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.

Maimonides and a new Torah Scroll Controversy

My ears perked up when I heard the news that Mauro Perani, professor of Hebrew at the University of Bologna, has found what he believes is the world’s oldest complete Torah scroll. Perani was updating the University library’s Hebrew manuscript catalogue in February, when he realized the scroll had been wrongly dated by the last cataloguer in 1889.

The 1889 cataloguer, a Jew named Leonello Modona, had described the letters in the scroll as “an Italian script, rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices.” Perani, however, recognized an elegant script whose square letters were of the oriental Babylonian tradition.

Photo: Alma Mater Studiorum Universita’ Di Bologna

The scroll doesn’t follow the rabbinical rules established by Maimonides in the late 12th century that standardized how the Pentateuch should be copied. It contains many features and markings that would be forbidden under those rules. Its script and other graphic notations are far older than the 17th century date that it had been assigned.

Two separate carbon-dating tests — performed by the University of Salento in Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign — confirmed that the scroll dates from 1155-1225 CE.
Giovanni Garbini, a leading expert on ancient Semitic languages, said the discovery doesn’t change much about what the world knows about Hebrew manuscripts.

“It’s an example of an ancient scroll, but from the point of view of knowledge, it doesn’t change anything,” he said in a telephone interview.

But Stephen Pfann, acting president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem and an expert in ancient Jewish manuscripts, said if accurately dated, the scroll is a rare and important find. “We don’t have anything much from that period,” Pfann said.

I’ll admit that I’m not qualified or knowledgeable in this field, but I’d love to hear some of our Biblical scholars expound on Pfann and Garbini’s disagreement. I was surprised to read Garbini’s opinion that this discovery doesn’t change much. When an older scroll or manuscript is found, there are often changes to our understanding of scriptural passages. For example, just yesterday, June 2, 2013, Ha’aretz reported that a new interpretation of Genesis 9:22-24 has come to light due to a high resolution photograph of a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Though the Dead Sea Scrolls date from an earlier period of time than the Bologna Scroll, there is not a complete Torah among them. For many passages, the newly discovered scroll is going to contain the oldest version of them which is now known.
Here are some of the questions that come to my mind:

Photo: Alma Mater Studiorum Universita’ Di Bologna

What is the extent of the existing collection of Torah scrolls from before the time of Maimonides?

What specific things were forbidden by Maimonides that were included in the Bologna scroll?

What were the reasons for the Maimonides strictures?

Have the graphic features, markings and script required by Maimonides made any difference in context or meaning?

Thoughts? Enlighten us!

Israel’s Past Without the Bible

It may come as a surprise to some that there are texts from ancient Israel, Judah, and its environs that are not found in the Bible. There are also a number of texts from (especially) ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia that make reference to Biblical persons, places, and events. Such epigraphic texts are important for many reasons. I want to discuss some aspects of why these texts are important in what follows, and to give some basic information with respect to some of the more prominent epigraphic discoveries that date to the period before Judah’s fall in 586/7 B.C.E. This latter task will be spread out over several posts, and I will proceed in roughly chronological order in my presentation of the material. Continue reading “Israel’s Past Without the Bible”

LDS Correlated Lessons and the Hermeneutical model “PaRDeS”

I deeply respect the Jewish approach to the study of the scriptures. It is said that simply stating an opinion about Torah without any background or training in how to critically think about the text is Torah discussion but is not necessarily Torah study. To encourage critical thinking, rabbis from at least the third century C.E. established a simple four-level system known as PaRDeS. Each consonant in this acronym stands for a Hebrew word, and put together they mystically form the word “orchard” (פָּרְדֵּס), or paradise.

