Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Several parts of the Book of Mormon are highly influenced by the text of deutero-Isaiah. The traditional problem here is that deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55) are usually considered to be written fairly late – usually dated to during the exile in Babylon. Contrary to what some members say, the dating isn’t just assuming that prophecy is impossible. Rather the text makes assumptions of the audience that just don’t work earlier. A good example is the presumption that Jerusalem has already been destroyed.

While there are some figures who support an unified Isaiah[1] I confess I just don’t find persuasive their answers to the critics argument regarding a later date. Even if one buys some of the literary claims, that’s typically possible for a later editor bringing the various works together.

How then do we deal with this problem of a significant set of texts quoted by Nephi and others after they left Jerusalem?

First let me note that I am far from an expert here. This is me thinking through the issue not claiming everything works. Nor do I really see this as an apologetic work. Rather I see it as taking seriously the arguments about deutero-Isaiah. Second let me state up front that I take as an assumption that the Book of Mormon is a loose translation in terms of content.[2] This means that often quotes or paraphrases of KJV language were used to translate ideas or texts not directly related to the source texts in the KJV Bible. The implication of this is that with a few exceptions what matters are extended quotations not a verse or phrase here or there. I consider the latter primarily artifacts of the way the text was translated. In making the following arguments I’m making extensive use of David P. Wright’s “Joseph Smith’s Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.” It was the original argument against deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. I use it because it contains a convenient source of arguments. However in sticking with it I recognize I’m not being comprehensive to all the arguments about date.

The usual Mormon response to deutero-Isaiah is that it was based upon separate prophetic works that were on the brass plates. Those original sources for deutero-Isaiah were then heavily edited/redacted during the exile to fit more with the concerns of that community with the usual dating for the final form of deutero-Isaiah. That is a later editor added in more specific locations and events. Since the Book of Mormon is a loose translation that relies heavily on the KJV to translate similar ideas this means that the KJV of deutero-Isaiah was used along with many of the later edits from the exile and after the exile.

The main problematic areas are 1 Nephi 22 (quoting Isaiah 49:22-3); 1 Nephi 20-22 (quoting Isaiah 48-49); 2 Nephi 6-8 (quoting Isaiah 49-51); Mosiah 12-15 (quoting Isaiah 52-53 albeit in a weird way); and then a few more minor quotes in 1 Nephi 10:8 (Isaiah 40:3); 1 Nephi 17:3 (Isaiah 45:18); 2 Nephi 10:9 (Isaiah 49:23) and the afore mentioned Mosiah 27:31 (Isaiah 45:23).[3] Interestingly Trito-Isaiah doesn’t appear in the Book of Mormon.

Thus the main texts of deutero-Isaiah that Nephi has access to in some form are Isaiah 49:22-55:2 (with parts of 53 & 54 missing) There are then three other verses. One in 40:3 and then 45:18,23. The quote of 45:18,23 is interesting as it’s Nephi defending building the ship. While not quotations it contains allusions to many other texts making one almost think he’s quoting a pre-existing text. So one theory (again very speculative) is that either this is an artifact of language for the loose translation or else there’s some early poetic text that gets cut up with portions ending up in deutero-Isaiah and possibly trito-isaiah. (See for example Isaiah 66:1 with 1 Nephi 17:39. It’s not a quotation but there are similarities.)

What’s most interesting is what parts of deutero-Isaiah are excluded from the Book of Mormon. Typically these are the very parts that scholars use to argue for a late date for deutero-Isaiah. Wright gives arguments for the late date on page 183 of his article. However note how many of these are missing from the Book of Mormon.

1. Speaking as destruction has happened Only 49:14-21 is in 1 Ne 21:14-21 The rest of the deutero-Isaiah parts about past tense destruction aren’t in the Book of Mormon.

2. Mesopotamia as place of destruction and Babylonians fading from picture Those parts of deutero-Isaiah are not in the Book of Mormon.

3. Temple and city of Jerusalem destroyed Only the afore mentioned 1 Ne 21:14-21 and partial quote of Wright’s Isaiah 52:1-10 of which verse 7-10 is quoted in Mosiah 12:21-4 and Mosiah 15:29-31. But that part really doesn’t speak of them as destroyed but merely the transient nature of mortals compared to God.

4. Release from captivity imminent Isaiah 49:22-26 is quoted in 1 Nephi 22:6,8; 2 Nephi 6:6; and 2 Nephi 10:9. However most of the use in the Book of Mormon are either part of an eschatological vision of the future unrelated to the Babylonian context (1 Ne 11 sees it as a future dispersal apparently tied more to the Roman diaspora) and often tied to the gentiles (say 2 Ne 6:6; 10:8) So one could easily read that not as tied to Babylon but a quotation from a far more vague diasporah/gathering proto-text. The more explicit Babylonian parts of the text are missing from the Book of Mormon.

5. Cyrus Missing in the Book of Mormon.

6. Look forward to bounteous return from Babylon This is the weaker argument I should note but of the verses only the afore mentioned 49:22-26 are in the Book of Mormon.

So surprisingly most of the problematic parts of deutero-Isaiah are missing from the Book of Mormon. If those are later additions to a text already existing in some form around the time of Josiah then the problem disappears. The only problematic section to explain in that case is 49:14-21. I don’t want to deny those verses are problematic but I’m not sure they are as problematic as some say.

