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Isaiah and the Book of Mormon
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Isaiah and the Book of Mormon
Question: How do we explain multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of Mormon?
The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it
As part of the record Nephi creates for his people, he quotes heavily from the prophet Isaiah. The source for Nephi's text are the brass plates that he and his brothers obtained from Laban before leaving Jerusalem. Traditionally, the Book of Isaiah has been understood to be the composition of a single author living before Nephi, and before the Babylonian exile. However, modern scholars have found evidence in the Book of Isaiah that it was written by multiple authors spanning periods of time before and during the Babylonian exile, including before and after Nephi and his brothers obtained the brass plates. Nephi quotes from some of the passages of Isaiah that scholars believe were written after Nephi and his family left Jerusalem, creating a conundrum for students of the Book of Mormon.
The general division of Isaiah chapters according to this view looks like this:
- Ch. 2-39, First Isaiah (Proto-Isaiah), written about 100 years before Lehi left Jerusalem, and so available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
- Ch. 40-55, Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah), written, at the earliest, 20-30 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so allegedly not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
- Ch. 56-66, Third Isaiah (Trito-Isaiah), written at least 60-70 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it. The key question is, "Were those passages available to Nephi on the plates of brass?". If some parts of Isaiah were not written until after Nephi obtained the brass plates then they obviously would not be available for Nephi to quote from. This criticism/question is not new to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For instance, the semi-official encyclopedic work Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992, 2007) broached it in their entry on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Among the Latter-day Saints who are familiar with this issue there is more than one approach taken. Some argue for single authorship of Isaiah, disagreeing with multiple authorship theories of Isaiah. Others agree that the Book of Isaiah was authored by more than one person and look for ways to resolve that with the Book of Mormon. We will consider the latter position first.
Many Latter-day Saint scholars and students have come to agree with mainstream biblical scholars who suggest that parts of the Book of Isaiah were written by multiple authors and at different times. There is no official position from the Church that requires Latter-day Saints to see Isaiah as having been written by one author. Therefore, Latter-day Saints are free to form their own opinions of this issue. Hugh Nibley summarizes the main reasons why many believe Isaiah was written by multiple authors:
“The dating of Deutero-Isaiah rests on three things: (1) the mention of Cyrus (Isa. 44:28), who lived 200 years after Isaiah and long after Lehi; (2) the threats against Babylon (Isa. 47:1, 48:14), which became the oppressor of Judah after the days of Isaiah and (3) the general language and setting of the text, which suggests a historical background commonly associated with a later period than that of Isaiah.”
Latter-day Saints who agree with this view do not do so because they don't believe that Isaiah could not prophecy of future events. Certainly it is within God's power to have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, or for Isaiah to write as if he were experiencing the Israelite exile to Babylon which would not happen for a couple hundred years. However, it would be very unusual for these things to happen. Those who accept the multiple authorship of Isaiah ask questions like, "Why would God have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, which would have been meaningless to his audience, and not predict the name of the Jesus?" In other words, if God is going to reveal the future name of an important person, it would seem that Jesus' name would have priority over Cyrus' name. The same question could be asked about why God would have Isaiah write as if he were experiencing the Babylonian exile. It would make little sense to his contemporary audience, and would not be very helpful to them. They would be long dead before any of those prophecies made sense. Could it be written like that to be a sign to future audiences that God has predictive power? Perhaps, but to some that seems like an unusual and trivial thing for God to do.
The important question to ask for the purposes of this study is not "Who wrote the text of Isaiah", but rather "When and how was the text of Isaiah written?".
Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
The primary Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon are illustrated in the following table:
2 Nephi 12-24 quotes 1st Isaiah. This is not a problem because it is agreed by scholars that this author wrote before Nephi obtained the brass plates. 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 7-8, and 3 Nephi 16:18-20 all quote from 2nd Isaiah, which is a problem if those chapters were not written by 2nd Isaiah until after Nephi had obtained the brass plates. Along with the quotations from the above table, Third Isaiah is alluded to in Jacob 6:3 of the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the only part of 2nd Isaiah we need to account for is Isaiah 48-53 and the only part of Trito-Isaiah (it should be remembered that some scholars reject trito-Isaiah) being the one verse from Isaiah 65 (65:2). Thus we have four chapters and four verses to account for.
The development of the text of Isaiah
There are a few important key points about the development of the text of Isaiah that may help resolve this challenge:
- 1st Isaiah wrote during a time when a powerful nation, Assyria, threatened the destruction of Israel. While this was the immediate issue in 1st Isaiah's mind, he also may have been inspired to make general prophecies about a more future destruction of Israel. While not specifically mentioning "Bablyon" or "Cyrus", this 1st Isaiah may have made broad prophecies about a future threat to Israel separate from the immediate Assyrian threat.
- Latter-day Saints scholar Sidney B. Sperry has suggested that we pay attention to the research of several non-Latter-day Saint scholars who "held that Isaiah 40-66 arose in exilic times, but consisted in considerable measure of ancient prophecies of Isaiah, which were reproduced by an author of Isaiah's school living in the exilic period, because the events of the day were bringing fulfillment of the prophecies." In other words, our current Isaiah 40-55 (or 40-66) may originate in primitive writings of 1st Isaiah, but which were reworked and reinterpreted by 2nd Isaiah. This is very likely the best approach and one the easily accounts for the both the essential unity of the text of Isaiah and the presence of material from other chapters. Marc Schindler described this approach in detail in this article from FairMormon Papers.
