Scholars today recognize that the full text of Isaiah was not written by a single individual named Isaiah in the latter half of the eighth century BCE, but rather that the text was written by at least two, and more probably three, individual authors spanning a period of about four centuries. Generally scholars identify chapters 1-39 with Isaiah of Jerusalem, although this becomes complicated when one takes into account the fact that chapter 1 was written as an introduction to the sixty-six chapters of the book, and chapters 24-27 are recognized as a “Little Apocalypse” that was added in the later stages of the composition of the book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-55 are commonly referred to as Deutero-Isaiah, or Second Isaiah, and 56-66 as Third Isaiah, or Trito-Isaiah.
Over the course of the last century and a quarter Mormon scholarship in general has not reacted kindly toward this transition in modern biblical scholarship. B. H. Roberts, although more open to academia compared to many of his contemporaries, was one of the first to respond negatively to the findings of 19th century scholarship on the composition of the book of Isaiah. In an address delivered in the Logan tabernacle on April 2, 1911, Roberts rejected the “Higher critics” due to their “insist[ing] that the miraculous does not happen, that wherever the miraculous appears, there you must halt, and dismiss the miraculous parts of the narratives.” Roberts interpreted the dismissal of the change of style and historical setting that biblical scholars perceived in the later portions of Isaiah as rejecting the role of divine prophecy. Although this may have been true for some scholars of the time, for many it was not the question of whether an ancient Israelite could prophesy accurately about the future, but rather whether or not all of the details, changes in setting, and even the historical shift in focus from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, and then to Cyrus and the Persians, could be best explained by assuming that these were prophecies when not presented explicitly as such in the text itself. The question was not whether the miraculous was real, but instead these questions came with a shift in understanding how ancient Israelite prophecy worked.
We have very few, if any, ancient Near Eastern texts extant that have long, sweeping predictions of the future that involve the coming change of several world powers. This kind of phenomena occurs more often in later apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period in Jewish history. Ancient Near Eastern prophecy functioned very differently than our modern conceptions, and did not serve the purpose of specifying future events. I will leave this topic for future discussion, but suffice it to say that ancient prophets were prophets not simply for their ability to predict, but to call out the errors of the nation, explain why certain things were the way they were, and whether or not a king should attempt this or that task. There was no one view of exactly what a prophet was, and many varying kinds of prophets lived throughout the Israelite history.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries scholars came to understand the texts of the Hebrew Bible in their historical setting as having both religious and yet very important political purposes as well. Taking Isa. 45 as an example, the specific description of Cyrus as the meshiach, or anointed one, of Yahweh is seen as very problematic. The term meshiach is only ever used for the king (Saul or David), a select handful of times for the priests, and even fewer times for the patriarchs. Why would a non-Israelite get the distinction of being Yahweh’s anointed while King David’s line still reigned (if it is assumed that the whole text of Isaiah was written by a single individual in the eighth century BCE), even if he was going to return the Israelites to Jerusalem? This description of Cyrus fits better with the historical setting right after the exile in Babylon, when there is no longer a Davidic king on the throne and Cyrus conquers most of the known world and allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and sponsors their temple re-building as an attempt to show Yahweh’s favor for the rebuilding of the sacred edifice. Even with all of these points set aside, there are still other reasons for seeing these later sections of Isaiah as being composed well after Isaiah of Jerusalem. I will explain that further below after describing a few more Latter-day Saint reactions to the current scholarly positions on Isaiah.
Sidney Sperry, one of the first Latter-day Saint scholars graduating from a graduate university, did not respond favorably to the position of biblical scholars around the middle of the 20th century. Having studied at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Language and Literature department in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Sperry was well aware of contemporary trends in biblical research. He responded strongly against historical criticism in his publications, to the point where he spent ten pages in his Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (formerly titled Problems of the Book of Mormon) describing the authorship periods of the various chapters in Isaiah by scholars of his day. He describes these views as “radical” and “critical.” Although Sperry made a great effort to respond definitively to each of the reasons for scholarly “dissection” of the authorship of Isaiah, his arguments were unconvincing. They followed much of the same logical arguments of Evangelical and other more conservative scholars and laymen of his time.
The smaller numbers of Mormon scholars who have sided with the academic position on the authorship of Isaiah have often been ostracized from the rest of the Mormon scholarly community. The reason for this negative reaction in the Mormon scholarly community is the fact that the Book of Mormon recognizes at least our modern day Isa. 48-49 (=1 Ne. 20-21), 50-52:1-2 (=2 Ne. 7-8), and 53 (=Mosiah 14) as coming from Isaiah of Jerusalem. This is so because Nephi claims that he and his family are in possession of the text of Isaiah and they assume that the sections quoted above by Nephi, his brother Jacob, and King Benjamin are all part of a single book called “the words of Isaiah” (1 Ne. 15:20). Although some sections of the chapters that Nephi explicitly quotes in 2 Ne. 12-24 (=Isa. 2-14) and 29 (=2 Ne. 27) are viewed as problematic, the majority of these sections are not as problematic as those of Deutero-Isaiah.
