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.

A Plea to the Writers of Seminary Manuals

We’re studying the Book of Mormon again in seminary, and the current manual includes the following quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith (Lesson 5, “Overview of the Book of Mormon”):

There were bound to be some typographical errors in the first edition [of the Book of Mormon], and perhaps an omission of a word or two. Those who have published books under the most careful and favorable circumstances, have, to their dismay, found errors, typographical and mechanical, some of which occurred after the final examination of proof has been made.

… A careful check of the list of changes … shows there is not one change or addition that is not in full harmony with the original text. Changes have been made in punctuation and a few other minor matters that needed correction, but never has any alteration or addition changed a single original thought. As it appears to us, the changes … are such that make the text clearer and indicate that they were omitted. I am sure that the mistakes or omissions in the first edition were in large measure the fault of the compositor or the printer. Many of these mistakes which were in the first proofs were caught by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, and he made the corrections (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. [1958], 2:199–200; italics in original).

The problem is that the second paragraph is almost entirely false. We can now compare the extant original manuscript and printer’s manuscript with the 1830 edition, and there are indeed several changes that make a difference in meaning, that modified more than “a single original thought.” Not all the changes made the text clearer. Joseph Smith did not catch many mistakes since he was living elsewhere and rarely interacted with the printer. And most importantly, mistakes and omissions are not to be blamed on the compositor or the printer.

Continue reading “A Plea to the Writers of Seminary Manuals”

Canonical Criticism of the Book of Mormon?

The following is a brief response to Michael Austin’s post “Canon as Context: Insights from the Bible Wars” published yesterday at BCC, in which he advocates that more students of the BoM should adopt something along the lines of the canonical criticism developed by biblical scholar Brevard S. Childs as a means of breaking through the debate over BoM historicity.

I practice biblical criticism, and while I appreciate Austin’s call to focus greater attention on the text of the BoM, I have reservations about a number of points he makes, including his description of canonical criticism and its relevance for the BoM.

First, I think Austin exaggerates the degree that Childs’ 1970 book was a paradigm shifter in academic biblical studies. It was provocative and made some waves, especially as some of his ideas were put into practice in his later publications. But the canonical approach as advocated by Childs has also been strongly criticized (e.g. Barr, Barton, etc.), to such an extent that it has largely been abandoned in contemporary scholarship.

Second, it is important to note that Childs himself did not see historical-critical methods as irrelevant or unimportant per se. In fact, he was a practitioner of conventional historical criticism in his writing and commentaries. Yet as a theological matter, he subordinated the insights of biblical criticism to the role of canonical shaping in determining the meaning of scripture for religious communities.

Third, the following paragraph is most perplexing to me:

“The result of Childs’ work was the emergence of a true third way between fundamentalists, who insisted on an absolutely rigid historical context, and liberals, who insisted on an almost purely ahistorical modern context for the biblical text. Both sides could play in the same sandbox. Both could read each other’s writings. Both could ask and try to answer the same questions. This didn’t produce a paradise of love, joy, and free ponies. But it was a reasonable middle position that produced, and continues to produce, a lot of very good scholarly work.”

I don’t think this accurately describes the development of biblical criticism after Childs. Childs’ approach wasn’t so much a middle way as it was a totally different theologically-oriented reading that could be adopted by those who already accepted the basics of biblical criticism. And I’m not aware of the “good scholarly work” that is still being produced in this vein. Liberals insisting on an ahistorical modern context for the biblical text?

On the other hand, I have serious doubts that Childs’ canonical approach is all that relevant for study of the BoM.

First, the situations between the BoM and Bible are very different, in my opinion. Childs’ goal was to revitalize the authority of the Bible and to make it theologically germane to present day religious communities in response to biblical criticism’s tendency to “otherize” texts to their original historical contexts. His solution was to make the interpretation of one part of the Bible subordinated to the theological interpretation of the whole. In other words, canonical criticism was a synchronic tool to bring greater coherence to the Bible, flatten out some of its contradictions, and revalorize aspects that don’t fit with modern Christian belief or ethics. That is obviously not what Austin is proposing we should do with the BoM.

