In 1967, John W. Welch discovered in the Book of Mormon an ancient biblical poetic form called chiasmus. This ancient poetic form states certain elements forward and then repeat them backwards. This form can be spotted in ancient Jewish poetry found in the Bible. Its discovery in the Book of Mormon is for many a convincing evidence that the scripture is of an ancient source and was not fabricated by Joseph Smith.

Since that time, however, enthusiastic Mormons have been spotting and amassing a considerable list of chiasms found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith’s sermons, and other inspired writings. Some of these Mormon researchers have concluded that the appearance of chiasms in these other records demonstrate that chiasmus is in fact a manifestation of revelatory, godly language.

Likewise, critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have found chiasms in sundry literary works, from Shakespeare to nursury rhymes. “A chiasm in Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, was used satirically as evidence that Suess’s book is the translation of an ancient record,” write physicists Boyd and Farrell Edwards in BYU Studies, “the real intent, of course, being to disparage chiasmus in Book of Mormon debates.”

The reasoning goes, if chiasm can be seen everywhere in more modern sources, then chiasm cannot be used as evidence to claim that the Book of Mormon is in fact a record of antiquity written by people from an ancient biblical literary tradition. And, ironically, those defending the Latter-day Saint faith sometimes unwittingly have undermined their own argument that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text by finding numerous chiasms in more modern texts such as the Docrine and Covenants.

The problem, find Edwards and Edwards, is that the modern examples of chiasmus cited outside the Book of Mormon and Bible are usually poor examples that do not hold up under scrutiny: “Judges help to resolve disputes by deciding which evidence is admissible in court. Their decisions are based on strict rules designed to promote an impartial hearing. In a similar vein, we have developed a statistical admissibility test that can help to resolve chiasmus debates by determining, in a manner grounded in standard statistical analysis, which chiasms are admissible in these debates.”

After all, in a book loaded with nothing but repetition and rhyme like Green Eggs and Ham, aren’t the chances of an inadvertant chiasm pretty great?

(A) I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

        (B) I do not like green eggs and ham.

            (C) Would you like them here or there?

            (C’) I would not like them here or there.

                   I would not like them anywhere.

        (B’) I do not like green eggs and ham.

 (A’) I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

The answer would be Yes, the chances for accident are very great. Taking into account the non-chaistic element in the Green Eggs and Ham example (line 5), along with the amount of words and repetitive elements in the book, there is a “67% chance that a similar chiasmic structure could appear in a random ordering of ideas in Green Eggs and Ham.” So, it appears that authors like Dr. Suess write chaismic-like forms on accident, without knowing they are doing so. Can the same be said of Joseph Smith?

True, both LDS chiasmic enthusiasts and critics of the Book of Mormon are finding chiasms everywhere. Upon further statistical analysis, however, it seems apparent that they need to reconsider their evidence. Most of these chiasms are either short or have many non-chiastic elements, giving them a strong statistical likelihood that they were not intended by the original author. “On March 13, 2005, a person going by “auteur55” inquired in an online discussion board about the critical response to chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. A chiastic rendering of this inquiry was posted the next day as evidence that chiasmus can appear naturally, unknown to the author:

(A) Hello friends,

      (B) I am sure this

           (C) topic has been debated

                (D) before but I am really curious

                      (E) as to how antis have explained

                            the discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.

                     (E’) I don’t see how they could rationally explain it away

               (D’) and I was wondering what excuses they give.

          (C’) This may have all been debated

      (B’) but I am new to this board and don’t see how this doesn’t authenticate the

             Book of Mormon very strongly.

(A’) Cheers.

Critics will point out that if someone writing to a message board defending chiasm can at the same time inadvertantly write a chasm, then surely so could Joseph Smith. Hence, the logic goes, chasmus in the Book of Mormon means almost nothing. Again, the problem with the above example is that it not only fails the statistical test, it just can’t be construed to be a chiasm by any test of common sense; it is simply informal prose that has been twisted and tortured to fit uncomfortably into the form.

So what about chasmus in Nephite scripture? Could these long-form chiasms in the Book of Mormon, statistically speaking, have happened by accident? “Chiasms in Leviticus 24 and Alma 36 have seven and eight elements, respectively,” say Edwards and Edwards, “with the two appearances of each element sharing the same essential words and expressing the same complete ideas. These chiasms have no extra repetition of these or other ideas and have very small likelihoods of appearing by chance (P = 0.0025 and 0.00018, respectively).”    

The standard level of statistical significance is 0.05! I’m not a statistician, but that raw number shows that the Alma 36 chiasm simply could not have happened by accident, or at least the probability is so astronomically low that if you were in Vegas (and if you believed in gambling) you’d take those odds every single time. And any honest scientist or judge or statitician would also. On top of that, Joseph Smith could not have made it all up, because he could not have known about chiasm as an ancient literary form, because in his day, no one did.

As a final exercise, compare the above internet message-board chiasm with the elegence of Alma 36 below. Those of other faiths ought to at least have their curiosity piqued, and LDS believers ought to at least have reaffirmed what they already suspected: that the Book of Mormon has ties to ancient Jewish literary tradition and is indeed an ancient record. For the full BYU Studies article by Boyd and Ferrell Edwards, subscribe at

a) My son give ear to my words

  b) Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land

    c) Do as I have done

     d) Remember the captivity of our fathers

       e) They were in bondage

         f) He surely did deliver them

          g) Trust in God

            h) Supported in trials, troubles and afflictions

              i) I know this not of myself but of God

               j) Born of God

                 k) I sought to destroy the church

                   l) My limbs were paralyzed

                    m) Fear of the presence of God

                       n) Pains of a damned soul

                        o) Harrowed up by memory of sins

                          p) I remembered Jesus Christ, a son of God

                          p) I cried, Jesus, son of God

                        o) Harrowed up by memory of sins no more

                       n) Joy as exceeding as was the pain

                      m) Long to be in the presence of God

                     l) My limbs received strength again

                    k) I labored to bring souls to repentance

                  j) Born of God

                 i) Therefore my knowledge is of God

               h) Supported under trials and troubles and afflictions

             g) Trust in him

            f) He will deliver me

          e) As God brought our fathers out of bondage and captivity

        d) Retain in remembrance their captivity

      c) Know as I do know

     b) Keep the commandments and ye shall prosper in the land

a) This according to his word