Chapter 5:
The Bible in the Book of Mormon

Pilfered Passages

By providing a great number of scriptural passages in versions far older than any others hitherto known, the newly discovered manuscripts fully demonstrate that peculiar flexibility of ancient scriptures which appear so clearly in the Book of Mormon. Mark Twain accuses Joseph Smith of having in composing the Book of Mormon “smouched from the New Testament, and no credit given.”1 But since the Book of Mormon was written to be read by people who knew and believed the Bible—indeed one cannot possibly believe the Book of Mormon without believing the Bible—it is hard to see why a deceiver would strew the broadest clues to his pilfering all through a record he claimed was his own. But of course what Mark Twain did not know was that ancient writing is formulaic, and that no writer was expected to cite chapter and verse for the word-for-word quotations and set expressions which made up his composition. For one thing, there would be no point to citing one’s immediate source for an idea or expression, since that writer in turn was merely borrowing it from another. That was no more pilfering to the ancient mind than taking words out of the dictionary or thesaurus would be for a modern author. This should be obvious to anyone who has read much of ancient authors in the original—translation, of course, completely effaces the original expressions and makes this kind of investigation clumsy and dubious if not impossible. And yet though it is obvious, it is only recently that biblical scholars have begun to realize the extent to which it applies in the Bible. Take Paul, for example. Paul has been hailed as the most original of all the biblical writers. But just how original is he? Expressions regarded as characteristically Pauline turn out on investigation to be actual quotations from the classical writers, from the orators, the drama, the law courts, the stadium, the boxing ring, the ancient religious rites even.2 His classical education was surpassed, however, by his Jewish training, and we can never be sure that his ideas and expressions do not belong to that tradition.3 Thus a number of scholars have independently shown the really ancient background—traced by some even to Babylonian times— of the well-known “Pauline” formula, “faith, hope, and love,” whose appearance in the Book of Mormon (where it is quoted by a diligent student of the ancient records) has often been taken as absolute proof of fraud.4

Not long ago an eminent Protestant journal noted that the Book of Mormon was “generously sprinkled with passages lifted bodily from the King James Version.”5 That is the equivalent of accusing the New Testament of being “generously sprinkled with passages lifted bodily from the Septuagint.” Whenever the scriptures are quoted, in the Bible or elsewhere, it is always in some accepted human version, for as far as can be determined it has been a very long time since anyone has seen the Urtext. Even more shocking, it would seem that the verses are always delivered in the language of the person being addressed, no matter what the original language of the particular scripture may have been. It is always the audience which determines in what language God shall speak to men—the experience of Pentecost should make that clear—and also through the version or edition of the Scriptures he shall speak. The edition is naturally the one which is both understood and accepted by the hearer; in short, as missionaries know, people are always preached to from their own Bible. To the world to which the English translation of the Book of Mormon was addressed there was only one acceptable Bible, the King James translation. And so the Book of Mormon follows that. But no edition or translation is perfect, and the Book of Mormon does not follow the King James version slavishly by any means—that is a thing which the critics studiously overlook. As long as the King James version conveys the correct meaning, it is naturally the text to follow; but the quotations from it in the Book of Mormon are full of changes. Are they significant? Let us see.

Nephi’s Independent Sources

Toward the close of his book, Nephi quotes two chapters of Isaiah (48 and 49) in full. This would indeed be a daring thing for a forger to do—to include whole pages of the Bible in a work designed to fool the Bible-reading public. Still worse, the language is, without any attempt at disguise, that of the King James version. If the author of the Book of Mormon were an impostor, his attempts to deceive are prodigiously artless.

But the Book of Mormon follows the language of the King James Bible only as far as the latter conveys the correct meaning of the original. So far is Nephi’s translation from being a slavish repetition of our Bible that there is hardly a single verse that is identical in the two translations! Granting that Nephi was reading a text of Isaiah barely a hundred years old, one would naturally expect some discrepancies between it and the manuscripts available to us. But how would they differ? Here a forger would be on dangerous ground indeed, and one approaches the Book of Mormon demonstration with considerable interest.