- In that same vein, Latter-day Saint scholar Brant Gardner writes:
- Rather than seeing the specificity of "Cyrus" or "Babylon" as denying Isaiah's authorship because they must have been written later, those same techniques of analysis suggest that others added those names later when fulfillment made the intent of the prophecy obvious. Cyrus might not have been named when Isaiah ben Amoz [1st Isaiah] wrote, but anyone living after the fact would certainly recognize the name and perhaps "improve" the original Isaiah text by adding the specifics of the fulfilled prophecy. If the earliest versions of Deutero-Isaiah were actually written by proto-Isaiah, they were later redacted on the basis of the similar historical facts of destruction and hope of return from exile that were part of both the earlier Assyrian and later Babylonian captivity."
Issues of Translation
However, this doesn't quite settle the issue yet. The question is asked, "What text was available to Nephi?" Nephi would have had available to him only the text of 1st Isaiah (which presumably would include the 1st Isaiah version of the 4 chapters and 4 verses of Deutero-Isaiah that we need), a text which possibly included broad and perhaps vague prophecies of the threat of a future exile of Israel. The prophecies on Laban's plates of brass which Nephi was quoting from may not have specifically mentioned "Babylon" as that threat. Thus, what Nephi quoted as he inscribed on his plates would have been the original, early, 1st Isaiah version of Isaiah 48-52 and all of chs. 2-40. However, the text that we have in the Book of Mormon of Isaiah 48-52 quotes from the later, 2nd Isaiah material (which is a reworked version of 1st Isaiah's earlier material) as found in the KJV Bible. How can this be?
The answer to this question will involve a brief consideration of the translation process of the Book of Mormon. Some may believe that the Book of Mormon must have been a translation in which nothing but formal equivalency (word for word translation) would be what God would provide as the translation. The problem is that the Book of Mormon does not represent a one-for-one conversion of text from Reformed Egyptian to English. There is much language, for example, that quotes, echoes, or alludes to the King James version of the Holy Bible. This includes the passages claimed to belong to Deutero-Isaiah. The Book of Mormon often does not translate the version that Nephi would have had, but simply uses the text as rendered in the King James Bible. Oddly enough, this actually should not lead one to believe that Joseph Smith simply plagiarized from it. Using the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saint scholar Royal Skousen has identified that none of the King James language contained in the Book of Mormon could have been copied directly from the Bible. He deduces this from the fact that spelling of words had indeed been standardized prior to the translation of the Book of Mormon (contrary to popular belief) and that Oliver Cowdery (Joseph's amanuensis for the dictation of the Book of Mormon), when quoting, echoing, or alluding to passages in Bible, consistently misspells certain words from the text that he wouldn't have misspelled if he was looking at the then-current edition of the KJB. Additionally, it should be noted that the current edition of the Book of Mormon notes that "more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah that are used in the Book of Mormon" differ from the Isaiah text in the KJV "while about 200 verses have the same wording as the KJV."
A Proposed Scenario
When considering the the data, Skousen proposes that, instead of Joseph or Oliver looking at a Bible (the absence of a Bible now near-definitively confirmed by the manuscript evidence and the unequivocal statements of witnesses to the translation to the Book of Mormon), that God was simply able to provide the page of text from the King James Bible to Joseph's mind and then Joseph was free to alter the text as would be more comprehensible/comfortable to his 19th century, Northeastern, frontier audience. This theology of translation may feel foreign and a bit strange to some Latter-day Saints, but it seems to fit well with the Lord's own words about the nature of revelation to Joseph Smith. Latter-day Saints should take comfort in fact that the Lord accommodates his perfection to our own weakness and uses our imperfect language and nature for the building up of Zion on the earth. Thus:
- As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he would find himself translating something that he recognized as being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah.
- Instead of translating Nephi's quotations of Isaiah word-for-word, the Lord gave the passages from Isaiah as contained in the KJV . This may have been done to cater to Joseph's contemporary audience, to save time, and to respect the aesthetic value that the KJV held at that time (and does now to an extent). The chapters of Isaiah that we find in the Book of Mormon were taken largely by Joseph Smith from the KJV Bible, instead of being translated from Nephi's version of that text. In other words, why reinvent the wheel when the work had already been done?
- As a result of this, the Isaiah chapters on Nephi's plates would have looked slightly different from the Isaiah chapters that we have now in the Book of Mormon. Remember, the only 2nd Isaiah chapters that show up in the Book of Mormon are Isaiah 48-52 and we have just the one echo from Trito-Isaiah. Nephi's version of Isaiah 48-52 that he quoted on his plates was the primitive, early version written by 1st Isaiah which might not have included specific references to Babylon. The version of Isaiah 48-52 that we have now in the Book of Mormon would not then be taken directly from Nephi's plates, but rather adapted from the KJV Bible for reasons suggested above. That version of Isaiah 48-52 is the older, reworked material of 2nd Isaiah which inserted specific references to Babylon.