There are a number of points that are, in my opinion, the strongest evidence for accepting the dating of Isaiah that I have yet to see a response to in Mormon circles. The strongest reason to see the later sections of Isaiah as being written by another author after the Babylonian exile is the fact that Deutero-Isaiah is dependent on Nahum, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and a number of post-exilic Psalms. In her PhD dissertation, Patricia Tull Willey convincingly argues that Deutero-Isaiah not only shares vocabulary with these other texts, but is also the dependent text. It expands and builds upon the quotations and allusions it takes from these (and a few other) books. The historical dating of these texts is already accepted traditionally as either being a century or so after Isaiah’s lifetime, or well into the period of the exile and in response to the destruction of Jerusalem. If this is accurate, which Willey’s arguments forcefully show, then the composition of at least these chapters must post-date pre-exilic Israelite history.
There have been a number of responses to the argument that there is a stark contrast between the writing styles of the three sections of Isaiah, with the most prominent response being word-print analysis to argue that the same author wrote the entirety of Isaiah. Word-print analysis is inconclusive at this point in discussing authorship of texts, and very few scholars accept its validity when applied to scriptural texts. One problem has been that there are very few studies on this aspect of the text, and each of the studies differs entirely in its conclusions from one another. It is not like other methods of investigation where a number of agreements can be found between scholars with some minor or major divergences. The main use of word-print analysis has been to argue for the single authorship of Isaiah. This conclusion misses the fact that if only one author wrote Isaiah, then the entire work would have to be dated centuries after Isaiah of the eighth century BCE. I have yet to see anyone take the conclusion of single authorship of Isaiah to its fullest, which would be required by the clear historical allusions in the text.
Some authors have seemed to assume that this is the extent of the influence of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, but we have only been looking at half of the picture. There are also several informal quotations, allusions, and echoes of other sections of the text of Isaiah throughout the Book of Mormon that need to be noted as well. In my preliminary research for my honors thesis complete lists will be included in Apendix A of all of the intersections of the entire Bible with that of the Book of Mormon. Until then I can only briefly point out that we do not yet have a full picture.
It is my humble opinion that the academic dating of the separate sections of Isaiah need not worry members of the Church and believers of the text of the Book of Mormon. Far more interesting in this regard is the extensive dependence of the Book of Mormon on the New Testament, but that is also a discussion for another day. For me it is more a question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet, and acted in the same way other prophets in the Judeo-Christian tradition have. A brief look at the collections found in the New and the Old Testaments reveals that an essential form of prophetic literature is a strong dependence on one’s prophetic forebears. Jesus himself quoted from Isaiah and numerous other writers in the Old Testament. Joseph Smith is not exempt in his calling, and with the heavy dependence of the Book of Mormon on the King James Bible, it should not be surprising to find the language of scripture that Joseph Smith was used to everywhere on the pages of the Book of Mormon.
 See the forthcoming commentary in the Hermeneia series by J. J. M. Roberts, Isaiah of Jerusalem.
 Cf. Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Updated Edition; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 122ff.
 B. H. Roberts, “Higher Criticism and the Book of Mormon,” in The Improvement Era, 14 (July, 1911), 774.
 This is simply not how prophecy worked in the ancient world, but I will leave that for another blog post.
 See Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel – Revised and Enlarged (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).
 BYU has held the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium annually since 1973 in honor of Dr. Sperry, supporting and providing a venue for original Latter-day Saint research in the field of Mormon studies.
 Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 73-82.
 Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 78.
 Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 80.
 Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, 77.
 Patricia Tull Willey, Remember the Former Things: The Recollection of Previous Texts in Second Isaiah (SBL Dissertation Series, Num. 161; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).
 Willey is not the only scholar to discuss these relationships, although I think she makes her points clearer and more convincingly than any other. There is a consensus in modern scholarship that Deutero-Isaiah uses and expounds upon not only Nahum, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and these Psalms, but upon First Isaiah as well.
 Although only a few papers in the collection address the authorship of Isaiah, see Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1998).
I’m eager to see your appendix as I’ve been trying to cobble together a list of Hebrew Bible references in the Book of Mormon (I’m not as interested in NT stuff right now). But I have some difficulty concluding that Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet makes his use of Isaiah unproblematic.
According to Joseph Spencer and some other LDS scholars, Nephi isn’t just quoting Isaiah, but he’s using and reinterpreting Isaiah in ways that are meaningful for Nephi (and us, certainly, but especially for Nephi himself). To me, this means it’s either a historical Nephi doing the reworking of Isaiah or Joseph Smith “ahistorically” doing the reworking.
The latter both pushes too hard into questions of BoM historicity (which I’m willing to question, but not yet willing to abandon) and makes the text a little less interesting. While it would certainly be a literary feat for Joseph Smith to convincingly write (YMMV) an ancient prophet reinterpreting Isaiah in a way that fits his own interpretive demands, I find an actual Nephi doing so far more satisfying.
“I’m eager to see your appendix as I’ve been trying to cobble together a list of Hebrew Bible references in the Book of Mormon (I’m not as interested in NT stuff right now).”
Great! The appendix will be a great help, then. I am also more interested in the use of the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Mormon. The list will be in chronological order according to the list in the KJV.
“But I have some difficulty concluding that Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet makes his use of Isaiah unproblematic.”