Second, I think Austin severely exaggerates the degree to which the primary historical context of the BoM is unavailable. We have lots of archaeological and 19th century data that is relevant in this regard. No smoking gun, perhaps, but enough to make the argument for ancient historicity a real uphill battle. For example, while we don’t have the shipping records of Zarahemla, we do have examples of Reformed Egyptian, which I am very confident are not Egyptian, an alphabetic language, or any language whatsoever. And textual information internal to the BoM points just as strongly to a modern origin for the narrative– I find the statement “Nothing in the text proves or disproves its historical context because that context is completely unavailable to us as a reference point” to be agnostic in the extreme. It is worth reiterating here that Childs himself was not inimical to pursuing historical questions.

Third, “… it is impossible to situate the Book of Mormon in this context without rejecting the assumptions that have made it important to its religious community.” However, this is the problem that all religious believers face when confronted with modernist historical investigation of religious claims. The same for Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others. Many religious communities have initially or at some point down the line made assumptions about the reality or facticity of their truth claims, which have later been called into question or shown to be based on stories or myths whose original function was very different from what later interpreters assumed. So the real problem here is the perennial one: how to accept modernity and historical and scientific investigation while also holding to traditional religious norms, categories, or beliefs that originated before or in conflict with modernity.

Fourth, “But this is not how the text is or has ever been understood by those who take it seriously. To reject outright the idea that the BOM is a historical document is to separate the text from the canonical context that makes it meaningful.” This is perhaps the most difficult and vexing aspect to deal with, because it is indeed the case that from the beginning JS claimed the BoM to be a historical account, and the BoM narrative portrays itself as grounded in real history. But personally I belong to the school who say, in order to avoid greater problems in the future we need to be free to ask the historical questions and then go from there about how we want to theologically evaluate the BoM as a community. In other words, I try to separate the historical and theological questions, because if we allow them to be entangled together it is inevitable that the latter will unduly influence the former.

In any case, I think it will become increasingly problematic for religious communities to require belief in something empirically verifiable (at least in principle) as a matter of tradition if they are not able to provide reasonable grounds for such a belief, which is where we are today with the BoM. I would also say that religious communities have to be able to mature and come of age intellectually, just as children eventually realize that the stories their parents told them when they were young aren’t all true. As children grow up they reevaluate these stories and incorporate their new understanding more or less into their evolving identity, without having to perpetually infantilize themselves.

One final thought, at a theological level a final form approach to the BoM or Bible (to be distinguished from a literary reading) presupposes their high inspiration as a matter of course. But for many the issue is that the high inspiration of the BoM is in fact the thing in question or potentially in doubt. So in my view, rigorous historical investigation and careful final forms readings of the text must go hand in hand.

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.


Korihor and the Defense of Secularism

Generally, Korihor is understood as a kind of anachronistic representation of secularism by many modern interpreters.  However, it is not at all clear that Korihor represents secularism.  Indeed, his confession notes that a religious experience is what motivated him.

Secularism may be defined in various ways, and indeed has enjoyed a rigorous critical discussion over the past decade or so.  For the purposes of this post, I want to examine just two important ways for thinking about the secular: secularism as the rejection of religion (whatever that may mean), and secularism as the separation of ecclesiastical power from state power.  In brief, I argue that Korihor is not guilty of the first, and the narrator is guilty of the second. Indeed, the text actually argues in favor of this latter kind of secularism!

Continue reading “Korihor and the Defense of Secularism”

Exploring the Iconic Nature of the Book of Mormon: Part IIb – The Fluid Nature of the Text of the Book of Mormon

I here continue my series of posts dealing with the iconic nature of the Book of Mormon (BoM). For my introduction to this series, see here. For the first half of the current section on textual criticism and the BoM, see here.