One final observation should be made. Scholars believe that Isaiah chapter 1 was not part of 1st Isaiah's original book, but was a later addition by a later writer, perhaps 2nd or 3rd Isaiah. It is noteworthy that Nephi begins quoting Isaiah 2 and continues until Isaiah 14 without break, and never quotes Isaiah 1. If Isaiah chapter 1 was not yet a part of the record of Isaiah when Nephi obtained it would make sense that he would not quote Isaiah chapter 1.
Theories of A “Single Isaiah” and the Book of Mormon
Some take a conservative view and argue for the unity of Isaiah, suggesting that theories about multiple authorship are not correct. This approach was taken by one author in an old article in the Ensign. The following represents part of that answer that was given (the full text may be read on churchofjesuschrist.org at the link below):
Many non-LDS scholars claim that the second half of the book of Isaiah was written after the time Lehi left Jerusalem, Yet the Book of Mormon contains material from both halves. How do we explain this?
Literary style in Hebrew is much more accessible to computer analysis than is English. This is partly because the Hebrew characteristic known as the function prefix can help identify speech patterns of a given author. For example, how an author uses Hebrew function prefixes, such as those that translate into “and in this,” “and it is,” and “and to,” are expected to be unique with him. Thus, comparing parts of an author’s work with other parts, as well as comparing his work with work by other authors, can yield statistical evidence for claims of authorship.
Accordingly, we coded the Hebrew text of the book of Isaiah and a random sampling of eleven other Old Testament books onto computer tape. 3 Then, using a computer, we compared rates of literary usage (such as unique expressions and idiomatic phrases including the function prefix and other such literary elements) from text to text. Since any author varies within himself, depending on context, audience, his own change of style, and so forth, variations for a given author were compared with variations between authors for any literary element.
The results of the study were conclusive: there is a unique authorship style throughout the various sections of Isaiah. The rates of usage for the elements of this particular style are more consistent within the book of Isaiah, regardless of the section, than in any other book in the study. This statistical evidence led us to a single conclusion: based on style alone, the book of Isaiah definitely appears to be the work of one man. The two parts of Isaiah most often claimed to have been written by different authors, chapters 1–39 and 40–66, were found to be more similar to each other in style than to any of the other eleven Old Testament books examined.
Eliminating the Crticism
Thus, to eliminate the criticism we should recognize that:
- We have four chapters and four verses to account for. We don't need to have the entire book of Isaiah date to a certain time—just those passages in the Book of Mormon.
- The Book of Mormon uses KJV Language. There are perhaps a few reasons for it: (1) Joseph's model of revelation is one in which the Lord speaks after the manner of their language. King James vernacular was their's (D&C 1:24), (2) The end of that verse in Doctrine and Covenants suggests that he does this so that they can come to understanding. So when we have King James language in the Book of Mormon, it is to point out clearly what theological issue is being engaged. The Book of Mormon teaches that this is one of its purposes in 2 Nephi 29; (3) If we didn't get any language from the Nephites that matched or alluded to King James Language, we would be closer to thinking that they were trying to communicate an entirely different message or teach something else entirely.
- Literary arguments for dating a text are often highly subjective and most prone to disagreement. Many scholars use narrative criticism to establish the dating of a text. It's one of the trickiest ways to date a text and several scholars have pointed out the fallacies of doing so. This is significant: we have no manuscript evidence that would establish that there were multiple authors. The earliest manuscript of the text "ha[s been] dated using both radiocarbon dating and palaeographic/scribal dating[,] giving calibrated date ranges between 356–103 BCE and 150–100 BCE respectively."
- All it would really take to eliminate the argument would be to find a copy of Isaiah—either in its wholeness or even just a couple of fragments that had portion(s) of deutero and trito Isaiah on them— within 7th century strata. The problems with this are that:
- The texts themselves, if preserved, would most likely be contained within temple deposits. These would have been ransacked by the Babylonians when they took Israel captive circa 600 BCE. Upon taking Israel, the Babylonians would have pillaged and destroyed the Israelite's temples, records, and other belongings. This is actually recorded in the Old Testament itself. The most likely temple to find the texts from Isaiah in would be the Temple of Solomon which is buried under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is archaeologically inaccessible by law for religious and political reasons.
- The texts, if they survived outside temple deposits and survived Babylonian or other foreign invasion, would have been deposited in environments for which it is doubtful they would survive for hundreds of years. For example, K.A. Kitchen commenting on arguments against the historicity of the Exodus narratives in the Bible, wrote the following:
Egyptian gods gave only victories to kings —and defeats indicated divine disapproval, not applause! It is no use looking for administrative registers giving the Hebrews "customs clearance" to clear out of Egypt. In fact, 99 percent of all New Kingdom papyri are irrevocably lost (administrative and otherwise), the more so in the sopping mud of the Delta; the few survivors hail from the dry sands of Sawwara and Upper Egypt, far away from Pi-Ramesse's total of our administrative texts so far recovered from Pi-Ramesse!