If we underline in red every word in the Book of Mormon text of Isaiah 48 and 49 that is not found in the King James Bible and vice versa, we get a surprising display of color, especially in the Book of Mormon. Most of the differences are quite minor ones, such as an extra “nevertheless,” “yea,” “but,” “behold,” etc., but there are four passages that stand out spectacularly in almost solid red. They are 48:1, 14, and 49:1, 13. Now one of the important results of recent Dead Sea Scrolls investigations is the recognition that the text of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament done in the third century B.C.) opens the door to very old and valuable texts of the Old Testament that differ quite markedly from the Masoretic text on which our King James translation is based.6 Unfortunately both the Dead Sea (Cave I) text of Isaiah and the Septuagint text happen to be inferior articles, the former “rather an anticlimax” to the hopes of the scholars, and the latter “among the poorest [texts] in the Greek Bible.”7

But even if we do not find the clear-cut contrasts that so gratify the student who compares the books of the Old Testament in the Qumran, Septuagint, and Masoretic versions, the case is far from hopeless, for we do find significant variations when we compare chapters 48 and 49 of Isaiah in the King James (Masorete) Bible and the Septuagint. Again we compare the red markings, and again just four passages stand out, to wit, 48:1, 14, and 49:1, 13, that is, the Book of Mormon conflicts with the King James Bible in the same verses in which the Septuagint and the Masorete texts conflict! Of course a very sly and thorough operator even a hundred years ago could discover the discrepancies, since both texts were available at that time, and exploit them. But there was no exploitation. Aside from the fact that such a clever person would not run the risk of competing with the Bible in the first place, one must recognize that the coincidence was never pointed out or apparently even noticed by anybody. Moreover, in these four verses the Book of Mormon does not follow any other known text. This too is significant, since all available manuscripts are far removed from the original,8 their disagreements showing not what the original said, but only that in these particular verses something is seriously wrong. If Nephi’s version (1 Nephi 20-21) is correct, it should differ from both the King James and the Septuagint, and it does. Here is how they compare:

Isaiah 48:1

King James (Masoretic):

Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

Septuagint: Hear these things, house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel and who came forth out of Judah, who swear by the name of [the] Lord God of Israel, remembering [him] neither in truth nor in justice.

Book of Mormon Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.

Isaiah 48:14

King James

All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The Lord hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans.

Septuagint:

And they shall all be gathered together and shall hear. Who announced these things to them? Loving thee I have done what thou desirest concerning Babylon to the taking away of the seed of the Chaldeans.

Book of Mormon

All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him, yea, and he will fulfill his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.

Isaiah 49:1

King James Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from afar; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

Septuagint: Hear ye, islands, and give attention nations [or Gentiles]. ‘For a long time shall he stand,’ saith the Lord. From the womb of my mother [or since I was born] he called my name.

Book of Mormon And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, . . . [The rest is like the King James.]

Isaiah 49:13

King James

Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

Septuagint: Rejoice [O] heavens, and celebrate O earth, let the mountains break [out] in jubilation and the hills in righteousness; because God hath had mercy upon his people and the humble of his people he has forgiven.

Book of Mormon

Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; for the feet of those who are in the east shall be established; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for they shall be smitten no more; for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.

In each of these passages there is substantial difference between the three readings. In the first, the Septuagint omits all mention of the waters of Judah; the King James mentions waters of Judah but no “waters of baptism,” found only in the Book of Mormon (though not in the first edition). In the second, the persons and numbers differ between the King James and the Septuagint, while the latter alone makes mention of removing the seed of the Chaldeans; the Book of Mormon and the Septuagint agree against the King James in adding “unto them” to the first sentence, while the Book of Mormon prefaces the sentence with the words, “Yea, and he will fulfill his word, which he hath declared by them,” not found in either of the other texts. The dropping out of this passage would explain the obvious confusion in the other two texts.

In the third passage the Book of Mormon has an introduction that is missing from both the King James and the Septuagint. Since it is a denunciation of the “wickedness of the pastors of my people,” who are held responsible for the scattering of Israel, it is obvious why it is ignored by the doctors of the schools who made both the Septuagint and the Masora. Justin Martyr accused the Jewish doctors of removing passages which they found distasteful. The Septuagint interprets the people in distant places as gentiles and introduces a direct utterance of the Lord not found in the King James. In the fourth passage the sense of the Septuagint is quite different from that of the King James explaining that the Lord will forgive his people if they humble themselves. The Book of Mormon adds a phrase found in neither of the other sources, obviously addressed to people possessing more information than we do: “For the feet of those who are in the east shall be established.”

This brief and superficial glance at three books is merely meant to indicate that there is something going on here that deserves more careful investigation. The way in which the Book of Mormon fits into the Old Testament picture is, to say the least, remarkable.