Consider that there were two conquests of Jerusalem by Babylon. The first was a siege in 597 which was part of a war started in 605 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II. During the initial war Jehoiakim switched allegiance from Egypt to Babylon. When the Babylonians were rebuffed by the Egyptians they switched back leading to the siege. Nebuchadnezzar then installed Zedekiah on the throne, took the King prisoner, took the temple treasures, and took 10,000 people back to Babylon.

It is after this that Lehi is prophesying. So the events described in Isaiah 49:14-21 might well refer to this conquest and exile and not the final one that took place after Lehi left. In particular verse 17 might suggest the initial pullback by Babylon after Zedekiah is put in place as a puppet. Indeed one might well argue that the political faction supporting turning back to Egypt again against Babylon appealed to precisely these verses against Lehi and Jeremiah to make their case.

It’s worth noting that a popular contemporary theory on proto-Isaiah (the earlier chapters of the book) is that the poetic parts were written by Isaiah while the prose parts are later midrashic-like commentary on those original poems and date to the time of Josiah. (See for example John Goldingay’s Isaiah commentary) I bring this up both because this somewhat corresponds to what we find in the Book of Mormon with its use of Isaiah but also because this would have likely been in the lifetime of Lehi. That is the Book of Isaiah already would have been seen as a scroll with the original text of Isaiah along with commentary and other works added. If there were initial prophecies of deutero-Isaiah being composed at the time of Lehi they may well have ended up on the brass plates if they were associated with the larger text just as the commentary was.

Finally I should mention mention Kevin Christensen’s work on deutero-Isaiah. He largely follows Margaret Barker’s work on deutero-Isaiah.[4] Barker says, “the prophecies of the Second Isaiah were, I believe, an interpretation of the ancient cult myth, and it was the experience of the exile which prompted the reinterpretation in terms of actual historical events.” The only real difference from Barker would be arguing for an intermediary step that Lehi has access to. Kevin also notes that one of the arguments for deutero-Isaiah’s date is strict monotheism as opposed to the older views. Yet the very portions of deutero-Isaiah dealing with monotheism are missing from the Book of Mormon.

Now I don’t think this will convince critics. I’m not trying to do that here. Rather I’m just saying that the most problematic passages of deutero-Isaiah aren’t in the Book of Mormon and what remains could be explained by a contemporary of Lehi writing them in the Isaiah scroll and perhaps on the brass plates.

[1] In LDS circles the most prominent example is Avraham Gileadi who argues in various books for an unified Isaiah on literary grounds. In more general circles there are many figures arguing this as well – often due to religious commitments.

[2] We have to distinguish between method and content since Royal Skousen argues that Joseph received the translation word by word in the rim & Thummim or seer stone. So here I’m just looking at the nature of the text itself and its purported connection to the original texts.

[3] I’m here primarily skipping shorts quotes that may just be translational artifacts as well as quotes in 3 Nephi since Jesus could have quoted the original Isaiah text just as he quotes his own beatitudes.

[4] We should be careful since most of deutero-Isaiah Barker dates to the traditional period. It’s more Isaiah 53 that she redates. Her main argument though is about sources deutero-Isaiah makes use of that were tied to older cultic practices and rituals. I’ll confess that while Barker is extremely interesting I don’t find her quite as persuasive as some. But if we are looking at the range of defensible readings rather than just the mainstream consensus then we can’t neglect her work. She’s a very prominent respected scholar and has no religious need the way apologists might to make these arguments.

Edit: To make discussion easier here is a full list of quotations of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. This is from Victor Ludlow’s Unlocking Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. It doesn’t contain passages that are similar but not quotations.

