Janus Parallelism: Book of Mormon Hints? Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at some tentative possibilities for Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon, drawing upon examples identified by Scott Noegel in his masterful work, Janus Parallelisms in the Book of Job. Here are a few more for consideration, all uncertain, of course.

Possibility #4: Jacob 7:25 may offer another example of the Janus parallelism proposed in Example 3 of my previous post, building upon dual meanings of “rock” and “enemy” from a single Hebrew word.

25 Wherefore, the people of Nephi did fortify against them
with their arms, and with all their might, trusting in the God and rock
of their salvation; wherefore, they became as yet, conquerors of their

If the word translated as “rock” could also convey the meaning of enemy, then the “enemy of their salvation” would look forward to the end of this verse which speaks of the Nephites becoming “conquerors of their enemies.” Meanwhile, “rock of their salvation” naturally looks backward to God in whom they trust.

Possibility #5: On page 112 of Scott Noegel’s book, he examines a Janus parallelism in Job 31:35 in which a single Hebrew word can mean both “mark” (as in a visible marking) and “desire.” Perhaps something similar occurs with the only occurrence of “mark” from the small plates of the Book of Mormon in Jacob 4:14:

14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they
despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for
things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their
blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must
needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and
delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because
they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that
they may stumble.

A reading of “desire” instead of “mark” might be viewed as “looking beyond the desires [of God],” which would relate to the two instances of “desired” in the last part of this verse. The meaning of “looking beyond the mark” naturally fits the preceding passage, which refers to the “words of plainness” which can be viewed as the written “mark” from the prophets whom the Jews killed. By rejecting those words and the prophets, the result is blindness, which, like “desired,” is mentioned twice before the pivotal word and relates well the concept of a visible mark. In short, this verse has blindness, blindness, mark/desire, desired, desired.

Possibility #6. Noegel on page 74 discusses a Janus parallelism from Job 21:12-13 which turns on a Hebrew word that can mean both “waste away, consume” and “carry, bear along.” This may be at play in 2 Nephi 4:25-26:

25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been
carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld
great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I
should not write them.

26 O then, if I have seen so
great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men
hath visited men 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 reading of “waste away” naturally relates to the slackening of his strength that follows, but the alternate reading (tentatively proposed, of course) of “carry, bear along” might relate to the preceding words about lingering in the valley of sorrow and especially to his body “being carried away” in verse 25. [Note: In Part 3, under Possibility #9, we will see that this passage has another Janus parallelism. Indeed, the majority of proposed Janus possibilities in the Book of Mormon are from Nephi, which I find interesting.]

Possibility #7. An even more tenuous example might be proposed for 1 Nephi 14:34, based on the observation that a Hebrew word,
נָגַף (nagaph, Strong’s H5062) can mean both “stumble” and “smite.” While the grammar may not work out (not sure), consider how such a word could fit Nephi’s text:

34 And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake unto
me, saying: Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the
remnant of the house of Israel — and this remnant of whom I speak is
the seed of thy father — wherefore, after I have visited them in
judgment, and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles, and after the
Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious
parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that
abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb — I
will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will
bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall
be plain and precious, saith the Lamb. 

“Stumble” fits the immediately following description of the hindrance created by the removal of plain and precious parts of the Gospel, while the alternate reading (tentatively proposed) of “smite” relates to the immediately preceding description of the remnant of Israel being smitten by the Gentile.

The linkage of “stumble” and “plain and precious” in this passage also seems to have inspired Jacob in the above-mentioned passage of Jacob 4:14, which has its own proposed Janus parallelism.

Feedback is welcome. There are a couple more possibilities I am still exploring, but now it’s time to run for another dive adventure here in southern Thailand (Ko Lanta as our base). Wish you were here!

Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “Janus Parallelism: Book of Mormon Hints? Part 2

  1. If the word translated as "rock" could also convey….

    If only we had those gold plates!

    Seriously, Jeff, I doubt this line of inquiry can go anywhere at all without the original text, for all the reasons you've already discussed.

    — OK

  2. This is an interesting exercise. It may never be convincing to non-believers, but it's a good-faith effort to test a hypothesis in one of the few ways that are possible. That's always a good idea, so let's see where it goes.

    One thing I'd like to see added, though, is a control group. Try doing the same search for Janus parallelism in King-James-ish English texts that were certainly not translated from Hebrew, and see whether any similarly plausible examples come up there.

    My guess is that they would, because the hypothesis of ur-text wordplay is one with a lot of inherent wiggle room. By the time you've run through all the conceivable alternative original Hebrew terms for every word in the text, you'd have to be very unlucky, it seems to me, to never find any combinations of text and hypothetical original that would fit Janus parallelism.

