well, I’ll open up to where I last closed the book”, which was Mosiah 4. He opens it up and he starts reading in King Benjamin’s speech there and he gets to the address in Mosiah 5.
And he goes in here to this section verses 10 through 12, and if you look on the screen here, you’ll actually see what he saw. And the thing that’s interesting is it was in German. If it had been in English, he might not have seen it as clearly. But in German, the word transgression and transgress were translated as the same word, and the typesetter in German had put it, stacked it right on top of each other so it really jumped off the page.
And so he then looked at it and said, “Wait, so there’s an opportunity possibly.” So he went and looked at the verse above and the verse below, and then again. And he saw this pattern, you can see it on the screen here. From the middle down to the Cc, Bb, Aa, the central message was that the only way the covenant could be broken is through transgression, the covenant that they had made in this King Benjamin experience.
So then he even looked at the whole King Benjamin speech and saw this chiastic repetition in the middle. In Mosiah 3:18 and 19, the natural man and the atonement of Christ, and this is the most quoted passage in general conference, by the way statistically. And computers now show, it’s fascinating how central this is in King Benjamin speech. It’s kind of this macro chiasm, it’s just kind of where it falls in King Benjamin speech. So look on the screen here. 2,467 words above, 2,476 words below that passage, quite fascinating.
Okay, so he returns home, and as he’s going home from his mission, he’s actually able to meet Paul Gaechter at the University of Innsbruck in the monastery. Remember, he’s a Jesuit priest. In this meeting he says, Paul Gaechter tells Jack Welch that’s he a lucky man and that he has a life’s mission here. So really fascinating.
He comes home, he’s super excited to go meet, and the first time he’s in Provo, he goes to meet Hugh Nibley at his house, 10 p.m., at night, and Hugh Nibley is ecstatic, very excited. Nobody’s looked at this at all in the Church at this point, chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. And Jack had really spent the next part of his mission really getting deep into all the examples in the Book of Mormon.
And so Hugh Nibley agreed to be his mentor, and he started to publish some things there right away, BYU Studies in 1969, the Church magazines is 1972. He wrote a book called Chiasmus in Antiquity. And one fascinating thing several years after he had returned home from his mission, this is one of the greatest divine signatures I saw in this story.
He went back and looked at his missionary calendar, journal, and schedule, and he found that on August 17th, his one-year anniversary of his mission, he realized when that voice woke him up at four a.m. in the morning on August 16th, it was the exact ending day of his first year of his mission. It was literally the chiasmus of his mission. It was the midpoint. That’s a phenomenal witness of this story, also the divinity of this whole thing.
Now just going forward now, we just celebrated the 50-year anniversary. BYU had a big conference. Elder Holland spoke, there. Just fascinating, just on the chiasmus. And he runs a website now of resources, chiasmusresources.org. Jack became a great scholar in the Church, founded FARMS, which is now the Maxwell Institute, Jack is the editor of BYU Studies today. It’s just been fascinating to see his influence in the Church over the years.
Just to show you, the greatest chiasmus of all, Alma 36. Look at the screen here. I think this is one of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon, but you just look at that chiasmus structure there, as Alma the younger, is telling his son Helaman of his conversion experience and how he had gone through this. And look in the center, “I remembered Jesus Christ, a Son of God. I cried, Jesus, Son of God.” And then look at how magnificent this structure is. And in a minute, I’m going to share how statistically unlikely this could have happened by chance and it’s phenomenal.
Now I want to share some quotes. Jack Welch actually spoke at the 2012 FairMormon Conference on the 45-year anniversary of chiasmus being discovered. And I’d love to share some quotes from him at that conference.
He says, “Too many people looking at chiasmus only wonder if it proves the Book of Mormon is true. It’s an important aid to us in taking the book seriously, and yes, it shows that the book is consistent with some ancient style that Joseph Smith probably had no idea of. But does it prove the Book of Mormon? Only by circumstantial arguments, yes. But it’s very valuable and one of the strongest arguments that we have. But beyond that, I’m much more interested in other things that it proves.”
“It proves that the book is not chaotic or devoid of form, it’s orderly. It appears to be carefully written. One may assume that planning went into that. Chiasmus may also show that a text is more profound, logical, or creative than some have assumed. It shows that the Nephrite records are consistent with the claim made by the book that it was translated from a Hebrew-based original. As one of the few literary forms that can easily survive translation, chiasmus may give us some clues about how the Book of Mormon was translated.”
He goes on to say, “Of course, chiasmus, broadly understood, is not used exclusively in Hebrew, but far and away, scholars find it to be more prevalent, more purposeful, and more demonstrable in Hebrew than in any other language or literature. The vast majority of articles and books in the chiasmus bibliography deal with chiasmus in the Bible. If it were found in comparable frequencies in other literature, one might expect to find a great deal more written on that subject in other literature.”
“Critics have said that, ‘Chiasm loses all of its persuasiveness as evidence for the divinity of the Book of Mormon when one realizes that it is a literary device which can occur quite naturally in non-divine writings, as well.'” I’m going to refer to this statistical study in a minute to tackle this. “But the point of chiasm in the Book of Mormon is not that it is exclusively found in divine writings or Hebraic writings, but rather that it is there at all: It is something that Joseph Smith wouldn’t have known about, and yet something that properly belongs in a text with ancient Hebrew roots.”