Isaiah 2–14

2 Nephi 12–24

Isaiah 29

2 Nephi 27

Isaiah 48-49

1 Nephi 20–21

Isaiah 50–51

2 Nephi 7–8

Isaiah 52

3 Nephi 20

Isaiah 53

Mosiah 14

Isaiah 54

3 Nephi 22

Isaiah 5:26*

2 Nephi 29:2

Isaiah 9:12-13

2 Nephi 28:32

Isaiah 11:4

2 Nephi 30:9

Isaiah 11:5-9

2 Nephi 30:11-15

Isaiah 11:11a*

2 Nephi 25:17a; 29:1b; compare 25:11

Isaiah 22:13*

2 Nephi 28:7-8

Isaiah 25:12*

2 Nephi 26:15

Isaiah 28:10, 13*

2 Nephi 28:30

Isaiah 29:3-4*

2 Nephi 26:15-16

Isaiah 29:5*

2 Nephi 26:18

Isaiah 29:6

2 Nephi 6:15

Isaiah 29:6-10

2 Nephi 27:2-5

Isaiah 29:13

2 Nephi 28:9

Isaiah 29:14a*

1 Nephi 14:7a; 22:8a; 2 Nephi 25:17b; 29:1a

Isaiah 29:15a*

2 Nephi 28:9a

Isaiah 29:21b*

2 Nephi 28:16a

Isaiah 40:3*

1 Nephi 10:8

Isaiah 45:18*

1 Nephi 17:36

Isaiah 45:23*

Mosiah 27:31

Isaiah 49:22

1 Nephi 22:6

Isaiah 49:22*

1 Nephi 22:8; 2 Nephi 6:6

Isaiah 49:23a*

1 Nephi 22:8b; 2 Nephi 10:9a

Isaiah 49:23

2 Nephi 6:7

Isaiah 49:24-26

2 Nephi 6:16-18

Isaiah 52:1a*

Moroni 10:31a

Isaiah 52:1-2

2 Nephi 8:24-25

Isaiah 52:7*

1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 15:14-18; 27:37

Isaiah 52:7-10

Mosiah 12:21-24

Isaiah 52:8-10

Mosiah 15:29-31; 3 Nephi 16:18-20; 20:32-35

Isaiah 52:10*

1 Nephi 22:10-11

Isaiah 52:12*

3 Nephi 21:29

Isaiah 52:13-15*

3 Nephi 21:8 -10

Isaiah 53:8, 10*

Mosiah 15:10-11

Isaiah 54:2b*

Moroni 10:31a

Isaiah 55:1*

2 Nephi 26:25

Isaiah 55:1-2 

2 Nephi 9:50 -51

25 comments for “Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

  1. Dan Ellsworth
    1
    March 6, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I started studying this issue a couple of years ago and I am currently writing a paper about it. I think many of the assumptions underlying the theory are valid, but the three-part division that is typically used (1-39, 40-55, 56-66) is a gross oversimplification of the critical position and ignores a vast amount of disagreement among scholars about the dating of each chapter. But just as critical scholars have very good reasons for questioning the traditional view of authorship, Latter-Day Saints have very good reasons to ignore the excesses of critical scholarship and have confidence in the BoM’s position. The reason we don’t produce very good responses to the theory is, we don’t have our own LDS theoretical frameworks for analysis of scriptural texts.
    The deeper I have digged (I have read all three books of the Anchor Bible Commentary, among other treatments of the theory), the more it is clear to me how critical scholars have adopted wildly implausible explanations for features of the Biblical texts in order to prop up a theory that really only holds a fraction of the explanatory power attributed to it. Again, I shouldn’t have to read all of Blenkinsopp’s commentary on Isaiah to arrive at this conclusion: there should be a vast body of good LDS scholarship on the issue, but there isn’t.
    I love Margaret Barker to pieces, but how is it that there are not teams of LDS scholars analyzing various scriptural texts and doing the simple exercise of trying variations in Hebrew letters of obscure passages to tease out possible better original meanings? If only 10% of Margaret Barker’s conclusions are correct, that still makes her more impressive than any LDS OT scriptorian I have ever read.

    Good Post!

  2. Clark Goble
    2
    March 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

    As I touched upon things are more complex in the details. So as I said a popular contemporary theory is that the poetic parts of proto-Isaiah date to Isaiah while the rest were commentary written around the time of Josiah. Even among the deutero-Isaiah I don’t think most assume a single exilic author. That said when you get into the weeds, as you note, a lot of the theories are pretty weak in the details. So I personally tend to be a bit skeptical of the prononcements. There’s a whole lot of conclusion from very little data. Of course I’m biased since my training was in the hard sciences. But if even in science many if not most conclusions with extensive data are wrong, what does that say about these philological arguments?

    My own approach to hermeneutics is that we should pay close attention to such arguments. However we should also be aware of the range of possible readings of the text rather than just picking a single reading.

  3. Jack
    3
    March 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    “Contrary to what some members say, the dating isn’t just assuming that prophecy is impossible.”

    Robert Millet is one of those who chalks it up to a lack of belief in prophecy. I’m not astute enough, myself, to know one way or the other. However, I can certainly believe that a latent assumption can be much more powerful than we might imagine–even to the point of causing one to amass evidence in favor of an idea that is, ultimately, flawed.

  4. Clark Goble
    4
    March 7, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I think in a few cases that works. But in general the problem is really whether the prophecy would make sense to the audience if Jerusalem hadn’t already been attacked. I think there’s also a knee jerk tendency to assume a kind of textual coherence I’m not sure the Book of Mormon itself allows. (Thinking here of it’s comments on the Bible which clearly suggests lots of changes from when things were spoken until when they were written) To my eyes given the pretty harsh treatment of the Old Testament in terms of textual stability we shouldn’t assume such things.

  5. March 7, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Good post. A difficult subject because there is so much we do not know. For myself, I believe in a multiple author scenario for Isaiah, and D-I in the BOM represents a difficult challenge. Your suggestions are intriguing, but what I really get out of it is how little we really know, and how little biblical scholars know. So much of this stuff is dictated as if it were fact, but as Dan (1) pointed out, there is more supposition than anything else.

    I like Barker, if not for anything else, she challenges the status quo with strong (and often circumstantial) arguments. But what else can be argued?

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Dan Ellsworth
    6
    March 8, 2017 at 11:42 am

    The issue of prophecy is not the only factor, but if I had a dime for every time I’ve seen a critical scholar say “The author refers to , and therefore this passage cannot be dated to before .” It’s not the only factor, but it colors the way that critical scholars examine other evidence that could be interpreted in numerous ways. This happens in a hundred different situations, and pretty soon there is scholarly consensus that even though the many items of evidence are individually questionable, they amount to a “cumulative” case for multiple authorship. I happen to agree that not all of the book was written by Isaiah, but I also reject the picture of authorship painted by most critical scholars and I am very comfortable with the Book of Mormon’s position.

  7. Clark Goble
    7
    March 8, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Dan I agree, but I think to be fair we have to deal with the actual arguments. My problem is more the sweeping “they don’t accept prophecy” as a way of dismissing arguments without engaging with them.

  8. brenttubbs
    8
    March 9, 2017 at 5:45 am

    Last year on the Rational Faiths blog, David Bokovoy shared a pair of posts explaining why the mainstream consensus on Deutero-Isaiah is what it is. Is your analysis here taking the evidence he lists into account?