“Proof Texts”

The many quotations from the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon are almost all given as “proof texts.” They belong to a type of Bible exegesis whose significance was not appreciated until seen to supply the explanation to a baffling phenomenon that emerged in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Various scholars had no difficulty at all matching up the historical situation as described in the Scrolls with the actual historical conditions known to have prevailed in Palestine during Byzantine, Roman, Greek, Babylonian, Persian, or Assyrian conquests and occupations. The only trouble was that since the tribulations of war and defeat are much the same at any time, the experts could not agree on just which enemy the writers of the Scrolls had in mind.

The solution was, that the persecuted sectaries had a way of comparing their present situations with any parallel situation in Israel’s past: they were Israel in the wilderness, receiving the laws as they dwelt in their tents; the community in arms was the host of heaven overthrowing Belial in the beginning, or the victorious troops of David, or the Sons of Light overthrowing the Sons of Darkness in the last great conflict; their persecutors were the Kittim—of Rome or Macedon or Egypt or Assyria; their doctrinal opponents were “the house of Absolom” or “the house of Peleg”; the locale of events was designated by names of the geographical sites of great events in the history of Israel which they wished to compare with their own history. “There is no need to take such references literally,” writes T.H. Gaster; ” . . . it is quite futile to go casting around among the records of the Hellenistic or Roman periods of Jewish history for a particular villain.”9 The most important borrowing of the Christians from Qumran, in the opinion of A.R.C. Leaney, who is determined to minimize any connection whatever between the Scrolls and the New Testament, was a special kind of scriptural exegesis, “the interpretation of contemporary events in the light of prophecy through a typological or allegorical method,” a method not to be confused with that of the schools but peculiar to these people, “arising out of the desire to see prophecy fulfilled in contemporary events.” Along with this goes the use of “proof-texts” by which all the ancient prophets are called upon to furnish explanation or illustrations to a present doctrine or situation: “It is evident that the Qumran community was using many of the Christian church’s proof-texts before the Christians used them.”10

The Book of Mormon opens with Nephi teaching his people in the desert by reading the old books to them and comparing their present situation with that of Israel in the wilderness: “I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things; . . . I did read many things to them which were written in the books of Moses; . . . I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:22—23). Forever after, the Nephites on great public occasions of rejoicing or tribulation were called upon to remember like blessings or sufferings of their ancestors, as the books were read to them and the parallel situation pointed out to them. Thus when Alma went to preach in the sticks to some Zoramite outcasts who had been barred from the holy places because of their poverty, he took as his text the short autobiographical hymn of the prophet Zenos, in which that Old World hero told how he too had been banished from the religious community and wandered in the desert as a despised outcast but still could call upon God wherever he was until God finally vindicated him and punished his enemies (Alma 33:3—11). It was the most natural thing in the world for the Nephites to name places in the New World after places they had known in the old—a common practice among colonists everywhere; if there was a Bountiful in the old country we should not be surprised to learn that there was a Bountiful in the New World, even as there is one in Utah today. “And now I say, is there not a type in this thing?” (Alma 37:45). Thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is now apparent that the ancient Jews were much more concerned with types of things than has hitherto been suspected.

“The Isaiah Question”

In view of the newly discovered insights into the nature of ancient scriptures, it is getting harder and harder to find really serious objections to the Book of Mormon and today there is a tendency to fall back on the one point of attack that seems to have held up in the past, the so-called Isaiah question. Since this has been in capable hands in the past, we have directed our attention elsewhere; but constant prodding from non-Mormons who are not just attacking the Book of Mormon but apparently really want to know, combined with some very recent and important studies that put things in a new and surprising light, constrain us to undertake a brief discussion of this important point. This is especially in order since of recent years Isaiah has come in for far more attention and study than any other book of the Bible: in a period of ten years more than thirty studies were published on Isaiah 7:10—17 alone, and more than a hundred books and articles on the “Servant” passages.11

The Book of Mormon Explains Isaiah

Away back in the 12th century, Ibn Ezra, a Jewish scholar, declared that chapters 40 to 66 of Isaiah seemed to form a literary unity, distinct in style and content from the rest of the book. To explain this, it was assumed that this part of the book was written not by Isaiah but by another person and at another time, presumably some 200 years later.

