Janus Parallelism: Book of Mormon Hints? Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, we looked at a total of 7 possibilities for Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon, relying primarily on examples identified by Scott Noegel in Janus Parallelisms in the Book of Job. Here are a few more for consideration.


Possibility #8: Example #7 in Part 2 dealt with the possibility that 1 Nephi 14:34 employed a Hebrew word, נָגַף (nagaph, Strong’s H5062), that can mean both “stumble” and “smite.” This same coupling may be at play in a passage from Isaiah 49:13 as quoted in 1 Nephi 21:13, but here Nephi’s version has two added phrases, both of which are needed for the proposed Janus parallelism. In other words, the version of Isaiah that Nephi quotes (or edits) provides a possible example of Janus parallelism that is not found in our current version of Isaiah. Here is 1 Nephi 21:13, using formatting provided by Royal Skousen in The Book of Mormon: the Earliest Text, further modified to have the text unique to Nephi’s record in italics, and the terms related to a proposed Janus parallelism in bold:

Sing, O heavens, and be joyful, O earth,

for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established.

And break forth into singing, O mountains,

for they shall be smitten no more.

For the Lord hath comforted his people,

and will have mercy upon his afflicted. (1 Nephi 21:13, emphasis added).

In discussing Nephi’s apparent use of dust-related themes in the Book of Mormon in a 2016 article for The Interpreter,‘Arise from the Dust’: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Enthronement, Resurrection, and Other Ancient Motifs from the ‘Voice from the Dust’),” I wrote this about the changes to Isaiah found in this passage:

Now the first and third lines are parallel, as are the second and fourth, and the final two lines.

The added word smitten might be related to the Hebrew nagaph (נגף), typically translated as “smite” or “smitten” in the KJV. This word can also have connotations of striking with the foot or striking against the foot. However, the root most commonly used for “smite” in the KJV is nakah (נכה), which lacks a connection to feet but can also have connections to rejoicing when it describes the striking of the hands together as in applause. In either case, smitten may have interesting ties to the preceding words in this verse.

Regarding the first addition dealing with “feet … established,” one Hebrew root often translated as “establish” is quwm (קום), the same root used in Isaiah 52:1 for “arise.” It occurs as “establish” twenty-seven times in the OT but far more frequently as “arise,” “rise,” or related terms. If this were the word Nephi used and presumably was found in the brass plates, it would fit some aspects of the “rise from the dust” theme. In view of the dust-related themes that follow and Abinadi’s later discourse on another verse in Isaiah 52 (v. 7, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet … ”), I suggest that this addition is meaningful and that the combination feet + mountains + rejoicing/singing paints a picture of the redeemed ascending the cosmic mountain, Mount Zion or the House of the Lord, where they have risen away from and have been washed from the mundane dust of the world. Freed from darkness and captivity, they have accepted the Lord’s covenant, have put on the Lord’s beautiful garments, and in joy have received the enthronement or endowment of power and grace that the Lord offers. Their washed feet are established on Mount Zion. [footnotes omitted]

At the time I had failed to notice that the Hebrew word quwm I proposed for “established” in Nephi’s added text is used by Isaiah five verses earlier in Isaiah 49:8, where the KJV translates it as “establish” in the passage “give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth.” This  strengthens the case that the subsequent use of “establish” in Nephi’s vs. 13 may come from quwm originally and thus may be relevant to the “rise from the dust” theme.

Nephi’s additions, whether from his version of the brass plates or his interpretive editing of Isaiah, give Isaiah 29:13 enhanced poetical impact, in my view, not only because of the added parallelism that I previously discussed, but also because of the possibility of an added Janus parallelism.

If Nephi’s added “smitten” in vs. 13 derives from the Hebrew root nagaph with possible readings of “smite” and “stumble,” then we find that both proposed meanings relate to the following and preceding text, respectively. As printed, of course, “smitten no more” fits with the immediately following statement about the Lord comforting His people and having mercy on them. But if viewed in light of the alternative meaning of “stumble,” that word parallels Nephi’s added text earlier in the same verse, “feet … shall be established,” with quwm as “established” also conveying related meanings of rising and ascent that are in beautiful contrast to stumbling.

Thus, it may be that Nephi’s use of Isaiah 49 is not only an intriguing use of the poetical technique of inclusio (as discussed in detail in Part 2 of the above-mentioned “Arise from the Dust” series) that adds enhanced parallelism related to his use of dust-related themes through the additional phrases from Nephi, but may be further enhanced with a Janus parallelism found in the unique verbiage in the Book of Mormon. I find this possibility to be especially interesting.

Possibility #9: On page 126 of his book, Noegel discusses a Janus parallelism in Job 39:10-11 that turns on a single Hebrew word that can be read as “deep valley” or “strong.” A related Janus parallelism can be proposed for yet another part of Nephi’s psalm, 2 Nephi 4:26:

26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men [“me” according to Skousen’s research] in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? 

The “valley of sorrow” parallels the weeping of his heart in the preceding phrase, while if “valley” can also be read as “strong,” it nicely parallels “my flesh waste away and my strength slacken” that follows.

Interestingly, references to “valley” in 1 Nephi 2:10, 14 are also immediately followed with words that may be related to “strength” such as “firm and steadfast” and “power,” respectively.

