The Isaiah Nephi Could Not Have Known: A Response to Dr. Kent Jackson

In a recent essay[1] Dr. Kent Jackson has discussed the problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. While this issue has been discussed sporadically for around a century,[2] it has rarely been given the kind of attention that the issue deserves. It has been an important and fairly well known problem, but the attention to detail required for both understanding the composition of the Book of Isaiah (which alerts one to the problem of the block quotations in the Book of Mormon) and the use of Isaiah throughout the text of the Book of Mormon have rarely been utilized in a single work.[3] Sidney Sperry’s writings on the issue were often very polemic,[4] and rather than engaging faithfully with the scholars of his day he tended to summarize their work through a purely negative lens. He utilized common negative assumptions about the work of other scholars but it was clear he had not fully engaged critically with their ideas, often mischaracterizing them. Unfortunately, that has continued to be a part of Mormon scholarship on Isaiah.[5]

Jackson’s essay focuses on two important questions dealing with Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: the dependence of the language of the Book of Mormon Isaiah on the King James translation of the same chapters, and the sections of the Book of Mormon that are dependent on chapters in Isaiah written after 600 BCE.[6] While there are some things about Jackson’s essay that I really appreciate there are other things that I hope can be corrected in future studies in Mormonism on the question of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.


The King James Translation of Isaiah and the Book of Mormon Isaiah


In regards to the first question Jackson is careful in noting various views within Mormon scholarship itself, rather than to attach value to one understanding over another. It is obvious that he has read and engages with the studies of B. H. Roberts, Daniel H. Ludlow, Monte S. Nyman, Grant Hardy, and Royal Skousen. He gives supporting reasons for several of their views and accurately summarizes their work, and then offers three brief responses to the question of why the Book of Mormon Isaiah is nearly identical to the King James Version Isaiah.

His first response is theological,[7] stating that God intended for the words to be the same. Shifting at the end he offers a historical perspective: that if the Isaiah passages were in different wording then it could have hurt the credibility of the Book of Mormon for potential converts. This claim is questionable at best, especially in light of the various new translations that were being offered at the time. Alexander Campbell[8] created his own translation of the New Testament, and Noah Webster, of the famous Webster’s Dictionary, also created his own. These are only two of many new translations of the Bible in early 19th century America. New Translations and variant wordings would not have been the issue that could have ruined the credibility of a religious book. Rather, the Book of Mormon was already in a tough spot because many thought of it as a replacement to the Bible, not a companion of it. Those who would later convert likely would have barely if ever noticed the differences in language between the Book of Mormon Isaiah and the King James Isaiah if they were different. If they had noticed them the same reasons Jackson gives for the two potentially being different would have made sense to them: Joseph Smith had supposedly translated the record into contemporary, plainer English. The fact that Smith and many of his followers recognized the need for a new translation of the Bible only months after the first publication of the Book of Mormon confirms this and if the Book of Mormon Isaiah had been different from the KJV Isaiah that could have been utilized as an apologetic in favor of the book.

The second and very brief response Jackson offers is that the possibility of Joseph Smith and his scribe taking out a Bible and copying directly from it for the Isaiah chapters cannot be ruled out. From a historical-critical perspective the most likely way that the Isaiah chapters got into the Book of Mormon in the form of the KJV is because they were copied from the KJV, and the most likely way they did that was that Smith read the chapters from the copy to his scribe and made changes as he went.[9] The “textual evidence”[10] Royal Skousen uses in order to see this as unlikely does not adequately grapple with the wealth of evidence that a Bible was used. Skousen’s argument that the Isaiah passages on the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mormon do not follow chapter divisions but instead content-based units is mostly inaccurate.[11] Except for 2 Ne. 6-8 (=Isa. 49:24-52:2) all of the Isaiah quotations start and end at the beginning and end of a current chapter divider. All of Isa. 49 was already quoted in 1 Ne. 21, so the fact that 2 Ne. 6 starts in Isa. 49 and not at the beginning is a moot point. The reason the chapter divisions are not reflected directly on the earliest manuscripts is because the text of Isaiah was still being dictated to the scribe. Similar to how Joseph Smith later worked on his revision of the Bible, and as already noted, Smith read and edited the biblical chapters as he dictated them to the scribe. The fact that none of the witnesses ever mentioned whether or not there was a Bible during this process does nothing to fact that the translation is from the KJV and that, even as one of Skousen’s students point out, the Book of Mormon agrees almost completely with the KJV against other English translations of that period.[12]

Jackson’s third response is a little less nuanced than his approach to answering how the King James language got into the Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon. In this response Jackson is firm in following what some of the witnesses of the production of the Book of Mormon later claimed. Smith saw the words of the Book of Mormon on the interpreters and dictated the text to his scribe. In this way instead of reading the Isaiah text directly from a Bible God placed the words on the interpreters for Smith to read aloud. This means that Smith was still functionally reading the text from the KJV, but not from the KJV. This response is a mixture of historical and theological observations in order to support the witnesses’ statements, and the idea that the text of Isaiah (or the Book of Mormon) appeared on the interpreters was recently rejected by most of the panel of Mormon scholars at a conference at Utah State University.[13]

It is important to note, before moving on to Jackson’s summary of the authorship of Isaiah, that the fact that the King James translation of the Isaiah chapters is not the only part of the overall issue. As has been pointed out since the first days after the Book of Mormon appeared in print, the Book of Mormon is also dependent throughout on the New Testament. This does not simply mean the explicit citation of New Testament passages in 3 Nephi, but rather the common use of New Testament phrases and ideas all throughout the Book of Mormon, from the beginning of the book in 1 Ne. 1 to the end in Mor. 10. Ideas, concepts, language, and narrative structures can all be traced within the Book of Mormon itself. This is not a question of Smith utilizing the King James Bible as a storehouse of English expression; instead, this ties the text of the Book of Mormon to the King James translation in a much more meaningful way. The Book of Mormon narrative is actually dependent on the King James translation for its composition, not just for its religious expression, and its authorship is inextricably bound to someone who was intimately familiar with the KJV as his or her sacred text.

Besides this important point, the Book of Mormon is aware of several other texts from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that it technically should not know. It is aware of both Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah (Isa. 40-55 and 56-66 respectively), contrary to the assumption of many scholars (including Jackson), that the book is only aware of chapters from Isa. 1-55.[14] The Book of Mormon is also dependent in numerous places, sometimes explicitly, on Ezekiel, Malachi, Zechariah, and several other post-exilic Hebrew prophets. The issue of anachronistic texts being in the Book of Mormon only expands the closer one compares the Book of Mormon and the Bible.


The Authorship of Isaiah


In Jackson’s words, “some scholars believe that some of the chapters of the current book of Isaiah were not written by that prophet but by one or more different authors long after Isaiah’s time–in fact, after the time that Lehi and his family left Jerusalem.”[15] While it is true that these chapters would have been written after Isaiah was alive, and after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, Jackson’s description that only “some scholars” have this view is not accurate. First, it is by far the majority of scholars today that view much of the Book of Isaiah as having been written well after Isaiah’s time, and much of it well after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.[16] It is a bit gratuitous to use the language that Jackson does here in this part of his essay, both in the use of “some” and “believe,” which unfortunately only continues to its end. Scholars from all different kinds of backgrounds, including more traditional and more progressive approaches, all agree that the composition history of Isaiah is complicated and that much of Isaiah cannot go back to the Isaiah of Jerusalem himself.

Jackson next claims that multiple authorship theories for the Book of Isaiah have no support from any ancient manuscript.[17] This is not entirely accurate either. On the contrary, scholars have recognized for at least the last half-century that the large gap between Isa. 33 and 34 on the Great Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QIsaa) is evidence that anciently the book was viewed as being separated at least in half.[18] Jackson even mentions this manuscript at this point in his essay without noting the fact that scholars have used this as support for the authorship theory, as well as basic literary-critical observations. I will return to that later, the important thing to keep in mind is that Jackson is already showing his limited awareness of contemporary Isaiah scholarship (even dating back to the 1960s and 1980s). Even though Jackson cites the recent commentaries by Joseph Blenkinsopp and Shalom Paul, throughout the rest of his essay he will make it obvious that he is more familiar with the other traditionally minded works he has cited, that of LaSor, et al (1969), and Harrison (1982), than with more contemporary critical research.[19] This is a significant point if Jackson and others hope to grapple with the theological implications of the Book of Mormon being dependent on texts written in or near Jerusalem well after Nephi supposedly leaves for the New World. If scholarship on the authorship of Isaiah has created a problem in chronology and availability of Isaiah for the Book of Mormon, then it is of prime importance that those studies are correctly understood and explained. Unfortunately, Jackson has not excelled at either of those points.

Although the composition of Isaiah is a complicated and hotly debated area of study there are several observations that can be made about general agreements between contemporary scholars. First, almost all scholars who specialize in the study of the book of Isaiah agree that Isaiah of Jerusalem did not write most or all of the following chapters of the book: 1-5, 13-14, 24-27, 34-35, 36-39, 40-55, and 56-66. The superscription in 1:1 was written as an introduction to the entire book, all of the other 65 chapters,[20] and although many scholars think that some of the material in the first chapter might date back to Isaiah of Jerusalem no one thinks that text would have resembled what we now see in Isa. 1 at all. The superscription in 2:1 works as an introduction to the first part of the book of Isaiah, and was either meant to introduce Isa. 2-4 or 2-12.[21] Much of Isa. 2-5 cannot be identified with Isaiah of Jerusalem, especially in its current form. There are many verses in these chapters that were at the very least added to or edited by later redactors. The authorship of this section of the book is also complicated by issues like the parallel text between Isa. 2:2-5 and Micah 4:1-4.[22] Even though some scholars attribute some verses in Isa. 2-5 (chapter 5 is often seen as tied literarily to 6-12, not 2-4, but dates later than Isaiah),[23] the majority of this section of the book shows clear signs of redaction and authorship that date much later than Isaiah of Jerusalem.[24]

It is unlikely that Isaiah wrote any of Isa. 13-14, but if he did then his work was nothing like the shape, form, and content that the chapters are in now.[25] The chapters were written by someone familiar with the fall of Babylon and were influenced by the anti-Babylonian poetry in Jer. 50-51,[26] and satirically point at the Babylonian king and his errors, comparing him to the star of the morning. Isa. 13-14 were written at the very earliest in the 6th century BCE, at least several decades after Lehi, Nephi, and the rest of the family leave Jerusalem.

