The Problem of Claiming Liberal Bias in Biblical and Mormon Scholarship

Blake Ostler’s 1987 essay on the Book of Mormon as a modern expansion, by Joseph Smith, of an ancient source has been an important part of academic discussion within Mormon studies for over thirty years. Early responses were negative, leading Ostler to walk back some of his arguments in the original essay. Since those early criticisms in the late 1980s and up until the early 2000s it seems that Ostler’s theory has come to enjoy new life with both academic and lay Mormon audiences as a way to engage the Book of Mormon as history but also account for many of the historical issues in its pages as well.

Responses to Ostler’s paper are good examples, though, of a common flawed argument in Mormon studies that I would like to highlight. This regularly happens when scholars with a more traditionalist bent engage in knee-jerk reactions to new academic material that they are uncomfortable with. In this case, I will comment on the response to Ostler linked above, Stephen Robinson’s paper “The “Expanded” Book of Mormon?” First, though, a look at Robinson’s own scholarship on early Jewish and Christian pseudepigrapha will help to both contextualize and problematize his response to Ostler.

Robinson was, as he mentions at the beginning of his paper, trained in biblical studies at Duke University in North Carolina, a prestigious institution known for rigorous training and academic standards. Because of Robinson’s training and engagement within his field he was a part of the important two-volume set edited by James Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. He was one of the editors of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel and the editor of both the Testament of Adam and 4 Baruch. I cannot overstate the importance of these two volumes for the development and growth of the study of Jewish and Christian pseudepigrapha; Robinson was lucky to be involved in such a project and his work on each of the three texts represents good scholarship for the time that the volumes were published. Although many things have changed in the field since the 1980s, the volumes are still recommended and for the most part reliable. Anyone who wishes to understand early Jewish and Christian texts outside of traditional canons should own these books.

In his introduction on the Testament of Adam, for example, Robinson discusses the dating the dating of this text in standard, academic jargon. There are three separate sections to the Testament that were written at a different time by different authors, and in its final form the text dates to sometime around the middle or late third century CE. Robinson argues for a final “Christian redaction,” to the text because “the testament is familiar with the Christian traditions found in the New Testament and must therefore be dated after, say, A.D. 100” (Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:990). Robinson argues that the text’s original language is Syriac, an ancient dialect of Aramaic used by early Christians. These are important notes for understanding the historical composition of a book that claims to have authorial connections, at least in part, to Adam, the first man of the book of Genesis.

The fact that Robinson uses the presence of Christian traditions in the New Testament as a key part of his argument about the dating of the Testament is key to understanding Robinson’s response to Ostler. I assume that it would be awkward for the reader if I were to argue that Robinson denies predictive prophecy in his essay. In this case, his application of the basic methods and tools of modern critical scholarship on the Testament of Abraham would mean that he was jumping to conclusions, that the “hidden assumptions” at the core of his argument were unfounded and therefore his entire dating of the Testament of Adam needed to be rejected. He wasn’t leaving any room for a divine element in the construction of the Testament, only human and natural elements, and therefore limiting the evidence he was willing to look at. Why should we also, then, take at face value the important work he and others before him had done toward understanding the multiple authorship of the text? The text doesn’t say it was written by multiple authors, it provides a prophecy whose authorship is explicitly tied to Adam.

I hope that to each person who reads this post the above seems absurd. The years of training and deliberations behind the scenes of Robinson’s writings would have included taking into consideration all kinds of different historical, literary, and textual considerations into account for him to make the judgment that the Testament of Adam was written not by Adam but possibly (although now very unlikely) first Jewish authors with later Christian redactors. Language, ideas, and texts do not appear in vacuums, they all grow organically within specific social, political, and historical moments, and it is clear from the evidence that Robinson’s dating of the Testament of Adam is grounded in sound historical scholarship. What does this suggest about Robinson’s response to Ostler, though?

The hypothetical responses to Robinson’s work above come directly from Robinson’s response to Ostler’s paper. According to Robinson, Ostler had a naturalistic bias which clouded his judgment. Ostler can’t be right in his observations because he hasn’t considered that if he were to reframe the anachronistic sections of the Book of Mormon as being “predictive prophecy,” then he would understand that characters in the Book of Mormon could easily have known the theological developments that occurred not in the New Testament but in the centuries after within developing Christian theology.

Robinson appears to cut down the strength of his own work when he says, “It should be noted that the rejection of predictive prophecy is characteristic of the secular approach to the scriptures, for the exclusion of any supernatural agency (including God) from human affairs is fundamental to the methodology of most biblical scholarship.” Maybe if Robinson was here to discuss this issue he would say that his work on the Testament of Adam is different because it isn’t canon; it isn’t the Book of Mormon and therefore it doesn’t require the same kind of treatment. That might be true for an individual within the Mormon faith community in a devotional setting, but for anyone who wishes to seriously engage the compositional history of any given text the fact that a faith community includes it in its canon is irrelevant to the question of when the text was written.

The major breaking point, then, between what Ostler was attempting to do in 1987—similar to what many scholars within Mormon studies today are trying to do—and what Robinson did in his response in 1989 are drastically different. Ostler was attempting to engage seriously with the problems of historical anachronisms within the Book of Mormon. Although he was also trying to make that work with his belief that the Book of Mormon is still ancient in its origins, the primary effect of his approach was to take seriously the historical issues in his understanding of the authorship of the Book of Mormon. Robinson’s approach was purely devotional and apologetic since he desired Ostler and his readers to read predictive prophecy eisegetically into the text of the Book of Mormon. He never demonstrated how the Book of Mormon characters came to understand Jesus’s atonement the way they did through predictive prophecy, he just assumes that this is the catch-all problem of liberal scholarship and once you apply belief in predictive prophecy then everything is taken care of.

On the contrary, this cop-out answer in certain traditionalist Mormon circles is too heavily applied as a response to sound historical scholarship. For example, Monte Nyman, one of Robinson’s contemporaries at BYU, used this cop-out (like others before him) to argue against critical scholarship on Isaiah. “Actually, the authorship issue revolves around one’s acceptance or rejection of divine revelation” (Nyman, “Great are the Words of Isaiah”, 254). This isn’t even close to being an accurate portrayal of the issue in regards to either Isaiah studies or work on the Book of Mormon. H. G. M. Williamson, one of the most influential scholars on the study of Isaiah (meaning that his work is meticulous, careful, and encompassing), responding to this line of reasoning in his study The Book Called Isaiah (page 2), that

“in view of repeated accusations, it should be emphasized that this opinion [multiple authorship of Isaiah] is not necessarily motivated by a wish to circumvent the possibility of predictive prophecy. Indeed, there remains plenty of ‘prediction’, both general and specific, within Deutero-Isaiah itself, for example, if the bulk of Isaiah 40–55 is to be dated before the end of the period of Babylonian exile, and indeed it has frequently been maintained that part of the purpose of the concluding chapters of Isaiah was precisely to answer the problems raised by the apparent failure of these predictions to be borne out by the experience of the return and post-exilic restoration.”

