Paired Tricola: Now Caffeine Free

Several times in looking into the attacks on the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, I’ve had the experience of finding that an initially “impressive” attack actually became interesting evidence in favor of Joseph Smith as a prophet. A classic example is the alleged mistake in Alma 7:10, where the birthplace of Christ is said to be the land of Jerusalem rather than Bethlehem. Since Bethlehem is essentially a suburb of Jerusalem, it makes sense, but what becomes really interesting is the use of the term “land” to describe what we all think of as a city. Though Joseph could not have known it in 1830, later documents from the seventh century B.C. and from the Dead Sea Scrolls would be discovered showing that ancient Jews did use the phrase “land of Jerusalem” to describe the region around the city, which would include Bethlehem as well. It’s an authentic ancient phrase, accurately used in the Book of Mormon, that Joseph could not have fabricated. I discuss this issue on my page of Alleged Book of Mormon Problems and a page on Alma 7:10 and the Land of Jerusalem in the Book of Mormon.

More recently, I was exploring anti-Mormon charges that the an often-cited internal evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity was bogus. The issue revolves around 2 Nephi 12:16, which is quoting Isaiah 2:16. The KJV has a nice couplet (a “bicolon” – pair of elements), consistent with the series of couplets in that portion of the chapter. The 2 Nephi version suddenly introduces 3 elements. It appears that the 2 Nephi version brings together elements that are found now in various forms of Isaiah (e.g., the Hebrew text and the Septuagint), as if a more ancient original source were being quoted. It’s a minor issue, but critics have charged that the introduction of a tricolon (three elements) in the midst of bicola (plural of bicolon) would disrupt the poetical structure and never be done. They are dead wrong: the Bible also has examples of tricola in the midst of bicola. I discuss this on my page, “Isaiah Variants in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon: Authentic Hebrew Poetry?

To me the really interesting thing was learning that sometimes, when a tricolon appears in the midst of bicola, that the authors were crafting another authentic form of Hebrew poetry that was not appreciated until about 50 years ago. This form of poetry is called “paired tricola” in which a tricolon joins with a bicolon to create two tricola by having one line of the main tricolon do double duty, also being parallel with the neighboring bicolon such that it can be combined with the bicolon to make a tricolon. For example, suppose that we have five lines, A1, A2, A3, B1, B2 (a tricolon followed by a bicolon), and the line A3 has elements that allow it to be paired with the A tricolon and also the B bicolon, so that A3 + B1 + B2 is another tricolon. Then we’ve got a paired tricolon.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms have examples of paired tricola. When I read about this form of poetry, I wondered if Nephi, who was so heavily influenced by Isaiah and the ways of the Jews at that time, might also have used paired tricola. In the first place I looked, 2 Nephi 4, I found what appeared to me to be clear examples of this form of poetry. I offer several examples and discuss their significance in the appendix of my page about 2 Nephi 12 (near the bottom). I found another example yesterday and will update the page sometime soon. (2 Nephi 12:16 itself is not a paired tricolon, though – I think most examples of tricola in the Bible aren’t paired tricola.)

I don’t know if the paired tricola issue has much significance, because it hasn’t been through review and critiques by scholars who know the area far better than I do. But if it holds up, it could be another interesting case of an apparent problem in the Book of Mormon leading to the discovery of interesting evidence for its authenticity.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

3 thoughts on “Paired Tricola: Now Caffeine Free

  1. Nice post. Interesting stuff, what gets me is when items that have previously been used to disprove the book of Mormon and have been resolved in a logical way, the same argument will perpetuate itself decades down the road even by those who know better.

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