Chapters 24-27[27] and 34-35[28] were both written around the same time as Isa. 40-55 (post-exile in Babylon). 24-27 is thought to be a proto-apocalyptic text, although some scholars have said that term is misleading,[29] that completely and drastically intrudes on the flow of chapters 23 and 28. These chapters also borrow from texts that make it impossible for them to be written by Isaiah of Jerusalem.[30] Chapters 40-55 have been recognized thoroughly as having been written much later than Isaiah of Jerusalem,[31] and it is even more clear than 24-27 that these chapters are dependent on several other post-exilic texts, including Jeremiah, post-exilic psalms, Nahum, and several others.[32] There is no possibility for there to be a historical core of chapters 40-55 that could have existed in pre-exilic times because the literary structure and message of this section of the book is so tightly connected.[33] The text separates almost in half between 40-48 and 49-55,[34] and the structure and dependence of the separate units on post-exilic literature highlight the fact that this whole section of the book of Isaiah was written in the post-exilic period. Isa. 56-66 was likewise written well after the prophet Isaiah lived in Jerusalem.[35]

To return to Jackson’s essay, I have to wonder how familiar Jackson really is with scholarship on Isaiah. Even though it is clear to almost all of the scholars noted above that there are numerous places throughout Isa. 1-39 that simply cannot date prior to the 6th century BCE, Jackson says, “These chapters [First Isaiah] clearly fit within the period of time in which they purport to have been written, in the late eight century BC.”[36] He can also state that, “the literary style of chapters 40-66 differs from that of the earlier chapters,”[37] without ever noting all of the connections that scholars have made in the similarity of style between Isa. 13-14, 24-27, and 34-35, to name only the major chapters.[38] It is pretty clear, if you are familiar with the relevant scholarship on Isaiah, when you read Jackson’s essay that he is not very familiar with said scholarship even though that is a major aspect of his essay.




It is important to know what current and past scholars on Isaiah have said about the authorship of Isaiah if one is going to approach this important issue in Book of Mormon scholarship. The Book of Mormon explicitly quotes all of Isa. 2-14, 29, and 48-54, besides numerous other parts of Isaiah that are not explicitly quoted, including an allusion to Trito-Isaiah in 2 Ne. 9:14. Isa. 2-5 would not have been available to the Nephites in anything close to the form that it is now in the Bible. Isa. 13-14 would not have been available to them either because they were both written in the late 6th century BCE, but Isa. 14:12-15 is alluded to by Lehi in 2 Ne. 2:17. It goes without saying that Isa. 48-54 simply would not have been available to any pre-exilic Israelites. That observation is based on very clear criteria, not the least of which is the fact that these chapters are clearly dependent on post-exilic literature.[39]

Although it would seem that although Isa. 2-5, 13-14, and 48-54 are the only chapters effected by the observations of contemporary scholarship on the authorship of Isaiah, chapters 6-12 also show signs of later redactional activity.[40] For example, H. G. M. Williamson has argued that, “Deutero-Isaiah composed Isa. 11:11-16 to round off chapters 6-11,”[41] and Blenkinsopp, among others, has argued that the poem preceding verses 10-16, Isa. 11:1-9, is of a later date.[42] If these observations are accepted then that means that all of Isa. 11 would also not have been available to Israelites prior to early 6th century BCE. The argument that verses 10-16 are later additions to the chapter is secure, the relevant data for that argument is clear and scholars agree they are later. Verses 1-9 do not share as wide acceptance, but there are scholars who agree with Blenkinsopp. There are many other parts of Isa. 6-12 that we could note are later redactions or additions to the text. The fact that Nephi quotes every word of Isa. 2-14 is problematic, but Jackson chose not to note this important detail for his audience.

The Isaiah that Nephi and his descendants might have known would not have included a lot of the chapters that are explicitly quoted in the Book of Mormon. This is an obvious issue and one that deserves serious and honest attention. But to be completely honest anyone attempting to understand this problem, or especially to explain it to others, needs to include the influence of all of the other chapters of the King James Bible on the Book of Mormon. There are multiple other post-exilic texts that directly influenced the writing of the Book of Mormon but for those there is no reason or way to try to argue for earlier authorship. Besides these post-exilic Hebrew texts, there are thousands of places in the Book of Mormon that have been influenced by the New Testament. Instead, it is better to recognize the full influence that the KJV had on the writing of the Book of Mormon and to deal more honestly with that. The fact that these other later texts are not only present in the Book of Mormon but effected its composition undermines the attempt to argue for a core of Isa. 48-54 that was written in pre-exilic times. Instead, the comprehensive data should tell researchers like Jackson to find other explanations for why Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah have influenced the authorship of the Book of Mormon. This does not mean that these observations should dictate one’s personal beliefs. These observations are not inherently theological, but instead fall under the realm of inquiry of the disciplines of history and religious studies. These fields observe and comment on what humans have done in the past, not what deities have done.

Jackson failed to understand or possibly even acquaint himself completely with current scholarship on Isaiah. In his work he felt the need to formulate ad hoc hypotheses to explain how Deutero-Isaiah got into the text of the Book of Mormon, mostly relying on the theories of other scholars within Mormonism. The problem, besides the fact that he didn’t adequately explain scholarship on Isaiah to his audience, is that he never tried to incorporate the rest of the text of the Book of Mormon in the overall picture, providing a misleading description for his readers about how to think about this issue. Many readers still think the KJV only influenced the language of the translation of the Book of Mormon, but that is primarily because previous scholars have completely ignored the wide-ranging and complicated relationship between these two important, and large, texts. I would suggest that Jackson’s approach does not give a reason for faith, the title of the collection of essays his is published in, but will only lead more people to question the transparency and honesty of scholars at BYU and within the wider faith tradition. This doesn’t need to be so, if only these scholars would take their subject and their audiences more seriously as adult and ready thinkers.


[1] Kent P. Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” in Laura Harris Hales, ed., A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University and Deseret Book, 2016), 69-78.

[2] Among others see B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God: III The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1909); and Sidney Sperry, “The Text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (Unpublished Master’s Thesis; Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1926); and H. Grant Vest, “The Problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” (unpublished Master’s Thesis; Brigham Young University, 1938); and Wayne Ham, “A Textual Comparison of the Isaiah Passages in the Book of Mormon with the Same Passages in the St. Mark’s Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Community” (Unpublished Master’s Thesis; Provo: Brigham Young University, 1961); and John A. Tvedtnes, Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon (FARMS Preliminary Reports; Provo: FARMS, 1981); and David P. Wright, “Joseph Smith’s Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 31, No. 4 (Winter 1998), 181-206.

[3] The work of David Wright, mentioned previously, is different from the other studies in that he is both fully aware of the composition and literary history of the book of Isaiah and how that affects a reading of the Book of Mormon.

[4] See especially Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 73-97.

[5] Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 69. Jackson argues in his paper that scholars view Deuteron-Isaiah as exilic or post-exilic because they don’t believe in prophecy.  See also the positive approach to Isaiah scholarship in Joseph Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016).

[6] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 70.

[7] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 71.

[8] Campbell was a minister with similar views about the need for a restoration of Jesus’s primitive church as Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon (Rigdon was originally a part of Campbell’s religious movement before joining Mormonism), but a well known critic of Smith’s religious activities.

[9] Skousen argues this in his essay, “Textual Variants in the Isaiah Quotations in the Book of Mormon,” in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998), 377, although he thinks the biblical text is coming from the seer stone and not from Smith reading them from a copy of the Bible and dictating the changes he was making.

[10] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 71.

[11] Skousen, “Textual Variants in the Isaiah Quotations,” 378-379.

[12] Skousen, “Textual Variants in the Isaiah Quotations,” 376.

[13] (Last accessed 9/9/2017)

[14] Cf. the allusion to the “robe of righteousness” of Isa. 61:10 in 2 Ne. 9:14. This phrase is found only in this passage in the King James Version.

[15] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 71.

[16] See the studies cited later on in this post.

[17] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 71-72.

[18] Craig A. Evans, “The unity and parallel structure of Isaiah”, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2 (April 1988), 132. Evans quotes the work of William Brownlee from 1964, and his argument that the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) supports the previous authorship theories of scholars that Isaiah’s of Jerusalem’s writings only go up to Isa. 33. See also H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 15-16.

[19] The dichotomy used here of “traditional” and “critical” has in no way the intention of being polemical. Rather, the earlier works by LaSor, et al, and Harrison attempt to follow more traditional understandings of the composition of Isaiah than to look at the text in a new light in order to understand how it came about. That is an express concern of theirs.

[20] Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1-4 and the Postexilic Understanding of the Isaianic Tradition (Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 171; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), 28-30; H. G. M. Williamson, Isaiah 1-5: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2006), 15; J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary (Hermeneia–A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 11-12; H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 153-154, see nt. 83; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Yale Bible, 19; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 175-176; Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature (The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, XVI; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 71; Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary (A Continental Commentary; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 3; Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12: A Commentary (Second Edition, Completely Rewritten; The Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 1-10; Ulrich F. Berges, The Book of Isaiah: Its Composition and Final Form (Transl. Millard C. Lind; Hebrew Bible Monographs, 46; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012), 41-44.

[21] Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 146-148; Wildberger, Isaiah 1-12, 87-88; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 97; and Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 189; Roberts, First Isaiah, 35; Williamson, Isaiah 1-5, 163-165; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-4, 30-31.

[22] Kaiser, Isaiah 1-12, 49-56; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-4, 164-174; Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 58-61; Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 144. See also Roberts, First Isaiah, 39-43.

[23] Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 127.

[24] Sweeney, Isaiah 1-4, 183-184; Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 154, 228-229; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 109-111.

[25] Most scholars are pretty certain that Isa. 13 was written near the end of the 6th century BCE, before the fall of Babylon to Persia and Cyrus’s rule, and Isa. 14 in the post-exilic period after Babylon’s. See Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 214-215; and Roberts, First Isaiah, 194, 201; and Wildberger, Isaaiah 13-27: A Continental Commentary (Transl. Thomas H. Trapp; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 16-18; and Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 157-175; and Sweeney, Isaiah 1-4, 44-46.

[26] Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 277.

[27] Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 346-348; Sweeney, Isaiah 1-39, 312-313; William R. Millar, Isaiah 24-27 and the Origin of Apocalyptic (Harvard Semitic Monographs, 11; Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976), 118-120; Roberts, First Isaiah, 306-307; and Wildberger, Isaiah 13-27, 445-447; and Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 175-177; Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 161ff.

[28] Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 243, places the authorship of Isa. 34-35 closer to Trito-Isaiah (Isa. 56-66) than to First Isaiah or even Deutero-Isaiah. See also Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 450-451; and Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 228-231; and Roberts, First Isaiah, 432; and Wildberger, Isaiah 28-39, 322, 327-329, 348.

[29] Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 346.

[30] See J. Todd Hibbard, Intertextuality in Isaiah 24-27: The Reuse and Evocation of Earlier Texts and Traditions (Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe, 16; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); and J. Todd Hibbard, “Isaiah 24-27 and Trito-Isaiah: Exploring Some Connections,” in J. Todd Hibbard and Hyun Chul Paul Kim, eds., Formation and Intertextuality in Isaiah 24-27 (Ancient Israel and Its Literature, 17; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 183-199.

[31] See any of the previously listed commentaries or monographs.

[32] See Benjamin Sommer, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66 (Contraversions: Jews and Other Differences; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998); and Patricia Tull Willey, Remember the Former Things: The Recollection of Previous Texts in Second Isaiah (SBL Dissertation Series, 161; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).