Just like the apologists of the middle of the twentieth century that Williamson responded to, Robinson himself assumes too much about the methods that Ostler employs in his essay. Robinson attacks the devotional and theological straw man that he constructs while acting like the conversation wasn’t about strict historical discussion. Unfortunately, it seems like some of the personal and intellectual attacks on Ostler made him move away from some of his earlier, more sound historical observations about the literary construction of the Book of Mormon. It is unfortunate that he did not continue on the more reliable path that he set out for himself and others in 1987, but this might reflect a shift more toward theological construction than historical and therefore a different project than his earlier paper seems to have been out to do.

In any case, Robinson’s accusations against Ostler were totally unfounded and could be used against his own sound scholarly work on early Christian pseudepigrapha like the Testament of Adam. The evidence within that text is clear that the author was engaging with a Christian audience in a post-NT world, incorporating texts, language, and ideas that grew organically in specific social and historical contexts that then influenced the composition of the Testament. No one should ever use Robinson’s own arguments regarding Ostler’s essay against his work on the Testament, but at the same time no one should ever take Robinson’s response to Ostler’s paper seriously either. Fortunately, over the last twenty years or so more and more academic and lay Mormons have found that Ostler’s essay is essential to their reconstruction of understanding the Book of Mormon the more they learn about its internal and external problems. I would hope, though, that the knee-jerk reaction within Mormon academic circles to claim that scholars studying biblical texts and scriptures unique to Mormonism would leave behind the idea that at the heart of the issue is a belief or non-belief in predictive prophecy. Not only is it not true, it is a distraction that enables scholars like Robinson and others to not engage with the actual substance of sound, historical scholarship. Scholars should be able to expect better.

The Curious Announcement of Donald Parry’s Editorship for Biblia Hebraica Quinta

Back in 2009 BYU University Communications announced that Donald W. Parry, professor of Asian & Near Eastern Languages, had been selected as the editor for the book of Isaiah of the prestigious Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), the official scholarly critical edition of the Hebrew Bible used around the world. To put that into perspective, BHQ will be, on completion, the fifth edition of the famous Biblia Hebraica originally published in 1906 under the editorship of Rudolf Kittel. The academic study of the Hebrew Bible for over the last century has been driven by this edition and its legacy is huge. The announcement that Parry was going to be “one of about two dozen editors from the world wide community and one of only a few from the United States,” was a seemingly huge step forward for the academic study of the Bible within Mormonism. Seemingly.

The problem is, it doesn’t look like there was ever an official announcement from Deutsche Bibel Gisellschaft that Dr. Parry would be one of the two dozen editors. The Deseret News ran the story a couple of times in the summer of 2009, the Daily Herald ran it that May, and it was referenced again in the Deseret News later that year. The only officially named editor in BHQ for the book of Isaiah is Arie van der Kooij of the Universiteit Leiden.

Recently, Dr. Parry published an important new book, Exploring the Isaiah Scrolls and Their Textual Variants, in the Supplements to the Textual History of the Bible through Brill, one of the most prestigious publishing houses in biblical studies. The study itself could indicate that Dr. Parry has been doing the kind of background work necessary for a text-critical edition on the book of Isaiah, but, again, it is not clear if Dr. Parry is one of the official editors of BHQ. After searching online for any indication that this was the case from any source that did not simply go back to the announcement at BYU, which seemed to have Dr. Parry as its sole source, was not fruitful. And, if one takes a quick look at Dr. Parry’s publicly available CV, he does not have his supposed editorship of the BHQ listed there although he does have his most recent publications as well as forthcoming projects listed.

Based on the above I have to wonder about the possibility of each of the following scenarios in relation to the 2009 announcement:

(1) Dr. Parry was never assigned as “one of about two dozen editors” of the BHQ. Maybe this means that Dr. Parry thought he was going to be assigned and jumped the gun a little too early before finding out that was not the case. Maybe Dr. Parry loves the study of Isaiah so much that he believed things were moving in that direction. Or, maybe less likely, Dr. Parry made it up and there was never any direct indication from the BHQ team that he would edit Isaiah. In any case, if this is true then the 2009 announcement was based on someone claiming Dr. Parry was assigned as an editor when he wasn’t. That’s obviously problematic.

(2) Dr. Parry was assigned to edit Isaiah for the BHQ but then removed himself from the project. I find this highly unlikely. Not only has Dr. Parry continued to do extensive research on the text of Isaiah (see the link to his recent volume) that is directly connected to creating a text-critical edition, it would be foolish and surprising for a scholar in this field to willingly drop themselves from this weighty of a publication. If this was true then the 2009 announcement was accurate but a follow-up announcement indicating he had taken himself off of the project was never published, likely because of the awkwardness of announcing publicly that he had taken himself off the project.

(3) Dr. Parry was assigned to edit Isaiah but then the assignment was revoked. If this is the case then it would be interesting to understand why. Why would such a high profile assignment, something that would have taken serious deliberations by a committee to decide upon, be taken away? What would a scholar need to do for that to happen? Nothing has been announced in Dr. Parry’s past or recent scholarship that seems to be problematic (although his more devotional publications show a completely different person and/or side to Dr. Parry). This would also mean that there was no follow-up announcement in Deseret News or at BYU that Dr. Parry was no longer an editor on the project.

(4) Dr. Parry was never assigned on the main team of two dozen editors but instead to assist the main editor, Arie van der Kooij. If this is true, and it is probably the most likely of the four options I have outlined here, then that means that the original 2009 announcement was inaccurate. Dr. Parry was not one of the two dozen main editors of the BHQ, but on a broader team that would assist those editors. It means that his role was greatly amplified for the press announcement than what it was in reality. If this is the case then it would be even more necessary to understand who the original source for the 2009 story was out of BYU because that person was telling barely a half-truth. And by all accounts, it seems like Dr. Parry was the source for the announcement. In the original link the author said at the end of the write-up “For more information, contact Donald W. Parry at (801) 422-3491.” Assuming that is or was his office phone at BYU, I wonder how Dr. Parry would explain the situation if he was to respond.