- Thus, depending on what environmental conditions obtained upon deposition, the papyri or scrolls upon which the text of Isaiah that we would need to make a fully-informed decision on authorship may be lost. But even in good taphonomic conditions, it may be years before such a document might be uncovered. Consider that one archaeological excavation took some 30 years to uncover a Philistine cemetery in southern Israel. These processes take time, and we shouldn't expect everything to come to us so easy. We should remain patient on the Lord (1 Nephi 21:23) and know that sometimes we may never find remains of what we're looking for. That this argument against the Book of Mormon is an argument from silence is the most damning point against it and one that should provide all of us pause when evaluating how problematic it really is for our faith. In light of the foregoing analysis, perhaps we shouldn't stress so much.
- Spencer, Joseph M. The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2016. This book is remarkable in that, as part of its analysis, it demonstrates clearly that the selection of Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon is one not done at random but that there is a unifying theme and purpose that drives Nephi's use of Isaiah.
- Sperry, Sidney B. "The ‘Isaiah Problem’ in the Book of Mormon," Book of Mormon Compendium. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968. An explanation of the problem and response from Sidney Sperry concerning the "Isaiah Problem."
- Jackson, Kent P. "Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2016. This book chapter responds to common questions about the so-called "Isaiah Problem" and offers resources for further study and help in resolving those questions.
- Carr, David. “Reaching for Unity in Isaiah,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 18, no. 57 (1993): 61–80. There is a large bibliography of scholars who believe in a single Isaiah in notes 3-5 of this article.
- Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grant Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969, 371–78.
- LaSor, W. S., D. A. Hubbard, and F. W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
- Parry, Donald; Welch, John W. Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998. One of the largest studies done on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. John Welch offers his perspective on the "Isaiah Problem" near the end of the volume.
- Adams, Larry L., and Rencher, Alvin A. "A Computer Analysis of the Isaiah Authorship Problem," BYU Studies 15 (Autumn 1974): 95-102. This analysis takes the English KJV text of Isaiah and through textual analysis argues that there was one singular author of Isaiah. That this study was done with the English translation of Isaiah instead of the original Hebrew is a weakness (though perhaps not necessarily fatal to the authors' arguments).
- Andersen, Francis L. "Style and Authorship," The Tyndale Paper 21 (June 1976): 2.
- Gileadi, Avraham. A Holistic Structure of the Book of Isaiah. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.
- Kissane, E. J. The Book of Isaiah. 2 vols. Dublin, Ireland: 1941, 1943.
- Ludlow, Victor L. Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Salt Lake City, 1981.
- Tvedtnes, John A. "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," Isaiah and the Prophets, ed. M. Nyman. Provo, Utah: 1984.
- Young, Edward J. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: 1949.
- Sears, Joshua M. "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon." In They Shall Grow Together: The Bible in the Book of Mormon, ed. Charles Swift and Nicholas J. Frederick. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022. Perhaps the best treatment on different approaches taken by Latter-day Saints to the problem and resources for reconciling criticism.
Book of Mormon Central KnoWhys (including article and video):
- Why did Jesus mix together Micah and Isaiah?
- Why did Jesus quote all of Isaiah 54?
- What Vision Guides Nephi's Choice of Isaiah Chapters? This article demonstrates that the selection of Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon was not random and that it indeed follows a formula created by Nephi for specific homiletic purposes.
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective"Daniel T. Ellsworth, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (September 15, 2017)
For Latter-day Saints, the critical scholarly consensus that most of the book of Isaiah was not authored by Isaiah often presents a problem, particularly since many Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are assigned post-exilic dating by critical scholars. The critical position is based on an entirely different set of assumptions than most believers are accustomed to bring to scripture. This article surveys some of the reasons for the critical scholarly position, also providing an alternative set of assumptions that Latter-day Saints can use to understand the features of the text.
Click here to view the complete article
John W. Welch, "Authorship of the Book of Isaiah in Light of the Book of Mormon"John W. Welch, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, (1998)
Over the years, biblical scholars have raised questions about the authorship of the book of Isaiah, often viewing it as a compilation os scripture written by more than one author. In the opinion of many text-critical scholars, the disputed chapters (mainly chapters 40-66) were written or edited after the time Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem, after the Babylonian destruction and the resulting deportation of Judah to Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Because most of Isaiah 48-54 is quoted in the Book of Mormon with specific attribution to the prophet Isaiah, biblical scholarship and the Book of Mormon diverge in this regard. Although many fundamentalist anti-Mormons do not raise this point as an issue against the Book of Mormon because they accept the literal integrity of the Bible and hence the single authorship of Isaiah, this discrepancy has been noted by several liberal critics of the Book of Mormon. This chapter briefly outlines and documents the basic nature of the so-called Isaiah question regarding the Book of Mormon and describes the answers given by Latter-day Saints in respect to this matter.
Click here to view the complete article
Marc Schindler, "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?"Marc Schindler, FairMormon Papers
The “Deutero-Isaiah” theory is the claim that parts of Isaiah were written later than others. Specifically this theory claims that there were three individual authors, whose works were later compiled together under the name of the first author, the “real” Isaiah (known as Proto-Isaiah by adherents to the theory). The problem this presents for LDS is one of authorship dating: according to this theory, Proto Isaiah was written about the time traditionally ascribed to the book: namely ca. 700 BC. Deutero-Isaiah (“Second Isaiah”) was allegedly written around 545 BC, and Trito-Isaiah (“Third Isaiah”) around 500 BC. The big problem, of course, is that the Brass Plates of Laban quote from sections of Isaiah that this theory ascribes to Deutero-Isaiah, so how could the Nephites have these writings if they weren’t written until after they left Jerusalem?