[33] Grant Hardy has also noted the difficulty in accepting this idea when he said, “William Hamblin has suggested that the problem might be alleviated if we regard Second Isaiah as a prophet contemporary with Nephi, but even this is not an entirely satisfactory solution,” in Understanding the Book of Mormon, 69.

[34] See John Goldingay and David Payne, Isaiah 40-55: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, Volume 1 (International Critical Commentary; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2006), 5; and Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66 (The Forms of Old Testament Literature; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 19; and Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40-55: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible, 19a; New York: Doubleday, 2002), 59-60; and Klaus Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40-55 (Hermeneia–A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 4-5; and H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 25.

[35] See any of the previously listed commentaries or monographs, and much more, for information on why scholars view these chapters as not being authored by Isaiah.

[36] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 72.

[37] Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 73.

[38] Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, wrote an entire book examining how Isa. 40-55 influenced the editing of the whole book of Isaiah, including all of the chapters in Isa. 1-39.

[39] Isa. 48:6 is dependent on Jer. 33:3; Isa. 48:10 is dependent on Jer. 9:6-8; Isa. 48:12-20 is dependent on Ps. 81:6-17; Isa. 48:20-22 is dependent on Deut. 32:1-5 (Deuteronomy was written no earlier than the mid-seventh century BCE); Isa. 49:1 is dependent on Jer. 1; Isa. 49:7-22 is dependent on Pss. 2; 72; Isa. 49:13-18 is dependent on Jer. 2:32; Isa. 49:26 is dependent on Ezek. 21:2-12; Isa. 51:16-21 is dependent on Lam. 2:13-19; Isa. 52:1-7 is dependent on Nah. 2:1-3; Isa. 52:12-53:12 is dependent on Jer. 10:18-25 and 11:19; Isa. 54:1-4 is dependent on Jer. 10:17-25; Isa. 54:1-12 is dependent on Hosea 1-3. For these and numerous other identified passages (many other connections are not noted here) see Sommer, A Prophet Reads Scripture, 321-325; and Willey, Remember the Former Things.

[40] Grant Hardy also points to this issue in Understanding the Book of Mormon, 69.

[41] Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 141. Isa. 11:10 is also of later provenance. See also Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 33, 113-115; and Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 266-267.

[42] Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39, 263-264.

Diachronic or Synchronic? A Response to Nicholas J. Frederick


The fact that New Testament (NT) language appears throughout the Book of Mormon (BM) has troubled many readers. Some of the initial written responses to the work described in detail the King James English that pervades the text with special attention given to the NT passages that appear sprinkled throughout the book.[1]  Elder B. H. Roberts, who spent many years of his life writing about and defending the BM, discussed the presence of NT phraseology and ascribed the phenomenon to Joseph Smith (JS), the translator, rather than to the original historical authors.[2] This was for reasons dealing with the historical context that is assumed throughout the text of the BM. Authors like Nephi could not have had access to sources that would be included in the Christian NT several centuries later, so Roberts concluded that the connection must be through JS.

Although this was the approach taken by Roberts it has not been the view held by the majority of LDS readers. Over the years, LDS scholars have found approaches to address the relationship of the BM to the NT that differ markedly from Roberts’s approach. For example, John Tvedtnes explored the similar language shared between the “Allegory of the Olive Tree” in Jacob 5 and the NT, and in every example determined that the wording in Jacob was not dependent on any given NT passage, but rather the NT passage and Jacob 5 had similar Old Testament (OT) sources that they independently blended together from various OT verses.[3] Others, like Brant Gardner, have been more open to the possibility of NT influence, but inconsistent in identifying it.

Evaluating the Interaction

In a new essay exploring this issue, Nicholas J. Frederick has attempted to define a method for investigating the interactions between the BM and the NT that will work for a broad basis of readers and scholars. In his opinion it is appropriate to use the terms quotation, allusion, and echo when talking about the interaction between the OT and the NT,[4] but not so when discussing the BM and the NT. Frederick explains that this is because “as far as can be determined, the Nephites did not possess that record.”[5] Frederick makes it clear that his study will approach these interactions from a synchronic rather than a diachronic perspective.[6]

Frederick does this for two reasons. First, he argues that it is not often the case that students of the BM write papers from a diachronic perspective. For this reason Frederick wishes to do away with quotation, allusion, and echo for those that he perceives to be the major audience of his work. Since they aren’t asking questions of the direction of dependence then it will be more beneficial for him to focus on a synchronic approach, as a diachronic approach could convey “the wrong ideas about the relationship between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.”[7]

Second, since the Nephites did not possess the NT, Frederick wants to stay away from author-oriented discussions that imply a source behind the composition of the BM.[8] This approach not only stands in stark contrast from Frederick’s prior research, particularly his dissertation,[9] it is also not in line with much of the scholarship he cites throughout the essay. This will be explained further below.

What Frederick’s paper essentially argues is that rather than approaching the text from the perspective of influence, which leads to using the terms quotation, allusion, and echo, we should take several steps back to what he calls “biblical interactions.” It is apparent that by “biblical” Frederick means the NT, because as far as the OT texts are concerned Frederick is fine with applying the terms quotation, allusion, and echo. These biblical interactions come down to three simple terms: (1) precise biblical interaction, (2) probable biblical interaction, and (3) possible biblical interaction.[10] Frederick also applies five criteria that help him to establish whether the interactions between the BM and NT are precise, probable, or possible.[11] With these criteria he analyzes four case studies that provide specific examples of the kind of approach that he is hoping to see if others accept his methodology.

Yet after considering Frederick’s proposal, I was left wondering what the difference between a precise, probable, or possible biblical interaction was exactly. What does that actually mean for the text, and is a “precise biblical interaction” really that precise if the definition that is offered states that the interaction is “almost certainly interacting with the New Testament”?[12] I personally would hope for a bit more precision in analyzing textual interaction.

The list of interactions that Frederick offers highlighted in my mind the fact that we are not dealing simply with intertextuality in its widest sense when it comes to the BM and the NT, as Frederick seems to want to invite. Throughout the essay Frederick cites biblical scholar Jeffery M. Leonard. In his essay,[13] Leonard responds critically against another biblical scholar’s (Lyle Eslinger) work on inner-biblical allusions when he refuses to discuss the direction of dependence because he doubts that scholars can reliably know which text was written first. In Leonard’s opinion, “a more helpful approach to these texts would have been simply to embrace a more diachronic reading and then pursue the implications this reading entails.”[14] The same could be said of Frederick’s work in this new essay. Not only does Frederick’s language still utilize phrases that would imply a diachronic study,[15] the fact that we find all throughout the BM formal quotations of both late OT (those that would not have been available to pre-exilic Israelites) and NT texts is telling in itself. If we are going to discuss the full breadth of these interactions then we will have to have terminology that deals with the fact that the BM text often points the reader to prior textual sources,[16] and therefore, at the very least, forces scholars to adopt both synchronic and diachronic approaches (if not a fully diachronic approach). As Leonard states, “some [biblical] texts manifestly do allude to others (we need look no further than direct quotations for proof), it is clear that there is at least some diachronic element at work in the biblical text. That some scholars continue to work out methods for charting this process of development rather than wave a white flag to the challenges of historiography should be welcomed…”[17]

If we are going to take Frederick’s proposals and his definitions of the “biblical interactions” then how do we label texts like 1 Ne. 3:20, 1 Ne. 22:15, 17, 20, 23-24, and Alma 12:33-35?[18] Each of these texts, formally quote a prior text that the Nephites would not have had access to, and there are so many more that could be added all throughout the BM. According to Frederick’s definitions the best we could do to explain this phenomena is to call each of them “precise biblical interactions.” But this does not fully explain the relationship between these BM texts and their late OT or NT antecedents. What does “precise” mean when a text tells the reader it is quoting an earlier source, especially when the quotation deviates in a word or two added or left out (which is sometimes the case, for example, in the Isaiah chapters)? If a few words are left out is it still a precise interaction? I would assume that probable or possible wouldn’t fit either, especially when the text explicitly shows that it is interacting with a specific, identifiable source.

Besides the quality of the relationship, I was left wondering what exactly does biblical interaction mean? While it is great that Frederick and the audience he is writing to will be able to recognize the multitude connections between the BM and the NT, is biblical interaction really the last step? Is it really okay for us to to place the cap there and not describe how the BM is actually interacting with the NT in its narrative simply because the implications of the analysis might make some believers uncomfortable? The alterations to the lexicon or the context highlight the way that the author of that section of the BM read the biblical source, or at the very least the kind of biblical language that the author felt was appropriate for the new context. None of this is discussed in Frederick’s new essay, as he only seeks to establish the fact that there are interactions.

This can work when a new methodology is directed to an audience that is closed to literary connections between the BM and the NT. And it seems that Frederick is likely writing with that audience in mind, especially when the methodology he employs in his dissertation is contrasted with this new essay. While the new methodology might serve the purposes of an audience that is not open to connections between the BM and NT, it is unlikely to be of any use to audiences outside of this group. This excludes most if not all non-Mormon academics, but a lot of Mormon scholars and lay readers as well. Frederick’s study places a cap at finding the literary connections, “biblical interactions,” and offers nothing beyond this point. Even in the case of the BM stating that the text comes from “the words of Moses, which he spake saying” (1 Ne. 22:20, with the ensuing quotation taken from Acts 3 and not Deuteronomy)[19] it would be “inappropriate” in Frederick’s methodology to label this text a formal quotation simply because it comes from the NT.

From a strictly academic standpoint the question of intertextuality rests solely on literary grounds. From this perspective, the question of authorship, which includes both internal and external data, should be set aside and bracketed for a moment, but not in the way that Frederick is attempting to do in this essay. We should not bracket the issue based on the assumptions that we might have from external historical sources or internal claims of the text’s place in history, and thereby assume that a certain kind of relationship will or will not be found between the BM and the NT; nor should we use traditional beliefs as a means to argue that terms like quotation, allusion, and echo are inappropriate when discussing the BM’s interaction with the NT. Rather, the point of departure must first be the text itself. What do the words themselves say? What specific examples have brought past scholars like Grant Hardy to the conclusion that the King James Bible has influenced the content of the BM? Once we have read the words and take note of their strong connections with the KJV, (both formally and informally), then we can discuss what kind of relationship exists between the NT and the BM, and the questions of composition and authorship can be further explored using actual data. Until that point Frederick’s model will likely act as a deterrent toward further investigations of this kind. His approach places a cap on intellectual inquiry that will likely be used to argue against those who do not fit his target audience.

Similar to Leonard’s argument about the NT quotations of the OT, the BM manifestly alludes to and quotes several parts of the KJV. The fact that the Nephites would not have had access to either the NT or the KJV invites scholars to “work out methods for charting this process of development rather than wave a white flag to the challenges of historiography.”[20]


[1] This includes both Alexander Campbell and Eber D. Howe. Howe was particularly astute in his discovery of NT phrases throughout the text, and was surprisingly thorough, although admittedly biased, in his appraisal of the direction of dependence. See Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (ed. Dan Vogel; Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2015).