BYU Religious Education’s Investment in Its Students

A major theme over the years at the Faith Promoting Rumor blog has been the department of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. Because BYU is known around the world as a religious university with a dedication to promulgating knowledge about the current and past state of religion in society, as well as training and preparing it students for the workforce, it would be natural to expect the university to house a department analogous to, say, the department of Theology at Notre Dame University, the department of Religious Studies at Brandeis University, the department of Religion at Baylor University, or the Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies.

This is not to say that BYU has to be “of the world,” but BYU itself recognizes the centrality of academic integrity and accredability to its mission. Since religion courses are part of the “University Core” of requirements (basically BYU’s general education requirements), one might assume that BYU is investing in a pool of professors in Religious Education that have training and expertise directly relating to the courses that they teach. This is important because BYU understands that it is training students to go on to jobs around the world, as well as prepare undergraduates for graduate work at prestigious universities around the globe. Two signs on campus at BYU intentionally welcome visitors and newcomers with the following slogans: “Enter to learn, Go Forth to Serve,” and “The World is Our Campus.” Coming at the question of how BYU invests in its students through the selection of faculty in Religious Education from the perspective that BYU is part of a broader academic community, it should go without saying that BYU would want to select only those who have the most relevant training for teaching students at the university level about religion in both its Church History and Doctrine and Ancient Scripture departments.

What would a potential faculty member in this sense look like? What makes them prepared to teach these courses? The requirements included in job postings at BYU for full-time faculty positions are all pretty similar: a potential hire must have a PhD in the specific area of expertise for the job or in a related field; they must be willing to teach a certain number of courses a year; they must be actively publishing research in their area of specialization; and most job descriptions end with the range of specializations that would qualify the person for the position. This list is both a good and a bad thing when it comes to Religious Education at the university. A quick description of the course requirements in the department will help to clarify.

First, according to the university’s website, all religion courses required for graduation must be taken at the Provo campus. No courses taken at other BYU campuses or in LDS Institutes qualify. The number of religion credits may vary depending on the number of transfer credits each student has, but all incoming freshman at the university will be required to take 14 credits in Religious Education (which amounts to seven classes altogether). Among those fourteen, and for every student regardless of credits transferred, it is required that each student takes four specific courses (with their departments): The Eternal Family (Church History and Doctrine), Foundations of the Restoration (Church History and Doctrine), Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel  (Ancient Scripture), and Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon (Ancient Scripture). There are exceptions to the requirements of the first, third, and fourth courses—you can substitute them for other courses—but the differences are minimal.

The content taught in these courses—courses again required of every student that wishes to graduate from BYU—suggests that students should be able to expect a short list of specific qualities they would find in their professors. The professors (1) will have a PhD from an accredited university that is relevant to the course, (2) will be engaging with other specialists in their field by researching, writing, and publishing their work that allows others to engage with and critique what they have found or are arguing, and (3) that the university and department have done their due diligence in selecting the very best from a broad range of applicants. Unfortunately, it appears that departmental politics and a lengthy history of an aversion to “worldly” academic study have allowed a certain perspective to retain authority in Religious Education in regards to hiring new faculty members. This is seen among other things, for instance, in the fact that many of the faculty members in Religious Education who have received Continuing Faculty Status (BYU’s soft version of academic tenure) have been allowed to do so despite having little to no peer-reviewed publications in their respective fields.

Currently, there are 74 faculty members, 1 visiting faculty, and 24 part-time or Seminaries & Institutes employees listed on the faculty directory. Of the 74 faculty 6 of them are women (8%), a dismal number given the fact that many qualified women have applied for job openings and been rejected on grounds that might question the role of sexism if they took place in other university settings. While there are several faculty members in the department who have degrees that are relevant to the subject matter they teach, many of them have doctoral degrees in Computer Science, Educational Leadership, Family Studies, or, in one case, claims to have a PhD in Biblical Studies from an unaccredited bible college, ultimately a degree that would not count as fulfilling the PhD requirement in the job posting at BYU today. Many other faculty members were trained in Early American History, Religious Studies, Early Christianity, Archaeology, Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible, etc. Not all of these faculty members continue to engage directly with their fields upon getting hired at BYU, though, a focus that one would expect to find in any other academic setting.

There is a saying sometimes heard in the halls of Religious Education soon after a new hire is beginning to settle in: the faculty members there have a “higher purpose” in their teaching and that “it takes about five years to wash away the PhD.” This is unfortunate because if not for the PhD degree faculty members never would have been hired by the university in the first place. The effect of this mentality is seen on the CVs of the majority of the professors in the department (if they have a CV at all!). Most of them play inside baseball to the extent that they are not even engaging with the academic conversations of their fellow Mormon scholars but mostly writing and publishing the same thing over and over again for a devotional Mormon audience in Deseret Book (and its smaller imprints), Cedar Fort, self-publishing, or other related venues that allow them to circumvent the very foundation of the training that made them qualified for their jobs: peer-review.

To what extent does BYU ‘s department of Religious Education invest in their students? Currently it is not in providing faculty high in academic quality. To be sure, as previously mentioned, there are wonderful exceptions to that rule, but of the 74 faculty members how many of them fulfill the description in the regular job posting? The department also focuses on student evaluations that presumably show the high quality of spiritual engagement students are receiving, but I am skeptical that the evaluations really say what the department heads think they say. It is much easier for undergraduate students to take a 2 credit course that, if taken by the right professor, will have a minimal impact on their time and reading schedules, potentially freeing up time to socialize and do other things. One or two of those professors might also provide an abundance of hugs to their students, creeping out some students and exciting others. Stating in a course evaluation that one class was more or less “spiritual” might actually mean that it was more or less like their experience in church attendance where little intellectual effort is required. How can the department heads be sure that the evaluations actually represent the perfect blend of both spiritual and intellectual development, especially when many of the courses taught by less-qualified faculty present content more closely related to a glorified seminary or institute class? LDS youth experience a four-year cycle of information at church that becomes more and more familiar to them as they get older, and it is obvious why the focus is more devotional than intellectual at church. At a university, though, in a department where every student has to take and pay for required courses, students should expect to learn new things they’ve never heard before and be stretched intellectually. If department heads would look closer at the evaluations they might notice a trend in non-Religious Education courses about how students felt more fulfilled learning new things and experiencing the world a little differently for once.