  9. Dan Ellsworth
    9
    March 9, 2017 at 8:01 am

    brenttubbs,

    Mine is. I loved those posts from DB, but I also take issue with some of the assumptions he brought forward. For example, when a critical scholar says “Isaiah believed Jerusalem was inviolable”, the assumption there is that Isaiah could not have changed his mind about that issue over his 40+ year ministry. Really? So, prophets never experience a change in perspective, even over four decades of observing significant shifts in the geopolitical landscape? Also, the idea that Isaiah would not have prophesied against Babylon because “Babylon was not the world power at the time”; well, neither were Moab, Egypt, and several other nations Isaiah prophesied against. Most of these assertions are in the study Bibles I own, and they are deeply flawed arguments that make up the “cumulative” body of evidence for deutero-Isaiah.

    Again, I don’t argue that the book of Isaiah is a unity, composed entirely by Isaiah of Jerusalem. I think there is evidence for a lot of interpolation and editorial activity over centuries. But I also think that the simple three-part division is ridiculous in light of the contrary evidence.

  10. Jonathan Cavender
    10
    March 9, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I want to see more research into Deutero-Joseph. After all, the Doctrine and Covenants has reference to wars starting in South Carolina, and Joseph Smith died before the Civil War even began. Perhaps editors during the Utah Captivity surreptitiously added the text to the original Ur-text.

  11. Clark Goble
    11
    March 9, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Brent (8) I read his Rational Faith post after I’d written most of the above. He’s primarily addressing Kent Jackson’s arguments (which I confess I’ve not read – but I assume is arguing for the unity of Isaiah). You can see the evolution of this post in the comments to Kevin’s post last year at BCC and some comments at the Mormon Dialog forum last week (largely tied to David’s post at Rational Faiths).

    Regarding David’s argument I certainly agree with him that the evidence for later authorship of deutero-Isaiah is compelling. I also think that as we engage with our scriptures we have to engage with the arguments related to them. A big problem with too much work on LDS scripture is being independent from other thinking and not engaging with arguments even if we disagree with them. Unfortunately David doesn’t really address the significance of what is not in the Book of Mormon relative to these dating issues.

    He does raise an interesting issue in his part 2 relative to my argument above that I didn’t address. He notes the relationship of Isaiah 50:1 to Jeremiah 2:8. While he’s just arguing for the priority of Jeremiah there, it is compelling for my argument above that they were somewhat contemporary with each other.

    The argument he makes about language is a more interesting one and again I didn’t really address that above. Not knowing Hebrew or Aramaic I can’t say too much there. The examples he gave of Aramaic are, however, not in the Book of Mormon. So from my perspective deutero-Isaiah is late but itself made up of proto-texts redacted. He doesn’t really address that. The differences in pre and post-exillic Hebrew I can’t really address not having the commentary he referred to. Although I suspect that my point about the beginning of the exile starting during the first conquest but before Lehi left isn’t dealt with.

    Dan (9) I agree although I think as with most arguments it’s not one single issue but a slew of issues. But I agree the view of Jerusalem in proto-Isaiah says little about the rest. So I don’t find that compelling except to note that there is a structural difference with 40-55. Egypt is interesting since there were powerful but were also in the years between 700 and 600 dominated by fir Assyria who put in Necho as king. I don’t know the history too well but I think before that the Egypt proto-Isaiah writes of was largely under Nubian control. When Assyria’s power collapses Egypt then expands into Judah which sets the stage for the later events under Jeremiah and Lehi.

    I think though that this gets into David’s argument which is the inviolability of Zion is tied to the success of holding off Assyria. Of course your point that Isaiah could have started warning against that during his life but after proto-Isaiah was complete is well made. Especially since there was a different King in Judah who was now wicked — Manasseh. It’s hard to imagine Isaiah would have nothing to say about Manasseh were Isaiah still alive. I mean he restored human sacrifice of children. According to tradition he killed Isaiah. So thinking a new set of prophecies were in order makes a lot of sense.

  12. Mike
    12
    March 9, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    I am way out of my depth here. Brother Goble, I consider you among the sharpest minds in the church today. What faithless gnat am I to question? This problem among others has been firmly rooted in my mind for half a century.

    Deconstruction. Divide and conquer. Break the problem up into small enough pieces with enough expert precision that they seem inconsequential. Selectively string parts of it back together with strong doses of confirmation bias and platitudes.

    One big picture related development you are all aware of, I am certain: (A camel not a gnat).
    The Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham.
    About 20 pages of one sided connections between the Book of Abraham and ancient Egyptian trivia. This mixed with one half a sentence buried near the end that admits:

    “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham…”

    The wiki article on this topic (the more critical one) I think gives a better assessment of the relatedness between the papyrus and the Book of Abraham. But leave that aside.

    Are we to entirely ignore this information when considering the question of Deutero-Isaiah?

    Does it not seem more plausible, at least worthy of consideration, that the two books of scripture were generated in at least a somewhat similar fashion?

    (As an aside I remain unconvinced that the KJV language in the Book of Mormon can just be dismissed. I know that in the minds of many this has been addressed and I have read numerous explanations. But in my mind they are unconvincing and it remains a serious problem for me).