[2] B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God: The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1909), 448; cited also in Nicholas J. Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A Proposed Methodology,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015), 9, nt. 25.

[3] See John A. Tvednes, “Borrowings from the Parable of Zenos,” in Stephen Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 19**), 373-426.

[4] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 5.

[5] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 5.

[6] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 11.

[7] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 11, nt. 27.

[8] Cf. Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 6.

[9] Nicholas J. Frederick, “Line Within Line: An Intertextual Analysis of Mormon Scripture and the Prologue of the Gospel of John” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation; Claremont Graduate University, 2013).

[10] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 12.

[11] The criteria that Frederick employs are all familiar within intertextual studies, although he uses terms that are slightly different to describe the criteria. The only one that deviates is his second criterion, the “criterion of dissimilarity.” This is problematic because in biblical studies there is already a criterion of dissimilarity, but it is a completely different thing. To be more precise Frederick means something closer to the “criterion of infrequency.” His use of the term dissimilarity will be problematic for any biblical scholar simply because there is already a meaning and a history to the “criterion of dissimilarity.” See (Last accessed 9/26/2015).

[12] Frederick, “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon,” 12. Emphasis mine.

[13] Jeffery M. Leonard, “Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions: Psalm 78 as a Test Case,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127/2 (2008), 241-265.

[14] Leonard, “Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions,” 262.

[15] i.e. “undeniable that the Bible plays a role in the textual construction of the Book of Mormon,” 3; “one of the most noticeable aspects of the Book of Mormon is its integration of the King James Bible into its own text,” 3; “the Book of Mormon prefers to weave phrases from the New Testament into its own text,” 7; “phrases in the Book of Mormon maintain the same word order they had in the New Testament, while other times words may be added or removed…” 7; emphasis mine in each.

[16] Contrary to Frederick’s statement on page 7.

[17] Leonard, “Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions,” 257.

[18] 1 Ne. 3:20=Acts 3:21; 1 Ne. 22:15=Mal. 4:1; 1 Ne. 22:17=1 Cor. 3:15; 1 Ne. 22:20=Acts 3:22-23; 1 Ne. 22:23-24=Mal. 4:1-2; and Alma 12-13 weaves Heb. 3-4 throughout the entire pericope, see David P. Wright, “‘In Plain Terms that We May Understand’: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 218-220.

[19] There are times when the NT uses the OT that the NT text claims to be quoting a particular prophetic text but is in fact quoting another. Mark 1:2-3 is exemplary, although you wouldn’t know it from the KJV. The King James translators translated their Greek NT with what we now know to be unreliable, late manuscripts. Scribes had altered the text, so that when the King James translators came to Mark 1:2 they read, “As it is written in the prophets.” The earliest manuscripts read, “As it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet.” The quotation comes from possibly three texts, verse 2 quotes either from Ex. 23:20 or Mal. 3:1 and then verse 3 from Isa. 40:3. It is more likely that verse 2 is quoting Mal. 3:1 because of the shared context; on this see Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 135-136. Although the author of Mark states that he is quoting only from Isaiah, scholars still recognize the “interaction” with Malachi a quotation.

[20] Leonard, “Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusions,” 257.


A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part II

In the last post I looked closely at the details of Dr. John Gee’s critique of Dr. Paul Owen’s essay in the most recent volume of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (JBMS). In that post I dealt especially with (1) Gee’s misrepresentation of Owen’s essay, (2) his lack of understanding of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, and (3) how Gee’s response shows a lack of thoroughness in checking historical sources in making his critique of Owen’s paper. I promised at the beginning of that post that in a second part I would discuss Gee’s lack of awareness of the field of intertextuality in general. More specifically I will first describe Owen’s essay and how he understands the parallels, then I will contrast that with how the essay is portrayed by Gee’s statements. I will discuss the parallels between 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and 1 Ne. 13-14 in the context that they are placed in Owen’s essay, at the same time bringing his piece into dialogue with the broader field of intertextual studies.


Bringing 2 Esdras/4 Ezra into Dialogue

One of the most significant contributions of Owen’s essay is that he brings the Book of Mormon (BM) into dialogue with an apocryphal work. As will be seen further below, although Owen is not the first to note the general connections, he is the first to bring the two texts into dialogue by noting specific parallels.[1] Studies on the parallels between the BM and the Apocrypha have been very limited, relegated mostly to the realm of polemical literature.[2] Owen invites the reader to critically explore these parallels in many different ways after first making the connections.

At the beginning of his essay Owen notes that within 1 Ne. 11-14 there are “thirteen apocalyptic visions in which the future mysteries pertaining to the Lamb and his church are disclosed to Nephi…”[3] He then details specifically which verses throughout chs. 11-14 constitute the vision of the tree of life, the vision of the virgin mother, and so on. After noting the literary structure Owen explains the “arguments and contributions” that he will make in the paper to the discussion of 1 Ne. These include: the main role that the great and abominable church will play is in corrupting the Old Testament (OT); 1 Ne. supports the idea that the OT was bigger at one time than it is now, including both public and private texts; “the Jew” highlighted in 1 Ne. 13-14 is Ezra; “In all likelihood some sort of literary relationship exists between 1 Nephi and 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha”;[4] among others. These points will have direct bearing for understanding the sections of Owen’s paper that discuss the parallels.

Owen goes into a detailed discussion of the “vision of the great and abominable church” in 1 Ne. 13:1-14:8,[5] then the “vision of the mother of harlots” in 1 Ne. 14:9-17,[6] and finally the “vision of John the apostle” in 1 Ne. 14:18-30.[7] This overview provides a clear understanding of the narrative setting of these visions, and how they connect to one another. Owen claims that “the author of 1 Nephi employs apocalyptic conventions in relaying the content of these visions.”[8] The benefit of employing these conventions is the fact that the symbolic or mythical overtones of the section can repeatedly find new meaning and interpretation. In order to discern the identity of the great and abominable church, Owen claims that 1 Ne. 13:7-9 holds the key. “These verses emphasize the financial power and worldy prosperity of the great church, which destroys the saints “for the praise of the world” (v. 9),” and “The saints are destroyed when they are allured and attracted by the visible pomp and circumstance of the worldly church.”[9] This church is set in history as it is described as corrupting the scriptures “after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Ne. 13:26).

Owen asks what the identity of this church is and concludes that it is postapostolic and slowly exercises control over the contents of the earlier Jewish texts. He argues that this represents a form of Christianity in the Roman Empire after the time of Constantine. In a footnote Owen explains how he disagrees with Stephen Robinson in his essay “Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14,”[10] in identifying the great and abominable church with Christianity post-313 CE. They disagree because Robinson views the scripture that is to be corrupted by the false church as the New Testament (NT), whereas Owen sees it as the OT including other now lost apocryphal works that were in circulation and used by the “wise” up to the death of the apostles. There are several considerations that support Owen’s thesis over Robinson’s.

First, the angel describes to Nephi in 1 Ne. 13:23 that the future bible “is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many…” The brass plates that Nephi took from Laban contain many more texts than will be included in the bible in the future. As Rex C. Reeve, Jr. put it (in the same publication as Robinson), “The brass plates were comparable to, but more complete than, our current Old Testament down to about 600 B.C.”[11] Later in the same publication Robert J. Matthews comments on the contents of the brass plates as described in 1 Ne. 13:

This explanation gives us to understand why the Bible in its reduced form–the Protestant and Catholic versions of the seventeenth century–is smaller than the plates of brass, as noted in verse 23. This comparative expression by the angel gives us a clue as to just how much has been “taken away” and lost to our present Bible. The plates of brass contained a record beginning with the five books of Moses down to Jeremiah–only a portion of the time period of the Old Testament and none of the New–yet the reduced version of the whole Bible–the Bible with which we are acquainted, containing both the Old and New Testaments–is “not so many” as the record on the plates of brass.[12]

According to 1 Ne. 13 there is a large portion missing from the bible that was there originally. This brings me to my second point that various individuals throughout the BM are aware of some of these texts. They are explicitly alluded to and even occasionally quoted at length. A good example of this is found in Jacob 5, where part of the now lost writings of Zenos, the “allegory of the olive tree,” is brought to light.[13] The writings of Zenos are referenced twelve times altogether,[14] and another ancient prophet Zenock is five times.[15] There is yet another prophet, Ezias (different from Isaiah), who is named once in Hel. 8:20.

The text of the BM is aware of several of these writings that were included on the brass plates that are not included in the present OT. From the text itself the focus of the corruption of scripture is on the books that are thought to be inherited by the apostles, and among those are known records of scripture that are now lost. It is not the text of the NT that is corrupted, as Robinson has argued; rather it is the earlier version of the OT.

Owen’s paper then focuses on identifying the specific Jewish individual who dictates “the book” in 1 Ne. 13:21-23. In 1 Ne. 13:23 the book/bible is referenced as “proceed[ing] out of the mouth of a Jew.” Elsewhere this figure is referenced as “the Jew” (13:38; 14:23), and the reader is left to question who exactly this is. Owen points out how “this Jew’s primary role is that of an oral dictator of scripture.”[16] It seems then that the identification of this Jewish individual fits well with the role of Ezra in Neh. 8, when he reads the Torah aloud for seven days. The connection with Neh. 8 does not fully answer the role of “the Jew” in 1 Ne. 13. Owen points the reader’s attention to 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, and makes several connections between this text and 1 Ne. 13-14. It is important to note that although Owen is the first to connect this section of the BM with 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, he is not the first to bring the two traditions together.

In their edited commentary on the BM George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjödahl made this connection long before Owen, and they have never been considered as anything other than faithful LDS researchers.[17] First published in 1955, Commentary on the Book of Mormon has long been out of date, largely due to the fact that Sjödahl had completed most of his contribution to the commentary on the BM when he died in 1939. Years later his son in law, Philip C. Reynolds, took both the manuscript Sjödahl left behind and combined it with notes from his father, George Reynolds’, research to create this commentary.[18] Not only was it written years before publication (Reynolds died in 1909), it was also edited and published 60 years ago. The two commentators were well known for their research in the church toward the late 19th and early 20th century. The details of their commentary will be discussed further below to show how they highlight the four options Owen proposes for understanding the connections he makes between the BM and 2 Esdras/4 Ezra.

It is important to note that the connections that Owen draws between the two texts are primarily thematic. He does not draw tight lexical connections between the two texts, but instead sees similar themes linking them together. Rather than quoting the connections in their entirety here, it is easier for the reader to see them in full in Gee’s blog post discussing the parallels here. For ease in finding Owen’s parallels, in each of the numbered sections only the first quotation is from Owen’s essay.

Owen notes how in 2 Esdras Ezra’s community only has access to the “public canon,” or twenty-four books. Only the wise have access to the broader canon that includes the seventy inspired texts. He draws a parallel here with 1 Ne. 13:39-40, where the records that are not included in the Protestant or Catholic bible today are said to come forward to “establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them.” The BM is among the hidden texts that come forth to restore the plain and precious truths that had been lost from the earlier version of the bible. Owen finds this fact all the more striking in reference to 2 Esdras 12:37-38, where Ezra is told to write everything down in a book and hide it. The writings in the book would be kept hidden except for the wise among the Jews.