Click here to view the complete article
Question: Why are many of the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon identical to those in the King James Bible?
Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating
There are several problems with the idea that Joseph simply copied passages from the Holy Bible.
1) Witnesses to the translation process are unanimous that Joseph did not have any books, manuscripts, or notes to which he referred while translating. Recalled Emma, in a later interview:
- I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for [Joseph] I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat , with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
- Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
- A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
- Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
- A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Martin Harris also noted that Joseph would translate with his face buried in his hat in order to use the seer stone/urim and thummim. This would make referring to a Bible or notes virtually impossible:
- Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine...
2) It is not clear that Joseph even owned a Bible during the Book of Mormon translation. He and Oliver Cowdery later purchased a Bible, which suggests (given Joseph's straitened financial situation) that he did not already own one.
3) It is not clear that Joseph's Biblical knowledge was at all broad during the Book of Mormon translation. It seems unlikely that he would have recognized, say, Isaiah, had he encountered it on the plates. Recalled Emma Smith:
- When my husband was translating the Book of Mormon, I wrote a part of it, as he dictated each sentence, word for word, and when he came to proper names he could not pronounce, or long words, he spelled them out, and while I was writing them, if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time. .?. . When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, "Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?" When I answered, "Yes," he replied, "Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived." He had such a limited knowledge of history at the time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.
Emma also noted that
- Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and wellworded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to any one else.
And, if Joseph was merely inventing the Book of Mormon story, he picked some of the more obscure and difficult Bible passages to include.
4) If Joseph was forging the Book of Mormon, why include Biblical passages at all? Clearly, Joseph was able to rapidly produce a vast and complex text that made no reference to Biblical citations at all. If Joseph was trying to perpetrate a fraud, why did he include near-verbatim quotations from the one book (the Holy Bible KJV) with which his target audience was sure to be familiar?
The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text
Even academic translators sometimes copy a previous translation if it serves the purpose of their translation. For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) provided previously unknown texts for many Biblical writings. However, in some translations of the DSS, approximately 90% is simply copied from the KJV.
Surely we are not expected to believe that the DSS translators dropped back into King James idiom and just happened to come up with a nearly identical text! They, in fact, unabashedly copied the KJV, except where the DSS texts were substantially different from already known Hebrew manuscripts.
Why was this done? Because, the purpose of the DSS translation is to highlight the differences between the newly discovered manuscripts and those to which scholars already had access. Thus, in areas where the DSS manuscripts agree with the Biblical texts that were already known, the KJV translation is used to indicate this.
This is not to argue that there may not be a better way to render the text than the KJV—but, it would be counterproductive for the DSS committee spent a lot of time improving on the KJV translation. A reader without access to the original manuscripts could then never be sure if a difference between the DSS translation and the King James (or any other) translation represented a true difference in the DSS text, or simply the choice of the DSS translators to improve existing translations.
The situation with the Book of Mormon is likely analogous. For example, it is possible that most of the text to which the Nephites had access would not have differed significantly from the Hebrew texts used in later Bible translations. The differences in wording between the KJV and the Book of Mormon highlight the areas in which there were theologically significant differences between the Nephite versions and the Masoretic text, from which the Bible was translated. Other areas can be assumed to be essentially the same. If one wants an improved or clearer translation of a passage that is identical in the Book of Mormon and the KJV, one has only to go to the original manuscripts available to all scholars. Basing the text on the KJV focuses the reader on the important clarifications, as opposed to doing a new translation from scratch, and distracting the reader with many differences that might be due simply to translator preference.
Since there is no such thing as a "perfect" translation, this allows the reader to easily identify genuine differences between the Isaiah texts of the Old World and the Nephites.
Bible text itself quotes extensively from past scripture
When considering the presence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, it is also interesting to note that one Bible scholar has found that the four gospels attest to the fact that Jesus Christ and the apostles consistently quoted scripture. He calculated that over "ten percent of the daily conversation of Jesus consisted of Old Testament words quoted literally" and nearly 50% of the Lord's words as quoted by John were quotations from the Old Testament.
When we consider the fact that Isaiah is the most quoted of all prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet, it should not surprise us that both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants also quote Isaiah more than any other prophet. The Lord told the Nephites that "great are the words of Isaiah," and the prophet Nephi confessed, "my soul delighteth in his words... for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him" (2 Nephi 11:2).
New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah
It is clear that the writings of Isaiah held special significance for Jesus Christ and Nephi (see 2 Nephi 11:8, 2 Nephi 25:5; 3 Nephi 20:11; 3 Nephi 23:1-3). Isaiah's prophecies might also have been quoted frequently because they were largely concerned with latter-day events. The Saints understand Isaiah to have foretold the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith (see Isaiah 49:), the gathering of Israel in the last days (Isaiah 18:), the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (Isaiah 29:), wickedness in the last days (Isa. 33), and the Savior's second coming, and the millennium (Isaiah 13:, Isaiah 26:, Isaiah 27:). While he also wrote about the Savior's first coming (Isaiah 32:1-4) and events in his own time (Isaiah 20,23:), most of what he wrote about is yet to be fulfilled.
