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Interpreting Interpreter
Ammon’s Chiasm

This post is a summary of the article “The Literary Structure of Alma 17–20: A 14-Unit Chiasm” by Derek Squire in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Squire proposes that the story of Ammon and the conversion of the Lamanites (Alma 17-20) comprises a conceptual chiasm, one centered on Ammon’s teaching of the Plan of Redemption and Lamoni’s subsequent cry for mercy to Christ.


The Summary

In this article, Derek Squire argues that the four chapters from Alma 17 to Alma 20 (first transcribed as a single chapter, originally labelled Alma 12) form a conceptual chiasm with 14 units, one based on Ammon’s missionary labors and the conversion of the Lamoni’s people. He uses a three-step methodology that (1) attends to the natural boundaries of the text, (2) outlines the major literary units within the chapter, and then (3) analyzes those units for patterns and parallels. These parallels include:

After explaining these elements, Squire discusses how they align with the commonly cited criteria for measuring chiasticity, concluding that his proposal fits those criteria well, having a well-defined turning point, exhibiting good balance overall and between most element pairs, and being based on a variety of parallels that include keywords, phrases, and themes. On the basis of this evidence, he draws four general conclusions: (1) that the center of the chiasm highlights the plan of redemption and points to both its saving power and the response required to put it into effect, (2) that the chiasm places Abish in a position of importance in parallel with Ammon, (3) that the second half of the narrative paints the Lamanites in a positive light, and (4) that such a structure and the care taken to produce it heightens the importance of this specific text. As Squire notes:

“It gives the reader greater appreciation for the beauty and brilliance of the text, but more importantly for the mercy and miracle of the Lord’s great work among the Lamanites. These converted Lamanites had a lasting impact on the remaining history shared in the Book of Mormon. It is felt in stories about the Stripling Ammonites in Alma 53 and 56–58; Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophesying in Helaman 13–15; and those Lamanites who were spared and had the resurrected Christ minister directly to them in 3 Nephi 11–28.”


The Reflection

Squire provides a well-organized proposal that effectively highlights the correspondences he sees and that makes it easy for readers to evaluate what he’s put forward. He does well to note the proposal’s weaknesses, though potential critiques should keep in mind that perfection is not necessarily the standard, as emphasized just a few weeks ago by Stephen Ehat.

A better standard, in my view, is the proposal’s explanatory power—we could ask, for instance, if this structure allows us to better understand the story of Ammon, or give useful insight into the perspective of Mormon as he put it together. In terms of the former, I think what the structure has to say about Abish is especially useful. One could wonder why Abish is a named character in the first place, given what seems at first glance to be a relatively minor role in the story. But if her role and her story is intended to act as a parallel to Ammon’s, that prominence makes much more sense. It’s those kinds of explanatory insights that help me see Squire’s proposal not just as valid, but important—important enough to receive due consideration in line with chiastic structures proposed by others.

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