Since 1789 this hypothetical author has been referred to as the Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. But once the dual authorship of Isaiah was generally accepted, it soon became apparent that there was no need to stop at two Isaiahs. By applying exactly the same reasoning that split the original Isaiah in two, it was possible to break up the two main sections into a number of separate packages, each of which in turn readily yielded to the fragmentation process to produce scores of independent compositions, all going under the name of Isaiah.12 First, chapters 40—66 broke up into separate books, 40—55 being by one author and 56—66 by another, duly labelled Trito-Isaiah. Chapters 36—39 were recognized as a separate book on the grounds of their resemblance to 2 Kings 18:13—20:19. The earlier Isaiah, chapters 1—35, became a swarm of separate sayings glued together, according to one school, from a large number of smaller or medium-sized collections or, according to another school, gathered as minor additions to a central main work. Some scholars agreed that chapters 1—12 and 13—23 represent separate collections, though each had his own theory as to how, when, where, and by whom such collections were made.13 There is no point to going into the subject in detail. Typical is the present dating of the so-called Trito-Isaiah, which is variously placed in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries B.C.14

The most recent survey of the whole Isaiah problem reaches the conclusion that because of its “very long and complicated prehistory,” it will “never be possible to achieve a completely satisfying and thoroughly convincing analysis” of the original book of Isaiah.15

But our immediate concern is not with the unity of Isaiah but with the dating of the Deutero-Isaiah, since the charge against the Book of Mormon is that it quotes from that work, which did not exist at the time Lehi left Jerusalem. The dating of Deutero-Isaiah rests on three things: (1) the mention of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28), who lived 200 years after Isaiah and long after Lehi; (2) the threats against Babylon (Isaiah 47:1, 48:14), which became the oppressor of Judah after the days of Isaiah and (3) the general language and setting of the text, which suggest a historical background commonly associated with a later period than that of Isaiah.16

The late date of Deutero-Isaiah is one of those things that have been taken for granted by everybody for years, so that today it would be hard to find a scholar who could really explain it and impossible to find one who could prove it. The Isaiah question belongs preeminently to that “large part of the questions about the history and prehistory of the Old Testament” which, as J.A. Soggin has recently noted, “were formulated at a time when men possessed a different concept of historical study and a much smaller knowledge of the ancient East” than they do today.17 Until recently, Soggin observes, biblical scholarship was dominated by “the dream of the completely objective investigator, or at least by the belief that such an ideal was attainable.”18

But with the passing of authoritarian absolutes in scholarship, the interpretation of Isaiah has become increasingly fluid. Thus, Eissfeldt can now tell us that references to Babylon do not necessarily date the chapters or even the verses in which they appear, the passages being so typically “Isaian” that the names may well be later substitutions.19 He notes that Isaiah always preached the restoration as well as the destruction of Jerusalem (he named his first child “The Returning Remnant”!), and that the threat and the promise go necessarily and inseparably together, so that the optimism of Deutero-Isaiah is no sign of separate authorship.20 He notes that there has never been any agreement among the experts as to what are “characteristically Isaiah” thoughts and expressions,21 and that while one group of scholars sees carefully planned organization and development in the arrangement of the writings, another cannot detect the slightest trace of either.22 Finally he concludes with pointing out that there is a very close overall resemblance among all the chapters of Isaiah.23

The trouble with dating any part of Isaiah, as Eissfeldt points out, is that we have nothing really definite to go on; fixing dates or places with reference to “any religious or spiritual concepts is very uncertain. . . . All we have to go by is general impressions, and we must be satisfied at best with mere possibilities.”24 In the past, scholars have put great confidence in their ability to assign origins to documents on the evidence of the general language and setting of the text. A classic example is the impassioned utterance of Isaiah against the wicked nations, plainly the cry of an afflicted people to be avenged on their enemies, plainly an eschatological yearning that breathes the spirit of the exile, which therefore must have been written during the exile and by one of the exiles, long after Isaiah’s day. And so we can identify Deutero-Isaiah. But, as Eissfeldt now points out, there is no reason why the imprecations against the nations should not have been uttered against the Assyrian army and empire in Isaiah’s curse embracing as they did all the nations in their sinister host.25 Nor, as other scholars note, is there any reason why one must be an exile to write about the exile; how far can we trust the insight of the experts when each can tell us that it is obvious to him that the exile passages were written in Babylon (Volz), Palestine (Mowinckel), Egypt (Marti), or Lebanon (Duhm)?26

The most telling dichotomy between Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah in time is the emphasis of the latter on the apocalypse of bliss—the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the holy city and temple, as against the grim apocalypse of woe that prevails in earlier Isaiah. But again, we are now being reminded that the two conceptions always form an indivisible whole in the thinking of Isaiah—you can’t think of a gathering unless there has been a scattering and vice versa: they do not represent two different concepts of history at all, but one and the same doctrine that is basic to all the prophets and much older than Isaiah.