Definitely. My statement is very simple when you take into account the entire picture, but I offer that there are ways to deal with the problems that we encounter. I do state in the post that our modern conceptions of what it meant to be a prophet in the ancient world is not entirely accurate.
What I meant with stating that the more important question of whether or not he was a prophet deals with two things: (1) even in what we consider as the “prophetic office,” ancient Israelite prophets dealt with their mortality as well as Joseph did and as well as the current prophets do today, in other words they made mistakes and the authors of scripture were not afraid to include them, and (2) all scripture is dependent on earlier traditions, and many of them not inside the Bible.
The covenant formula found in Deuteronomy has been shown by Moshe Weinfeld’s work, along with numerous other studies, to be dependent on the Assyrian king Esarhaddon. The dependence runs extensively throughout the text of Deuteronomy. The Vassal Treaties were written in the middle of the seventh century BCE (650 or so). When that is accepted by those who believe in Deuteronomy as holy scripture Deuteronomy is still scripture, imbued with Mosaic authority. In that sense I think it is fine for Joseph Smith to even use texts like Isaiah in conceptualizing what was going on with Nephi in the narrative.
I see the translation process as much more of a revelatory, visionary experience (similar to what he is doing with the JST, D&C 7, and the Book of Abraham) rather than as a tightly controlled, word for word translation. I think that the evidence in the text of the BM itself provides that kind of understanding, for me at least.
“According to Joseph Spencer and some other LDS scholars, Nephi isn’t just quoting Isaiah, but he’s using and reinterpreting Isaiah in ways that are meaningful for Nephi (and us, certainly, but especially for Nephi himself). To me, this means it’s either a historical Nephi doing the reworking of Isaiah or Joseph Smith “ahistorically” doing the reworking.”
Definitely, I see what you mean. Joseph Spencer and I have been in discussion on this topic and I love his work in this area (and he’s honestly the one to ask this questions to in my opinion, although I’ll try to respond here). I think that we can conceptualize what Joseph Smith is doing similar to what we know Mormon is doing with the text, although the two are very different. Mormon and Moroni both abridged other more ancient works. Moroni had to abridge the Book of Ether so much that we have very little to go on to understand the Jaredites. He goes through a long period of time in a short amount of space. I’m not sure yet, but maybe we can think of Joseph Smith’s work as abridger/translator visionary prophet in regards to his work on the BM.
The main thing for me is that we are responsible with the evidence that we have. We know that there are places in the Book of Mormon that are dependent on texts that it technically shouldn’t be. If we don’t respond to these as members in the church, others outside the church will. There was a book recently self-published that tries to argue that the extensive use of the KJV in the BM proves it a fabrication. I say no, and because there is growing knowledge of this issue (although I think this should have been done a long time ago) we need to formulate ways to respond that will both allow us to be responsible with the text and strengthen our faith.
“because there is growing knowledge of this issue (although I think this should have been done a long time ago) we need to formulate ways to respond that will both allow us to be responsible with the text and strengthen our faith.”
I like this. I’m not sure what to do with it (or with Joseph Smith-Nephi-Isaiah), but I like it. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
I’m having a hard time figuring out what you’re talking about at the end of the article, with the Bible intersecting, Joseph Smith following prophetic patterns, and Jesus quoting Isaiah.
Well, better said, I understand it, but it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the rest of your essay.
There is nearly unanimous agreement in Biblical studies that Isaiah was written by several people, spanning several different time spans. You explain this, and I think you do a good job.
The obvious question: How does this relate to the BoM?
Remember that the opening scene of the BoM, what sets everything up, is Lehi/Nephi escaping Jerusalam before its destruction, then going back to get the scriptures, which are specifically said to contain the writings of Isaiah.
Then later, most extensively in 2 Ne, Nephi copies chapters from Isaiah into his record.
Nephi copies chapters that were written AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity.
Since leaving before Jerusalem was destroyed was such a big deal for Nephi, quoting texts that didn’t exist, and wouldn’t for decades, is a huge red flag on the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
You can’t just ignore that.
I’m kind of upset that you would tell the rest of the members that it doesn’t matter.
You simply say that members shouldn’t worry, and then you talk about your thesis project, sweeping the rest of the essay under the rug.
Imagine your cousin says he has your great-grandfather’s journal. Your great-grandfather was a pilot in WWII, so you are very interested to read about his life, having never met him.
You start reading the journal, and it’s great! Lot’s of cool stories you had never heard about. He even discusses when, as a colonel, he received the announcement that the war was over on his transistor radio. The whole platoon (I’m not knowledgeable about military terms) was so happy to go home.
You keep reading, unaware that transistors were not invented until 1947, with radios being developed in 1954.
Your cousin doesn’t see how this small detail invalidated the story. But it absolutely proves the entire journal is a fraud. Your great-grandfather could not have written about an experience with a device that hadn’t yet been invented!
Colby, you’re studying Comparative Literature and Religious Studies, focusing your attention on the Hebrew Bible. You seem to have a great grasp on Isaiah authorship, but you say it just doesn’t matter?
I’m honestly confused. Help me out?
Brent, there are a few more comments on here now if you would like to read them. If I didn’t answer a question you have feel free to ask and I’d love to discuss.
