In studying the Book of Mormon, it seems that everybody and his brother is familiar with chiasmus, that Hebraic form of poetry where key words and phrases in the first half of a text are repeated backwards in the second half, done to aid memorization, to signify a whole unit of thought, and, especially, to emphasize the central turning point.
With all the many excellent examples of the technique that the Book of Mormon offers, one of my favorites is usually overlooked: Helaman 13:29-39.
The most notable work on such parallelisms in the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry’s The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns, does not mention chiasmus in this section. However, in A New Witness For Christ, a similar work by the late H. Clay Gorton, an amateur Book of Mormon enthusiast, I found an arrangement of these verses that is very close to mine.
In Helaman 13:29-39, Samuel the Lamanite has been lambasting the grossly apostate people of a city. Throughout the first segment of the sermon, he chastises them for their materialism, and for their related rejection of the prophets. After the patient, factual, even dry recounting of their rebellion in most of Helaman 13, in verses 29-39 Samuel lets loose with a passionate lament, wailing over their wasteful path towards self-destruction due to their own willful blindness. Those verses form a discrete unit of the sermon, and a compelling chiasm.
Notice that the second and second to last sections, which mirror each other, are framed by three equal phrases, with the three in part B each starting with “how long” and the three in part B’ each starting with “ye have.” The three parts even each match up; for example, B3 asks how long people will choose darkness rather than light–how exactly have people been doing that? B’3 notes that they have been seeking happiness in doing iniquity (alas, they must not have read Alma 41:10).
The center of this text is a pithy couplet that simply states that their beloved possessions, represented here by tools and swords, will disappear someday, their much-vaunted reliance on the physical world as opposed to the spiritual ultimately failing them, and totally so.
Samuel’s message is plain: At the rate you guys are going, you’re heading for disaster, and I know you’ll regret it, so why don’t you change course now and prevent those problems later?
A universal yet timely message, indeed.
My arrangement of the text is below.