This is a thing that is being increasingly emphasized today in the light of comparative studies which show that the idea of a cyclic concept of things, of alternate periods of suffering and defeat followed by victory and prosperity, is attested very early in the Egyptian and Babylonian literature and seems to have been a fundamental part of the ritual patterns of the ancient East from very early times.27 Because the eschatological and apocalyptic element dominates in the later apocrypha, it was long assumed to be a later religious development, but the comparative study of ancient ritual texts and monuments and their discovery in constantly increasing numbers is definitely changing the picture.

Turning now to the Book of Mormon we find that the most widely accepted of all the divisions of Isaiah is the three-fold classification, following Isaiah’s own designation, of the Words of Isaiah (ch. 1—35), the “Accounts” (Berichte, 36—39), and again the “Words” (40—66).28 That the titles are authentic is implied in the designation of sections of the Book of Mormon by their ancient titles as the Words of Mormon “An account of the sons of Mosiah . . . according to the record of Alma ” and “the account of the people of Nephi . . . according to the record of Helaman.” This is the sort of complexity that scholars discover everywhere in Isaiah, where certain words may serve as key words or signatures, denoting the beginning or ending of an independent writing that has been inserted into the text. If anything, the Book of Mormon attests the busy reshuffling and reediting of separate pages of sacred writings that often go under the name of a single prophet.

It is further significant that the main passages from Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon are chapters 2—14 and 48—54. This corresponds surprisingly to the major divisions of Isaiah on which the scholars have most widely agreed as the original Isaiah collection and as the authentic Deutero-Isaiah. Why does Nephi, the passionate devotee, as he proclaims himself, of the writings of Isaiah quote almost exclusively from these two blocks of those writings? Can it be that they represent what pretty well was the writing of Isaiah in Lehi’s time? The failure to quote from the first chapter, the most famous of all, suggests the theory of some scholars that that chapter is actually a general summary of the whole work and may have been added after.29 But we are playing the same game as the others, and it is time to return to firmer ground.

The Transmission of the Record

If others than Isaiah wrote about half the words in his book, why do we not know their names? The answer is, because of the way in which they worked. They were (as it is now explained) Isaiah’s own disciples or students, collecting his sayings with no desire to be original; always they kept the master’s teachings foremost in mind. What we have in Isaiah is a lot of genuine words of the prophet intermingled with other stuff by his well-meaning followers.30 Every chapter, including those in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah, contains genuine words of Isaiah and every chapter, including all those in the early part of the book, contains words that are not his. As Eissfeldt sums it up, in spite of all differences there are “very strong stylistic and historical resemblances between 40—55 and 56—66,” and yet “the relationship between chapters 1—39 and 40—55 is just as close, . . . and the resemblances include even peculiarities of speech.”31 With the spirit and the words of the true Isaiah thus pervading and dominating the whole work, the items that depart from the standard can be readily explained on one theory or another.

Significantly enough, the Book of Mormon itself proclaims the reediting and manipulations of the Isaiah text all over the place. Every one of the 21 chapters extensively quoted in the Book of Mormon appears in that work with an impressive number of additions, deletions, alterations, and transpositions. On the testimony of the Book of Mormon the standard texts of Isaiah that have reached us have indeed suffered in the process of transmission. That process has recently been the subject of a significant study by Douglas Jones, which may be profitably perused in conjunction with the very extensive statements contained in the Book of Mormon explaining the peculiar customs of preserving and transmitting the record among the Nephites.