    ***

    The Romans were great astrologers. They recorded events in the heavens with enough accuracy and thoroughness that allow very accurate dating of events in their history using astronomical clocks.The King Herod who was alive when Christ was born and was killing children under two years old died in 4 BC. A large supernova exploded in 6 BC which would fit with the new star appearing in the Christmas stories. The Book of Mormon chronology is exact to the year. No apparent wiggle room here. This pushes the departure of Lehi to 606 BC. (DC 20:1 says the LDS church was organized 1830 years from the coming of our Lord. Was that poetic or literal?)

    Zedekiah was a Babylonian vassal king who ruled after the Babylonian captivity began, (There were several defeats with increasing levels of servitude). He became rebellious and got trounced. His first year of reign was 597 BC.

    What are we to do with this 9 year discrepancy? Lehi wasn’t prophecying in 597 BC, he was long gone. And the whining of Laman and Lemuel don’t make sense if they left that late. Oh, that we might have been happy back home in Jerusalem (as castrated slaves?)

    ***

    It seems that in general the Gospel Topics Essays, while making nearly every excuse imaginable, still retreat to ground that leaves behind most of these sort of arguments that we have been sweating over for decades; and even that ground is probably not very defensible on some points.

    But then the essays stopped. Will they too slip down the memory hole? Even now is it getting back to business for Mormon apologetics with the same disastrous consequences?

    I think it is time that the better educated and sharpest thinkers look forward to a future of presenting the Mormon sacred stories in a way that no longer distract us and destroy our faith because of their numerous literal problems and begin to inspire us again.

  13. Felix
    13
    March 9, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    A nineteenth-century author of the Book of Mormon would have had reason to skip those passages Clark indicated. This would have required some knowledge of Biblical chronology that Joseph Smith didn’t have, but somebody like Sidney Rigdon (or whoever) may have had.

  14. Clark Goble
    14
    March 9, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Mike, thanks for the kind words although I’m not sure how deserved they are. I know just enough to stagger into trouble and know not enough to stay out. I just try and hang out with people much more intelligent than I.

    To the Book of Abraham I’ve just not kept up with the latest debates of late. I know the last big debate over the missing text theory involved calculating roll length from thickness and I think John Gee’s theory didn’t hold up.

    Your main point is of course true, the extanct text doesn’t hold the Book of Abraham. While the missing papyri theory isn’t as strong as it once was, it’s not completely out. There are other theories as well. Kevin Barney over at BCC did a nice round up a few years back. I’m sure things have progressed since then but I’m loath to say too much without catching up.

    As to that information on deutero-Isaiah I confess I’m not seeing the connection.

    I’m somewhat convinced Joseph thought there was a connection. I think there’s evidence the Kirtland Alphabet and Grammar was an attempt to work backwards and Joseph thought both the gold plates and the papyri were tied together. (I don’t think they are – but I think he did) Thus some similarities to the anthon transcript some mentioned to the A&G as well as some of the pseudo-egyptian reconstructions to the vignettes and hypocephalus.

    As to thinking a methodological similarity, I certainly agree. I think Joseph had no connection to the plates beyond knowing they were there. That is the method was purely by faith and revelation and thus in terms of method I think the Book of Mormon, the revised translation of the Bible and the Book of Abraham were all done the same way. (As opposed to say the fake Kinderhook plates where the evidence seems to point to him looking things up in the A&G)

    For the fraud model of the Book of Mormon of course they think he made it up and made up the other texts and revelations as well. For the inspiration model they think it inspired with different models relating text to original source text (or in the case of the Book of Abraham trying to figure out the original source texts) The point is though that we have to keep separate the nature of the text and the nature of its production. Both the faithful and fraudulent models require that.

    Felix, not quite following you. The deutero-Isaiah hypothesis came from Bernhard Duhm who lived well after Joseph died.

  15. Mike
    15
    March 10, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you for your response. I do read many of your submissions and they are very good. I don’t want to come across as too harsh or bitter but it is difficult with the limits of blogging.

    I have a unconventional perspective on the Kinderhook plates. Joseph Smith had his tendencies of immaturity and I think it started out as a prank. Joseph was pranking the pranksters and later his friends like William Clayton who took it serious and made it look like Joseph took it serious. But that involves quite a bit of mind-reading across centuries and I can offer no objective reason why I think this is how it happened. That does raise the question of how much of the rest of the Restoration was a prank that grew legs and a very long tail.

    The idea that Joseph Smith didn’t actually translate the golden plates but that perhaps they were in another room or out in a log is disturbing. The LDS church admits now that he was using seer stones that were also used to find treasures and had his head in the hat. For me we are already there. We gave away the entire store of orthodoxy. It is all poetry and metaphor. Any Nibley-isms or connections to the real ancient world are coincidental.

    I have a conceptual problem with all the missing text theories. We are inconsistent and don’t play fair. If one allows for a missing papyrus to fix the Book of Abraham then in fairness one must allow for a missing Spaulding transcript to sink the Book of Mormon.

    The alternative is to look at the evidence at hand and not run off to the vain hope of finding evidence not at hand in order to sustain unsupported plausibilities.

    Witnesses hateful of Joseph Smith claimed the Spaulding story named Lehi, Nephi, Laman etc. That it closely matched large passages as they remembered it. The lost Spaulding manuscript was the main explanation of how Joseph Smith concocted the Book of Mormon for almost a century, until it was found and proved to have very little to do with the Book of Mormon. Did we learn nothing from this series of events?