When one considers that New Testament writers literally quoted hundreds of Old Testament scriptures including 76 verses from Isaiah it should not surprise us that Book of Mormon writers did likewise. After all, these writings were part of the old world scriptures brought with them to the new world 1 Nephi 19:22-23). If the prophets of the Book of Mormon had not quoted Isaiah we might have questioned the authenticity of their words. That they did quote him extensively shows that they understood his writings as did Jesus and other apostles and prophets.
Paul has been cited as the most original of all New Testament writers but investigations of his epistles show that Paul often quoted from classical writers, orators, dramas, law courts, sports commentaries, and ancient religious rites. Even the well-known Pauline formula of "faith, hope, and charity," which appears also in the Book of Mormon, has been traced to Babylonian writings.
Analysis of Specific Passages
2 Nephi 14:5
Walter Martin claims that Isaiah 4:5 is followed (mistakenly) by (2 Nephi 14:5). The phrase "For upon all the glory shall be a defense" should actually be "For over all the glory there will be a canopy."
Martin ignores that as translation literature, the Book of Mormon may well follow the KJV when the documents upon which the KJV is based match those of the Nephite text. Book of Mormon variants likely reflect only theologically significant changes not available in the Old World textual tradition.
2 Nephi 22:2
Some have questioned the use of the name JEHOVAH in 2 Nephi 22:2 and the use of some italicized King James Version words in the Book of Mormon. It seems clear that Joseph Smith was led to translate many passages as they appear in the King James Bible and made changes specifically by exception. Use of the proper name "Jehovah" which is an anglicized form of the Hebrew Yahweh, was common in the Bible and was also in common use in Joseph Smith's day. Although the name Jehovah is of more recent origin than the original Book of Mormon plates, it does not mean this name could not properly be used in translating a more ancient Hebrew title denoting the eternal I AM. Why should Joseph Smith be criticized for using the same name that King James scholars used?
Question: Were the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon simply plagiarized from the King James Bible?
Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah
If a Christian is making an accusation of plagiarism, then they are, by the same logic, indicting the Bible which they share with us. Close examination of the Old Testament reveals many passages which are copied nearly word for word including grammatical errors. Micah, who lived hundreds of years after Isaiah, copies word for word in Micah 4:1-3 from Isaiah's prophecy in Isaiah 2:2-4 without once giving him credit. We also find the genealogy from Genesis 5:10-11,36 repeated in 1 Chronicles, much of the history in Samuel and Kings is repeated in Chronicles, and Isaiah 36:2 through Isaiah 38:5 is the same as 2 Kings 18:17 through 2 Kings 20:6.
Although Old Testament scripture was often quoted by Old and New Testament writers without giving credit, Nephi and Jacob generally make it clear when they are quoting from Isaiah. Indeed, much of 2 Nephi may be seen as an Isaiah commentary. Of course, Nephi and Jacob do not specify chapter and verse, because these are modern additions to the text (as Joseph Smith somehow knew). It is ironic that critics of the Book of Mormon find fault with its "plagiarism," even though its authors typically mention their sources, while they do not condemn the Bible's authors when they do not.
Additionally, the Church has made clear in the 1981 and the 2013 editions of the Book of Mormon  in footnote "a" for 2 Nephi 12:2 that: "Comparison with the King James Bible in English shows that there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, while about 200 verses have the same wording as the KJV" Thus it doesn't appear that the Church is afraid of having its members understand the similarities and differences between the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Finally, it may be that the use of King James language for passages shared by the Bible and the Book of Mormon allows the Book of Mormon to highlight those areas in which the Book of Mormon's original texts were genuinely different from the textual tradition of the Old World's which gave us the Holy Bible of today.
A closer look at these duplicate Isaiah texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity
A closer look at these duplicate texts actually provides us an additional witness of the Book of Mormon's authenticity.
The 21 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted (Chapters 2-14, 29, and 48-54) either partially or completely, represent about one-third of the book of Isaiah, but less than two and one-half percent of the total Book of Mormon. We also find that more than half of all verses quoted from Isaiah (234 of 433) differ from the King James version available to Joseph Smith. Perhaps it may be said that the Book of Mormon follows the King James (Masoretic) text when the original meaning is closer to how the King James renders the passages in question.
Additionally, we often find differences in Book of Mormon Isaiah texts where modern renderings of the text disagree. One verse (2 Nephi 12:16), is not only different but adds a completely new phrase: "And upon all the ships of the sea." This non-King James addition agrees with the Greek (Septuagint) version of the Bible, which was first translated into English in 1808 by Charles Thomson.  Such a translation was "rare for its time." The textual variants in the two texts have theological import and ancient support. John Tvedtnes has documented many in this study of the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon. A critic, David Wright, responded to Tvedtnes and Tvedtnes’ review of that critic’s response can be found here.