In my last post I gave a brief description of the various manuscripts and editions of the BoM. I would now like to examine what I have found to be several very interesting textual variants in the BoM textual witnesses. As I stated in my last post, anyone interested in BoM text criticism should consult the foundational work of Royal Skousen if she or he has not done so already (I rely heavily upon it in this current post). [1]  In the following examples I will use “OM” to refer to the original manuscript, and “PM” to refer to the printer’s manuscript. For the various editions I will use the year of publication, thus, “1830” refers to the edition of the BoM that was published in Palmyra, New York in 1830. The 1981 edition will stand for the most current edition. [2]  Now on to the examples:

1 Nephi 8:31

1981: “And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building”

OM: “and he also saw other multitudes pr∫sing their way towards that great and spacious building”

Though many have imagined Lehi’s dream as depicting groups of people “feeling” their way towards the “great and spacious building” (perhaps in correlation with the “mist of darkness” mentioned in vv 23 and 24?), the text probably should read “people pressing their way…” The OM at this point is in an unknown scribe’s handwriting (Skousen refers to him/her as “Scribe 3” or “Scribe y”) and contains an elongated “s” represented above by a “∫”. According to Skousen, since the scribe’s initial “p” looks like an “f,” Oliver Cowdery in producing the PM misread “pressing” as “feeling.” This conclusion is consistent with the rest of Lehi’s dream which “always us[es] press rather than feel when referring to the movement of people.” [3]  This apparent misreading has been reproduced ever since.

1 Nephi 11:18

1981: “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1837: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of the Son of God”

1830: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God”

PM: “behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of <the son of> God”

OM: “behold the virgin which thous seest is the mother of God”

Most textual variants in the BoM are fairly benign when it comes to questions of doctrine. This was the case with 1 Nephi 8:31. While “pressing” is certainly different from “feeling,” it is our imaginative portraiture that is probably more affected than our theological views. However, there are occasions where a change might affect interpretations of doctrine. 1 Nephi 11:18 is representative of such a variant. In preparation for the 1837 Kirtland edition, Joseph Smith went through portions of the PM and made adjustments, one of which was to insert “the Son of” in front of a number of references to God in order to clarify who was being referenced. This is the case in 1 Nephi 11:18 (see also 1 Nephi 11: 21, 32, 40). As one can see above, OM, PM, and 1830 all read “mother of God” prior to Joseph adjusting the text in 1837 to read “mother of the son of God” (represented by <the son of> in the PM above). I will not attempt here to weigh in on whether these changes represent clarifications, doctrinal reinterpretations, or something else, but merely offer the variant as an interesting example of the textual fluidity of the BoM text. [4]

“Amlicites” in Alma 2:11-12; 21–27, 43

1981: (2:11-12) “Now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici, being called Amlicites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlicites”

PM: (2:11-12) “now the people of Amlici were distinguished by the name of Amlici being called Amlikites and … the Nephites were aware of the intent of the Amlikites”   NB: though the first 2 occurrences are spelled “Amlikites in the PM, the remainder (25 occurrences) are spelled “Amlicites”

1981: “Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

PM: “Amalekites” 19 times in Alma chs 21–27, 43

OM: “Amelicites” in Alma 24:1, 24:28, and 27:2

One possible way to view this variant might help to explain an entire group of people known in the 1981 text as the “Amalekites.” As the text now stands, two particular groups of dissenters (against the Nephites) are mentioned: (1) the “Amlicites” in Alma 2–3, and (2) the “Amalekites” in Alma 21–27, 43. However, the earliest manuscript evidence (extant portions of OM) spells the name of the second group as “Amelicites.” This becomes important if we realize that while we are accustomed to pronouncing “Amlicites” with a “soft c” sound (as instructed by the “Pronunciation Guide” at the back of the 1981), the use of a “k” in the PM suggests that Joseph pronounced the name with a “hard c” sound. Assuming the scribal inclination to write down a “k” for a “hard c” sound, it is worth noting that the only difference between the  the “Amelicites” (OM) in the later chapters of Alma and the “Amlicites” (1981) of Alma 2–3 is a single “e.” Viewing the added “e” as a scribal error makes sense in the larger context of the BoM narrative . Alma 24:1 states that “many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors” while Alma 2:1 informs us that Amlici was “after the order of the man that slew Gideon,” i.e. Nehor (see Alma 1:15). Furthermore, Alma 43 lists this group among the Zoramites and Amulonites, descendants of King Noah who rebelled against the Nephites. Skousen’s suggestions to “Accept the spelling Amlicites instead of Amlikites found in the printer’s manuscript for Alma 2:11-12 [and to] change all 19 occurences of Amalekite(s) in Alma 17–27 and Alma 43 to Amlicite(s)” seem warranted. [5]