    We can conduct a little thought experiment. Create the contents of a missing papyrus that would make the Book of Abraham problems go away. What does it look like? No further document can change what we already have and that is damaging. Because the scripture we have claims to be a translation of the papyrus in our possession, not some other one.

    Same thought experiment. Create the contents of a missing Spaulding manuscript that refutes the Book of Mormon. That is pretty easy. Start with a travel tale and a few war stories. Then in the second draft juice it up with some Rigdon/Campbell theology and biblical commentary. Sprinkle in a few (not too many) of Joseph Smiths own ideas garnished from his treasure hunting days in the next draft. It is easy to image a series of works that document a development of the Book of Mormon. The biggest problem is that this series of documents DOES NOT EXIST.

    “Keep separate the nature of the text and the nature of its production.”
    I think this might be a key concept, a take-home nugget. If I am understanding it correctly it does go against the original appeal of the Book of Mormon. The Prophet Joseph Smith made outrageous claims to special access to religious truths. He backed it up with a seemingly objective piece of evidence or an artifact, the Book of Mormon. Read it and you will be convinced.The miraculous nature of the production of the Book of Mormon verified the truthfulness of the content of the text. But realistically it always was sort of bait and switch.The Book of Mormon didn’t prove anything objectively about its historicity and it was always a matter of prayer and faith at the end of the quest. And it was religious truth, not scientific truth that was the result.

    I was probably near my peak in interest in Mormon problems when the Mark Hoffman drama came about. For most of a year the best BYU experts believed the Salamander Letter was a genuine document written by Martin Harris contemporary to the translation of the Book of Mormon. Those were difficult days for thoughtful LDS people who believe in objectivity. The Angel Moroni became a magic white salamander. But what is even more disturbing is that Hoffman undoubtedly had many more tricks up his sleeves. If he would have left the firecrackers (actually bombs) alone he could have pulled it off. He just might have been able to create a document that would convince anyone with a ounce of objectivity that the Book of Mormon was a 19th century work of Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery/Sidney Rigdon/Ethan Smith/Walt Disney’s grandpa/whoever.

    One lesson drawn from the Hoffman episode is not to trust anything objective, always rely on the Spirit and faith and leaders. Because any observation can be fallible and contrived. The other lesson is that we need to step up our game academically and scientifically, not retreat behind safe rhetoric. Our hidden, sugar-coated and honey-baked history was such fertile ground for these frauds to grow.

    Can we not be afraid of the truth, or our current best approximation of it? Even if we have to let go long cherished beliefs? That is the struggle for me. I love this church but do I believe it?

  16. Clark Goble
    16
    March 10, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Mike, out of curiosity have you seen Don Bradley’s latest work on the kinderhook plates? It’s pretty persuasive regarding the A&G to the point of nearly being a slam dunk. I am seeing recent papers by people who embrace the fraud model still referring to Don’s conclusions here regarding the kinderhook plates.

    With regards to the Book of Mormon please note I’m not saying he didn’t translate the plates. I’m saying he did but that there are two separate issues. (1) the method of translation and (2) the relationship between the produced work and the source material. To call it a translation I’m talking merely about (2) and saying there’s a reasonably close connection between the produced work and the source material even acknowledging expansions and loose translation. I think it was important that the plates be there to demonstrate what Joseph was doing and that there was a real source material.

    With regards to the Book of Abraham while I’ll confess to still having a fondness for the missing papyri theory, that doesn’t really resolve the source material issue. The papyri is 1st century. So at best we have Egyptian use of Jewish legends or vice versa. The question then becomes if there was some sort of pseudopigrapha that utilized the vignettes what was Joseph translating? Was it the pseudopigrapha or an expansion of the pseudopigrapha to the original source of the pseudopigrapha much like the Book of Moses is taken a distant text (the KJV of the Bible which is a translation of unknown texts compiled, edited and redacted by uninspired scribes around 200 BC) to get back to either earlier texts or the original events that inspired the later texts. I’m perfectly fine with that model since that’s exactly the model we have the JST. Further, I’d add, the expansion model of the Book of Mormon is really only claiming the same thing with respect to the Book of Mormon translation.

    So while I’m definitely not up with the arguments on the Book of Mormon as they’ve progressed the last decade, it seems to me that all the apologist has to really establish is that there’s some genealogical connection between something on the papyri and Abraham, not that there was a full text of Abraham on the papyri. It’d be nice if what is on the papyri bears some resemblance to our story – which is why I still favor the missing papyri theory although I don’t know if that’s still defensible. I just don’t think we need very much.

    Regarding the salamander letter, as a funny story Sorenson, who bought some of the papers for the Church was Mission President back in Halifax, NS where I’m from. Since he was mission president he actually handed out copies of all this throughout the church there. No one I knew of really had any problem with it. I certainly never had a problem with it although I can understand why some do. It turned out to be false but I’m not exactly sure it bothering people is defensible given the OT examples of God speaking from a burning bush or an ass. I think the main problem is that we’re isolated from our more primitive roots and have adopting the culture of low church protestantism to such a degree that all these more folk tradition views of religion seen hopelessly alien. Alien to the point we instinctively find them wrong even though a look at the OT or NT traditions we take for granted are no more weird. (Jesus adopting Egyptian magic traditions of putting mud on eyes to cure blindness, the very nature of resurrection, most miracles in the OT) People simply accept them because they’re part of our culture – their familiarity blinds us to their oddness.

    Hoffman definitely had more tricks up his sleeve. He was an evil man as his murders show. My understanding is he was preparing the 116 pages for ‘release’ when he was caught.