Accounting for the Rest of the Book of Mormon
If Joseph or anyone else actually tried to plagiarize the Book of Mormon, critics have failed to show the source of the remaining 93% (when all similar texts are removed). A 100% non-biblical book of scripture wouldn't have been much more difficult to produce.
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah"Paul Y. Hoskisson, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2016)
The brass plates version of Isaiah 2:2, as contained in 2 Nephi 12:2, contains a small difference, not attested in any other pre-1830 Isaiah witness, that not only helps clarify the meaning but also ties the verse to events of the Restoration. The change does so by introducing a Hebraism that would have been impossible for Joseph Smith, the Prophet, to have produced on his own.
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Question: Do the changes in the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages reflect a better translation of the underlying Hebrew?
Introduction to Question
A couple of critics of the Book of Mormon have claimed that the changes to the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages do not reflect a better translation of the underlying Hebrew. The lack of a better translation is taken as evidence that Joseph Smith was just randomly making changes to the Isaiah text and hoping that noone found out that the translation he produced doesn’t reflect a better translation than other Bibles.
This article seeks to outline what we know about what changes were made to the passages and how we can view them in light of the evidence.
Response to Question
The Changes Themselves
Here are the changes to the Isaiah text in the Book of Mormon that we know about that try to make a substantial change to the meaning of the text. These changes are taken from Book of Mormon Reference Companion (2003) edited by Dennis L. Largey.
The rest of the changes can be found by trowling through Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variants in the Book of Mormon online.
The vast majority of Book of Mormon changes to Isaiah are on places where italicized text was placed in the King James Bible. Some of these changes do not reflect a better translation of the earliest extant Isaiah source we have today.
The Book of Mormon’s Rendering of Isaiah does not Purport to be the Original Text of Isaiah
It should first be mentioned that the Book of Mormon does not purport to be the original text of Isaiah as composed by Isaiah himself. That is an assumption that readers of the Book of Mormon have brought to the text.
We Do Not Know What the Original Text of Isaiah Was Like
It should next be noted that we do not know what the original text of Isaiah as composed by Isaiah was like. We have early textual witnesses such as the Great Isaiah Scroll (1Qlsa[a]) recovered from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but this is not the original text as composed by Isaiah. We don’t know what the original was like and will likely never know. Thus anyone claiming to know how to judge the Book of Mormon’s rendering of Isaiah based on its fidelity to “the original Hebrew” is acting foolishly and likely tendentiously.
Nephi Likely Changed Wording to Comment on Isaiah
The changes in Isaiah can be thought of to be commentary by Book of Mormon authors. Joseph Spencer at BYU has most persuasively argued that Nephi’s selection and edits of Isaiah are deliberate and that they reflect a coherent theological vision of the scattering and gathering of Israel.
Nephi may have been adding these changes in order to clarify Isaiah’s words, clarify the Lord’s words if Isaiah didn’t communicate them clearly enough, or as Nephi’s independent revelatory (or even non-revelatory) adding to Isaiah based in his then-current theological understanding.
Some of the Changes Do Reflect a Better Translation of the Hebrew
John Tvedtnes has shown that many of the Book of Mormon's translation variants of Isaiah have ancient support.
This throws a huge wrench into any critic's theories that Joseph Smith merely cribbed off of the King James Isaiah.
The Isaiah changes should be no problem for orthodox Latter-day Saints.
Question: Why does Isaiah in the Book of Mormon not match the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The English Book of Mormon text of Isaiah does not purport to be the original Isaiah text
Mistranslations of the King James version of Isaiah have been corrected using the Isaiah version found with the Dead Sea scrolls. Why is it that the quotes from Isaiah contained in the Book of Mormon have the same translation errors contained in the King James version instead of matching the original ancient text?
The question makes some inaccurate assumptions:
- It is not the case that the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa[a]) is the original text of Isaiah. It is an earlier witness to the text than we previously had before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), but it itself is centuries removed from the original(s).
- The English Book of Mormon text of Isaiah does not purport to be the original text either; that is an assumption that many LDS have brought to the text, but is not necessarily true.
These are basic issues of what is called "textual criticism," which is the science/art of trying to recover to the extent possible the text in its original form. Critical text scholars do not believe that the Great Isaiah Scroll matches exactly the original text of Isaiah. It is true that the masoretic scribal tradition has tried valiantly to copy texts as perfectly as possible. Various approaches have been used, such as counting the letters in a chapter and testing a copy against that, in order to ensure a high degree of accuracy in their work. However, the masoretic scribes did their work in the second half of the first millennium A.D. Prior to that time, many errors had already crept in the text.
The term "redaction" refers to a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined together in order to make it appear that they comprise a single text. The standard scholarly theory of the development of Isaiah is that it was redacted from two or three different texts. Yet none of this is reflected in the Great Isaiah Scroll, which is close to the canonical form of the text we have today. So if the scholars are correct there was substantial redaction of the text long before the scribes ever had a chance to practice their efforts at copying on the text.
