The Waters of Judah

Last evening HP called my attention to a recent post on M*. I think I’d like to add a little to the business of er…bloodlines and OT exegesis.

So let’s do a little textual criticism. Here’s the text of Is 48:1:

Hear this, O house of Jacob

who are called by the name of Israel,
who came forth from the waters of Judah

who swear by the name of the Lord
and invoke the God of Israel
but not in truth.

Now in this context, the “waters of Judah” is set parallel to “called by the name of Israel.” The “water” in question is probably semen. But in the BoM (1 Ne 20:1) the passage reads:

Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob

who are called by the name of Israel
and are come forth out of the waters of Judah
or out of the waters of baptism

who swear by the name of the Lord
and make mention of the God of Israel
yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness

In the BoM, the phrase “waters of Judah” now appears with the phrase “waters of baptism.” In addition, the critical text suggests “from the belly of Judah” with a note cf Qumran (a) at the appropriate place in the text.

Now let’s take these variant reading seriously and treat this as a normal matter of textual criticism. These are the pertinent questions:

1) What was the original reading?
2) How did the variants arise?

Just in case you don’t have your copy of Metzger handy, here’s a synopsis:

1) The original reading will best explain all the other readings. (This includes the possibility that the original reading does not appear in any extant manuscripts.)

2) The more difficult reading is to be preferred. In other words, scribes will alter things in order to correct errors in grammar, style, diction, or theology. But the weirdest (most difficult) one wins!

3) The shorter reading is to be preferred. In general, scribes seem to have added words—explanatory glosses, better diction, whatever. It is rare to find an example of a scribe removing something except by accident.

4) Harmonization also seems to have exercised a powerful influence on those who copied scripture. Therefore, dissonant readings are to be preferred.

So now…what was the original reading and how did the variants come about?

20 Replies to “The Waters of Judah”

  1. This is an addition in the 1837 reprinting of the BoM. It is not in the 1830 edition. This, along with a few other additions, were editorial changes made by Joseph that were explanatory of the text. This addition is particularly interesting because it is not a doctrinal clarification as were the “son of God” additions for Nephi’s first vision. This one just seems to be an exegetical expansion.

  2. I guess the next question is just what Joseph was trying to say here. Is he saying that the waters of Judah are the waters of baptism, or is the “or” meant to distinguish the waters of Judah from the waters of baptism. Israel who comes out of the waters and Gentiles who are baptized into Israel are both part of the audience?

  3. Very interesting. Do we know how he understood his own activity?

    I’m guessing from the way you’ve written it, and I could be wrong, that you think the “waters of baptism” was not part of the plate mss.

    So maybe he’s just sprucing up the reading so it catches the modern complexion of the identity of Israel?

  4. To what Metzger are you referring? I wasn’t aware that he had done text critical work on the OT–I thought he was strictly an NT sorta guy.

  5. Goodness! That’s an interesting point.

    What criteria shall we use for t-c work with the OT/BoM interface? I was just treating it as a vanilla variant-reading-in-a-version without much thought for detail.

    Alas, I fear that in the present case TT has ruined it with the facts, but there are others…

  6. I understand that the “waters of baptism” phrase first appeared in the 1840 edition (the title page stating “Third Edition, Carefully Revised by the Translator”) as follows:

    “who are called by the name of Israel
    and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, (or out of the waters of baptism),”

    In the 1880s, Ebenezer Robinson, who printed the 1840 edition, said in an interview: “When he [Joseph Smith] refers to the waters of Judah or the waters of Baptism, he put a few words there in parentheses.”

    The phrase did not appear in Book of Mormon editions and printings after the 1840s.

    When Talmage et al prepared the 1920 edition, they marked up a 1911 copy. The phrase in question was added in the margins in parentheses, using red ink. But the parentheses were later crossed out with red pencil, and the text was printed that way.

  7. I’ve always felt that Joseph added the phrase as a figurative – as opposed to literal – reference, much the same way that Paul refers to the children of Israel being baptised as they emerged from the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2). But, then again, maybe he was making a bolder statement, as we have found a type of baptism being performed in the Qumran community prior to John the Baptist. Could he be implying that baptism was one of the “plain and precious” things omitted from the O.T.?

  8. implying that baptism was omitted from the O.T.?

    I think that’s a big question when approaching this from the diachronic perspective. What did JS understand himself to be doing? Restoring? Or what?

    It also interests me that the 1920 committee apparently had some reservations about it. I wonder how they were resolved, as well

  9. Sounds like it isn’t an original reading regardless of what Joseph had in mind. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Joseph was seeing something in the text that wasn’t intended by the original author cf. 1 Cor. 15 on the degrees of glory.

    Mogget, I see where you get the idea of semen from in the first passage but does it have to be ready that way? Are there any other examples of water being used idomatically for seed? Why didn’t he just use the word for seed or bowels or something else? ( I realize that this is Isaiah and that questioning his word choice is probably futile but I’m curous to see what you know.)

  10. to see what you know

    Grin. Not much, as I keep finding out around here.

    I know that it’s used elsewhere. What I don’t know is the applicable ratio, that is, what part of the total number of references to generative powers are couched in terms of water.

    But I know of a few others…

    Deut 33:28 Israel has dwelt securely, and the fountain of Jacob has been undisturbed In a land of grain and wine, where the heavens drip with dew.