The majority of the faculty in Religious Education voted against the current curriculum taught in Religious Education several years ago but it was implemented anyway. One might hope for a future BYU Religious Education where faculty members are better trained and vetted from relevant doctoral fields. These scholars would ideally work in a better version of Religious Education that focuses on the intellectual development of its students in ways similar to related departments at Notre Dame, Brandeis, Baylor, and the Catholic University of America. It would only take the realization of a few of the administrators at BYU and in the department of Religious Education to make these much needed changes. Unfortunately, echoing Thomas W. Simpson’s recent work on the history of Mormonism and its response to higher education, this “seems destined to elude [them] until the millennium, indefinitely postponed, comes at last.”

The BYU Honor Code Office and the Idea of Reasonableness

Those aware of the similarities and differences between Brigham Young University-Provo (BYU), Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-I), and Brigham Young University-Hawaii (BYU-H) have grown accustomed to knowing that while BYU may have some interesting tendencies in its culture surrounding dress, grooming, standards in the apartments, and prior aversion to caffeinated beverages (they’ve progressed on that, yay), none of their wackiness comes close to what can be seen at BYU-I. There, in Rexburg, Idaho, students are not allowed to wear shorts at all (except and only when engaging in a sport for a class) anytime of the year. Recently, photos of the difference in the clothing cheerleaders are allowed to wear at both universities have been highlighted online and in social media.

BYU’s Honor Code Office has been in the news over the last several years for a handful of problematic practices and relationships between it, the Title IX office, and the private but recently decertified (because of these practices) BYU Police. In the wake of these revelations the BYU Title IX and Honor Code offices has shifted, attempting to rebrand themselves as aware of the systemic and cultural issues that are found on campus and highlighted in recent media coverage, and some have felt that the efforts of a few in the new office are noteworthy and suggest that real change might be coming soon.

It is in this context that I present to you few excerpts from the recently revised BYU Honor Code website. At first reading these seem to be a lot more appropriate in a BYU-I context, and show a surprising lack of self awareness in the way that they present answers to faculty questions about Dress & Grooming. Does this sound like the kind of appropriate change that will actually make a difference on campus at BYU, or does it sound more like the change is leaning toward BYU-I? I’ll you decided the answer to that question. The office clearly wants faculty to include the university’s Dress & Grooming standards on their syllabus (why doesn’t the university have that as a policy?), and they not only treat the adult students at the university like irresponsible ten year old children, the new website reads like an uncomfortable exercise in guilt tripping faculty to get after the students. While, again, that does appear to be a part of BYU’s history, does this sound more like BYU or BYU-I?

1. Question: Is a student’s fashion or overall appearance really my responsibility? Isn’t that the job of the Honor Code Office? Answer: Dress and grooming are often reiterated tenets of the Honor Code. The Board of Trustees regards all members of the BYU community as representatives of the Church and the University, and they have a definite view of how such representatives should look. They ask everyone in the community to take an active role in this matter and faculty members are key figures in this community. In short, yes! It is your responsibility and everyone else’s, too.

2. Question: One of my male students has shoulder-length hair; but when he comes to class, he keeps it tucked up under a cap. I told him I wouldn’t give him credit until he got it cut. He’s protesting that I can’t do that. Can I? Answer: Faculty members certainly can! They are the stewards for everything that happens in their classroom. Of course, faculty members credibility is enhanced if they are up front about their personal support of the university’s Dress and Grooming standards, such as placing a clear statement in their syllabi, and/or making appropriate introductory comments on the first day of class.

3. Question: One of my female students has shaved her head. Do I have a responsibility here? Answer: Yes, faculty have a responsibility in this situation! A girl shaving her head, a guy dying his hair bright blue, or any other extreme fashion is not appropriate for representatives of the Church and the University.

4. Question: One of my male students wears black clothing and eye shadow to class; and his fingernails are at least half an inch long. What can I do about it? Answer: That sort of appearance is not appropriate for a BYU student, particularly a male. It is suggested that a faculty member 1) invite the student in for a confidential interview to explain the issue concerning the student’s appearance and teach a principle; or 2) if the student seems unreceptive, contact the Honor Code Office. Also, faculty may take their own action, such as prohibiting attendance at class, until the necessary adjustments are made. Of course, this would be simplified if there had already been a clear statement in the syllabus, or otherwise, regarding support of the university’s Dress and Grooming Standards.

5. Question: In my eight o’clock class, one of the guys always shows up half-asleep and with a face full of scruffy whiskers. Isn’t that a violation of dress and grooming standards? How can I help him? Answer: A male student is required to shave at least every 24 hours. Although it’s conceivable that he’s within the limit according to the letter of the law, he is certainly marginal relative to the spirit of it. Why not have a confidential visit with him to discuss it, and challenge him to do better. If he has a scruffy attitude to go along with his appearance, give the Honor Code Office a call.

6. Question: One of my female students has a tongue post. You can’t really tell until she tries to talk; then it becomes very obvious. It must be a violation of some kind. What should I do about it? Answer: The only body piercing sanctioned by BYU Dress and Grooming Standards is a maximum of one per earlobe for women. No body piercing is sanctioned for men. A tongue post is not appropriate for either gender. Arrange for a confidential interview. Tell the student how you feel about that choice, and teach a principle. The faculty member may remind the student that class attendance may be prohibited, if necessary, and the Honor Code Office is available to help.

7. Question: I’m a male faculty member, and I do a lot of my teaching in a “pit”-style classroom. The raised seating reveals some sights that are downright embarrassing. It would really help if all of my students were in compliance with Dress and Grooming Standards; but I’m very uncomfortable approaching offending female students. Can the Honor Code Office help? Answer: It is best to cover the topic adequately in the syllabus and introductory comments at the outset; then follow up with general public comments along the way. If there are still have offenders who don’t “get it,” give the Honor Code Office a call. They will take it from there.

8. Question: Some of my students come to my class on the upper campus in P.E. clothing. They say it is “BYU issue”, so it’s legal, but the shorts are well above their knees. Is that appropriate? Answer: No! Although P.E. issue is appropriate for the course or activity for which it was issued, it is not appropriate for general wear in any other academic or public area. Invite the student in for a confidential interview, point this out, and teach a principle. Let the Honor Code Office know if they can help.