Alma 50:40

1981: “Now behold, his name was Pahoran. And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

PM: “now behold his name was Pahoran and Pahoran did fill the seat of his father”

OM: “now behold his name was Parhoron and Parhoron did fill the seat of his father”

In one last example, here’s another case of what is probably a scribal error due to the oral/aural nature of the BoM transcription process coupled with the unfamiliarity and irregularity of proper nouns. If Joseph pronounced “Parhoron” with stress on the second syllable (similar to present day pronunciation) the “r” before the “h” would have been difficult to distinguish for a scribe. This seems to be the case as Oliver Cowdery, according to OM evidence, started off hearing the “r” clearly. However, by the fifth occurrence (Alma 51:5) it appears that Oliver was not hearing the “r” as evidenced by his writing of “Pahoron.” It appears that all occurrences of “Pahoran” should in actuality be “Parhoron” [6].

There are countless other examples that could be cited and discussed (“white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome” in 2 Nephi 30:6, PM and 1830 reading “Benjamin” instead of “Mosiah” in Mosiah 21:28 and Ether 4:1, and several lines of Alma 32:30-31 being accidentally omitted by the 1830 typesetter and not being restored until the 1981); nonetheless, even a few examples should suffice in demonstrating just how fluid the text of the BoM is (a feature prominent in any text). Refraining Beal’s words from my previous posts, “there never has been a time when we could really talk about the Bible in the singular.” [7]  It appears that the same could be said of the Book of Mormon.


1. Skousen’s The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (CTBOM) project has been a life-long project that is nearing completion. To date, 4 of the proposed 6 volumes have been published: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text, CTBOM 1 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts, 2 vols; CTBOM 2 (Provo: FARMS, 2001); Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 6 vols; CTBOM 4 (Provo: FARMS, 2004-2009); The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Two volumes are still to come: The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon and A Complete Electronic Collation of the Book of Mormon. See Royal Skousen, “History of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 5-21.

2. There are a number of adjustments to the text (some to the canonical text and some to secondary text) that have been made to the edition of the BoM published by Doubleday in 2006 and to the online edition of the BoM. I will make note of such changes when/if needed. A listing of the most recent changes to the standard works can be found at

3. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:187.

4. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:230-33. Skousen argues that these changes “should be considered as clarifications, not as doctrinal reinterpretations” (230). Among his arguments is that Jesus is clearly identified as the “Son of God” in earlier parts of 1 Nephi, as well as later parts of the BoM.

5. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 3:1605-1609. See also Royal Skousen, “The Systematic Text of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002): 45-66.

6. Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 4:2635-2637.

7. Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), 22.

The 2013 Adjustments to the Book of Mormon: Accuracy Delayed

This post is written by guest contributor, Grant Hardy.

It is a weighty responsibility to decide how God’s word should be presented to the world, and the Church takes this charge very, very seriously. The recent adjustments to the official standard works include many welcome corrections to the headings of the Doctrine and Covenants, but otherwise the revisions are quite minimal. As Elder Neil L. Andersen explained, “members should not feel that they need to purchase a new set of scriptures . . .  Changes to the scriptural text include spelling, minor typographical, and punctuation corrections” (my emphasis). This perhaps makes sense in the case of the King James Version, which continues to be what it has been for the last 400 years, and for the Doctrine and Covenants, where the textual scholarship of the Joseph Smith Papers is ongoing. Yet it represents a lost opportunity for the Book of Mormon in light of Royal Skousen’s completed analysis of textual variants (in six books) and the publication of his reconstruction of the earliest text.