Thank you for your response, I appreciate that you take these things seriously as do I. Allow me to try to explain those parts of my essay that may have been unclear for you, and possibly for others.
At the end of the post I am not saying there are no problems. I actually state that this problem is little compared to the New Testament in the Book of Mormon; that is actually a more interesting problem in many ways. Members of the church tend to respond to these issues in one of two ways (although I’m sure there are plenty of other responses as well): (1) they respond negatively to the scholarly assessment of the text of Isaiah, rejecting the methods and staying away from those approaches in the future, or (2) getting really angry at the church, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, etc. What I am saying is that neither of these options is necessary; an invitation to stay calm, don’t worry. There are other and in my opinion better ways to respond to this topic than the two responses I explain above.
I didn’t get into all of the details, but I think I highlighted the issues to a great degree above. I offered a number of arguments for the dating of Deutero-Isaiah that I have not yet seen a response for or even discussion of in Mormon circles. I remember all of the points you made above, I am doing research on these and related topics daily. I didn’t ignore any of that information in my above post, but rather discussed it openly. I also never said it doesn’t matter; I said not to worry. A church is very much a community, and when we see how others deal with certain issues we know that there those similar to us within the community. I think this is one of the strengths of religion: diversity.
If there is anything else about the post that confused you please feel to ask. This is a problematic topic, and difficult to word just right. I’m sure there are many things I could rewrite in the post, but I enjoy the discussion here in the comments.
Thanks for responding so quickly, Hans.
I initially didn’t see how the New Testament in the BoM really has anything to do with the Isaiah issue, even if it is more interesting. But thanks for explaining it a bit. You seem to be doing a lot of research and are understandably excited.
Let me make sure I understand what your position. I don’t want to misrepresent you and am honestly trying to figure this out.
1) Nephi didn’t have the text of Deutero-Isaiah
2) Therefore, Joseph Smith must have inserted those passages of his own volition, since Nephi couldn’t have included them.
3) Because Joseph Smith was a prophet, he had the right to do this, and must have had instruction from God to do so.
4) Therefore, the inclusion of Deutero-Isaiah, is not evidence against the Book of Mormon’s legitimacy, as it appears to be, but rather is an evidence of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.
5) Your work on the New Testament in the Book of Mormon is another evidence of the “prophetness” (it’ll work as a word) of Joseph Smith.
6) Church members don’t need to worry
I’m pretty sure I understand your explanation now.
I’m typing this on my phone right now so I’ll briefly answer your questions below.
“1) Nephi didn’t have the text of Deutero-Isaiah”
“2) Therefore, Joseph Smith must have inserted those passages of his own volition, since Nephi couldn’t have included them.”
“3) Because Joseph Smith was a prophet, he had the right to do this, and must have had instruction from God to do so.”
I am coming at the question of the composition of the Book of Mormon from an academic perspective. Since we do not have access to the mind of god in the academy I cannot state whether or not Joseph was commanded to do what he did. I do think it would be perfectly fine for an individual to think/believe that if they do believe Joseph smith was a prophet, but I am not saying here whether he was or not. I offered very critical remarks throughout the post, and then said at the end, in too short a way as your response and others on your reddit post have shown, that members of the church do not have to worry about this. I meant more specifically that they don’t have to get excited against the church or against historical criticism. For those who believe in the text there are ways for understanding this that still work with the evidence. I have said nothing about my own theology.
“4) Therefore, the inclusion of Deutero-Isaiah, is not evidence against the Book of Mormon’s legitimacy, as it appears to be, but rather is an evidence of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.”
No, I never said that. The fact that Deuteronomy-Isaiah is used by Nephi is evidence that Joseph smith had much more to do with the production of the text of the BM than is usually assumed. I think the legitimacy of a scriptural text is found in its power to bind together those of a religious community. Each religious group must ask themselves whether or not a text is legitimate.
“5) Your work on the New Testament in the Book of Mormon is another evidence of the “prophetness” (it’ll work as a word) of Joseph Smith.”
No. First, my work is on the influence of the KJV on the BM. Second, in this kind of research I am not interested in the “prophetness” of Joseph Smith or any other religious figure. I am interested in the historical production of texts and their sources.
“6) Church members don’t need to worry.”
Church members don’t need to leave the church over this issue. Again, they don’t need to reject either historical criticism or the BM.
I’m not sure if you understood my position from your last comment, so I’ll be happy to explain or answer anymore if you have questions.
Ugh, I tried to respond on my phone as well, and it didn’t work. Sorry about the delay.
No, I’m good. You’re done a great job clarifying and answering questions here, even though you’re getting some flack.
Thanks for the discussion/responses. I appreciate it.
Stop making sense. Rabble rouser.