9. Question: A guy in one of my classes wears sideburns clear to the bottom of his earlobes. His hair is cut above his ears and collar, but it always looks windblown. His shorts come to the knee, but he has hairy legs. And not only that, on the warmer days, he wears sandals without socks! He and I have talked about his appearance, but he claims he is in full compliance with BYU Dress and Grooming Standards. I disagree. Which one of us is right? Answer: It sounds like he has a good case. Trimmed sideburns to the bottom of the ear lobe are permitted, along with hair which is off the ear and collar. Shorts to the knee and sandals, even without socks, are allowed. No mention is made of a windblown hairstyle or hairy legs in the Honor Code.

10. Question: Although I support the BYU Honor Code, I really don’t want to get involved with the hassle of enforcing Dress and Grooming standards in my classes. How can I help without getting bogged down in the details?Answer:

– Be a personal example.
– Publish a clear statement supporting the Honor Code in your syllabus.
– Be vocally supportive in your classes.
– Call the Honor Code Office, or the Student Honor Association (SHA), if either of them could help.

P. S. Yes, I noticed that I never said anything about BYU-H except to include them in the grouping of BYU campuses (there are more, actually). Do they do anything? I assume that they are at least allowed to wear shorts.

Early Anglo-American and British Descriptions of Native American Skin Color: Updating a Recent Paper

The Book of Mormon Studies Association is soon going to host its third annual conference, again in Logan, Utah at Utah State University from October 11–12, 2019. Having attended each of the two previous conferences I can simply state that the conference is growing and there have been many papers presented at the various sessions that have been thought-provoking, sparking ideas or at least responses to ideas I might not have considered if I had not attended.

One of those came the first year the conference was held, 2017, as a bright PhD student in the History department at the University of Utah, Jeremy Talmage, presented a paper entitled, “Black, White, and Red All Over: Race and the Book of Mormon.” In his presentation Talmage seemed to be arguing that readers of the Book of Mormon had for the previous 187 years had been misreading the text all along. While the Book of Mormon might describe the Lamanites as having a “skin of blackness” (2 Ne. 5:21) no one in early American history had called Native Americans “black” that he could find. He had searched all over in newspapers and books and had found nothing. So, early on in the book’s history readers of the Book of Mormon had imposed images of Native Americans onto the text’s description of the Lamanites and readers had been simply following that mistake ever since. The book never called them “red,” which is something you might expect in the early national period because that was the most common term used to describe Native Americans.

During the Q&A after the session the room seemed a little confused Talmage’s paper. He had argued based on one of the connections between Lamanites and Native Americans that the majority of readers since the book was published had mistakenly read the Lamanites as Native Americans, but what about all of the other connections? He claimed that the prevalent reading was mistaken but didn’t offer an alternative. I raised my hand and asked about other descriptions in the Book of Mormon that seem to be pretty clear connections to rhetoric used often in the early national period to describe Native Americans, like the constant reference to their “idleness” or being “idle” (cf. 1 Ne. 12:23; 2 Ne. 5:24; Alma 24:18), living “in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents” (Alma 22:28) and the counting of time as based on the number of “moons” (Omni 1:21). I asked that if you take the descriptions of the Lamanites holistically and include more than just the blackness or darkness (the more common phrase in the Book of Mormon) of their skin color doesn’t the book seem to intentionally be describing them in ways reminiscent of early nineteenth century Native Americans?

Although I failed to also include at the time the fact that Joseph Smith, Jr. believed that the Book of Mormon Lamanites were Native Americans, and that in Doctrine and Covenants 30:6 Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jr. are said to go on a mission to the nineteenth-century Lamanites (the Native Americans; see also Doctrine and Covenants 3:20; 49:24), Talmage agreed with me. The other descriptions of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon do make it pretty clear that the Lamanites were the predecessors to the Native Americans. I was dumbstruck and did not know how to follow up because it seemed so contradictory to his entire thesis, then the session ended and we all headed on our way.

Since then I have seen a few people reference Talmage’s paper as if his conclusions are set in stone, particularly that, as Thomas Wayment put it in the BYU Religious Education Review (Winter 2018): 7, Talmage showed “that early Americans, including Joseph Smith, consistently described American Indians as red-skinned, not black-skinned (as in the Book of Mormon).” Like most historical topics, the actual picture of early American descriptions of the color of Native American skin is much more complicated than what Talmage presented in his paper. After about the fourth or fifth time I saw another person share Talmage’s claim I decided to look a little closer at early American literature to see what I could find.

Unfortunately, as tends to happen in Mormon studies fairly often, rather than double and triple checking Talmage’s work others were simply accepting it and moving forward as if it was an established conclusion. This is one of the reasons why the Book of Mormon Studies Association’s annual conference has not really included the public (although it has not only been lay Mormons who have cited Talmage’s paper), because the papers share preliminary work and not necessarily well-established and publishable essays. Many of them are simply not yet at the stage where the scholars have engaged critically with other scholars in their field on what they have written, which is why they present at conferences like these.

I will update Talmage’s claim that no one in early America, as far as he could tell, ever described Native Americans as black or having a skin of blackness with only three sources that I found in my research in a relatively short amount of time. The first source comes from the travels to America in 1795, 1796, and 1797 of Irish explorer Isaac Weld. His travel accounts were published soon after his travels and sold so well that by 1799 there was a second edition already in print. In the ensuing decades Weld’s travels were reprinted in William Fordyce Mavor’s twenty-eight volume series A general collection of voyages and travels, including the most interesting records of navigators and travellers, from the discovery of America by Columbus, in 1492, to the travels of Lord Valentia, originally published between 1796–1801 in London and 1796–1803 in New York. In Weld’s description of the Native Americans he comments in Volume XXIV on some of the similarities and differences between their “complexion” and European complexions. He notes that Native Americans “commonly” have “a copper color” complexion, but he goes on to complicate this generalization. According to Weld the complexion of Native American skin is copper,

“but…varies in the most surprising manner; some of them having no darker skins than the French or Spaniards, while others are nearly black. The contemplation of this fact, has induced many French missionaries, and other persons, who have resided for a considerable time among the Indians, to suppose, that their colour does not naturally differ from that of the nations of Europe, but that the darkness prevalent among them is to be solely attributed to their use of unguents, and to their constant exposure to the ardent rays of the sun, and the smoke of wood fires. It is indeed a well known fact, that their complexion at their birth is much lighter than in their advanced years; and it is equally true, that they endeavour, by every means in their power, to render their skins dark, imagining it will contribute greatly to the improvement of their personal appearance;”

Mavor goes on to comment on Weld’s description by providing the example of, “The Missisaguis, residing in the vicinage of the lake Ontario, are represented as the darkest of any Indians seen by our traveller, in the course of his researches; yet, even among these, are several individuals, whose complexions are comparatively light, which seems to corroborate Mr. Weld’s assertion, that the variety of hues is more particularly confined to certain families than to the tribes. The least variety is among the females, few of whom are darker than what we term a dirty copper-colour” (Mavor, A general collection of voyages and travels, 144–145; this is also quoted in Christopher Kelly, A New and Complete System of Universal Geography [London: Thomas Kelly, 1819], 554.). In the second decade of the nineteenth century this popular traveler, Isaac Weld, wrote a nuanced description of Native Americans. Although his writings did not greatly influence popular rhetoric about the color of Native American skin, the fact that he was engaging with European views prior to his own writing, and soon after Mavor’s engagement with Weld’s description, highlights the fact that not all Europeans accepted the idea that all Native Americans were simply “red.” Some were actually viewed as having a similar tone as Europeans, and others were considered to be black.