Possibility #10: On page 117 of his book, Noegel discusses a Janus parallelism in Job 36:15-16 in which a single Hebrew word can mean “distress” or “confinement.” A similar effect may be proposed for 2 Nephi 4:17-18, if the word translated as “encompassed about” could be related to the word Noegel treats in Job 36.

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

18  I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

A reading of “distress” would relate to the preceding statement about the grieving of his soul, and the reading of confinement or being encompassed about would relate to being “beset” by temptations and sins.

[Update, Feb. 7, 2017: Examples #11 and #12 have been added in Part 4 of this series.]

Weaker Examples

On page 41 and later on page 132, Noegel discusses a Janus parallelism in Job 3:25-26 in which a single Hebrew word can mean “stir up, quarrel with” or “dread, fear.” The Book of Mormon often uses “stir up” for those fomenting anger against the Nephites or the righteous, as well as for righteous people striving to get sinners to repent. Thus, it is usually collocated with “anger” or themes related to “repentance.” But in a couple of cases, its use is in the context of fear and thus in theory might be able to function as a Janus parallelism similar to the one discussed by Noegel. Enos 1:23 is one example:

And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things — stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.

“Stirring up” could reflect the preceding list of factors aimed at causing repentance, including wars and contentions, that relate to the meaning of “stir up, quarrel with” especially since Enos and the leaders of the Nephite religion must essentially quarrel with the people to shake them from their apathy. The meaning of fear then relates to the immediately following phrase, “fear of the Lord.” But fear also seems to be the purpose of the preaching, so there is not a clean separation of distinct meanings in the phrases before and after “stirring them up,” which may not be a problem.

Another Janus parallelism of interest is found in Job 32:11, as discussed by Noegel on pages 113-114. Here a single word can mean “give ear” as well as “weigh, test” in a word play that is a visual one relying on the written text to create the reference to both roots, while the spoken words would differ in pronunciation. The Book of Mormon frequently uses the phrase “give ear,” so it may not be too surprising to also find an instance with concepts related to weighing or testing nearby, as may be the case in 2 Nephi 25:3-4. In that passage, the judgments of God precede the use of “give ear,” possibly parallel to a reading of “weigh, test,” and “words” follow, consistent with the reading as printed of “give ear.” But this one seems more likely to be due to chance, and the grammar involved may further weaken the parallel to Job 32:11 (Job uses the first person, while “give ear” in the Book of Mormon is usually a command, so I’m not sure if the same two roots can be recognized in the written text). Other passages to consider for this pairing include 2 Nephi 28:30 and Mosiah 2:9.

Another possibility involves the Janus parallelism in which a single word can mean “singing” or “looking,” found in Job 36:24-25 and discussed by Noegel on page 120. This may be at play in 1 Nephi 1:8 and again in Alma 36:22, but the effect does not seem particularly interesting. Could there be anything deliberate  in those passages?

Yet another possibility that also seems weak involves the Janus parallelism involving meanings of “murmur, complain” and “lodge” involved in Job 31:31-32 and discussed by Noegel on page 110 of his book. A possibility for a similar Janus parallelism might be found in several places in 1 Nephi where the concept of murmuring is often motivated by the failure of Lehi’s family to remain in Jerusalem. Thus, the act of murmuring against Lehi, Nephi, or the Lord is linked to not lodging in the comfort of home, and may present possibilities for a related Janus parallelism or two. See 1 Nephi 1:11, 5:2, 16:5-6, 35-36, and 17:22-24. In 1 Nephi 4:4-5, Nephi’s brothers continue to murmur and stay at night outside Jerusalem as Nephi goes in to confront Laban, but the sense of “lodge” is not clearly presented.


It may be impossible to find genuine Old World Janus parallelisms in a text translated into English without the original Old World record. Nevertheless, based on examples that have been found in the Hebrew Bible or based on potential wordplays that can be created in Hebrew, it may be possible to uncover some possibilities for further consideration. If these possibilities fit the context well and don’t suffer from glaring defects, there may be something to tentatively consider. I am not sure if any of the possibilities proposed above rise to that level, but I hope others with suitable expertise might provide further feedback.

My search for possibilities in the Book of Mormon text relied primarily on taking examples from Noegel and electronically searching the Book of Mormon text for related possibilities. I was intrigued that the ones that seemed like possible fits, as presented in Examples 1-10 above, tended to come from Nephi, with further contributions from Jacob and Alma, all men schooled in the brass plates and the techniques of Hebraic poetry. That may have been chance or due to my selective bias in expecting early Book of Mormon writers to be more likely to apply sophisticated parallelism than later writers. 2 Nephi 4, the psalm of Nephi, may be particularly fruitful, with 3 of the proposed 10 examples listed so far.

I hope this very preliminary and rough examination might stir someone with the required skills to take a more meaningful look at the possibilities. There is no reason why we must require Janus parallelism to exist in the Book of Mormon, but given the sophisticated application of Old World poetical tools in the text, most of which have only recently come to light, it would not be surprising for the real ancient Hebrew man named Nephi and his peers to have occasionally applied such a technique in their writings, if the Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient text. It would also not be surprising for some Janus parallelisms, tentatively reconstructed from English alone, to crop up by chance. As I said, this is simply  a first step for what may a fruitless endeavor. 

Author: Jeff Lindsay

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