The Book of Mormon text would have been far removed from Isaiah: The brass plates version would have been at least a century after the fact
Even the Book of Mormon text would have been far removed from Isaiah. The brass plates version would have been at least a century after the fact (with many copies intervening), and that was copied and recopied into Book of Mormon records, which was translated not in a scholarly fashion but instead by the gift and power of God through Joseph Smith. Therefore, it is a fallacy to assume that the Book of Mormon text ought to be the exact equivalent to the original text.
- ↑ Legrande Davies, "Isaiah: Texts in the Book of Mormon," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel Ludlow (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992 and 2007). Worthy of mention is that two then-current apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and one future apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, were advisors for the encyclopedia and its editorial board. They are recognized in the acknowledgements to the encyclopedia.
- ↑ Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), "Chapter 5: The Bible in the Book of Mormon", subsection "The Book of Mormon Explains Isaiah". ISBN 0875791395.
- ↑ Interpreter Foundation, "The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon," <https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-history-of-the-text-of-the-book-of-mormon/> (25 January 2020).
- ↑ See footnote 2a in 2 Nephi 12 in either the 1989 or 2013 editions of the Book of Mormon.
- ↑ John Barton, Isaiah 1-39, (London: T&T Clark International, 1995), 25–26. See also Michael Fallon, "Introduction to Isaiah 40–48," Isaiah School in Exile—Isaiah 40–55 (6 September 2014), 194.
- ↑ L. La Mar Adams, "I Have a Question," Ensign 14 (October 1984): 29.
- ↑ Benjamin D. Sommer, "Dating Pentateuchal Texts and the Perils of Pseudo-Historicism," The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research eds., Thomas B. Dozeman, Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 85-108.
- ↑ Wikipedia, "Isaiah Scroll," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaiah_Scroll> (25 January 2020). Citing Jull, Timothy A. J.; Donahue, Douglas J.; Broshi, Magen; Tov, Emanuel, "Radiocarbon Dating of Scrolls and Linen Fragments from the Judean Desert," Radiocarbon 37-1 (1995): 14. doi:10.1017/S0033822200014740. Also citing All About Archaeology, "The Dead Sea Scrolls," <https://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/dead-sea-scrolls-2.htm> (25 January 2020).
- ↑ Wikipedia, "Siege of Jerusalem (587 BC)," <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(587_BC)> (25 January 2020).
- ↑ Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, MA: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 311.
- ↑ ABC News, "Philistine cemetery uncovered in archaeological dig in Israel, Goliath's people were 'normal sized'," <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-11/old-bones-cast-new-light-on-goliath-people/7584904> (4 November 2019).
- ↑ Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
- ↑ David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887), 12; Cited frequently, including Neal A. Maxwell, "By the Gift and Power of God," Ensign (January 1997): 34–41.
- ↑ John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha: Shadow or Reality? (Review of Joseph Smith's Use of the Apocrypha by Jerald and Sandra Tanner)," FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 326–372. off-site
- ↑ Emma Smith to Edmund C. Briggs, "A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856," Journal of History 9 (January 1916): 454.
- ↑ Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Advocate 2 (Oct. 1879): 51
- ↑ “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, (1 Oct. 1879): 290.
- ↑ Jay P. Green Sr., The Interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English (Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1995), 975.
- ↑ See LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, 707.
- ↑ Bruce R. McConkie, "Ten Keys to Understanding Isaiah," Ensign (October 1973): 78–83.
- ↑ See LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, 756-59
- ↑ Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 128. ISBN 0875791395.
- ↑ See Exodus 6:3; Psalms 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4.
- ↑ See such scriptural examples as DC 109:34,42,56,68; DC 110:1-3; DC 128:9. See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 220, 221, 250–251. off-site
- ↑ See A. Melvin McDonald, Day of Defense (Sounds of Zion Inc., 1986; 2004), 49.
- ↑ These were the only editions consulted for this point. More editions may render the same however the author did not have access to them at this time.
- ↑ See page 81 of either edition of the Book of Mormon
- ↑ See Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort Publisher, 2004),193–196. (Key source)
- ↑ See Book of Mormon note to 2 Nephi 12:2
- ↑ See also See also Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 70–72.
- ↑ The implications of this change represent a more complicated textual history than previously thought. See discussion in Dana M. Pike and David R. Seely, "'Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish': Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 12–25. off-site wiki For earlier discussions, see Gilbert W. Scharffs, The Truth about ‘The God Makers’ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Publishers Press, 1989; republished by Bookcraft, 1994), 172. Full text FairMormon link ISBN 088494963X.; see also Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon (Kolob Book Company, 1964),100–102.; Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988),129–143. ISBN 0875791395.
- ↑ Wikipedia, "Thomson's Translation," <http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomson%27s_Translation> (11 February 2015).
- ↑ Please forgive blurriness from scanning/transmitting the images.
- ↑ Stan Spencer, “Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, The Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 45–106.
- ↑ See Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: 25 Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016). For a good summary, see BMC Team, “What Vision Guides Nephi’s Choice of Isaiah Chapters?” KnoWhy #38 (February 22, 2016).
- ↑ John A. Tvedtnes, “Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon,” in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 165–78. A critic, David Wright, responded to John Tvedtnes' chapter there. Tvedtnes responds to Wright in John A. Tvedtnes, "Isaiah in the Bible and the Book of Mormon," The FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 161–72.