Hugh Williamson, a resident of New York writing for The Philosophical Magazine and Journal in 1816, wrote an article entitled, “Observations on the Hypothesis of some modern Writers, that America has been peopled by a distinct Race of Men and Animals; with some Proofs arising from the Natural History and Appearances of the new Continent in favour of the Mosaic Account of the Deluge.” While it seems pretty certain that Williamson would have disagreed with some of Weld’s and Mavor’s descriptions of the Native Americans, he too complicates Talmage’s claim that early Americans simply described Native Americans as “red.”

After noting that the extreme differences in skin color found throughout Europe are not exactly found in America, Williamson bases his understanding on the effect geography can have on skin tone, stating that

“Although no part of America is fitted to the production of a black skin, nor would many parts of this continent be expected to produce a skin perfectly fair, among the original inhabitants; we are not to believe, as some writers have alleged, that the American Indians are all of one colour. Their skin is tinged with a variety of shades between white and black; but there are Indians, as we are told, above the latitude of 45 degrees north, who are nearly white; and there are Indians in Guiana and Brazil, at a distance from the coast, whose skins are very dark.”

Hugh Williamson, “Observations on the Hypothesis of some modern Writers, that America has been peopled by a distinct Race of Men and Animals; with some Proofs arising from the Natural History and Appearances of the new Continent in favour of the Mosaic Account of the Deluge,” in Alexander Tilloch, ed., The Philosophical Magazine and Journal: Comprehending the Various Branches of Science, the Liberal and Fine Arts, Geology, Agriculture, Manufactures and CommerceVol. XLVIII for July, August, September, October, November, and December, 1816 (London: Printed by Richard and Arthur Taylor, 1816), 205–207.

For Williamson the biological reality of the color of Native American skin is on a spectrum between white and black. Native American tones might not get as light or as dark as what Williamson says you might see in Europe, it is problematic to simply state that they are all of one color. There is much more of a variety than some of his contemporaries then, and clearly many today, seemed to believe.

The third and final source describes a Native American who likely had Vitiligo, a condition where an individual loses the pigment in their skin. According to the author, Mr. Benedict, the Native American was happy about his turn to white, although, as Benedict describes, there were still certain parts of his body that had remained black:

“The following is an extract of a letter from Mr. Benedict, of Lebanon, to the Rev. President Stiles of Yale College, giving an account of a remarkable change in the complexion of an Indian.“This Indian is about forty years of age; he calls himself by the name of Samuel Adams, and was born at Frammington in the State of Connecticut; he is tall and well made, his hair is long and coarse, and of the pure Indian black, but grows out of a skin as white as a lily. He tells me that he began to whiten about two years before I saw him, which was in July 1786; the white first appeared upon his breast, and gradually spread from thence. I carefully examined him, and found him to be entirely white, excepting the prominent parts of his face, viz., his forehead, cheek bones, nose, and about his chin, which were of the pure Indian colour, and I think darker than common for that nation; the colors in his face did not form a shade by running into each other, but were both of them entire to the very line of contact, and exhibited a very grotesque appearance. His arms were white, but his hands were pyed, and his fingers the natural Indian color; it was the same with his feet as with his hands, they were interspersed with the natural tawny; his toes were black, but his legs and thighs are wholly white: what is worthy of observation is, that the white is perfectly natural, and very fair for an Englishman. I compared him with fourteen or fifteen other persons who were at my house, of both sexes, and he was visibly the fairest: he told me, that he enjoyed an uninterrupted state of health both before and since he began to whiten. He appears pleased with his transmutation; but, alas! he is still Indian enough to disregard his promise, and to intoxicate himself with spirits. By information of others, who have seen him since these observations were made the remaining black still continues to disappear.””

“American News,” in The Literary Magazine and British Review (January, 1789): 72–73.

For all of the authors quoted above Native American skin tones were viewed in the early national period as more complex than Talmage’s paper suggested. For one author some Native Americans are as fair as some Frenchmen or Spaniards, and some others are black. This blackness of skin can be attributed to their habits, their standards of beauty (another connection to the Book of Mormon, although the Book of Mormon assumes the opposite; cf. 2 Ne. 5:21), or to their exposure to the sun.

For the second author most Native Americans fall somewhere on a spectrum of lighter or darker reddish-brown skin, but, as the author says, “Their skin is tinged with a variety of shades between white and black.” And, finally, the third author viewed the change in one Native American’s skin color from black to white as something of an oddity, mentioning often that his health continued to be okay throughout the change, and unaware that some people can lose skin pigmentation.

Each of these sources offer a counter-narrative to the one presented by Jeremy Talmage at the Book of Mormon Studies Association conference in 2017. It is unfortunate that several authors since Talmage presented his paper have treated it as if held set conclusions, and hope that scholars within Mormon studies would be more careful moving forward to not simply accept the claims of a conference presentation but constructively engage with them and seek to complicate them more thoroughly by more rigorous recourse to the historical record.

Edit: I was completely unaware until this morning that Jeremy Talmage’s paper, “Black, White, and Red All Over: Skin Color in the Book of Mormon,” was going to be published today in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 28 (2019): 46-68.

Your Help Please: Who Was Surveilling Leonard Arrington While He Worked at BYU?

Leonard Arrington is known for producing some of the most important scholarly work on Mormonism during the twentieth-century, and for being the father or grandfather intellectually speaking of almost every historian of Mormonism over the last several decades. The first academic to be given the title “Church Historian” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (no one who previously  held the position was a trained historian), he worked in that position from 1972-1982 and was, with many of his colleagues in the history department of the LDS Church, subsequently moved to Brigham Young University to help start the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History. Arrington’s departure from the historical department of the church and move to BYU came after it went public that there were disagreements and some infighting within the church hierarchy over what kind of history should be allowed to be written, who should be allowed to write it, and what kind of access to the historical manuscripts held by the church should be allowed to not only outsiders but insiders as well. This is all well documented in Arrington’s book Adventures of a Church Historian.

