Evidence #430 | December 5, 2023

Janus Parallelisms

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Scripture Central


Although tentative, multiple examples of Janus parallelism have now been proposed in the Book of Mormon.

In 1978 biblical scholar Cyrus Gordon identified a type of poetic form in the Hebrew Bible which he coined “Janus parallelism.”1 Janus, a Roman deity, was often depicted with two faces looking simultaneously in opposite directions. Playing off this imagery, Janus parallelism involves a word or phrase that holds a dual meaning, with one definition relating back to previous content and another looking forward to the content that follows. While one of the two definitions should be discernable in translation, the other typically gets lost (since there likely wouldn’t be a word in most modern languages that simultaneously holds the same two meanings as the original ancient word).

An interesting example identified by Gordon is found in Song of Solomon 2:12. Although it is translated as “singing” in this passage, it comes from the root zāmar, which also pertains to pruning. To help identify the relationship, the word with the dual meaning is bolded in red in the chart below, while the idea to which it has a hidden relationship is bolded in black. The chart has three rows (ABC) to help identify the relevant content that both precedes and follows the key term (found in row B). 


 The flowers appear on the earth;


 the time of the singing of birds is come,


 and the voice of the turtle [dove] is heard in our land

In English, it is obvious that “singing” relates to the “voice of the turtle [dove]” in row C. Yet only someone with knowledge of Hebrew would recognize how “singing” [zāmîr] also relates back to the idea of tending plant-life in row A. As explained by Gordon, “The poet knew how to exploit the double meaning of zāmîr. Retrospectively it parallels the first member of the tristich [three-line poem] pertaining to the growth of the soil; proleptically [looking forward] it parallels the final member pertaining to song. The skillful exploitation of twin meanings, providing through a single word twofold parallelism, is artistry of a high order.”2

Coin from around 200 BC with a bearded Janus figure on one side. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Janus Parallelism in the Book of Mormon?

In 2017, Paul Hoskisson suggested that instances of Janus parallelism might also be present in the Book of Mormon. He identified one plausible candidate in his initial publication and two more examples several years later.3 Jeff Lindsay, in 2018, proposed more than a dozen additional instances, based on analogous examples from the book of Job that were identified by Scott Noegel.4 So that the reader can sample this research, three instances selected from among Hoskisson’s and Lindsay’s proposals are given below. They have been formatted into charts, just like the example given previously,5 after which a brief analysis follows in each case.

Example #1: 1 Nephi 10:13


 Wherefore, he said it must needs be


 that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise,


 unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord,


 that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.

Rather than being based on the dual meaning of a specific word, this proposal is unique in that it depends on a shared theme. Specifically, the antithetical ideas of being “led” (A) and “scattered” (C) are both said to transpire according to prophetic statements made by the Lord (B).6 According to Hoskisson, “the second line explains the first and third line” simultaneously.7 Note, therefore, that this proposal, unlike those that follow, doesn’t have a hidden connotation (which would otherwise be lost in translation and bolded in black).

Example #2: 1 Nephi 21:13


 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth;


 for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established;


 and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more;


 for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

If the word “smitten” (B) corresponds to the Hebrew verb nāgap, then its additional connotation of “stumble” would meaningfully relate back to the “the feet” that “shall be established” (A).8 Although this passage is also found in Isaiah 49:13, the crucial elements (in rows A and B) are original to Joseph Smith’s translation in the Book of Mormon.

Example #3: 2 Nephi 4:26


 if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy,


 why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow,


 and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

It may be that “valley” (B) correlates to the Hebrew term ʿēmeq, which is likely derived from the Ugaritic word for “strong.” This word could therefore relate forward to the slackening of Nephi’s “strength” (C).9 Lindsay notes that the “references to valley in 1 Nephi 2:10, 14 are also immediately followed with words that may be related to strength such as firm and steadfast and power, respectively.”10

Entrance to Wadi Tayyib al-Ism (believed by many researchers to be the Valley of Lemuel spoken of in 1 Nephi). Photo via isha-borade.blogspot.com.


It must be stressed that this is a relatively new avenue of poetic research within Book of Mormon studies. Not only are there collectively few proposed examples of Janus parallelism, but those that have been put forward could use more attention and scholarly review. Another limitation is simply that, unlike the Bible, we don’t have the Book of Mormon in its original language. Thus, this line of research requires an additional layer of guesswork.11 That being said, the proposals that have been put forward are still intriguing, and if any of them are valid they would constitute another type of evidence supporting the Book of Mormon’s ancient Hebrew origins.

Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Additional Janus Parallels in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 81–90.

Jeff Lindsay, “The Possibility of Janus Parallelism in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 28 (2018): 1–20.

Paul Hoskisson, “Janus Parallelism: Speculation on a Possible Poetic Wordplay in the Book of Mormon,” Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 40 (2020): 61–70; printed previously in “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 151–160.

1 Nephi 10:31 Nephi 13:341 Nephi 18:61 Nephi 21:132 Nephi 4:17–182 Nephi 4:202 Nephi 4:25–262 Nephi 4:33Jacob 2:9Jacob 4:14Jacob 7:25Enos 1:23Mosiah 23:18–25Alma 8:9–10

1 Nephi 10:3

1 Nephi 13:34

1 Nephi 18:6

1 Nephi 21:13

2 Nephi 4:17–18

2 Nephi 4:20

2 Nephi 4:25–26

2 Nephi 4:33

Jacob 2:9

Jacob 4:14

Jacob 7:25

Enos 1:23

Mosiah 23:18–25

Alma 8:9–10

Literary Features
Janus Parallelism

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