Colby, Are you saying that Joseph simply inserted Isahiah though it was not in the original text of the Book Of Mormon, and that it was very much within his right to do so? if so interesting though I find that position a slippery slope, I find the idea fascinating
I am saying that (1) we have to be responsible with the text of the Book of Mormon if we are going to discuss history in an academic light, and (2) one aspect of this is the embedded scriptural texts in the BM itself. Deutero-Isaiah is in the BM. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Nahum, and a number of other texts are in Deutero-Isaiah. I think that we have to deal with these issues, and I also think that there are ways to deal with them that does not include rejecting the BM. I do think that Joseph Smith had the right to include portions of the King James Bible in the text of the BM. I do not think that everyone in the church is going to either be aware of this or would even want to be aware of these issues, but for those of us who are I think that we can discuss our own various ways of figuring them out. For me this includes Joseph Smith being influenced more heavily by his scriptural tradition in the production of the BM than has previously been recognized. I think one of the reasons this issue has been so taboo is because, like you said, it is viewed as a slippery slope. I still think we need to discuss it, though.
I think the elephant in the room is that Deutero Isaiah is highly suggestive that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient/historical document. But would that be such a bad thing? Very little in scripture has any solid claim to historicity. Isn’t the important thing the spiritual message of the book itself, rather than its provenance as an “ancient work”? Isn’t that the point of all scripture?
I definitely agree that we place too much importance on the text of any given scripture being ancient, although I do think there are many who focus only on the spiritual nature of the text and ignore a historical study. But I agree that the important thing about scripture is the spiritual message that the book has for us in each of our lives.
I understand the problem, but I don’t understand the proposed solution very well. Is that point that if Joseph Smith is a prophet then it doesn’t matter whether it is plausible whether Nephi or other putative Book of Mormon authors had access to the Isaiah text they quote?
In that case are we denying at least some aspects of the historicity of the Book of Mormon in order to resolve the Isaiah problem?
“I understand the problem, but I don’t understand the proposed solution very well. Is that point that if Joseph Smith is a prophet then it doesn’t matter whether it is plausible whether Nephi or other putative Book of Mormon authors had access to the Isaiah text they quote?”
No, I think that it definitely matters whether or not Nephi or other BM authors had the text because that is important for understanding what Joseph Smith is doing.
“In that case are we denying at least some aspects of the historicity of the Book of Mormon in order to resolve the Isaiah problem?
I think to a certain extent yes. As I point out above in other comments we have to deal with the fact that the BM is dependent on Deutero-Isaiah, and that Deutero-Isaiah is dependent on Jeremiah, Lamentations, Nahum, etc. I simply don’t think that we either need to reject scholarly studies on the composition of Isaiah or reject the BM. I think there are ways to have both, and I think that there are great examples of this approach like David Bokovoy’s new book.
Don’t we quickly run into Occam’s Razor in such a case? If we now have to claim that the BM was produced by a much more complex “translation” process than was documented or has been previously imagined in order to preserve its status as scripture doesn’t it as some point become much simpler to throw the BM in the same bucket as the BoA? That strikes me as easier than imagining that Nephi quoted some of the BM Isaiah chapters in the plates, but not others, which Joseph inserted because he liked them.
I actually think that viewing the translation as a revelatory/visionary experience is a much simpler construct than the one Skousen uses, but you are right in saying that the production of the BM is similar to the BoA, but that is why I say “revelatory/visionary.” I don’t think that Joseph Smith’s approach to scripture was any different in the BM, the BoA, or the JST. I think they were all revelatory/visionary experiences, similar to D&C 7. We also have to keep in mind that Joseph Smith only ever used the plates when working with Martin Harris on what was later called the 116 pages (it was most probably not actually 116 pages as the section that replaced the Book of Lehi, the books of Nephi, were 116 pages in the manuscript), he never used the plates when working on the text of the BM that we have.
Fabulous post Hans! This will be a great reference for those looking for clarity on the Isaiah chapters and historicity.
I have a few questions:
1)Could you provide a quick time-line when the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities took place; who the kings of these kingdoms were; was it the Northern or Southern Kingdoms that were taken away; was Isaiah preaching to the Northern or Southern Kingdom (I assume the Souther); where does the story of Daniel (as a historical person, not the book) fall into all of this; etc?
2)Can you give a brief example of how Isaiah is dependent on Nahum, Jeremiah, etc, but those books are not dependent on Isaiah?
And great post dude. Not too nerdy and very accessible.
Thank you as always for your kind words. I’ll try my best to provide some answers and examples below, but before that, just a quick note. The Northern Kingdom was Israel and the Southern was Judah. I think that will be an important distinction:
(1a) A quick timeline on Assyrian and Babylonian captivity:
Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE, exiling the elites to Assyria but the majority of the population in the North moved down to the Southern Kingdom around that time. The archaeological record shows a surge in the population at this time.
The king of Assyria was Shalmaneser V (ruled 727-722) and the king of the Northern Kingdom was Hosea, who was taken prisoner in 724 BCE, with a three year siege of the capital of the North, Samaria, falling in 722 BCE (see Ahlstrom, The History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander’s Conquest, 670).
The Southern Kingdom had been subjugated by Assyria by 701 BCE, but their destruction did not come until a century later. The Babylonian kingdom, with the king Nebuchadrezzar, took control of Palestine in 605 BCE. The king of Judah, Jehoiakim had broken his vassal oath with Babylon, siding instead with Egypt, so the king of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar, attacked the city. Jehoiakim died before the end of the siege, so his son Jehoiakin (only 18) took over kingship. He reigned three months, and the city was overtaken in 597 according to the Babylonian chronicle. Circa 8,000-10,000 people, all part of the royal family and workers/slaves, were deported. Nebuchadrezzar then placed Mattaniah on the throne as his vassal king. Mattaniah is also known as Zedekiah. During his reign Jerusalem was destroyed in 586/7 BCE.