One interesting note that I recently came across in Arrington’s papers, that I have not seen mentioned in his diaries or a recent biography, is the possibility that Arrington was spied on while teaching at Brigham Young University in order to ensure that he wasn’t teaching anything too liberal. This is fascinating in light of the fact that at least a few employees in BYU’s Religious Education department had the same experience as recently as four years ago. If it is true that Arrington was also recorded then this suggests a decades-long tradition of BYU professors being recorded and spied on. That maybe this has happened not just every once in a while when a rogue administrator has feelings similar to Ernest Wilkinson’s, but a continuous attempt since Wilkinson to have near complete control over what is presented in the classroom.

The document itself is only a small piece of scratch paper. In Arrington’s hand the document says:

“Acc. to Jay Bell, David Handy was asked to spy on me at BYU class with a tape. 6/12/98”

I have a good idea who Jay Bell is, may he rest in peace. I do not know for sure, though, who David Handy might be. If you know who he is would you be able to share either here or send an email to yakovbentov at yahoo dot com? Thank you in advance for your help.


The Authorship of Isaiah Revisited: A Response to Daniel Ellsworth

A few days after my recent post about the Isaiah that Nephi could not have known, Daniel T. Ellsworth’s article on the authorship of Isaiah from an LDS perspective was posted over at Mormon Interpreter. Although only four days apart, the timing was accidental and in a way fortuitous, neither of us knowing that we were going to be posting on the same topic. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ellsworth’s piece, but I think that there are a few things that are worth briefly responding to here.

Once I was able to sit down and read through all of Ellsworth’s post, I was glad to find a more thorough and positive engagement with contemporary scholarship on the development of the Book of Isaiah than has been customary in the past from various FARMS and BYU approaches, as I explained in my previous post. Ellsworth thinks that, “despite some compelling textual reasons to question the critical scholarly consensus around the dating of the material comprising the book of Isaiah, I believe it would be a tremendous mistake for Latter-day Saints to simply discard scholarly approaches to the book of Isaiah out of a desire to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” Laying aside the pretentiousness of claiming to know textual difficulties of Isaiah better than scholars who not only read the book primarily in Hebrew, but compare at length all of the manuscripts of Isaiah as part of their career, I was glad to see that Ellsworth is inviting other Latter-day Saints to think deeper about this scholarship and not simply write it off out of a desire to defend the Book of Mormon.

I was even more impressed that Ellsworth not only cares about, but has clearly spent time gathering literary parallels from secondary sources between the book of Isaiah and other Israelite literature that traditionally dates to about the same time or a little while after Isaiah. Ellsworth turns to important studies by serious scholars like Richard Schultz,[1] Marvin Sweeney,[2] and Joseph Blenkinsopp[3] in order to understand this literature and the reasons why scholars share the view that Isaiah is not a unified whole, and why the division of the text is much more complicated than the simple tripartite division of Isaiah 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66. This point was a major aspect of my previous post, showing that much of Isa. 1-5, 13-14, 24-27, and 34-39 were not written by Isaiah of Jerusalem, and that the rest of the chapters in that section of the book would not have had the form they currently do in any pre-exilic context.

For the most part Ellsworth’s article is exemplary for at least the tone and engagement that I would hope to see more of within Mormon studies on the issue of the authorship of Isaiah. Where Ellsworth falls short, though, is in his understanding of why scholars view many parts of Isaiah as being written by later authors and in his partial and carefully selected examples of parallels between Isaiah and other prophetic or scriptural texts.

Ellsworth focuses much of his post on connections between the book of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah in order to make an argument that all of these prophets were contemporaries so Jeremiah likely had Isaiah, or Isaiah and Micah shared common themes or Micah was dependent on Isaiah. These connections are wonderful to know about and are important to keep in mind but are only a small part of the larger literary problem of the book of Isaiah as a whole. For instance, as I noted in note 39 in my previous post, Deutero-Isaiah is dependent throughout its sixteen chapters on post-exilic writings. This alone would have been good enough reason for me as an editor of the journal to have Ellsworth make major revisions to his essay. To leave out these studies while focusing so much on connections between Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah is irresponsible at best and gives the audience the wrong impression. This is a major failing of Ellsworth’s essay.

The work of Benjamin Sommer[4] and Patricia Tull Willey,[5] among others, has more than solidified the observation that Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah is dependent on post-exilic writings. This is not because scholars and Mormons bring different assumptions to the table when exploring these issues, Mormon beliefs about the authorship of Isaiah are actually not different from other traditional assumptions on this topic. What is different is how open an individual student is to reevaluating assumptions in the light of new evidence. Not all believing Mormons who engage with scholarship on Isaiah continue to have the same assumptions as Ellsworth about the authorship of Isaiah afterward, and many who enter the field for a career understand that some of the basic arguments he makes throughout his post are much more nuanced than he assumes. Are these students no longer Mormons because they don’t share the same assumptions as he does?

Ellsworth claims, as many before him have, that a part of discarding Isaianic authorship of Isa. 40-66, and some other specific sections of Isa. 1-39, requires that one does not believe in predictive prophecy. On the contrary, you have to read predictive prophecy into the text of Deutero-Isaiah to view it as authored by Isaiah of Jerusalem. This has already been discussed heavily in the literature, at least as far back as S. R. Driver’s An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament:

“In the present prophecy there is no prediction of exile: the exile is not announced as something still future; it is presupposed, and only the release from it is predicted. By analogy, therefore, the author will have lived in the situation which he thus presupposes, and to which he continually alludes.”[6]

Ellsworth, and unfortunately many others since scholars were responding to this argument over 120 years ago, unfortunately misunderstands the scholarly position on this issue. It is not that Mormonism provides a new context for understanding predictive prophecy, but rather the struggle for any reader to correctly understand whether or not a text is predicting this or that about the future. Scholars do not deny the possibility that the author of Deutero-Isaiah was writing, in some respects, before the fall of the Babylonian empire and that this author predicted salvation for the exiled Israelites and a return to their land coupled with a rebuilding of the temple. Rather, that is at the very center of most composition theories. Many scholars have argued that the failed aspects of Deutero-Isaiah’s predictions (and there were successful parts of the predictions as well!) brought on the responses now found in Isa. 56-66.[7] You have to ignore a very large amount of research in order to sustain the idea that scholars simply date texts late because they don’t accept predictive prophecy. A similar mistake would be to attach too much “predictive prophetic” weight to Doctrine and Covenants 130:14-17, where Joseph Smith could be read as saying that Jesus’ second coming would happen around late 1890, Smith’s 85th birthday. It may or may not be clear to some readers today that wasn’t the intention, but there were still people who expected the second coming in 1890.[8] There are more balanced approaches one can take to predictive prophecy than to simply state that as a difference between Mormons and scholars.