    It’s that “fountain of X” part that appears in Gen 15:4, 2 Sam 7:12; 16:11 and Is 48:19 for the male procreative powers and I think also in Gen 25:23; 49:1 and Ruth 1:11 for women.

    I also seem to recall that the “waters of Judah” in this passage is considered a gloss by Duhm.

    Be interesting the really take a look at the matter at some point, though.

  11. Contextually in terms of how Nephi is reading these chapters it probably means that those who are of Israel through adoption (i.e. baptism) have the promises applied to them. Which is quite interesting since often there is a divide made between blood Israel and the LDS.

    Also interesting is how Nephi tends to read any type within Isaiah as functioning on multiple levels – both historic, historic as a type of future history, and then typological on the level of group or individual. (See 1 Ne 22:3)

    So it seems to me that Joseph may be recognizing the sement (i.e. blood Israel) reading but is expanding it to include adoption.

    Anyway, it seems to me that Joseph’s emendation might be tied with 3 Ne 30:2.

  12. Joseph may be recognizing the sement (i.e. blood Israel) reading but is expanding it to include adoption.

    If so, he certainly stands well within the Isaiah tradition!

  13. From my comment on Isa. 48, found at:

    Apologies for poorly formatted text.

    v1 Notice that “Jacob…Israel…Judah” are all implicated in this verse as being summoned by the Lord to pay attention to what is being said. This all inclusive statement would make an interpretation that it is aimed at only the Northern Ten Tribes impossible. The intent of the voice is to indict all of the House of Israel, including Judah, as being guilty of hypocrisy in covenant making.

    Note the differences between the KJV and BofM (1 Ne. 20):


    Hear ye this,Hearken and hear this,

    O house of Jacob,O house of Jacob,

    which are calledwhich are called

    by the name of Israel,by the name of Israel,

    and are come forthand are come forth

    out of the waters of Judah,out of the waters of Judah,

    or out of the waters of baptism,

    which swear bywho swear by

    the name of the Lord,the name of the Lord,

    and make mention of and make mention of

    the God of Israel,the God of Israel,

    but not in truth,yet they swear not in truth

    nor in righteousness.nor in righteousness.

    In this case the significant BofM addition is “or out of the waters of baptism”. Joseph Smith added this to the third edition Book of Mormon (published 1840) to clarify the meaning of the phrase “the waters of Judah”. As Jews still practice ritual water immersion called “tevillah”, or ritual immersion, in a “mikvah’, or baptismal fount, it seems hard to believe that Jewish scribes would be compelled to intentionally remove this as it is not hostile to their traditions. Isaiah rarely, if ever, identifies a symbol by simply stating what it is immediately after it is used. Instead, Isaiah tends to hide it in the text. Thus, Smith’s insert is a clearly parenthetical statement identifying a specific interpretation, which was a common practice in the JST of the Bible.

    v1c “waters of Judah”, the Hebrew term here for waters is “umimme”, and the Hebrew term for loins is “umimm`e”. Isaiah appears to be playing a word game where he is invoking the image of the waters of parturition (i.e. natural Israel), the waters of baptism (i.e. covenant Israel). That Isaiah would implicate those who are Israel via baptism shows he is targeting adopted Israel as well as natural Israel in his indictment in this verse.

  14. I think, perhaps, that the background for Moggett’s reading is a Hebrew text-critical problem itself, and one that probably explains why Moggett got semen, and it raises the same issues that probably prompted Joseph Smith’s exegetical addition:

    In Hebrew the word for ‘waters of’ (me^) is close to a word for ‘innards, inward parts’ (me’e, with an ayin). The Massoretic text reads me^ (waters), but apparently 1QIsa a (Dead Sea Scrolls Isaiah manuscript, the “Great” Isaiah scroll, I believe) reads me’e (though I can’t verify this –I can’t find a digital copy of the Isa material to see what the word exactly is. But the apparatus of BHS suggests it, as do Cross’ notes on variant readings of the NAB).

    In any case, which way would one read? Did a scribe for whom “waters of Judah” didn’t make sense change it to “loins of Judah”, or did “loins of Judah” become corrupted?

    On these types of text-critical decisions, I’m having a hard time following the usual “rules”. There’s currently a debate on Text Critical issues in the book of Jeremiah, with at least one scholar saying that the length difference between LXX and MT is due to massive haplography and not to expansion. And then there is “Tendenz”. (If anyone wants to weigh in generally on TC here, I’d be interested.)

    I know this gets us a little away from the original comment, but it is interesting that ultimately even Joseph Smith weighed in on this question.

    PS Moggett, have more confidence!

  15. This is taken from the seminary workbook.

    1 Nephi 20:1—What Are the “Waters of Judah”?
    Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “Isaiah says that the ‘house of
    Jacob’ has ‘come forth out of the waters of Judah’ (Isa. 48:1), a
    statement of great interest to Latter-day Saints in view of the fact
    that his words as recorded on the brass plates added the phrase,
    ’or out of the waters of baptism’ (1 Ne. 20:1), thus preserving in
    purity an Old Testament text about baptism” (Mormon Doctrine,2nd ed. [1966], 832). This is an excellent example of “plain and
    precious” truths being taken from the Bible (1 Nephi 13:29).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *