CHIASMUS IN MESOAMERICAN TEXTS
The growing literature on chiasmus generally deals with its use in the Near East and Mediterranean areas. Some Book of Mormon students have wondered if the same form might appear in the New World, but until now the labor required to even begin answering that question had not been done.
Allen J. Christenson has completed a long paper in this regard, investigating 37 native Mayan texts. After reading the manuscript, renowned expert Munro Edmonson said, "It is rare to encounter this kind of dedication and clarity in academic work."
While iarge numbers of hieroglyphic codices were destroyed by Spanish invaders, some Indians quickly learned Spanish characters and used them to record part of what had been in those books. The most famous of these is the Popol Vuh. Christenson displays over 50 possible chiasms in 16 of these records.
Two-, three-, and four-line chiasms are numerous in these texts, but longer, complex ones also appear to exist. For instance, he finds that the first section of the Popol Vuh, about the creation of the world, is arranged as a chiasm. Each creative phase is detailed from primordial darkness to the formation of the mountains. The final portion of the section then recapitulates the main events in reverse order. Many colonial native texts did not use chiasmus. Those that did use this form seem dependent on earlier texts.
Certainly the implications of this work remain open. Simple isolated chiasms, of course, may be found in any literature by chance or by common human traits. The longer and clearer these patterns become, the more one may justify looking for other explanations. Any assessment of such data, however, requires great care and deliberation.
While Christenson's research has been submitted to professional journals for possible publication, a working set of his findings is now available for review.