- How Long Did It Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?
- The Original Book of Mormon Transcript
- Colophons in the Book of Mormon
- Two Figurines From the Belleza and Sanchez Collection
- Textual Consistency
- Lehi's Council Vision and the Mysteries of God
- The Book of Mormon and the Heavenly Book Motif
- Old World Languages in the New World
- Columbus: By Faith or Reason?
- The Plain and Precious Parts
- Nephi's Bows and Arrows
- Lodestone and the Liahona
- Lehi's Trail and Nahom Revisited
- Winds and Currents: A Look at Nephi's Ocean Crossing
- Did Lehi Land in Chile?
- Statutes, Judgments, Ordinances, and Commandments
- Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5-10
- Jacob's Ten Commandments
- What Did Charles Anthon Really Say?
- Textual Criticism of the Book of Mormon
- Parallelism, Merismus, and Difrasismo
- View of the Hebrews: "An Unparallel"
- No, Sir, That's Not History!
- Seven Tribes: An Aspect of Lehi's Legacy
- Antenantiosis in the Book of Mormon
- Once More: The Horse
- Lost Arts
- What Was a "Mosiah"?
- Ancient Europeans in America?
- "Latest Discoveries"
- The Ideology of Kingship in Mosiah 1-6
- "This Day"
- Benjamin's Speech: A Classic Ancient Farewell Address
- The Coronation of Kings
- "O Man, Remember, and Perish Not" (Mosiah 4:30)
- Barley in Ancient America
- Decorative Iron in Early Israel
- Abinadi and Pentecost
- Dancing Maidens and the Fifteenth of Av
- New Information about Mulek, Son of the King
- Four Quarters
- Three Accounts of Alma's Conversion
- Joseph Smith: "Author and Proprietor"
- The Law of Mosiah
- Possible "Silk" and "Linen" in the Book of Mormon
- Epanalepsis in the Book of Mormon
- Antithetical Parallelism in the Book of Mormon
- The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus' Birth
- The Nephite Calendar in Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman
- The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities
- Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies
- Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language
- "A Day and a Half's Journey for a Nephite"
- Exemption from Military Duty
- Synagogues in the Book of Mormon
- The Sons of the Passover
- Conference on Warfare in the Book of Mormon
- "Holy War" in the Book of Mormon and the Ancient Near East
- Symbolic Action as Prophetic Curse
- New Year's Celebrations
- Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon
- Mesoamericans in Pre-Spanish South America
- Mesoamericans in Pre-Columbian North America
- Wordprints and the Book of Mormon
- "Secret Combinations"
- Chiasmus in Helaman 6:7-13
- Chiasmus in Mesoamerican Texts
- Nephi's Garden and Chief Market
- Was Helaman 7-8 An Allegorical Funeral Sermon?
- The Case of an Unobserved Murder
- Mormon's Agenda
- Thieves and Robbers
- The Execution of Zemnarihah
- The Sermon at the Temple
- The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets
- Getting Things Strai[gh]t
- Prophecy Among the Maya
- The Survivor and the Will to Bear Witness
- Mormon and Moroni as Authors and Abridgers
- Number 24
- The "Golden" Plates
- Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan: Possible Linguistic Connections
- Words and Phrases
- Our Nephite Sacrament Prayers
- Climactic Forms in the Book of Mormon
Chiasmus in Mesoamerican Texts
The growing literature on chiasmus deals generally with its use in the Near East and Mediterranean areas.1 Some students of the Book of Mormon have wondered if the same form might appear in the New World, but until now the labor required to demonstrate it had not been done.
Allen J. Christenson has completed a substantial paper in this regard, investigating thirty-seven native Mayan texts. After reading the manuscript, renowned expert Munro Edmonson said, “It is rare to encounter this kind of dedication and clarity in academic work.” He phrased his congratulatory comment in the form of “an enthusiastic chiasmus”—a balanced four-paragraph letter.
While large numbers of hieroglyphic codices were destroyed by the Spanish invaders, some Indians quickly learned Spanish characters and used them to record part of what had been in those books. The most famous of these is the Popol Vuh. Christenson displays over fifty significant chiasms in sixteen of these records. Most are from highland Guatemala, but some are from the Yucatan. Those containing chiasms generally meet the following criteria: the original (1) was composed prior to 1575; (2) was written in Mayan and the original text is available; (3) was authored by a member of the ruling lineage; (4) contains internal evidence of having been based on a pre-Columbian codex; (5) includes significant references to pre-Spanish mythology and religion; and (6) is free of notable Christian or European influence.
Two-, three-, and four-line chiasms are numerous in these texts, but longer, complex examples are also evident. For instance, the initial section of the Popol Vuh, dealing with the creation of the world, is arranged as a chiasm. Each phase of creation is given in detail from primordial darkness to the formation of the mountains. For example:
Oh Heart of Heaven, and once it had been created, the earth, the mountains and valleys, the paths of the waters were divided and they proceeded to twist along among the hills. So the rivers then became more divided as the great mountains were appearing. And thus was the creation of the earth when it was created by him who is the Heart of Heaven.
The final portion of the section then recapitulates the main events in reverse order.2 The Annals of the Cakchiquels, meanwhile, involves a seven-element chiasm incorporating two subordinate chiasms inside it.3
Many early colonial native texts did not use chiasmus. Those that did all contain passages of dialogue, an indicator of dependence on a pre-Columbian codex. Interestingly, none of the highland Maya documents composed after 1580 included chiastic passages. Christenson argues that this is evidence that chiasmus had a distinct history as a learned poetic form among these people before the Conquest.
Many implications of Christenson’s work remain to be explored. The late Sir Eric Thompson once said, “There are close parallels in Maya transcriptions of the colonial period, and, I am convinced, in the hieroglyphic texts themselves, to the [two-line parallel] verses of the Psalms, and the poetry of Job,” but when chiasmus proper was drawn to his attention in 1970, he could point only to brief hints of it in the native texts.4 The work by Christenson focuses new attention on Mesoamerican poetic form with the possibility of further breakthroughs.
Based on research by Allen J. Christenson, January 1988. Following the publication of this Update, part of Christenson’s work appeared as “The Use of Chiasmus by the Ancient Quiche-Maya,” Latin American Literatures Journal 4, no. 2 (Fall 1988): 125-50. His full research was published as “The Use of Chiasmus in Ancient Mesoamerica” (Provo: F.A.R.M.S., 1988); and a short report appeared in “Chiasmus in Mayan Texts,” Ensign 18 (October 1988): 28-31.
1. For example, John W. Welch, ed., Chiasmus in Antiquity (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981).
2. See Munro Edmonson, The Book of Counsel: The Popol Vuh, Tulane Univ., Middle Amer. Research Inst. Publ. 35 (New Orleans: Tulane University, 1971), 9-13.
3. The text is in Daniel G. Brinton, The Annals of the Cakchiquels (Philadelphia: Brinton’s Library of Aboriginal American Literature, 1885), 75-77.
4. See Eric Thompson, Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960), 2:61-62, and personal communication to John L. Sorenson.