    Regarding your final point, I fully agree. Although I’d add that I think we need to be careful in making sure what we think is the spirit is really the spirit. My sense, perhaps mistaken, is that a rising problem for the church is people being deceived by people thinking they have inspiration when they don’t. The Denver Snuffers of the world or the apocalyptic warnings of various people in the Twin Falls area for example. Or the traditional more mundane problem of BYU students thinking they’re inspired to marry someone when they’re not. So we have to balance things. Which isn’t to deny the huge importance of personal revelation just to note some MLMs promoters use counterfeits of it. Yet if some people still need the trappings of folk traditions on herbs, dowsing or the like to recognize the spirit, I can hardly fault people living in a far more primitive time the same. What counts is that over time they ceased to need the trappings like the seer stone to receive revelation, perhaps much like over time we didn’t need the law of Moses to understand the works of Christ.

  17. Dan Lewis
    17
    March 11, 2017 at 12:52 am

    Jonathan (10), the so-called “Civil War Prophecy” didn’t actually receive scriptural status, meaning it wasn’t included in the Doctrine and Covenants, until 1876, even though it was transcribed in 1832. It did appear in LDS publications The Pearl of Great Price and the The Seer in 1851 and 1854. What is now Section 87 of D&C appears to echo sentiments of oncoming civil war emerging from the Nullification Crisis of 1832 expressed in the Painesville Telegraph, out of Painesville, Ohio, only 10 miles from Kirtland, written in an article entitled “The Crisis” which came out four days before the “Civil War Prophecy.” Although it did so happen that war would eventually break out between Northern and Southern states in the US starting in South Carolina and that the Southern states would call on Great Britain (to no avail), no widespread slave rebellion (like Nat Turner’s in 1831) or world war emerged from this as was prophesied. From a millennarian standpoint (and the prophecy was not just of civil war between North and South, the signs of which were quite apparent in 1832, but of a war ushering in the millennium), this was a failed prophecy. And I am surprised, given all that has been written about the “Civil War Prophecy,” that you are bringing it up as evidence of Joseph Smith’s powers of prophecy and to stick it to those apostate Deutoro-Isaiah believers. Your type is a fading breed, confined to an ever-shrinking echo chamber of easily falsified ideas.

  18. Clark Goble
    18
    March 11, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Dan I don’t think I’d call that a failed prophecy. Although, as with nearly any scripture, there are various ways of reading it. Verse 4 is pretty ridiculously vague and need not apply to rebellions like the Turner rebellion. Indeed it doesn’t sound like that since it explicitly says, “marshaled and disciplined for war.” It sounds much more like the events of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of 1862 and then the Emancipation Proclamation and after leaders started to encourage freed men to volunteer to get citizenship. By the end of the war 179,000 blacks had served in the Union Army. Likewise verse 5 sounds a lot like some of the Indian Wars of the late 19th century.

    It also doesn’t say that the Civil War will lead to a world war. Merely that war will be poured out on nations. As the first modern war I think that part of verse 3 was also fulfilled and covers the wars up through the last war at the end of the Cold War with the first Gulf War. It was a rather constant state of warfare either hot or cold. It’s really only recently we’ve had a degree of peace. (Recognizing that events in the middle east the past 15 years don’t seem like peace, but compared to events from 1862-1993 it sure was — realistically while we note the Yugoslavian civil war and of course the Rwanda genocide, Sudan civil war and wars around Congo they were a pale shadow of the cold war era.

    But basically the second half of the prophecy is a rather generic ‘war everywhere until the second coming.’ The way typically to read the second half is that the Civil War started a new type of war that continues until the great culmination. Which arguably is true. The ways in which the Civil War was the first modern war have been amply enumerated by historians.

    I’m not saying there aren’t ways to read it as a false prophecy. But they don’t seem terribly natural ways of reading it and certainly are not a charitable reading. One can of course note that one didn’t need to be a prophet to make such predictions. As you noted there were people making similar predictions around the same time. Saying it was foreseeable is different from calling it a failed prophecy though.

    To my eyes if you want to make a criticism it’s more that there were tons of wars before including the War of 1812 in both Europe and America/Canada and tons of wars after. So as such there wasn’t much special about the Civil War. The counter argument is that the war was particularly bloody but more importantly the first war where technology from the industrial revolution really became leveraged. Again calling it the first modern war is ubiquitous among historians so I don’t think this is a particularly Mormon view.

  19. Terry H
    19
    March 14, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Getting back to Isaiah . . . just thought I’d throw some water on the conversation. The recent Hermeneia volume on “First Isaiah” by J.J.M. Roberts, (Fortress, 2015), says the following [notwithstanding its title and the author’s admission, “it has come to be generally recognized today that not all of the book of Isaiah stems from the eight-century BCE prophet from Jerusalem.” (p.3). Earlier [on the same page] , Roberts writes, “I am amazed at the confidence with which scholars can reconstruct the editorial growth of a biblical book over the centuries with the barest minimum of actual evidence. It is not that I consider this process unimportant or uninteresting; it is more that I consider the details of this process to be largely unrecoverable. In general, in the absence of a trail of early datable and evolving manuscripts, the editorial process behind a particular book is both private and largely unrecoverable. Even with modern books that go through several editions, where each datable edition is available for comparative study, it is often difficult to determine why certain changes to the books took place. The confidence with which many modern scholars, who lack any datable manuscripts earlier than the final form of Isaiah, reconstruct hypothetical redactors living at particular periods, who make particular editorial changes in the service of some equally hypothetically reconstructed theological interest, strikes me as extreme hubris. If it were true, how could one know it:? Even when it comes to the rationale and history behind the structure and shaping of discrete smaller units consisting of more than one oracle, whether or Isaiah 2-4 (Sweeney), Isaiah 1-12 (Peter Ackroyd, Yehoshua Gitay), Isaiah 2-12 (A. H. Bartlelt), or any other extended unit, such reconstructions are often mutually exclusive and seldom convince more than a small circle of adherents.” (Citations omitted). He goes on to say, “There are places in Isaiah where I think one can detect secondary editorial work on an original oracle, and I am quite willing to reflect on the nature of that secondary editing, but I think one’s claims about such editing, particularly as it involves larger and larger blocks of material, should be quite modest.” (p.3).

