Alma 36

Another reprint from Mormon Matters.

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).

4 thoughts on “Alma 36

  1. I’m often drawn back to this passage of scripture, it has such internal resonance I love it, it lifts my soul.

  2. Bruce, I really like this scripture and your reminder of its poetic parallelism. You are right that we don’t need to utter the word “chiasmus” to appreciate it. Anybody who has taught anything to anybody knows that repetition is a good way of teaching. A good teacher starts out with an idea and builds up to his central point and then repeats the original ideas to drive the point home. These verses show that very well.

    Could Joseph Smith ever have come up with something like this in the two months or so he translated most of the 500-plus page BoM? Well, the answer seems obvious to me.

  3. Things like this don’t give reason or define my testimony but they do put me in awe of the Book of Mormon. I can’t imagine even how Alma could write such a thing without being inspired, let alone Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery as detractors might suggest. It may have been transcribed by man, but it’s written and inspired of God. Can you imagine Alma sitting down to plan out such a structure to have it flow with such symmetry? Clearly, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he put the words to the plates.

    If Joseph or Oliver had contrived such an a piece of writing, they also would have had to plan it out in advance, surely in that case, they would have called attention to the beauty of it’s symmetry.

    No, in either case, it’s yet another evidence of those things not seen, but only confirmed by the Holy Spirit — that there is a God and the only thing separating us from coming to know Him are those things wrought of our own vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. Truly, a great and terrible gulf divides the words of the Lord from the children of men.

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