And think about, too, if Joseph Smith had known what he was doing and it was there, wouldn’t he have marketed the heck out of this, in a sense, and shown these parallels with the Bible and this chiastic approach in the Hebrew writings? So anyway, so he goes on to say, what are the odds that Joseph Smith would have known chiasmus was around?
He says, “As I show in detail there (FARMS Review in 2003), chiasm was not completely unknown in 1829, but I see no evidence that Joseph Smith actually knew of it. One cannot say, and we don’t need to say, that there was no chance at all that Joseph knew chiasmus, or that he couldn’t have somehow intuitively sensed it from the Bible, but this all seems extremely unlikely to me. On the one hand, it is always going to be impossible to prove a negative, but on the other hand, at some point the likelihood becomes small enough that the burden of proof or of persuasion shifts to those who deny an unlikely point.”
“Some people have suggested that Joseph Smith read extensively and knew the literature in his neighborhood. But his mother always said that he was not bookish, and even if he wanted to check books out in the Palmyra Library, he left Palmyra in 1826 to live in Harmony, Pennsylvania, or Fayette, New York, where I do not think there were any local libraries. Moreover, I have kept looking for evidence that John Jebb’s Sacred Literature, published in London in 1820, or either of the two books published by Thomas Boys in London in 1824 and ’25, all three of which deal boldly and innovatively with the idea of chiasmus in biblical literature, ever made their way to the United States before 1830. To what I have already written, I add the following: The evidence is extremely minimal.”
Then he goes on with the a bunch of details in this conference, and I’ll link to this if you’re interested. It concludes, “While further checking is still in order, only a few of these libraries were in existence in the 1820s, and it appears that they all acquired subsequent editions of these books at a later time. And even if Joseph had in some way learned about chiasmus, it assumes a great deal to think that he could have created these chiastic subtleties in the text of the Book of Mormon, as he went translating without notes and references back to previous portions of a passage or book. Some have blithely dismissed the idea that these literary structures are remarkable. One blogger suggests that Joseph Smith could easily have sat with his face in his hat and produced such chiasmas. But then I think of the monumental task of dictating in Ether.”
“Emma said he not using any notes as he is dictating this material. Think of the task. This isn’t really a chiasm, but it’s a type of reversal, a mere image. The beginning of the Book of Ether, Joseph goes through that Jaredite king list. 30 names starting with Ether and going back, back, back, back to Jared. And then what does the rest of the book do? It starts with Jared and goes through, tells a lot of things along the way, but interspersed is a reference to every one of those 30 names in exactly the opposite order. Somebody knows that king list and is using it as the background of the Book of Ether. That is pretty remarkable. I think it’s the same with a lot of these chiasms. Are you going to remember exactly the order and exactly how this worked? Not too likely.”
Now there was this study that I referenced the statistical studies. A father and son team, physics professors at Utah State University, did a study. I think it was in 2004, they updated it in 2010. And this was published in the BYU Studies Journal, I’ll put a link to it here.
It says, “An anonymous similarly suggests that chiasms in the Book of Mormon are the, ‘Result of the incredible amount of repetition contained therein, and are well within the bounds of probability.'” That person maintains that it should not be surprising to find chiasmus in the Book of Mormon because unintentional chiastic structure can be found in almost any passage of text, as long as it involves some repetition of literary elements. The author illustrates this claims with a four-element ‘chiasm’ found in the introduction to a computer manual, the INFORMIX-OnLine Database Administrator’s Guide.”
So yes, chiasm can certainly appear by chance in literature, and so they said let’s develop a statistical study and program of how to determine the odds of it happening by chance. And I will link to this study. You can see a video going through a lot of detail on this.
But here’s the table. So if you look at this, first of all, what they found was, statistically they said, “The odds for it to have been done intentionally should be at 1 out of 20,” so 0.05 probability there. So that would be their threshold. So if you look at the top here of that INFORMIX computer manual, the odds of it appearing by chance are almost perfect. Yes, you can definitely say that this is by chance.
Notice in Abraham 3 and also D&C 88, these are some of the top chiasms in other scripture, they’re not the Book of Mormon. Those are also by chance. So some critics will even to point to that, “See, here it is. This shows Joseph knew of chiasmus.” No, these were by chance.
Look at the four strongest in the Book of Mormon. Look where it falls on there on the scale. It’s below where it would be the 0.05 on there. So these would look to be very, very strongly intentional. Then if you look at Leviticus, this is the strongest in the, one of the strongest in the Bible, there. Very, very small likelihood that it happened by chance.
And then the last is phenomenal. Look at Alma 36. The chances of this happening are extremely small. In fact, statistically, it’s 1 out of 5,600. So evidence that this was extremely intentional, not by chance.
So I think this is a fun topic, fascinating evidence of the Book of Mormon, and of the Restoration. I hope you enjoyed the video. Subscribe for more.
Chiasmus in Antiquity by John (Jack) Welch
Chiasmus in the New Testament by Nils Lund
Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew by Paul Gaechter
Jack Welch speaking at Fairmormon Conference in 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjysj…
Chiasmus 50 Yr Jubilee Celebration at BYU – Sponsored by Book of Mormon Central https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCroW…
Statistics, Probability, and Evaluation of Chiasmus – Body Edwards – Chiasmus Conference 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9Tjm…
How Chiasmus Was Discovered in the Book of Mormon – Greg Welch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A_CR…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.