    I have given high praise to Joseph Spencer’s “The Vision of All” (Kofford Books, 2016), and appreciate his analysis, but I think all of us shouldn’t just jump to the Deutero-Isaiah theory with both feet. Especially with Old Testament texts, we should be cautious. I don’t think we should ignore it, but I also don’t think we should assume its true.

  20. Clark Goble
    20
    March 14, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Terry, I tend to be convinced by deutero-Isaiah primarily from the point of view that many passages presume Jerusalem is destroyed. However I fully agree that when one moves from relatively broad and perhaps more vague theories to narrow verses there is a lot of conclusion for very little evidence. So I fully agree we ought be careful.

  21. Dan Ellsworth
    21
    March 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you for that quote, Terry. I may use it sometime.
    Having seen the methodology up close in all its — ahem — glory, I think the deutero-Isaiah theory is one of the least impressive of all the possible challenges to the historicity of the BoM.

  22. Felix
    22
    March 15, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    Clark, you said in post #11 above that the passages in Isaiah that David Bokovoy said show Aramaic influence are not found in Nephi. But one of them is. Isa. 2:3 is found in 2 Ne. 12:2.

    http://rationalfaiths.com/truthfulness-deutero-isaiah-response-kent-jackson-part-2/

  23. Felix
    23
    March 15, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Clark, regarding your comment in Post #14: I wasn’t alleging that a nineteenth-century author of the Book of Mormon must have been familiar with the Deuteroisaiah hypothesis. Instead, I was saying that the the fact that the Isaiah passages quoted in the Book of Mormon do not contain the most problematic passages from Deuteroisaiah can be explained by the fact that someone ignorant of the Deuteroisaiah hypothesis would still have had chronological reasons for not including certain Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. Anyone who knows that Cyrus II reigned after Nephi left Jerusalem would not have put an Isaiah passage mentioning Cyrus in the Book of Mormon if he wanted people to take the Book of Mormon to be historical. Joseph Smith probably didn’t know who Cyrus was in 1829, but other potential authors such as Sidney Rigdon would have.

  24. Mike
    24
    March 17, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    i appreciate your thoughtful response. It was a busy week at work and i didn’t get back to you on this.

    I have scanned Bradley’s piece just now and I concede that Bradley makes a good case. They are not as crucial as the writings now considered scripture. I would quibble with his comment about his friend being the only forger of the forged Kinderhook plates. A few years ago I took cereal boxes and cut a set of six pieces about the same size and shape from them. I covered them with tin foil and scratched them with a pen. I put them up for sale at the ward auction as authentic Hoffman copies of the Kinderhook plates. All but a few wondered cluelessly at them. But it did smoke out another fellow free-thinker (and Canadian)who bought them with a knowing smile for $5 that went into the youth activity fund.

    The idea about translation. I think I follow you. I doubt I could explain it to anyone else.This indicates I don’t really understand it that well.. Then I am either slow, stupid or it isn’t a very understandable idea. And I wonder how will it play in my ward (where scarcely anyone has even heard of the Kinderhook plates) when they are faced with the simple but new facts of the events of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. When we find ourselves having to re-define words we are on thin ice.I am reminded of the old ditty, a horse is a horse is a horse of course unless of course that horse is a Nephite deer.

    I do agree that we have deeply embedded cultural biases. But for me that sword cuts both ways and can make these problems both worse and better. Balaam’s ass is a favorite of mine and it completely wrecks havoc in many discussions. Through all of this my old friend, confirmation bias walks with me. But he is not a reliable friend and soon leaves me to face the dark doubts alone again.

    As far as following the Spirit, I have made several major life decisions following the Spirit which turned out badly or wrong and a couple not following the Spirit which turned out great.(wife) Now I look back and find the concept somewhere between useless and dangerous.A series of antedotes is not a systematic study and these, my life experiences carry no weight for others.

  25. Clark Goble
    25
    March 20, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Felix, his use of Is 2:3 was to contrast the deutero-Isaiah use of the word to mean shackle as opposed to the earlier sense. Is 2:3 is the earlier sense of path not shackle. He’s not claiming Is 2:3 is deutero-Isaiah but rather the opposite.

    To your point about Cyrus, i’m not sure quoting Cyrus would have been a no-no if the text is fraudulent. First of the idea of multiple authorship of the text came decades later so it wouldn’t have been odd to Joseph. Second Joseph appears to have an idea of thoroughgoing prophecy. (Look at how explicit Nephi’s visions are) So I don’t find that argument too persuasive.

Charitable Comments Welcome