(1b) Isaiah preached ca. 742-700 BCE under Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. All these kings ruled in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Isaiah therefore preached in the Southern Kingdom.
(1c) (**As a quick note, I just reread your question. In academic scholarship on Daniel there is no historical person named Daniel during the Babylonian exile, so I will simply approach the claims of the text instead. Just want to clarify**)
The book of Daniel begins in the third year of Jehoiakim, ca. 605 BCE, and describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away the captive by Nebuchadnezzar (there are numerous issues with the dates provided by Daniel, but it is important to understand what the text says to answer this question). Daniel is then presented as living in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar during the exile.
(2) Here are a couple of representative examples:
Deutero-Isaiah is dependent on Jeremiah, Lamentations, Nahum, and a number of post-exilic (post-exile) Psalms. All of these texts date to a half-century (Nahum) or more than a century (the others) after the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem. A few examples (I follow Patricia Tull Willey for the explanation and translation below):
Isa. 52:7, 10, and 11 has quotations of whole lines of Nah. 2:1, Ps. 98:3, and Lam. 4:15:
Nah. 2:1 is quoted in Isa. 52:7. This verse in Nahum is a late seventh century text which celebrates the defeat of Nineveh (an Assyrian city) by the Babylonians in 612 BCE. Isa. 52:7 – “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of a messenger, a proclaimer of peace, a messenger of good, a proclaimer of salvation, one who says to Zion, your God reigns!” Nah. 2:1a – “Look! On the mountains the feet of a messenger, a proclaimer of peace.” Isa. 52:7 expands on this first line of the announcement in Nah. The six word phrase is found nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. This six phrase dependence fulfills the criteria of availability, volume, recurrence (Nah. 2:1 is also used in Isa. 52:1, 4), thematic coherence, and historical plausibility.
Isa. 52:1 – “Put on your beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city; for he shall no longer come into you, uncircumcised and unclean.”
Nah. 2:1 – “Celebrate, Judah, your festivals, fulfill your vows! Fir he will no longer pass into you, the wicked one-he is utterly cut off.”
Isa. 52:1 cites Nah. 2:1, but it would never be recognizable without the more full citation of Isa. 52:7. There are also a number of echoes of other texts in Isa. 52:1, but I think that the dependence on Nah. 2:1 highlights the point well enough. This is only representative of a more extensive dependence of Deut.-Isa. on Nah. Ps. 98 is used all over the place in Deut.-Isa. (cha. 42, 44, 49, 51, 52, 55). Isa 52:8-10 draws extensively from from Ps. 98:
Isa 52:8-10 – “The voice of your watchmen! They lift up their voice; together they cry out! For eye-to-eye they see the return of YHWH to Zion. Break forth, cry out together, ruins of Jerusalem! For YHWH has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. YHWH has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
Ps. 98:1-4, 8 – “Sing to YHWH a new song, for he has done wonders! It has brought salvation for him, his right hand and his holy arm. YHWH has made known his salvation before the eyes of the nations, he has revealed his righteousness. He remembered his steadfast love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout to YHWH, all the earth! Break forth and cry out and sing…Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills cry out together!”
Ps. 98:8 is used in Isa. 52:8, 9 in the phrase “cry out together.” Isa. 52:9 uses the phrase as found in Ps. 98:8 – “break forth and cry out.” The first line of Isa. 52:10 “YHWH has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations,” blends the phrases “his holy arm” and “before the eyes of the nations” before the second line quotes seven words directly from Ps. 98:3, excluding one vac (meaning “and”) – “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
Given this statement of yours:
“Joseph Smith is not exempt in his calling, and with the heavy dependence of the Book of Mormon on the King James Bible, it should not be surprising to find the language of scripture that Joseph Smith was used to everywhere on the pages of the Book of Mormon.”
… do you agree or disagree with this commentary found on lds.org:
“Another scribe, Martin Harris sat across the table from Joseph Smith and wrote down the words Joseph dictated. Harris later related that as Joseph used the seer stone to translate, sentences appeared. Joseph read those sentences aloud, and after penning the words, Harris would say, ‘Written.'”
There are a couple of problems with accepting the quote from lds.org at face value, at least the way you are framing it. The quote is specifically about the production of the 116 pages, not the text of the BM. Martin Harris only worked with Joseph Smith on those pages.
Another problem, and this does not cast any doubt on the morality of Martin Harris but rather the accuracy of his statements, is that he made it is unclear how Harris would have known these details. We have no account of any of the close associates of Joseph Smith claiming that Joseph explained to them the process. When Hyrum Smith invited Joseph to describe the process of translation at a conference Joseph stood and simply turned the opportunity down. We might take this as indicating Hyrum was comfortable with discussing the process with Joseph, so he may have described it to him, but Joseph was never willing to describe in the amount of detail that Harris and others provide years later the process he went through to translate.
I think the evidence from the text of the Book of Mormon itself needs to take priority in these cases.