For Owen these connections open up the possibility that the BM and other texts revealed in the latter-days (not limited to the current LDS standard works) are

a restoration of the contents of esoteric texts that were passed on to the “wise” in times past, at least until the death of the apostles. Subsequently, in the centuries following the writing of the New Testament…these texts were suppressed by the false church (through destruction and corruption), leaving the saints without that ancient collection of apocryphal wisdom necessary to see the plain and precious things in the Hebrew scriptures with adequate clarity (1 Nephi 13:40-41; 14:23).[19]

According to Owen there are several ways to explain these parallels: (1) coincidence, (2) Nephi could have prophetically seen the “role of Ezra, as accurately described in 2 Esdras,” (3) Joseph Smith (JS) or an associate could have read the KJV and known through a book or cultural knowledge, or (4) “the BM could be viewed as a restoration of an ancient Christian apocryphal text, which itself made use of earlier Jewish sources.”[20] For Owen, the first option is null due to the numerous parallels he lists between the texts. That solution also does nothing to help explain who “the Jew” is in 1 Ne. 13-14. The second option has more support logically, as it could be argued that since Nephi never explicitly calls “the Jew” Ezra he may have written prior to Ezra’s lifetime. If Nephi had written after the fact then you would expect him to include Ezra’s name. This option also falls short for Owen because it cannot explain the connections between the two texts either, and seems to only be necessary if one has a prior commitment to the historicity of the narrative of the BM. In Owen’s mind, “This cluster of shared features points to (but does not secure) a literary connection of dependence.”[21] Even though Owen does not find number 2 convincing, this is exactly how Reynolds and Sjödahl understood the parallel they saw between these texts.

Beginning on page 125 and ending on 127 in volume one of their commentary, Reynolds and Sjödahl make the following note for 1 Ne. 13:23:

Verse 23. It proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. The book which Nephi saw was the Old Testament, and more especially the Law, also called the “Torah,” as given to the world by Ezra…Among the Jews there is a saying, something like this, “If the Law had not been given by Moses, Ezra was worthy, and by him it would have been given. And Christian authors, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and others actually thought that the Old Testament had become lost during the Babylonian captivity, and that it was restored through Ezra, by divine revelation…We can now understand why the Prophet Nephi sees the ancient Scriptures proceeding from the “mouth of a Jew.” His prophetic vision was fulfilled in the year 444 B.C.

This description offered by Reynolds and Sjödahl of the relationship between 1 Ne. 13-14 and 2 Esdras/4 Ezra fits Owen’s option 2 very well. They view Nephi as prophetically envisioning the restoration of the bible after the exile by Ezra the scribe, who fits the description of “the Jew” in 1 Ne. 13-14 perfectly for them. Owen disagrees with their understanding of the connection, but Owen and Reynolds/Sjödahl agree that Ezra is “the Jew” as described in 1 Ne. 13-14.

Owen believes that we are only left with options 3 and 4. For him option 3 would provide a simple, straightforward way of understanding the textual evidence, excluding the difference between the BM and the KJV’s “box trees.” I have already dealt with this point in the previous post, and have shown that the printed editions of the KJV that included the Apocrypha and notes also had a marginal reference explaining that box trees were “box tables to write on.” This, along with the fact that the context of 2 Esdras 12 and verse 44 provide an adequate explanation, negates the various ways that Owen tries to explain how JS and his associates could have known what was meant in 2 Esdras. They had ready information within their copies of the King James Bible copies. If one is inclined to agree with option 3, then there is further evidence for having this understanding. Owen does not agree with option 3 though, as Gee and others would seem to think. He agrees more with option 4.

Option four is analyzed by Owen, in which he claims that an apocryphal Christian text written prior to the death of the apostles and the publication of 2 Esdras (ca. 90-100 CE) could explain the literary dependence he notes in his essay. The context of the false church in 1 Ne. 13-14 is that of a state-sponsored church that has suppressed parts of the bible. As Owen notes, this “could not have been warranted prior to AD 313, when Constantine began to give Christianity protection and patronage.”[22] Owen wonders if JS could have restored an ancient Christian text, itself based on earlier Jewish sources, in the dictation of the BM? Owen would not find the parallels between the BM and 2 Esdras/4 Ezra surprising if this was the case.

Owen makes several suggestions for Latter-day Saint thought if option 4 is accepted. He says that (1) it would allow for traditional LDSs to maintain that Moroni showed the plates to JS, although the plates derive from heaven and not the ancient Americas, (2) it would also allow for LDSs to maintain JS’s claims of heavenly visitations, and that (3) the BM is an authentically ancient text, but compositionally it is located historically in a different place and time. This position also (4) takes seriously the last mentioned date of the BM as 421 CE, and also (5) allows for the updating and editing of the BM by JS when the contents were passed to him from the angel. Owen also thinks that (6) this option better explains the parallels between the BM and the History of the Rechabites, as explained by BYU Professor of Law John Welch.[23] This also (7) allows for the BM to be viewed simultaneously as “modern and fictional, on the one hand, and miraculous and inclusive of authentic material on the other.”[24] Option four also brings the BM more in line with contemporary LDS scholarly understandings of the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, and D&C 7. (8) Owen suggests that this would relieve LDS apologists of the burden of discovering a determinate New World setting for the BM, and (9) it would go along with 1 Ne. “that apocalyptic revelation typically repeats and amplifies the content of previous divine disclosures…”[25]

Owen concludes with option 4, favoring it more strongly than any of the rest of the options. To him this one has the most explanatory power, and seems to bring together the widest range of positions on the origin of the 1 Ne. 13-14. There are aspects of his theory that everyone can agree with, which is very important in academic discussions of a highly controversial topic, especially a new book of scripture like the BM.


Gee’s “Unparrallels”

Dr. Gee discusses the parallels that Owen draws attention to in his second response to Owen’s paper. He does nothing to set the context, or discuss how Owen is defining the parallels. Rather, he explains how he has “had research notes on these parallels since mid-December last year but…puzzled with how to present them…” and simply states that “Paul Owen sets the following texts as parallel.” In the wider field of intertextuality it is important to define what is meant by terms like “parallel,” “echo,” and “quotation.” It might seem to the average reader that these terms are rather straightforward, but that is not the case in academic studies. The literature that discusses this field has consistently grown each year over the last fifty years. Although Owen does not define his use of “parallel” in his essay, it becomes apparent in his discussion of option 4 above that his definition of parallel fits somewhere between John Hollander’s definition of “echo,” and T. L. Donaldson’s definition of “strong genealogical parallel.”[26]

Hollander describes a “kind of rhetorical hierarchy” between quotation, allusion, and echo.[27] Quotation is the most explicit and at the top of the list, whereas the other two are more fragmentary or periphrastic. For Hollander, “in contrast with literary allusion, echo is a metaphor of, and for, alluding, and does not depend on conscious intention. The referential nature of poetic echo, as of dreaming…may be unconscious or inadvertent, but is no less qualified thereby.”[28] Since Owen views the BM as a restoration of an earlier Christian text, it is possible that this version echoed an earlier Jewish version of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra before it was redacted by Christian hands. This would explain the connection to 1 Ne. 13-14 as it stands today, with its lack of tight lexical similarities. If Owen’s argument is to be followed, the state of the relationship between both texts today is probably understood better when described as a “strong genealogical parallel.” This is defined by Donaldson as “a direct, straight-line influence from one element of the parallel to the other; one religious tradition has been directly influenced by, or has clearly appropriated something from, the other at this point.”[29]

In Owen’s essay there are no close lexical links to draw upon between 1 Ne. 13-14 and 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, so we cannot discuss quotation, allusion, or echo as the text now stands. Since there are several parallels that are pointed out by Owen, it would be possible to see these parallels as arising from an earlier connection that these two texts would have shared. If JS is restoring an ancient Christian apocryphal work, then the themes of restoration of scripture (particularly esoteric or secret texts) could have easily been utilized by the author(s) of 1 Ne. 13-14.

Gee has no introductory remarks for his reader about what is meant by the term “parallel,” and so it is assumed throughout Gee’s comments that “parallel” simply means that JS and scribe simply copied straight out of a KJV of 2 Esdras while working on the text of the BM. This obviously doesn’t hold up once Owen’s essay is understood in full, especially when the reader understands Owen’s fourth option for explaining the literary connections. This means there are connections between these two texts that date well before JS himself. Gee’s assumption of what Owen means by parallel, rather than sticking to Owen’s essay, dictates the way he understands each of the connections Owen makes. Gee also shows a lack of understanding the field of intertextuality, which would have assisted him in understanding Owen’s thesis even more. This will be seen below.

For the first parallel noted by Owen Gee states that “Owen’s argument cannot possibly hold.” For him the fact that “Ezra lived about five centuries earlier” is enough to simply dismiss the connection. He fails to realize that these are parallels, not a chronological history. They share themes that tie them together. Besides that fact, 1 Ne. states that the record that “proceed[s] out of the mouth of a Jew,” which is equated with the OT and Ezra by Owen and Reynolds/Sjödahl, leaves the mouth of the Jew “contain[ing] the plainness of the gospel of the Lord…Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles…And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles…there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book…” (1 Ne. 13:23, 25, 26, 28). Owen’s argument, although not completely dependent on a “chronological” reading, actually coheres with the chronology as presented in 1 Ne. Ezra would restore the OT in a post-exilic setting, and then thousands of years in the future JS would also need to restore many of these lost books, especially the BM. It needs to be emphasized, though, that the parallel between the two texts as argued by Owen is based on the theme of restoration.

Gee also makes the point that in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra the scriptures are completely destroyed, whereas in 1 Ne. the scriptures remain but need to be restored. This is inaccurate because it does not follow either the BM text or Owen’s argument. Owen is arguing that there are books that are completely lost to the OT, in both 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and 1 Ne. 13-14, which will need to be restored. Gee thinks that Owen has not read the BM carefully enough, but not only does the BM quote some of these lost texts (as noted earlier in this post), the BM is aware that it is a part of these lost books that will later become part of the canon. While we could all use a little more understanding in regards to the BM, Gee’s comment about Owen’s reading of the BM is off base.

Owen’s second parallel is then quoted and commented on by Gee. Gee focuses again on “whether a record of any kind survives,” continuing to miss Owen’s point. The connections are thematic, the theme of the destruction of the OT during the Babylonian exile, and then the restoration and hidden nature of several texts at one time included in the OT, is taken up by 1 Ne. 13-14 to explain what would happen once the “state sponsored” Christian church comes into power post-313 CE.