Continue reading “The 2013 Adjustments to the Book of Mormon: Accuracy Delayed”

Quick and Powerful

And so another Labor Day comes, bringing the end to summer.  May the next summer bring more jobs to those who need them, and some recovery to the household income of those who do have jobs

Now, back to the BoM. I have been wandering around in the BoM looking, from the perspective of a reader of the NT, at how the BoM uses the biblical text. Those who’ve been around for a bit know that sometimes there’s no change and sometimes there’s some significant change, usually in a fashion that makes the idea in the NT “friendlier” to a modern reader. Here we have a case in which new wine has definitely been poured into an old wineskin — and in a timely fashion, too, as Helaman 1-5 was the GD lesson on Sunday.

When the author of Hebrews wanted to exhort his readers to get with the gospel program, among other things he pointed out that the word of God is not something that can be fooled, or fooled with:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Heb 4:12-13 NRS)

And here it is in the KJV, which is closer to the text of the BoM. Note in particular the standout phrase “quick and powerful:”

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Heb 4:12-13 KJV)

The basic image is that of a two-edged sword. Now we moderns don’t use swords, two-edged or otherwise, unless we’re in a real bind. And in fact, I’d be surprised if all that many folks who read this blog have ever seen a real, serious, two-edged sword outside of a museum. So you can bet that when the BoM uses this verse, the sword business is changed:

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, like a light saber…

Haha, no, that’s not it! If it were, it would be quite amazing. But here it is:

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked — And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Hel 3:29-30)

See, all that sword business is gone! But even more interesting is the matter of by whom this “quick and powerful” word of God is used, and the identity of its target. In the NT, it’s the means by which God determines the kind of folks we are. We’re judged against the word of God, and its power to discern the character of the human heart is metaphorically portrayed by the ability to separate soul and spirit or joint and marrow.   In the BoM, the word of God has not lost any of its power to puncture pretensions or rend rationalizations.  However,  we use it ourselves to judge the thoughts and intents of other people, and in particular those who would exhort us to do some thing or make some choice in their favor.  In short, it’s one of God’s gifts to his children, to enable them to separate serious discussion from empty, deceptive rhetoric, which the BoM always associates with the devil.

And gracious me, it’s Labor Day and the beginning of  open BS Season  the end of the quadrennial American political season! Every four years, too, at just about this same time of the year. Heh.

Black and White

As I have casually wandered around the BoM this summer looking at how it uses the NT, I have noted instances in which it “clarifies” NT ideas, instances in which it “de-complicates” NT ideas, and instances in which it completely changes the meaning. In this post, I’d like to point out an instance in which an NT idea is “updated” so that it speaks more openly to modern issues.

Perhaps the most radically egalitarian statement in the NT is Paul’s affirmation to the Galatians that they have no need of the Law of Moses because of their faith in Christ. Christians are “baptized into Christ” and have “put on” Christ, and in light of this event all the old distinctions are rendered void (Gal 3:26-29):

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Most importantly, Christ was the seed promised to Abraham, so those who are Christ’s are heirs of Abraham’s promise, with no exceptions. But to drive home the point, Paul listed three major distinctions: Jews/Greeks, bond/free and male/female. These divisions were “live” in Paul’s day, of course, but with the exception of gender they are now more or less moribund.

So in 2 Nephi, Nephi makes a similar point with very similar language but notice how the divisions are changed:

For [the Lord] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

The Jew/Greek distinction is missing because it is replaced by a racial distinction, the heathen get their own mention, and the Jews are paired off against the Gentiles. This last pair, in particular, highlights the promised eschatological unity of God’s covenant people in the Last Days.