Evidence #290 | December 27, 2021

Parallelism of Numbers

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Scripture Central


Parallelism of numbers provides evidence of the Book of Mormon’s Hebrew literary origins.

The Bible

In ancient Hebrew literature, numbers sometimes played an important role in parallel structures. As noted by Hebrew scholar Donald Parry,

In Semitic languages, “numbers have no synonyms, with the exception of twenty/score. Equivalents in English like twelve/dozen and fractions, half a hundred/fifty, do not exist.” Neither do numbers have antonyms. Therefore, they are parallel only when the same number is repeated within the passage, (fifty/fifty, thousand/thousand, and so on), or when the a fortiori, “how much more so” principle is in effect. A fortiori deals with “the peculiar sequence of two numbers, the second number being one unit higher than the first number (x/x+1),” such as the sequence one/two, three/four, or thousand/ten thousand.1

The a foriori principle, however, doesn’t necessarily have to involve the very next number or unit in a sequence. More broadly speaking, it is about the way that subsequent numbers in a sequence build upon or relate to those given previously. For instance, in Genesis 4:24 we read:

If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,

truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

The number seventy-seven doesn’t directly follow seven, but it does repeat and amplify the name of the first number. Another example can be seen in Deuteronomy 32:30:

How should one chase a thousand,

and two put ten thousand to flight

In this case, there is an instance of dual parallel progression. One is followed by two, and a thousand is followed by ten thousand.

Book of Mormon

Comparable instances of parallel numbers, as well as the principle of amplification or a foriori, can also be found in the Book of Mormon. Two notable examples occur back-to-back in the first book of Nephi:

1 Nephi 3:31:

Behold, [Laban] is a mighty man, and he can command fifty,

yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?

1 Nephi 4:1:

… let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord;

for behold he is mightier than all the earth,

then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty,

yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

While there is currently a chapter break between these verses, they were originally part of the same literary unit.2 Notice that 1 Nephi 3:31 has repetition of the number fifty but also amplification in the sense that Laban’s ability to merely “command fifty” is followed by the more intimidating ability to “slay fifty.” This in turn is followed by even further repetition and amplification: Nephi’s declaration that the Lord is not only mightier than Laban’s “fifty” but even his “tens of thousands!” Of course, Laban didn’t command tens of thousands of soldiers, but Nephi’s hyperbole mirrors the amplification found in many biblical examples.3

Interestingly, a similar escalation is found in Mosiah 11:19: “they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites.” And a related example is found in Alma 49:23–24: “and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain. There were about fifty who were wounded.”4

Here are additional instances of repeated or parallel numbers, some of which also feature the principle of amplification:

Alma 28:10–12:

And from the first year to the fifteenth has brought to pass the destruction of many thousand lives; yea, it has brought to pass an awful scene of bloodshed. And the bodies of many thousands are laid low in the earth, while the bodies of many thousands are moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth; yea, and many thousands are mourning for the loss of their kindred, because they have reason to fear, according to the promises of the Lord, that they are consigned to a state of endless wo. While many thousands of others truly mourn for the loss of their kindred                

Alma 60:7–8:

Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren—Yea, even they who have looked up to you for protection, yea, have placed you in a situation that ye might have succored them, yea, ye might have sent armies unto them, to have strengthened them,

and have saved thousands of them from falling by the sword.

Alma 60:22:

Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness

Helaman 3:24–26:5


insomuch that there were thousands



who did join themselves unto the church




and were baptized unto repentance.





And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people,






that even the high priests






and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.





And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper




unto the baptizing



and uniting to the church of God, many souls,


yea, even tens of thousands.

3 Nephi 3:22:

and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands

3 Nephi 4:21:

And the Nephites were continually marching out by day and by night, and falling upon their armies, and cutting them off by thousands and by tens of thousands.

Mormon 6:11–15:

… we having survived the dead of our people, did behold … the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me. And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni. And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst. And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each. And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each


The Book of Mormon features far fewer examples of parallel numbers than are found in the Bible. Nevertheless, those that can be identified possess similar features, including the principle of amplification. Parallelism of numbers thus provides another evidence of the Book of Mormon’s Hebrew literary origins.

Donald W. Parry, Preserved in Translation: Hebrew and other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020), 35–38.

Carl J. Cranney, “The Deliberate Use of Hebrew Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 23, no. 1 (2014): 140–165.

Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007).

Donald W. Parry, “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 155–189.

Hugh J. Pinnock, Finding Biblical Hebrew and Other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999).

1 Nephi 3:31–4:1Mosiah 11:19Alma 28:10–12Alma 60:7–8Alma 60:22Helaman 3:24–263 Nephi 3:223 Nephi 4:21Mormon 6:11–15

1 Nephi 3:31–4:1

Mosiah 11:19

Alma 28:10–12

Alma 60:7–8

Alma 60:22

Helaman 3:24–26

3 Nephi 3:22

3 Nephi 4:21

Mormon 6:11–15

  • 1 Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007), xxix.
  • 2 See John W. Welch and Gregory J. Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), chart 170.
  • 3 Nephi seems to be giving a hypothetical, suggesting that even if Laban had tens of thousands of soldiers at his command, the Lord could still deliver Nephi and his brothers.
  • 4 This repeated coupling of fifty and thousand may in some way relate to the description of what a wicked ruler would be like in Samuel 8:12: “And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties.”
  • 5 In this instance, the parallelism of numbers is found at the beginning and ending of a chiasm. For more on this form of parallelism, see Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Chiasmus,” Evidence# 0006, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.  
Literary Features
Parallelism of Numbers
Book of Mormon

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