For the third parallel Owen argues that “The restoration of scripture will be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[30] In this case he cites 2 Esdras 14:22, 40 and 1 Ne. 13:37, 39, which both discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in restoring these ancient texts. Although Gee notes how both of these texts discuss the importance of the Holy Spirit, he downplays the connection by stating “Nephi sees that his own record will go among the people and that “other books” would come “forth by the power of the Lamb.” For the Book of Mormon, Jesus (the Lamb) and the Holy Ghost are not the same thing.” Gee follows Owen’s statement until Gee’s last sentence. He seems to think that “by the power of the Lamb” simply means by Jesus only, without any action of the Holy Spirit. In only the next chapter of the BM it is apparent that the “power of the Lamb” is the Holy Spirit. 1 Ne. 14:14 says, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb…” Gee’s statement that Jesus and the Holy Ghost are not the same thing in the BM is irrelevant because Nephi is not talking about Jesus when he references the “power of the Lamb” in 1 Ne. 13:39. He misrepresents not only Owen’s essay, but also the BM in this case.

For Owen’s fourth parallel Gee again refers to how “Joseph Smith (or an associate) has somehow read about “box trees” and somehow transmitted them into brass plates. That is even more miraculous than being handed actual plates of gold and thinking of plates of brass.” The issue of the “box trees” in the KJV of 2 Esdras has been discussed already in Part I of this response, and therefore does not need to be discussed again. However, it does need to be stressed that Gee misrepresents what Owen is actually arguing in relation to “box trees.” He offers the example that Gee alludes to only as a possible solution (option 3), not the solution.

It is difficult to decide how to approach Gee’s response to Owen’s fifth parallel. This was probably one of the most surprising to me, and painful to wrap my mind around. Owen says that “Ezra (the recipient of the revelation) is to dictate the contents of these books to chosen scribes (2 Esdras 14:24). So also Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon (cf. 2 Nephi 3:17; 27:9-10).”[31] In 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14:24 Ezra is told to take five named scribes with him because they “are ready to write swiftly” (KJV). The connection is made to these BM passages because 2 Ne. 3 is a prophecy of JS, as is 2 Ne. 27 (=Isa. 29) as well. Both of these texts have always been traditionally understood as referring to JS and the translation process of the BM. Gee completely flips this LDS interpretative tradition on its head when he says,

While Ezra has a number of scribes to write for him, the passages cited from the Book of Mormon never mention scribes. In one of them Moses is provided with a spokesman because he could not speak well. The other has a book being given to a man but no scribe is mentioned. The two book of Mormon passages are connected with known biblical texts (Exodus and Isaiah).

It is both surprising and troublesome that Gee would take this interpretive route. To the reader who does not look the passages up in the BM it seems that Gee is making a good point. What do these texts have to do with 2 Esdras/4 Ezra at all? But this is why Gee’s statements are troublesome. Very few of his readers will check the sources. These BM passages are explicitly about JS, and the context requires the relationship to the scribes of the translation of the BM.

In the chapter heading of 2 Ne. 3 we are told “Joseph in Egypt saw the Nephites in vision–He prophesied of Joseph Smith, the latter-day seer; of Moses, who would deliver Israel; and of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. About 588–570 B.C.” Although Joseph (of Egypt) does prophesy of the work that Moses would do, the relevant verses in this chapter that are noted by Owen are specifically about “a Moses,” not the Moses (v. 17). This Moses will be given “power unto him in a rod,” reminiscent of the early version of D&C 8 where Oliver’s gift was “the gift of working with a rod” (“sprout” instead of rod in the earlier version).[32] The context requires that this “Moses” figure is interpreted as JS, and it is said that he will not be “mighty in speaking,” but God “will make a spokesman for him” (2 Ne. 3:17). He will “deliver the words of the book unto another” (2 Ne. 27:9), but these words will not include the sealed portion of the BM (cf. 2 Ne. 27:10a). Both of these chapters in the BM have always been understood as prophecies of JS and the interactions he has with the scribes, primarily Oliver Cowdery, during the translation process of the BM. The connection that Owen makes between 2 Esdras 14:24 and 2 Ne. 3 and 27 is not as strained as Gee makes it appear.

In responding to Owen’s sixth parallel Gee again misrepresents the essay. He focuses specifically on the ratio of what is held back in the hidden writings that Ezra is to produce compared to the ratio of what is sealed in the golden plates (one-third to two-thirds, respectively). This has nothing to do with Owen’s argument, as the exact ratios do not matter when the theme of hidden literature is parallel. Gee fails to realize that Owen is here, due to the context of the BM passages, arguing that there is a section of the golden plates (i.e. the sealed portion) that will remain hidden from the world the same as the seventy books that Ezra would keep hidden.

Gee could have understood this correctly if he had read the passage of the BM that Owen cited more carefully. Owen connects 2 Esdras 14:26, 45-46 with 1 Ne. 14:26, 28. Unfortunately, Gee misread the BM passage as 1 Ne. 13:26, 28, which he then cites in full. This is a completely different context than 1 Ne. 14, which leads Gee to wrongfully question, “Is Owen trying to argue that God is the great and abominable church?” If Owen had cited 1 Ne. 13 we might plausibly ask that question, but he wasn’t. Instead, he cited 1 Ne. 14. In this passage Nephi describes writings that “are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel” (v. 26). In this context, God has commanded certain texts to remain hidden. It is surprising that Gee did not catch himself reading the wrong chapter. He cites the correct chapter, 1 Ne. 14, when he quotes Owen’s essay, but then failed to turn to the correct chapter when he made his comparisons.

Gee claims that Owen “has misread 4 Ezra/2 Esdras” in Owen’s seventh parallel, where he states that “In order for God’s people to have all the wisdom they need, they must have access both to the public and the esoteric texts dictated by Ezra…” (Owen, 92). Gee argues that Owen has misread the text because in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra “God’s people (or at least the common people) have no need to “have access both to the public and the esoteric texts dictated by Ezra.”” To Gee this is in “stark contrast” to what we find in the BM passage cited by Owen. In the BM the hidden scriptures “refers to those that God will bring forth in the latter days…[and] are given “to all kindreds, tongues, and people.””

In 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14 seventy of the revealed books are kept secret. It is important to keep in mind, as Michael Stone has pointed out, “that these books, the esoteric ones, are also those which contain saving knowledge.”[33] Although exactly what books are included in the seventy is unclear, many scholars think that the author of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra viewed his book as a part of that group. This is hinted at in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 12:36-38, where “In that passage Ezra is commanded about the secret transmission of the teaching of the eagle vision. The language used to denote the vision and its transmission is exactly the same as the language used by chapter 14 to describe the transmission of the secret writings.”[34] 2 Esdras/4 Ezra serves, then, as a part of this esoteric tradition, which was important so that “they which will live in the latter days may live” (4 Ezra 14:22, KJV). In the same way, the text of the sealed scriptures or “last records” that are mentioned in the BM will be revealed in the last days for all those who wish to live. In reference to the author of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, his community needed these hidden records for salvific purposes. The knowledge and wisdom that was held in them would save them in the end. This theme of salvation is also found in the BM text, as the “plain and precious” things are removed from the bible people stumble, “insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (1 Ne. 13:29). The parallel is much closer than Gee allows in his representation of the text.

Owen’s eighth parallel could have been more explicitly stated. He simply says that,

The scribes who wrote on the tablets “wrote what was dictated, using characters that they did not know” (2 Esdras 14:42 NRSV; “they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not” KJV). So also the Book of Mormon (cf. 1 Nephi 1:2; Mosiah 1:2; Mormon 9:32).

To those who are not familiar with the phrase “characters that they did not know” in a post-exilic Israelite context it would be understandable to state as Gee does that “One crucial difference is that while Ezra’s scribes might not have known the characters they were using, the Book of Mormon scribes had all learned them the hard way.” The phrase “characters that they did not know” actually alludes to the Aramaic script that was employed in the post-exilic period, rather than the original paleo-Hebrew. This is also discussed by Stone in his commentary on 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, where he states that, “This is also related to the traditions that set the introduction of the square Aramaic script into the period of Ezra. This is known to the Rabbis and to Jerome and perhaps preserves actual historical memory.”[35] Ezra’s scribes did not simply not understand the characters, they were characters they had learned in a foreign land. They also “learned them the hard way.” This goes along well with the passages that Owen cites from the BM. Although they write in the Hebrew language, the “reformed Egyptian” script are the “characters that they did not know.” Although Owen could have more explicitly stated this in citing the parallel, a reader familiar with 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and early Rabbinic and Christian writers would be familiar with what Owen meant.

Gee only gives a passing comment to Owen’s ninth parallel. He fails to include verse 41 of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14, which continues to emphasize the mouth of Ezra. Gee simply writes off the parallel with the statement that, “This is a silly argument. Owen teaches (or used to teach) Hebrew. He should recognize this Hebrew idiom (which is also used in other ancient languages).” Because Gee fails to adequately address the parallel and describe why he discards it, it is difficult to fully engage with his reasoning. It can only be noted that the emphasis on the mouth of Ezra in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14 does find a parallel to the emphasis on the mouth of “the Jew” in 1 Ne. 13-14. This is the only parallel noted between the two texts in this instance.

Owen’s last parallel, number ten, could have been worded more explicitly as well. It seems that the connection he was making between 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 14:5-6, 21-22 and 1 Ne. 14:24-26, 29 was that of the revelation of esoteric writings to an ancient individual, then the revelation of these secrets to a more contemporary author (according to the time of the text). Instead, he simply states the parallel as, “What was previously revealed to Moses is now freshly disclosed to Ezra.”[36] This causes Gee to focus on the difference between the characters in each text. Second Esdras/4 Ezra has Moses as subject, and 1 Ne. has the apostle John as subject. As Gee puts it, “The Book of Mormon refers not to Moses but to John. Nephi refers to an angel, but Ezra never does.” Gee continues to interpret Owen’s parallels through the lens of exact textual borrowing, which Owen clearly states later in the essay that he does not accept. He offers it as a possible solution, option 3, but he does not think that is the best way to understand the parallels. This parallel is presented by Owen to connect the theme of revelation of esoteric doctrine once lost, but restored in the “latter days,” which is found in both the traditions in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and the BM. The author of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra believed himself to be in the latter days,[37] and the BM is supposed to be revealed and translated in the latter days. Gee claims that Owen’s argument here only works if one assumes his conclusion, and therefore it is circular reasoning. I suggest that Gee is assuming too much about what exactly Owen is concluding. A closer reading of his essay, especially Owen’s sustained argument for option 4 in understanding the relationship of these two texts, would help Gee to understand Owen’s parallels.



It is again, as I pointed out in my first post, unfortunate that Gee has misread and badly misrepresented Owen’s essay. Gee takes Owen’s piece as “sleight-of-hand” and an error in the editorial process. Even if one does not agree with Owen’s overall argument in the last half of his paper, that there are strong literary parallels between the books of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra and 1 Ne. 13-14, his essay should at least deserve the respect of a careful reading. The general parallels that he sees between these passages were also noted by two LDS scholars in the past, and they saw the work of Ezra restoring the OT as a fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecy. Although I do not believe myself that every single parallel is as tight as they could be, I found Owen’s paper to be highly thought provoking and insightful especially when I took full consideration of the kinds of parallels he was making (i.e. thematic). I found his conclusions surprising and fascinating. Owen argues that the text of the BM is primarily divine in origin, and ancient in writing, even if he does not think that a historical Nephi wrote 1 Ne.