How do you keep your doctrine pure? One, change the narrative. Two, discredit the authority. Third, but not the last, ignore the existence of questions and ideas. Religions, and there various factions, among them followers of the Restoration, have been great practitioners of doing the opposite of Joseph Smith's example of study and careful reading of all good books, except when it supports there agenda and structure.
Many Christians spend a great deal of time seeking to affirm and justify the known and obvious, Smith and others like him challenged the status quo, the comfortable and explored and asked openly if there was not deeper and more expansive meaning. This article address the LDS, but they are not alone in this practice of building fortress centered doctrines, it happens in all, of Christian belief.
We would do well to remember that the various scriptures we have given authority over our lives are but translations from fragmented sources, and incomplete. We are mistaken if we believe that God is going to spoon feed us everything without effort on our part. There is more, much much more.
This is by far the most vexing issue for Book of Mormon authorship, although it is rarely encountered because the issues are rather technical. Within Biblical Studies, saying that Deutero Isaiah is post-exilic is about as controversial as declaring that the sun rises in the east. No one who lacks a theological stake in the matter thinks otherwise.
Great article, Hans.
I agree with you that many long passages from the KJV are quoted almost verbatim in the Book of Mormon–and a large portion of those are dated to after the time Lehi would have left Jerusalem, so could not have been available on the brass plates.
Most obvious among these are New Testament passages, as you note, but Deutero-Isaiah fall into the same category.
If Joseph Smith simply copied those passages from his Bible into the Book of Mormon “translation,” what are we to make of witness testimony that Joseph did not use any books or papers during the process?
If we conclude that, contrary to the witness statement, Joseph did in fact have at least one big book (the Bible) that he used in the process, does that not open the door to his having other books and papers from which he drew to compose the Book of Mormon?
I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
Thank you Corbin, I appreciate your kind response. I’ll answer your questions below:
“If Joseph Smith simply copied those passages from his Bible into the Book of Mormon “translation,” what are we to make of witness testimony that Joseph did not use any books or papers during the process?”
I need to look back over this, but I don’t think we have any witness testimony besides Emma’s that specifically addresses whether or not Joseph used a Bible. Sidney Sperry didn’t find any problem with noting that it is obvious that at least the lengthy quotations were taken from a Bible , even to the point in stating that “We shall not claim another miracle, however, in the translation…” (Answers to Book of Mormon questions, 206). In my opinion the evidence in the text itself far outweighs the statements Emma made in 1879, not only 40 years later but the questions and answers were in the context of a new religious organization under Joseph Smith, III. We also know that Emma’s statements on polygamy in those interviews are not the most reliable for understanding the history of that topic.
“If we conclude that, contrary to the witness statement, Joseph did in fact have at least one big book (the Bible) that he used in the process, does that not open the door to his having other books and papers from which he drew to compose the Book of Mormon?”
If there is any evidence of this then I think it should be examined. A lot of time has been spent comparing the BM to other texts, and I think that the comparison to the KJV yields the most fruit.
Yeah, this article is defending an indefensible position.
It’s just an opinion piece, not academic though, so I can understand why he’s done that…he has no other option
Josh, just so we are clear. Are you quoting FAIR here?
Also, your points appear consistent with how I am reading this opinion piece, but illogical, inefficient, incredibly problematic, make God and Nephi out to be liars (to us and their communities…never mind showing Lehite as putting his children and others at risk and then deceiving their own community that they had scriptures that didn’t exist, and even though lehi was a prophet who saw/spoke with God and revealed scripture left the channelling of these scriptures to a later Jewish person back in exiled Israel) what you have basically done is taken a final position of what you believe, and moved things (facts) around to try to fit inside of it.
So I will ask again. Did you lift that explanation from FAIR?
Fair points. Didn’t he copy some errors in Isiaih from the bible version he had as well though?
That’s not how I have been taught scripture comes from god
He has typically been more direct than that so that what you allude to wouldn’t happen.
Isn’t this why he sent Nephi and his brothers back to Jerusalem to get the plates?
Isn’t this why Joseph was inspired to find the stone he used to translate the plates?
Nope, I think I’m good. You’ve been great at responding to questions here. Thanks again! 🙂
What’s your opinion on the theory that Deutro-Isaiah has been expanded and redacted from the post-exile perspective?
Filling in names and prophesies and narratives much like Mormons might fill in Charles Anthon in Is 29 (like Cyrus). And bringing in other texts from that period that fit with the previous Isaiah text?
I think that would be a difficult position to argue. Scholars see Isa. 40-48 and 49-55 as tightly nit units, both authored by the same individual. I could give you a quick review of the structure of these units if you would like, but suffice it to say each of the subunits all presuppose they are being written in Babylon, from the perspective of an exiled Israelite, attempting to convince the Israelites to leave their comfort in Babylon to go back to Zion, Jerusalem, the holy city, so that Zion can again have her husband (Yahweh) and her children, the Israelites.
I don’t really see the idea as a possibility, but that doesn’t mean no one should try to make it if they see the evidence for it. They would just have a tough time making the argument.
interesting discussion. “Prophecy” is a very convenient category, isn’t it?
“We have no account of any of the close associates of Joseph Smith claiming that Joseph explained to them the process.”
