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.
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:
- A and A’, which each describe a meeting, first between Alma and the sons of Mosiah and lastly between Ammon and his brothers. This parallel is in addition to the inclusio that’s formed when Alma’s meeting is again described in Alma 27. Interestingly, each features a list of seven trials and afflictions faced during their missionary journeys.
- B and B’, each involving “journeyings”, either to the land of Nephi or to the land of Middoni. In each Ammon actively refuses the role of King—granted to him either by his father or by Lamoni–and each characterizes either the Lamanites or the Nephites in harsh terms. Both sets of verses also feature repentance, as well as acts of inspired courage.
- C and C’, each describing Ammon’s arrival in the land of Ishmael or his departure from it. These elements share several keywords (i.e., “king”, “land”, and “name”), and feature the concept of captivity, whether it be Ammon being bound before Lamoni or Ammon’s brothers being held in prison by Lamoni’s father.
- D and D’, which correspond to Ammon’s protection of the king’s flocks and Abish’s gathering of the king’s people. Both have elements unique to these passages, including the term “Lamanitish”, the promise that the sons of Mosiah would be kept safe, people coming forth to slay Ammon in anger, and people being astonished at Ammon’s power, among others. Squire also cites a proposed parallel by Joseph Spencer.
- E and E’, which each reference the testimony of Lamoni’s servants, either after Ammon’s arm-studded display of power or when identifying those servants after they were struck to the earth. These elements contrast Lamoni’s understanding of the Great Spirit with his direct experience with the Savior and being overwhelmed by the Spirit (though Squire notes that the Great Spirit is also mentioned later on, in a way not accounted for by his current structure). These elements also offer explanations for the “punishment” or “mourning” of the Lamanites and Nephites respectively, and reference “fear” and “traditions”, though these concepts are not unique to the two passages.
- F and F’, where either Ammon or Lamoni’s servants “went in unto the [king/queen]”, and each feature Ammon both (1) asking questions of the king/queen (2) having his desires fulfilled. Both the king and queen say “I believe” in the course of this questioning. Ammon’s power is again a common theme, as is reference to the king’s countenance, and to the phrase “for the space of” as time passes while the king is in a contemplative (if not catatonic) state.
- G and G’, where the turning point of the chiasm compares Ammon’s teaching of the Plan of Redemption to Lamoni’s response to that teaching. These elements focus on the mercy of Christ. Squire notes that this focus is implicit rather than explicit in Ammon’s teaching—the passage references records and scriptures that would have heavily featured Christ’s tender mercies rather than stating them directly.
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.”
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.