In any case, LDS scholars and interested lay readers alike would do well in the future to not follow the kind of approach that is found in Gee’s two-part response. Although one does not have to conclude the same as the author of every single essay written in the JBMS or any other journal, the arguments presented at least deserve the respect of a close and charitable reading, engaged in a professional and kindly manner. Unfortunately, in my opinion Gee has misrepresented Owen’s essay in a very unprofessional, and non-scholarly way.


[1] The first to make the general connection between 1 Ne. 13:23 and ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs about the role of Ezra in restoring the Old Testament (OT) after the Babylonian exile was Reynolds and Sjodahl in their commentary on the Book of Mormon.

[2] See the Utah Lighthouse Ministry’s discussion here. There have been reviews of and responses to this work by Latter-day Saints, but none of these have taken the parallels seriously. Owen contributes to this by not only noting a connection not made explicitly prior to his essay, but leaves the possibility of how the parallels came to be open to various lines of interpretation. The implicit connection made by Reynolds and Sjodahl will be discussed further on in the post.

[3] Paul Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture: A Thematic Analysis of 1 Nephi 13-14,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol. 23 (2014), 81.

[4] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 82.

[5] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 83-87.

[6] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 87-88.

[7] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 88-89.

[8] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 89.

[9] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 90.

[10] Stephen E. Robinson, “Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14,” in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, eds., The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988),177-191.

[11] Rex. C. Reeve, Jr., “The Book of Mormon Plates,” in Nyman and Tate, eds., The Book of Mormon, 103.

[12] Robert J. Matthews, “Establishing the Truth of the Bible,” in Nyman and Tate, eds., The Book of Mormon, 205.

[13] The allegory is also mentioned in 1 Ne. 10:12-14; and 15:12-18.

[14] See 1 Ne. 19:10, 12, 16; Jacob 5:1; 6:1; Alma 33:3, 13, 15; 34:7; Hel. 8:19; 15:11; and 3 Ne. 10:16.

[15] See 1 Ne. 19:10; Alma 33:15; 34:7; Hel. 8:20; and 3 Ne. 10:16.

[16] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 91.

[17] George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjödahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (7 vols.; ed. Philip C. Reynolds; Salt Lake City: Deseret Press, 1955).

[18] See James R. Clark’s book review of the Pearl of Great price commentary by the same editor and commentators in BYU Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), 83-84.

[19] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 94.

[20] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 94.

[21] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 95. Emphasis in the original.

[22] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 97.

[23] John W. Welch, “The Narrative of Zosimus (History of the Rechabites) and the Book of Mormon,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo: FARMS, 1997), 323-374.

[24] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 98.

[25] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 99.

[26] T. L. Donaldson, “Parallels: Use, Misuse and Limitations,” Evangelical Quarterly 55 (1983), 200.

[27] John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 64.

[28] Hollander, The Figure of Echo, 64.

[29] Donaldson, “Parallels,” 200.

[30] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 92.

[31] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 92.

[32] See this for more details.

[33] Michael E. Stone, Fourth Ezra: A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 439.

[34] Stone, Fourth Ezra, 439.

[35] Stone, Fourth Ezra, 440.

[36] Owen, “Theological Apostasy and the Role of Canonical Scripture,” 93.

[37] Cf. Stone, Fourth Ezra, 439-440.

A Recent “Anti-Mormon” Essay: Trying to Understand Gee’s Response, Part I

The most recent volume of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (JBMS) includes a number of scholarly essays by researchers who are either established in the field of Mormon Studies or are promising to play a big role in this next generation of Mormon scholarship. Every essay has its own new offering to add to understanding the Book of Mormon (BM). Each of these scholars except Dr. Paul Owen is a member of the LDS church, and it seems that has played a big part in a recent misreading of his essay by Dr. John Gee, a Senior Research Fellow and the William (Bill) Gay Research Professor at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.[1]

Gee begins his first response by painting a rather negative picture of Owen. He states that Owen “is a fairly nice guy,” but nonetheless he is “an anti-Mormon.” Gee claims that Owen has written books that both attack Mormonism and the BM, but the only book that fits this description is The New Mormon Challenge published back in 2002. Owen was one of three editors of that volume, and has changed his approach to Mormonism immensely since then. Since 2002 Owen has published in BYU professor of Philosophy David L. Paulsen’s festschrift,[2] and several essays in Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. It seems that Gee is either unaware of these newer publications or used the term “anti-Mormon” to disparage his character and his essay in the JBMS.

I don’t want to go into all of the details concerning my disagreement with Gee and his (mis)understanding of Owen’s article. Rather, I would like to focus my attention on three points of emphasis. I will show (1) Gee’s misrepresentation of Owen’s essay, (2) his lack of understanding of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, (3) Gee’s response also shows a lack of rigor in checking historical sources in making his critique of Owen’s paper, and (4) his unawareness of the field of intertextuality in general. In this initial post I will address points one through three, and in a second part I will address the fourth issue.


Where’s the Other Half?

If Gee’s description of Owen’s essay is taken at face value it seems that the only reason Owen wrote the paper was to attack the BM and argue that Joseph Smith (JS) “got his basic scenario for the Book of Mormon by reading” 2 Esdras/4 Ezra. Gee focuses his response solely on the last half of Owen’s paper, pages 91-100, completely ignoring pages 81-90. The first half of Owen’s essay explores the literary structure and theology of 1 Ne. 13-14, making fresh contributions to the identification of the “great and abominable church,” along with other aspects of the narrative that are depicted throughout this pericope. Owen provides a detailed close reading of these chapters and this contribution to the wider field of Mormon Studies should be applauded, not ignored. If Gee had paid closer attention to this section he might have better understood the overall argument of Owen’s paper.


(Mis)understanding the Details

Gee makes a few passing comments that attempt to undermine the accuracy (and academic quality) of Owen’s paper. Gee states,

Owen does not explain that the 2 Esdras he discusses is not the 2 Esdras of the Septuagint but is the book that is also known as 4 Ezra. The earliest known version of it is not in Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek but in Latin.

There are several problems with Gee’s assertion. First, Owen actually does explain which 2 Esdras he is talking about. On page 91 of his paper, Owen states, “…these references in 1 Nephi 13-14 appear to bear some connection…to the contents of 2 Esdras 14 in the Apocrypha.” The Geneva Bible (1560), the Bishops’ Bible (1568), the King James Version (1611), and the Revised Standard Version (1957) all have the title of this book in their translations of the Apocrypha as “2 Esdras.” Therefore, contrary to Gee’s assertion, Owen does identify which book 2 Esdras is. He could not have expressed the point with greater clarity.

Second, Gee is confused about which books constitute 2 Esdras in the Septuagint (LXX). In the LXX 2 Esdras is the canonical books Ezra and Nehemiah, but in some manuscripts they are simply given their respective titles. Those manuscripts do not include a book “2 Esdras.”[3] 2 Esdras in the LXX (Ezra and Nehemiah) is not included in any list of apocryphal or pseudepigraphic literature. For Gee to state that Owen needs to clarify that 2 Esdras is 4 Ezra and not the 2 Esdras of the LXX is misleading. His argument simply doesn’t make any sense. It would have been better for Gee to simply leave this point unaddressed since his comment illustrates that he has not analyzed the details closely enough.

Lastly, Gee makes the argument that the earliest known version of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra is not in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, but this is only half true. It seems that the reason Gee makes this argument is to distance the 2 Esdras/4 Ezra from the BM because the earliest known version is in Latin, and could not have had an impact on the BM according to its historical claims. Gee’s statement is accurate in that we have no extant Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek manuscripts of 2 Esdras/4 Ezra. But this does not mean that Latin is “the earliest known” version. No scholar today who has studied this text in detail thinks that the Latin text (along with the Syriac, Georgian, Ethiopic, and Coptic translations) is the original version. These texts are all thought by scholars to have been translated directly from their Greek antecedent texts.[4] This has been established in great detail by G. Mussies’ essay, “When Do Graecisms Prove that a Latin Text Is a Translation.”[5] Beyond the fact that scholars agree that the extant versions all derive from the Greek, the consensus today is that this Greek translation was taken from a Hebrew original.[6] Gee’s statement quoted above is inaccurate in many details, as will be seen throughout the rest of his two-part response.


The “Box Trees” of the KJV

Gee tends to focus on this single connection made by Owen throughout his response, which has in turn led many of Gee’s readers commenting online to think this is the only literary connection Owen makes. Gee first notes the connection made by Owen, then states that in Owen’s opinion these tablets “are the origin of the idea of the Book of Mormon being written in strange characters on plates of gold or brass” and cites page 95 of Owen’s essay. In reality, Owen makes the exact opposite argument on that page:

If Joseph Smith, rather than relying on the printed text of 2 Esdras, was exposed by divine encounter and inspiration to a body of ancient lore that eventually found its way into Jewish-Christian apocalyptic works (cf. 2 Esdras 13:41-42), this would explain why we find those curious references to Jews writing on “tablets” (2 Esdras 14:24) in obscure characters (2 Esdras 14:42)–both of which details were only cryptically expressed in the English language of the rendition of the Apocrypha to which the prophet had ready access. (p. 95)

Owen also continues on the next page (96) to explain again that “The references in the text of 2 Esdras to Jews writing on “tablets” in “obscure characters” are unclear in the King James translation available to Joseph Smith.” This undermines Gee’s argument that “Owen does not actually cite the passage because his reader would have found his argument confused by the actual evidence.” Not only does he explicitly state that the KJV had a different translation, but he also includes that evidence in the list of literary correspondences on page 92, which is also quoted by Gee. It is not that difficult, as a reader of Gee’s response, to see the evidence that argued against his mischaracterization of Owen’s essay in this instance.

There is also another point that I would like to make that has been overlooked by both Gee and Owen in relation to the “box trees” translation in the KJV. Owen argues several ways that JS or his associates could have plausibly known what “box trees” meant in the KJV 2 Esdras 14:24. He argues that (1) JS or someone he knew could have read and understood the context of 2 Esdras in a way that works with modern translations, (2) JS or someone he knew could have had access to materials or persons that could have clarified the meaning, or (3) the parallels between 2 Esdras and 1 Ne. could be coincidental. I would like to contribute to number two on this list by making an important note on the versions of the KJV that were being printed at the relevant time before the translation of the BM.

Not all copies of the KJV had the Apocrypha included in them in the early 19th century, but many of them did. I have looked at several printings and by far the majority of them include the following note in the margin next to 2 Esdras 14:24 for “box-trees”:[7]

||Or, box tables to write on,

See ver. 44.