That doesn’t mean they didn’t know the process. Consider the following quotation:
“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. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)
Are you suggesting that you have better evidence suggesting that the translation process changed after the 116 pages? As far as we know JS never looked at the plates to translate even when they were in the room. I don’t see how their presence or lack thereof gives us any indication that JS wasn’t reading the text of the BoM off of parchment on a stone in a hat as God revealed it to him.
“That doesn’t mean they didn’t know the process.”
This indicates that they were more likely guessing what the process was, and reporting on the process several decades later. As Brant Gardner discusses in his book The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, “The time between the witnesses’ personal involvement in the event and the time when they recorded that involvement makes all of these statements reminiscences” (113). There was a collective memory, a story, that was told over the decades by each of the witnesses. As Gardner also states, “We see the creation of the Mormon story” as the oral tradition of these events is reminisced throughout the years, the story changes in interesting ways.
One of the interesting things about the witnesses stories is that, at least in one instance, they all remember something that is verifiable incorrect. Many of the witnesses claimed, as your above quotation shows, that words would appear visible to Joseph when he looked in the hat. They said that if a word or name was misspelled the line would continue to appear until the scribe and Joseph had corrected it (see Gardner, The Gift and Power, 110). We know that this is inaccurate because we have 28% of the original manuscript to examine.
An example from Royal Skousen highlights the point:
“As an extended example of this phenomenon, consider the spelling of Amalickiah in the book of Alma. The first couple of occurrences are spelled correctly, but then Oliver Cowdery (the scribe here) starts spelling the second and third vowels of Amalickiah as e’s. At first Oliver catches these errors and corrects them. But eventually he apparently remembers that once the scribe has made sure that the first occurrence of a name is spelled correctly, there is really no need to worry about spelling variance in subsequent occurrences of the name. In this case, the first spelling Amalickiah establishes the correct spelling. As long as this is kept in mind, there is no problem if subsequent occurrences of Amalickiah are spelled differently. So, after the first handful of occurrences, Oliver rather consistently spells Amalickiah as Ameleckiah, although sometimes he immediately corrects the second e to an i; or sometimes he later corrects the first e to an a (always with a heavier ink flow” (Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” 79; as quoted in Gardner, The Gift and Power, 112).
David Whitmer also claimed in an interview with Eri B. Mullin in 1874 that “The words would appear, and if he failed to spell the word right, it would stay till it was spelled right, then pass away; another come, and so on” (as quoted in Gardner, The Gift and Power, 110).
I don’t think I need to go into all of the details of the misspellings and errors in the original manuscript here. A quick look at any page of Royal Skousen’s Original Manuscript volume would answer that question. The main point is, although David Whitmer and others were there in the room with him, they likely did not know exactly what was being shown to Joseph. I actually do like the imagery of the parchment being seen in a visionary like presentation, similar to D&C 7. If you review my other comments here you will see that is how I understand the process of the translation of the BM. I simply don’t think that the translation was a word for word translation of whatever it was he saw in vision, and I think we have a large amount of evidence when we compare the BM with the KJV that indicates Joseph and scribe copied from the KJV into the BM for the lengthy quotations of Isaiah, Matthew, and Malachi.
“Are you suggesting that you have better evidence suggesting that the translation process changed after the 116 pages?”
The evidence that you provided above shows that the process did change after the 116 pages. The descriptions we have of the production of the 116 pages (it most likely wasn’t 116 pages, by the way, but that can be discussed later) include Joseph working with the plates, copying characters off them, and having Martin Harris travel to get the translation vindicated. The description of the translation process for the BM as we have it, not including the 116 pages, is the description you and I are discussing now.
“As far as we know JS never looked at the plates to translate even when they were in the room.”
“I don’t see how their presence or lack thereof gives us any indication that JS wasn’t reading the text of the BoM off of parchment on a stone in a hat as God revealed it to him.”
It means that this is a different kind of translation than is usually thought. Plates are material, they are present at the time of translation. When the words that are being translated are moved from the physical plates to the immaterial mind’s eye the words are then as Joseph Smith perceives them from his mind’s eye, not from the physical plates. I completely agree that what he saw was the text of the BM, but especially then we have to be open to Joseph’s perception of that vision, which is more likely to have been influenced by his perception and experience with scripture (the KJV).
A simpler explanation is that the book is a 19th century production as part of a con by a known con man. All the problems melt away pretty fast from that perspective.
As to the word print and stylometry, I’ve encountered two studies. One finds sole authorship on rather tenuous data. What they really find is no evidence of dual authorship given the features they test. A more recent study reputedly finds dual authorship, but makes the split at Isaiah 33 or 39 (roughly 6 chapters early if my memory serves). One problem is that Isaiah isn’t a very good test case for stylometry. All the authors are unknown. None of the autograph manuscripts are contemporary. We have no other texts from the proposed authors. We have relatively limited texts from any contemporary authors. There is room for unspecified changes in the text during transmission (in fact that is exactly what is claimed when asserting multiple authorship). I think the best anyone could hope to find would be stylometric evidence supporting the multiple authorship hypothesis. Stylometric evidence is essentially worthless to bolster a single authorship hypothesis, and is rightly ignored.