    Janus parallelism is probably less of a fluke than one might think, because in most cases where a word has two meanings, there is at least some connection between the two meanings. And in most cases where two sentences follow each other, there is some connection between their meanings, too. So Janus parallelism isn't really as artificial as it first sounds. I bet it shows up in modern English, without any inferred Hebrew.

    I'm sure Janus parallelism is still rare, but I doubt it's really rare enough that just finding some, at all, is a smoking-gun discovery. Given the freedom to sharpshoot and cherry-pick that is inherent in the hypothesis of a lost Hebraic source text, I'd really want to see a comparison with a control text, before concluding that Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon was evidence for anything.

  3. Another question—In 1 Nephi 21, isn't Nephi reading to the people from the brass plates?

    1 Nephi 19:22 reads, "Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things; and it came to pass that I did read many things to them, which were engraven upon the a plates of brass…."

    But how could Isaiah 21 be on plates engraved prior to Nephi's flight from Jerusalem, which is to say, before the Babylonian conquest? Isaiah 49 is part of Deutero-Isaiah, isn't it? If so, it would have been written during or after the captivity.

    To me, this would be strong evidence against the Book of Mormon's historicity, since Deutero-Isaiah was available to Joseph, but not to Nephi.

    — OK

  4. There are reasonable grounds for accepting Isaiah as the author of those chapters commonly assigned to a much later source. Richard Schultz, Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, presents some of these reasons. See Richard L. Schultz, “Isaiah, Isaiahs, and Current Scholarship,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), Kindle edition, chapter 10.

    Kenneth A. Kitchen also makes a brief case for the unity of Isaiah in On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 378–380, pointing to evidence from an Isaiah manuscript in the Dead Sea scrolls in which the full book of Isaiah is written with a division at the end of chapter 33, as if it were viewed as a book with two related halves. The parallelism between these two halves was long ago analyzed by W.H. Brownlee and said to be indicative of an overarching literary structure pointing to unity. See W.H. Brownlee, The Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls for the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 247–253; as cited by Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 582. Brownlee calls the structure the “Bifid” format of Isaiah, consisting of seven broad parallel sections in both halves. This approach was taken up and greatly refined by Avraham Gileadi in The Literary Message of Isaiah (New York: Hebraeus, 1994), Kindle edition. Gileadi provides a reworked “Bifid structure” of seven parallel elements and shows broad themes with detailed parallels that strongly unite the entire book of Isaiah in a work whose detailed scholarship has been praised by non LDS and LDS scholars.

    The unity of Isaiah was apparently not questioned by the Qumran community in 200 bc nor by New Testament voices, Christ included, who quote from the latter portions of Isaiah as writings of Isaiah and not a later author (e.g., Matthew 12:17, quoting Isaiah 42:1–4, which Christ attributes to Isaiah; and Matthew 8:16–17, quoting Isaiah 53:4, which Christ attributes to Isaiah; see also John 12:37–41, which quotes from Isaiah 53:1 and then Isaiah 6:10, identifying both passages as from Isaiah).

    A discussion of the issues for Book of Mormon students is provided by John W. Welch in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, concluding that portions of Isaiah quoted were probably on the brass plates and most likely authored by Isaiah. Welch observes that there are reasonable grounds for accepting the unity of the version of Isaiah on the brass plates, though it may not have included the full book as we know it today. He also notes that the parts viewed as most strongly post-exilic by modern scholars, often ascribed to a “Tertio-Isaiah,” are not quoted in the Book of Mormon.

    Some wordprint and other statistical or scientific studies have also pointed to unity in Isaiah or at least have not provided support for multiple authorship.

    I would further argue that the sophisticated application of dust related themes in the Book of Mormon drawing heavily on Isaiah 52 — to be explored more fully in my Interpreter articles on that topic, Parts 2 and 3 — is something far beyond Joseph Smith’s abilities or perhaps even the state of biblical scholarship in Joseph’s day and helps make the Book of Mormon itself a witness for the authenticity of the later Isaiah chapters quoted or relied upon in the Book of Mormon.

  5. Jeff, much of what you're describing here as "unity" in the Book of Isaiah — isn't it structural and thematic, rather than authorial? That is, isn't it about later authors picking up the original Isaiahan ball and moving it in the same direction in the original spirit? Isn't it still the scholarly consensus that Isaiah was written by different authors in different times?

    Are there any respected Isaiah scholars who think someone was writing explicitly about Cyrus — writing passages like I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness, and I will make all his paths straight; he shall build my city and set my exiles free…. — prior to the exile?

    And are there any non-LDS scholars who consider the BoM the least bit relevant to the question of Isaiahan authorship?

    — OK

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