One of the most interesting books that I have read recently is Scott B. Noegel’s excellent research work, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2009).
After all the centuries of biblical studies that have been conducted, I am intrigued at how much continues to be found in the pages of the Bible. For example, in the heavily investigated area of poetry and especially parallelisms in the Hebrew Bible, it was only recently that scholars began to uncover evidence of an intriguing form called Janus parallelism. Referring to the two-faced Roman god, Janus, this form of parallelism uses a single word with two meanings has one meaning complete or relate to the immediately preceding text and a second meaning that relates to the following text. It is a clever word play in which one word works in two ways, looking forward and backward.
Cyrus Gordon discovered and named this technique in a 1978 publication,”New Directions,” The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists, vol. 15, no. 1/2 (1978), pp. 59-6. Gordon found a verse in Song of Solomon 2:12: “The blossoms appear in the land || the time of the zâmîr has arrived || and the song of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.” Gordon noted that zâmîr means either the “pruning season” or “music” and can thus relate appropriately to the preceding and following phrases, using both of its meanings. Since then, other scholars have examined possible cases of Janus parallelism, but the most thorough and ground-breaking work appears to be that of Scott Noegel, whose book is based on his Ph.D. dissertation.
If nothing else, Noegel’s work should greatly enhance our appreciation of Job as a literary marvel. The onslaught of cunning puns in that text astounds me, in particular the sophisticated use of Janus parallelism, for which Noegel has uncovered several dozen. The Book of Job is like the transcript of a heated contest of punsters battling for literary mastery, with God being the ultimate victor. Noegel also reveals several other Janus parallelisms in other parts of the Hebrew Bible that have not been previously noted. It is a thorough, intelligent, thought-provoking work and a significant contribution in biblical studies, in my opinion. Kudos to the author for terrific scholarship.
Noegel’s analysis also may give future scholars a handful of tools for further investigating some of the many apparent Hebraic word plays already noted in the Book of Mormon, as well as tools for further tentative analysis of other passages in the Book of Mormon, perhaps especially among those most familiar with the brass plates and Jewish poetical forms (e.g., Nephi, Jacob, and Alma). Of course, the task is terribly obscured by our lack of the ancient text. Looking at a translation complicates the recognition of word plays, and this is particularly the case for Janus parallelism where we need to know what word with two meanings was used, and what words were used before and after if. Translation can obscure not only the original words but the order or adjacent phrases. In spite of the difficulties, and yes, the high risk of false positives via the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy,” there may be some plausible Janus parallelisms that can be rooted out by those familiar with ancient Near Eastern languages.
As a first pass, the Janus parallels of Job can be compared to some Book of Mormon candidates to see if there is a chance that Book of Mormon writers may have employed some of the same instances. In a later update, I’ll list some of the findings from Noegel and a very tentative cases in the Book of Mormon where there may be a very tenuous hint of some connection. There may not be anything interesting here, and it may be a tool that wasn’t appreciated or used much or at all by Nephite writers. Or it may have been used with great skills in a few cases that are obscured by the translation. In any case, I’d like to encourage other to consider the possibilities of Janus parallelism in our own Book of Mormon (or maybe even the Book of Moses).
Update: A dozen tentative Book of Mormon examples of proposed Janus parallelism are given in subsequent posts under the title, “Janus Parallelism, Book of Mormon Hints,” Part1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.