This note could have provided the information to JS and his associates that Owen cites in his second possibility. This fact makes it completely unnecessary for JS to have read anything outside of his bible, or any copy of the bible that had the Apocrypha included with notes. The majority of King James bibles that included the Apocrypha in JS’s day had notes. This also undermines Gee’s entire argument against Owen, stating that “Owen appears to be arguing that Joseph Smith got his basic scenario for the Book of Mormon by reading a translation that was published 155 years [the NRSV] after he died like Owen did. This argument is anachronistic.” Not only is Gee wrong here in his characterization of Owen’s argument, there is further evidence in copies of the bible themselves at JS’s time that support Owen’s number two suggestion. This still doesn’t mean that JS got the “basic scenario” for the BM from 2 Esdras in the marginal notes in his KJV. This simply means that this single literary connection is even stronger than Owen thought himself.


Joseph Smith, the Bible, and Historical Documents

Gee claims that Owen’s argument that JS’s “access to 2 Esdras provides a simple, straightforward explanation of the textual evidence” has major historical flaws. In a very confusing section to probably anyone who has read anything about JS’s history, Gee uses Lucy Mack Smith’s Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet to argue, “Joseph Smith had not read the Bible and was not inclined to read much anyway.” Gee also quotes a line from an 1886 interview with David Whitmer that JS “was ignorant of the Bible.” Gee goes on to argues that “Multiple accounts of the First Vision indicate that Joseph Smith found James 1:5 simply by flipping through the Bible at random.” Both of the accounts that Gee quotes come late in JS’s life, the first in 1843 and the second in 1844, and neither come from JS himself.

Gee does nothing with these sources to weigh their accuracy with earlier, more authoritative accounts of this experience. He doesn’t discuss the difference between these accounts from third parties and those written earlier in JS’s own hand. He simply uses these to craft his argument because they go along better with his view that JS was not familiar with the bible “before he translated the Book of Mormon,” and that he “seems to have first systematically read the Bible when he was doing his own translation [of the bible].”

There are several accounts of the first vision that were produced by JS throughout his lifetime.[8] In the 1832 account JS discusses how at the age of twelve he became very religious and

seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the welfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul[9]

JS not only claimed in this account that he was familiar with the bible at an early age, but that he felt that he could discern by reading the scriptures that the different Christian denominations he was familiar with did not practice what he found was in the bible. He claimed an intimate relationship with not only his neighbors, but also the bible itself.

In the 1835 account JS said that at the age of “about 14. years old” that “information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to I to obtain it.”[10] He had gone into the grove to pray because he had read James 1:5 and had taken it seriously. The image that the 1835 account portrays is not one of “promiscuously” opening to this verse and then going out to pray in the woods soon after. JS describes himself as one taking the matter very seriously, and turning to what he had learned in the bible itself to find out how he was to go about getting his important information.

In the 1838 account, which is the source text of the current printed edition of Joseph Smith–History in the Pearl of Great Price, JS describes himself as “one day reading the Epistle of James, First Chapter and Fifth verse…”[11] In this account he describes himself as actually reading the Epistle of James, not randomly opening the bible and falling on a single verse.

In the 1842 account printed in the Times and Seasons JS describes himself again as being actively involved in investigating the various denominations. He believed that the groups were so different that not all of them could be right, because God would not reveal one plan to one group and another plan to others. “Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James,” which he then quoted James 1:5 in full as he did in the other accounts. JS did not accidentally fall onto this verse in the 1842 account either. He was intimately acquainted with it and knew that he believed in it.

All of JS’s own personal accounts argue against the description of his lack of knowledge of the bible in the later 1843 and 1844 depictions that Gee cites. They describe JS as being heavily involved in the process of searching for a church, and searching through the bible at a young age to see what denomination closest fit his understanding of the text or to discern how he was to obtain the answers he needed. This evidence goes against Gee’s statement that “Joseph Smith never read the Bible before he translated the Book of Mormon.”

As conclusive as the different firsthand accounts of JS’s first vision are, I think it is important to also make another note that helps to clarify JS’s acquaintance with the bible. Although Gee, along with various other researchers in the past, uses Lucy Smith’s words to paint a picture of JS as never reading the bible, there are other statements in her Biographical Sketches that accord with JS’s own statements about his early use of the bible.

After the death of JS’s older brother Alvin a minister attempted to get all of the denominations in their area to come together and worship as one. Lucy and many of the family felt that this was right and wanted to join in with the movement, but JS protested to his mother about his own involvement. When asked if he would attend the meetings he said,

Mother, I do not wish to prevent your going to meeting, or any of the rest of the family’s; or your joining any church you please; but, do not ask me to join them. I can take my Bible, and go into the woods, and learn more in two hours, than you can learn at meeting in two years, if you should go all the time.[12]

This important information, left out of the conversation by Gee, agrees with JS’s description of himself at this time of his life. Although he might not have been prone to long periods of reading in front of family, JS was nevertheless well acquainted with the many books found in the bible from his own personal reading. From my perspective Lucy’s statement that JS had never read the bible through in his life only applies to the possibility that he never read every single verse from beginning to end up to that period of his life. In any case, Gee oversteps the historical evidence when he claims that JS was not familiar at all with the bible until after he translated the BM, and even then only when he went through his revision of the KJV.

Another piece of evidence that can only briefly be mentioned is the fact that the early revelations that JS received prior to translating the BM provide some of the strongest direct evidence that JS was familiar with the language of the bible. A good example is the revelation now found in Doctrine and Covenants section 4, originally printed in the Book of Commandments as chapter 3. As Richard Bushman, JS’s biographer, put it, “Virtually all of the language of section BofC 3 (D&C 4) comes from the Bible: Isaiah 29:14 (verse 1); Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27 (verse 2); 1 Corinthians 1:8; John 4:35-36 (verse 4); 1 Corinthians 13:13 (verse 5); 2 Peter 1:5-7 (verse 6); Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 18:1, James 1:5 (verse 7).”[13] All of these verses are direct evidence that JS was much more familiar with the biblical text than Gee is trying to paint the historical picture. While he claims that Owen has used “sleight-of-hand” in his essay I would simply state that Gee himself has not been careful with the historical evidence to the degree that this important matter deserves.


JS’s Personal Bible?

Gee seems to think that JS’s “own Bible was not purchased until 8 October, 1829 when the Book of Mormon was being printed.” This is a confusion of the historical sources as well. Although we may not know what specific bibles JS may have had in his personal collection prior to buying a bible in October, 1829, that does not mean that he did not have any. It is also not entirely accurate to state that this particular bible was JS’s “own Bible,” as the Cooperstown bible was purchased jointly with Oliver Cowdery as the front cover states in Oliver Cowdery’s hand:

The Book of the Jews And the Prophecy of / Joseph Smith Junior and Oliver Cowdery / Bought October the 8th 1829, at Egbert B Grandins / Book Store Palmyra Wayne County New York. / Price $3.75 / H[o]lines to the L[ord].[14]

It is likely that JS either owned his own copy or copies of the bible or that he used his family’s or other copies available to him to read. JS would not have made the statement to his mother that he could learn more from reading the bible in two hours in the woods than she could attending church meetings in two years if he did not (1) have access to bibles pre-October, 1829, and (2) was utilizing that access by actually reading it. Gee also fails to note that this bible was purchased by JS and Oliver Cowdery to serve as the base text of the Joseph Smith Translation. It served a functional purpose, not for every day reading.

I also find it highly unlikely that JS “never…read the apocrypha in his life.” Not only was JS interested in apocryphal literature, he purchased volumes that he later donated to the Nauvoo Library on this very subject. The complete record of the Nauvoo Library has recently been transcribed and published in Mormon Historical Studies by historian Christopher C. Jones.[15] In it there is a list of 34 non-Mormon books that JS specifically donated to the Library, and among the books is included “Apochyphal Testament.”[16] According to historian D. Michael Quinn this could refer to one of two books, “either Apocrypha: The Apocryphal Books of the Old Testament (seven British editions 1763-1816 and one in 1835) or Apocryphal New Testament (three British editions 1820-29 and seven U.S. editions 1821-35).”[17] If it was either of these books, JS at least spent much more time later in life becoming acquainted with apocryphal literature than Gee allows.



It is really unfortunate that I have felt the need to respond to Gee’s blog posts about Paul Owen’s essays for several reasons. First, Owen is a scholar that has written a fascinating article that takes the BM very seriously. The fact that a leading LDS scholar attacked Owen in such a personal way that entirely mischaracterizes the essay is not going to invite other non-LDS scholars to join in the discussion as well. Second, Gee has long had a reputation in the wider academic LDS community for his work on the Book of Abraham. He has been involved in the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meetings, presiding over sessions on topics dealing with Egyptology and the Bible. It is unfortunate that a scholar with his training would do so much damage to an academic essay that has so much potential for opening up doors to relations between Mormon and non-Mormon scholars. I hope that in the future LDS scholars will be much more careful about the way they read and respond to the type of essay that Owen produced. I feel confident that many more are on their way from both Owen and other non-Mormon scholars. I look forward to their contributions to the wider field of Mormon Studies.


[1] For the first past of Gee’s response go here; for the second part here.

[2] Jacob T. Baker, ed., Mormonism at the Crossroads of Philosophy and Theology: Essays in Honor of David L. Paulsen (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).

[3] Cf. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Fourth Book of Ezra,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1983-85), 1:516; and Ralph W. Klein, “Ezra-Nehemiah, Books of,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 732.

[4] See Michael E. Stone, Fourth Ezra: A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra (Hermeneia Commentary Series; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 3-9.

[5] In Vruchten van de Uithof: H. A. Brongers FS (Utrecht: Theologisch Institut, 1984), 100-119.

[6] Cf. Stone, Fourth Ezra, 3.

[7] I have confirmed this with each of the following printings of the KJV: Cooperstown: H. & E. Phinney, 1828; Oxford: Clarendon Press, Samuel Collingwood and Co, 1823; Philadelphia: M. Carey & Son, 1818; Oxford: Rev. D’Oyly and Rev. Mant, 1817; New York: Collins and Co., 1816; Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1806; Charlestown: Samuel Etheridge, 1803; ; the following do not include any notes at all, and therefore do not have the note at 2 Esdras 14:24: Boston: Hilliard, et al, 1829; Walpole, (N. H.): Anson Whipple, 1815; Boston: Greenough and Stebbins, 1809; Morris-Town: Mann and Douglas, 1805; Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, 1802.

[8] The Joseph Smith Papers Project has a great page on their website detailing all of the important information, as well as images and transcriptions of each of the documents, here.

[9] JS, History, circa Summer 1832, pp. 1-2; and here.

[10] JS, Journal, 9-11 November 1835, Monday-Wednesday, pp. 23-24; and here.

[11] See JS–H 1:11; and here.

[12] Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for many Generations (Liverpool: Published for Orson Pratt by S. W. Richards, 1853), 90.

[13] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 578, nt. 48.

[14] Quoted from Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 5, nt. 9.

[15] Christopher C. Jones, “The Complete Record of the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute,” in Mormon Historical Studies 10:1 (Spring 2009), 180-204. See here.

[16] Jones, “Nauvoo Library,” 192.

[17] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Revised Ed.; Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 496, nt. 78. Also noted by Jones, “Nauvoo Library,” 204, nt. 16.