Ehat argues that the Book of Enos is structured as a conceptual chiasm, one in which Enos prays first for his personal redemption, then for redemption of his people the Nephites, and finally for redemption of the Lamanites, and then in reverse sequence, Enos details the efforts and promises to redeem each of those, with the chiasm centered on Christ and his covenant to preserve the Nephite record.
In this article, Stephen Kent Ehat assesses the text of the Book of Enos, arguing that it is more than a short treatise on prayer. He suggests that, like other ancient works, the book itself forms a macro-level conceptual chiasm, where it’s the ideas in the text that form a concentric structure, rather than specific words. Knowing that the burden of persuasion rests on him to provide evidentiary support his proposal, Ehat not only outlines his proposed structure, but provides a deeper analysis of its structure, noting elements that strengthen its identification as an intentional, meaningful chiasm.
Ehat proposes that the text begins with a two-verse introductory colophon, and then details Enos’ prayer for (A) his personal redemption, (B) the redemption of the Nephites, and (C) the redemption of the Lamanites. At the heart of the conceptual chiasm is (D) Enos’ Christ-centered plea for, and God’s answering covenant that, the Nephite records be preserved, which itself forms a conventional word-based chiasm (also known as an “antimetabole”), which Ehat compares with the notable chiasm in Mosiah 5. This A, B, C pattern of the first half of the chapter is followed by an account in the second half, in reverse sequence, of the largely unsuccessful efforts to redeem both (C’) the Lamanites and (B’) the Nephites, and the text closes with Enos looking forward to his personal redemption.
In addition to providing general background on the nature of chiasms, Ehat outlines the following characteristics of the text that align with his proposal:
- A thematic connection between Enos’ struggling and labor in prayer and his people’s struggles to restore the Lamanites to the true faith.
- A thematic transition between Enos’ faith and struggling and Enos expressing knowledge and looking forward to rest in Christ.
- Transitions between elements focusing on the progressive strengthening of Enos’ faith, as well as other repeated transitional phrases.
- Alignment with the characteristics of other conceptual biblical chiasms, including the presence of “rhetorical structures at subordinate levels” (e.g., the chiasm as its centre, with a focus on Christ similar to chiasms in Genesis and Psalms) and its focus on repeated prayer (per a chiasm in Luke).
- Connections between the iniquity and transgressions of the Nephites and Lamanites to the sorrow and destruction that results.
- Being able to identify the external and internal boundaries of the chiasm, often marked by the phrase “and it came to pass” (which also suggests an alternative structure with the Christ-based chiasm mirrored by God’s covenant to restore the Lamanites.
- The general balance of the chiasm’s word count, with the second half strongly resolving the elements presented in the first half.
- The use of rare vocabulary, particularly the phrase “true faith”, which appears only two other times in the Book of Mormon.
Ehat sees the Book of Enos as part of a larger prophetic tradition and Nephi”; page 38) that places tremendous importance on the preservation of records, for the purpose of maintaining and restoring belief in the Savior. As Ehat concludes:
The progression of Enos’s narrative moves not only chronologically but also deeper into his quest for an ultimate and an eternal personal redemption…[which] hinges on the central role Christ played in satisfying his main stated desire: redemption of the Lamanites through ultimate preservation of the record of the Nephites. His charity for others was the means by which he merited God’s ultimate charity toward him…The central role of the Lord Jesus Christ in responding to the strugglings and the labors of this prophet, and those of his people, is reflected in Christ’s own divine desire that God’s children be redeemed.
Ehat provides a thorough proposal for a conceptual chiasm, one with characteristics that, in my mind, align well with what we would expect from an intentional literary effort. The progression from prayer to active missionary efforts, and outward from a focus on Enos himself to Christ and back again, provides powerful themes that can guide our own efforts to serve God and work out our own salvation. The most important part, for me, is the implied path to salvation that the chiasm outlines—that it’s only through love for others, and perhaps especially through love for our enemies, that Christ can work in us our ultimate redemption. This emphasizes that it’s only through a focus on others that we can truly find and strengthen ourselves, advice that strongly counters the advice we find in the secular world. I look forward to rediscovering this implied path every time I return to Enos and the small but impactful book he produced.