  • p’shat — “plain”
  • remez — “hints”
  • d’rash/midrash — “inquire”
  • sod — “secret”

The p’shat level of exegesis seeks to explain the “plain,” simple, or obvious meaning of the text.  This is the type of scripture study that we see so often in our Sunday School classes. Even LDS Seminary and Institute manuals are filled with this level of study. Of course, the p’shat meaning of a text is quite important. It is the keystone of scriptural understanding, and takes into account the customary meanings of the words, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. In Lesson 20 of our current Sunday School manual, the teacher is advised: Continue reading “LDS Correlated Lessons and the Hermeneutical model “PaRDeS””

On Biblical Scripture

The Problem

What makes Biblical Scripture, Scripture for LDS Christians?*

Historically one prominent model for the authority of Biblical Scripture in Christian history (including for some Latter-day Saint thinkers) is the Prophetic-Inspiration Model: the person who writes the text is divinely inspired by God to write the very words that are recorded.  This model entails that the human being is a puppet of sorts for the divine will, a tool that can be used for the divine purpose, namely composing Sacred Scripture.  In this view, any text so authored is worthy of the category Scripture because, in the end, its wording is really determined by God (even while still partaking in human language).  This model therefore equates the words of the prophet figure with Revelation. However, although the prophet figure ultimately cannot be held responsible for the final text, the fact that it is composed, even if only instrumentally, by a prominent religious leader otherwise considered to have been commissioned of God, gives credence to the view that the text’s authority rests in the divine. Continue reading “On Biblical Scripture”

The Flood: Global or Localized?

I would argue neither.

With the rising tide of modern science, historical criticism, and other scholarly disciplines, those committed to a strict literalist interpretation of the Flood stories in Gen 6-9 have had to retreat farther and farther up the metaphorical beach in order to maintain their belief in the historical reality of the Biblical tale.  For instance, basic problems with a literal reading of the narrative include the fact that there is no geological evidence for a global flood, and that the Biblical Flood narrative in large part is derivative of an older Mesopotamian Flood story from the myth Atrahasis (among many other reasons).  Sometimes, though, more liberal readers of the text suggest that the Flood was a historical event but that it was localized in a specific area, and that from the shortsighted view of the ancient author the whole land (including the mountains) indeed was covered with water. Thus we shouldn’t expect there to be evidence in the geological record for a global flood. However, there is, in my view, a more adequate understanding of the text, one that takes it on its own terms.

Israelite cosmology as it is reflected in the Bible basically consisted of a three-tiered world with the heavens/sky above, the earth below the sky, and the waters below the earth.  In the heavens (which, for some authors, had multiple levels) the gods resided, while humans lived on the earth. Moreover, Israelites believed that there was water above the earth, presumably because the sky, like the sea, is blue and, moreover, rain would often come down from the sky. In this pre-scientific worldview there was a solid, clear (perhaps ice or crystal?) dome-like structure that prevented the waters above the earth from crashing down onto the earth. This material object is translated as “firmament” in the KJV in Gen 1. The so-called “windows” of heaven were, in their view, sluices cut into the dome through which YHWH would send down rain according to his providence.  The sun and the stars were underneath this solid dome.  Furthermore, pillars were sunk into the subterranean waters to support the earth, and below the earth was also She’ol, the underworld.  Mountains, on the other hand, were thought by some to support the dome.  For more visual readers, see HERE for a basic representation of this cosmological worldview.

Gen 1 describes creation as a divine process of organizing the world from the chaotic primeval waters by separating different elements so as to provide order.  The Israelite God separates the waters using the dome in order to create the sky and then, within this “bubble,” proceeds to organize the rest of the world through separation and demarcation.  Just as, on the social level, God separated the Israelites from the other nations and gave them his covenant and its attendant laws in order to organize their lives and provide them with well-being, so too, on the cosmological level, proceeded the creation of the world.  The formation of the world, in a sense, mirrored the creation of Israel, and vice versa.

Thus it would seem somewhat unfair either to criticize or to validate – on scientific grounds – the author(s) of the Flood stories by measuring their texts against the ruler of modern scientific cosmology.  The Flood stories do not comment upon whether the Flood was local or global in scientific terms; indeed, their view was pre-scientific.  Rather, for the Israelites who authored these stories the Flood primarily represents “uncreation”: that is, the disorder and chaos that existed before God’s mastery over creation brought order. When sin filled the world the God of Israel unleashed the subterranean and heavenly waters to fill the bubble. So too if Israel transgressed its covenant and failed to keep the laws of YHWH their society would fall into chaos and ruin.