Another point Ellsworth makes throughout his post is that a prophet’s viewpoint can change after a decades long prophetic career, but he never gives any examples of this, ancient or modern. It seems to be a tacit assumption that Isaiah is a good example of this, but hopefully that is not the case because of obvious circular reasoning that would need to be involved in that argument. In any case Ellsworth does not explain his reasons for this view other than stating them.

Ellsworth also suggests something unique that Mormons bring extra resources for: that texts change and are revised at a significant level over several years. This is not something unique to Mormonism, and the ideas that were core to solidifying this perspective within Mormonism were widespread in early 19th century American Protestantism. Bibles signified to their readers that the italics in the King James Version were supplied because the words were not found in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts, leading to assumptions that the italics signified scribal or copying mistakes. Major mistakes in poor quality printing at the beginning of the American republic also led to many people being cautious about which printings to buy and who to buy from. You didn’t want to get a copy of a Bible with a lot of mistakes and somehow be led astray. Those concepts are the historical backdrop to the eighth article of the Mormon faith, and Mormonism has not continued to heavily contribute to those scholarly explorations or help advance them in many significant ways.

All of these points are important, but after reading Ellsworth’s essay I was left with a little bit of hope for potential future studies in Mormon apologetic circles on issues of biblical authorship. At least, until I read the comments. Ellsworth’s essay made a few people slightly angry, but most of all they brought out some of Ellsworth’s true feelings about academic inquiry into the authorship of Isaiah. For Ellsworth, “The reason critical scholars have to believe in multiple authorship is, they operate with a completely different set of assumptions that necessitate the invention of multiple authors. I have no reason to believe that the Isaiah material in the BoM is post-exilic.” He has no reason, after engaging with Blenkinsopp, Sweeney, J. J. M. Roberts, or any of the others he found no reason whatsoever to see how much of Isaiah was written during or after the Babylonian exile.

Ellsworth claims in the comments section that, “I don’t see any reason to believe that any of the BoM Isaiah material is post-exilic. I can’t take the critical scholarly view at face value, because I reject the assumptions that require late dating of that material. If those Isaiah passages were written in late Biblical Hebrew or had some other compelling reason for late dating, I might chalk their BoM presence up to some brilliant midrash on the part of Joseph Smith, or some similar explanation.” This is where the ability to study the text in Hebrew would have come in handy for Ellsworth. As David Bokovoy has noted,

“Unlike what we find in the first half of the book of Isaiah, Aramaic has heavily influenced the language in Isaiah 40-66. Not only does this fact provide compelling proof that the material in 40-66 was written by other authors, it shows that these authors were living in a time when Jews were speaking Aramaic. Aramaic became the international language used by the Assyrians to govern their empire in the eighth century. But Jews living in Jerusalem during the time of the historical Isaiah spoke Hebrew. This explains why Hezekiah’s envoy pleaded with the Assyrians to make terms in Aramaic so that the people listening would not understand what was said (2 Kings 18). It also explains why we do not see any Aramaic influence in the material connected with the historical Isaiah.”[9]

Not only did Aramaic influence the language of the author of many of the passages in Isaiah identified as post-exilic, we also have examples of post-exilic Hebrew all throughout the chapters as well. Bokovoy goes on again to provide a quick example of post-exilic Hebrew, but refers his readers to Shalom Paul’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66 and to the more extensive examples of post-exilic Hebrew he has listed there.[10] The issue is, in my view, an overconfidence based on limited engagement and experience with the in-depth and thorough conversations that are not only currently going on in scholarly circles but that have been going on for several hundred years. I think the more appropriate approach, which seems like it was almost made a part of Ellsworth’s essay, comes from Grant Hardy on the very question of Deutero-Isaiah:

“A more promising avenue for the faithful, it seems, is to acknowledge that we probably know less about what constitutes an “inspired translation” than we do about ancient Israel.”[11]

And by this Hardy does not mean that we cannot know anything about ancient Israel, or that the “(always tentative) results of scholarship” mean that scholars have not made any discoveries that will stand the test of time. On the contrary, the achievements of scholars should be recognized for what they are. When scholars can agree with one another, when it is their job to find places to disagree with current and past paradigms, and maybe even create new ones, this is not only significant but also something that laypeople can think more about and engage with. This means that there is a vast literature that is ready to be studied and is just waiting to be read.


[1] Richard L. Schultz, Search for Quotation: Verbal Parallels in the Prophets (JSOTSup 180; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).

[2] 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); and Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66 (The Forms of Old Testament Literature; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016).

[3] Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1-39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Yale Bible, 19; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); and Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40-55: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible, 19a; New York: Doubleday, 2002); and Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56-66: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible Bible, 19b; New York: Doubleday, 2003).

[4] Benjamin D. Sommer, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40-66 (Contraversions: Jews and Other Differences; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

[5] Patricia Tull Willey, Remember the Former Things: The Recollection of Previous Texts in Second Isaiah (SBL Dissertation Series, 161; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).

[6] S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (International Theological Library; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1898), 237; also quoted in H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 3.

[7] For example, see Konrad Schmid, The Old Testament: A Literary History (Tranls. Linda M. Maloney; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 167-169.

[8] Adding to this were several other statements from Joseph Smith that the second coming could potentially happen around 1890 or so. See Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), 238.

[9] (Last accessed 9/23/2017).

[10] Shalom M. Paul, Isaiah 40-66: A Commentary (The Eerdmans Critical Commentary; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), especially pp. 43-44.

[11] Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 69.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


The Authorship of Isaiah


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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diachronic or Synchronic? A Response to Nicholas J. Frederick


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

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

Evaluating the Interaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Bringing 2 Esdras/4 Ezra into Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gee’s “Unparrallels”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[29] Donaldson, “Parallels,” 200.

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

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

[32] See this for more details.

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

[34] Stone, Fourth Ezra, 439.

[35] Stone, Fourth Ezra, 440.

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

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