Project Report: Chiasmus Archive
Over three decades ago, John W. Welch's publication of "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon" opened a new chapter in Mormon studies. The 1969 article in BYU Studies announced his 1967 discovery of the presence of this literary form in the Book of Mormon. From that time to the present, the significance of Welch's extraordinary observation has been discussed at many levels by Latter-day Saint lay readers as well as career academicians.
Welch has continued to contribute to this area of research, including authoring several dozen publications (articles, books, book reviews, and bibliographies) concerning chiasmus exegesis and methodology. His conspicuous position as a preeminent chiasmus scholar has made him a magnet for material on the subject. In addition to the sources he collects in his own research, he continues to receive a number of unsolicited articles and inquiries each year from authors around the world. This material ranges from proposed chiasms found by enthusiastic dilettantes intrigued by the pleasing symmetry of the form to rigorous critical analyses performed by renowned scholars.
For many years Welch has envisioned a way to catalog all these studies and proposals—covering canonical and extracanonical literature—so that this material could be organized in one location by scripture reference and made available to interested inquirers via the Internet or in a library archive.
Last summer Welch enlisted the help of John D. Payne, a student at Yale University and amateur chiasmus enthusiast. "I had been an admirer of Welch's work for some time," Payne says. "When we worked out an agreement for a summer internship, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing. I came into the project in medias res, on the heels of another intern who had begun a cataloging system and processed about a fourth of Welch's materials. The 'chiasmus archive' consisted of several filing drawers and shelves full of books inside one of the FARMS trailers on BYU campus."
Payne cross-checked the scriptural citations against the massive chiasmus index created several years ago by Robert Smith and others, then against the chiasmus bibliography published by Welch and Daniel B. McKinlay, adding to each source whatever was missing. Payne then photocopied each instance of chiastic analysis in the articles and organized them in another filing drawer by scripture reference, all in anticipation of the next intern who will scan this voluminous material for inclusion in an online database.
The articles are written in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek, and they date from the early 1800s to the present. This library ranges from chiastic analysis to criticism of chiastic analysis to metacriticism of chiastic analysis. "Some of the articles were extremely technical and intricate, proposing chiastic structures on all levels—from verse to chapter to scripture book to the entire Torah," Payne says. "Others put forth radical doctrinal proposals on the meaning of chiasmus itself, some claiming that the phenomenon was a key to the organization of all human history, some to the very mind of God."
The need among Latter-day Saints and religion scholars in general for a chiasmus database is evident. As a continually expanding resource containing all known research on chiasmus from many angles, it would help dispel common misconceptions, foster greater understanding, and encourage further interest and study in this fruitful area of scriptural and literary scholarship.
As Welch now envisions it, the database would be available to the public via the Internet and would contain numerous items, including statistical models on how to test for probability of authorial intentionality in chiastic composition; studies on what was known about chiasmus at the time of the Book of Mormon's publication; and extensive analyses of thousands of passages throughout the standard works, enabling anyone proposing a new chiasm to see what might already be written on it. With adequate time and resources, all of this could be made available with the click of a mouse.
When completed, the online chiasmus database will be a unique resource. Its sheer size will make it an important center for further chiasmus research and exploration for interested people all around the world.
"Interest in chiasmus has not waned," says Welch. "In fact, at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta this past November, several new books, papers, or chapters appeared utilizing chiasmus in analyzing various biblical texts. I am grateful to many people who have contributed over the years to building the makings of this chiasmus archive. J. D. Payne and several others are to be thanked especially."
To submit materials or to volunteer services in furthering the Chiasmus Archive, please contact M. Gerald Bradford, director of research at FARMS.