1 Enoch in Jude’s “Bible”: Issues of Canonicity and Scriptural Inspiration

Jude 1:5-7 (NRSV):  Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgement of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

In the passage quoted above the author of Jude draws on past examples to show that God punishes sinners in order to demonstrate that God will eventually condemn his own contemporary opponents too: v.5 relies on Exodus and Numbers concerning Israelite rebellion and punishment in the wilderness; v.6 draws on 1 Enoch 6-16 about the “angels” who left their appointed sphere and who were thus condemned (cf. Gen. 6:1-4); and v.7 speaks of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis.[1] Continue reading “1 Enoch in Jude’s “Bible”: Issues of Canonicity and Scriptural Inspiration”

Isaiah 7:14 and Scriptural Hermeneutics

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14, KJV)

Isaiah 7.14 is one of three prophetic sign-acts in Isaiah chapters 7-8 in which Isaiah of Jerusalem associates or gives an ambiguous or multivalent ominous name to a child as a means of sharing the divine message to his contemporaries.  The historical context of these chapters is the Syrio-Ephraimite War. At this time Israel (the northern kingdom), Aram, and others, joined in an alliance  to combat the rising Assyrian threat headed by king Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE).  The kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom) would not join the alliance and so Israel and Aram sought to remove the new Judean king, Ahaz (r. ca. 734-715), from power in order to install a more politically favorable king (referred to by Isaiah as the son of Tabeel; Isa. 7.6) who would join the alliance to stop Assyria.  Ahaz, however, appealed to Tiglath-pileser III for help against Israel and Aram and submitted to Assyria as vassal to suzerain, stripping the temple in the process in order to pay the necessary tribute (2 Kgs. 16:17-18). Assyria would go on to conquer Aram and reduce Israel to vassal status before Israel’s final destruction in 722/721 BCE by Sargon II. Continue reading “Isaiah 7:14 and Scriptural Hermeneutics”

Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood

Introduction [1]

The Bible often privileges men as normative for what it means to be human, frequently considers women as inferior to men, and presents God in overwhelmingly male terms. For the contemporary believer who is committed to the full equality of men and women the problem is not simply one of reconciling isolated patriarchal, sexist, or misogynistic biblical passages with an egalitarian or feminist perspective, but the revelatory nature of the biblical text itself.  “How can a text that contains so much that is damaging to women function authoritatively in the Christian community as normative of faith and life?” (36). A theology of Scripture that takes this problem seriously must reject the traditional understanding of Scripture as divinely revealed in verbal form to its ancient authors lest the pervasive androcentrism, patriarchalism, and sexism of the biblical text be understood as divinely revealed.  1) What then does it mean for Scripture to be the “Word of God”? 2) How can the Bible function authoritatively for the Church? 3) And is the Bible materially normative for modern faith and practice? Continue reading “Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood”

The Truth of Personal Narrative

Bart Ehrman has pointed out that the popular view of Paul and his conversion makes it difficult for historians to evaluate what actually happened to make him “turn around.”  In the scriptural record Paul does not present himself as a guilt-ridden legalist whose realization that the law was impossible to keep led him to find forgiveness in Christ and motivated him to bring the good news of release to those burdened with guilt complexes like his own.  Ehrman calls this view “fiction” and “widespread misperception” and instead directs us to Paul’s own accounts found in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26.  The problem is that these accounts are difficult to harmonize; as they differ in several details.  Paul’s recounting of the event is suspect because he is remembering the event long afterward and reflecting upon it in light of his later experiences.  Such a conundrum finds a parallel in our own Mormon foundation narrative of Joseph Smith’s first vision.  In Joseph’s case, he leaves at least seven narratives, each a bit different, each a bit contradictory of the others. Continue reading “The Truth of Personal Narrative”