Inverted Quotations in the Book of Mormon

When the Book of Mormon appeared in 1830, the Western world had only a limited knowledge of the literary techniques utilized by Semitic authors. Even today, many students of the Bible remain unaware of exciting textual discoveries made by Israeli scholars whose work has appeared only in Hebrew.

One such discovery came to light in 1955 when a scholar named Seidel published a study on parallel statements in Psalms and Isaiah.1 Though many of Seidelâs original claims proved doubtful, his work prepared the way for further analysis of inverted quotations in the Bible.2

The Bible contains many examples of inverted quotations.3 For example, in Leviticus 26:4 the Lord declared, “and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruits.” When Ezekiel later referred to this promise, he intentionally reversed its original sequence: “and the trees of the field shall yield their fruits, and the land shall yield her increase” (Ezekiel 34:27).4 Today scholars refer to such inverted quotations of earlier sources as Seidelâs law. Deuteronomy 4:15–19 is an important example of this phenomenon: “Take good heed lest ye make the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them.” Using a technique that would have been recognized by ancient readers, Moses essentially reversed the sequence of creation described in Genesis 1:14–27.

This inverted passage proves meaningful for Book of Mormon studies. In a sermon to his son Jacob, Lehi also reversed the elements of creation: “And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be there was an opposition” (2 Nephi 2:15).

After listing the final three elements in creation, Lehi, unlike Moses, summarized the earlier components with the inclusive statement “and in fine, all things which are created.” One possible explanation for this synopsis is that while Moses felt the need to thoroughly categorize every example of graven images whose worship would lead Israel into apostasy, Lehiâs citation served a different purpose. His pivotal statement concerning the existence of and need for opposition is strengthened because opposition itself is presented as a divinely ordained aspect of creation.

Since Bible scholars in Joseph Smithâs day had not yet recognized the existence of Seidelâs law, its attestation in 2 Nephi 2:15 and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (e.g., Alma 5:19; compare Psalm 24:4) provides additional evidence that the Book of Mormon is an authentic record of ancient origin. Notes

1. M. Seidel, Parallels between Isaiah and Psalms, Sinai 38 (1955–56): 149–72, 272–80, 335–55 (in Hebrew).

2. See especially P. Beentjes, “Inverted Quotations in the Bible: A Neglected Stylistic Pattern,” Biblica 63 (1982): 506–23.

3. In the New Testament see Mark 12:1, which reverses the Greek translation of Isaiah 5:2, and 2 Corinthians 6:17, which quotes the Septuagint version of Isaiah 52:11.

4. The words in both passages are identical in Hebrew but are translated differently in the KJV, whose translators opted, for example, for the term land in Leviticus 26:4 but earth in Ezekiel 34:27.