Jones begins by noting that a special technique of prophetic transmission was employed among the ancient Jews. This is exemplified by the cases of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The latter, when he wishes to convey the word of prophecy to men of a future time, (1) makes an abridgment of his past prophecies in order to “summarize the message of twenty years into a concentrate suitable for a single, uninterrupted reading”; (2) this he writes down on a specially prepared document, and (3) in the presence of witnesses (4) he seals it carefully and (5) lays the writings away in a clay jar “that they may continue many days.”32 This, Jones observes, was “a quite ordinary business transaction,” but where the document is no ordinary business paper but the word of prophecy, “every word of the narrative breathes prophetic significance.”33

Two centuries earlier Isaiah operated in the same way. He wrote an abridgment of his longer writings on a gillayon, “possibly a tablet of polished metal,” according to Jones, which he sealed up in the presence of three witnesses and laid away “that they might live for future generations.” Both prophets write down “a number of oracles in condensed form that they also might stand as a witness, when the day comes, that Yahweh had declared . . . before hand,”34 both transmitting “a single symbolic prediction made to contemporaries but also written down and witnessed that people of a later time might see its fulfillment as Yahweh’s work.” For this it is necessary to seal the record “that it will not be tampered with” and to bury it or entrust it only to faithful disciples.35

At once the example of the Book of Mormon springs to mind, rooted as it is in the Old World practices current in the days of these very prophets: like their works it is an abridgment of much more extensive writings, put down on tablets of metal, witnessed, sealed, and buried to come forth as a witness for God in the later time.

Jones explains the present state of our Isaiah text by attributing it largely to the three successive transmissions by which it has come down to us. The first traditio, as he calls it, was the work of Isaiah himself, who prepared his metal plates or whatever they were and sealed them up to be a witness at a later time; the second was the bringing forth of this record hundreds of years later “by disciples of the period following the fall of Jerusalem.” The third traditio is marked by the commentary of “the greatest of all Isaiah’s disciples, whose work is now shown over and over again to reveal close knowledge of the teaching of Isaiah of Jerusalem.” Desiring only to transmit the master’s work in the clearest possible form, this disciple adds his “reflexion on the marvellous way in which the divine word has been fulfilled.”36

Compare these three steps in the long process of transmission with what we see happening over and over again in the Book of Mormon. Take the longest tradition, for example. In protohistoric times the Lord told the brother of Jared (as he is reported to have told Enoch and others of the Adamic and Patriarchal Ages): “Write these things and seal them up; and I will show them in mine own due time unto the children of men” (Ether 3:27). The patriarch did as he was told, and in due time his writings came into the hands of Ether, who “went forth, and beheld that the words of the Lord had all been fulfilled,” and then added his part to the writing, “and he finished his record . . . and he hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them” (Ether 15:33). Next the writings were brought to King Mosiah, who translated them but was commanded to hide them up until a later generation (Ether 4:1). Hundreds of years later Moroni got them, made a stringent abridgment of them (“and the hundredth part I have not written,” Ether 15:33), adding all kinds of commentaries and explanations of his own, after which, he reports, “he commanded me that I should seal them up; and . . . that I should seal up the interpretation thereof” (Ether 4:5), and finally, “I am commanded that I should hide them up again in the earth” (Ether 4:3). In our own dispensation they were brought forth again with the stipulation: “And unto three [witnesses] shall they be shown. . . . And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; . . . and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day” (Ether 5:3—4). After this they were removed again with the understanding that many parts of them still remain to be made known in future manifestations.

The whole process is identical with that now attributed to the transmission of Isaiah’s text. The important thing to note is that each transmitter did not merely hand the records intact to the next one. Every one of the successive editors did something to them—abridging, annotating, explaining, translating, doing what he could to make the ancient words more comprehensible to his own age and the people who should come after. Thus a large part of the book of Ether consists of Moroni’s own “reflexion on the marvellous way in which the divine word has been fulfilled,” making Moroni Ether’s “Deutero-Isaiah,” yet for all that it is still the book of Ether.37 Why then should we not recognize the same process of transmission with periodic reeditings when Mr. Jones points it out to us in Isaiah? The presence of such additions and changes no more disqualifies it as the work of Isaiah than Mormon’s redoing of the plates of Nephi impugns the authorship of Nephi.

The transmitters of Isaiah, we are told, “adapted the words of the master to contemporary situations, expanding them and adding further oracles.”38 And that is exactly what the writers of the Book of Mormon do, beginning with Nephi, who abridges his father’s writings, brings all the prophets, and especially Isaiah up to date (“for I did liken all the scriptures unto us” (1 Nephi 19:22—23). He explains that without a radical reinterpretation by him, his people could not even begin to comprehend what the prophets were talking about: “The words of Isaiah are not plain unto you,” he tells them frankly (2 Nephi 25:4), being written in a special idiom that only the Jews understood (2 Nephi 25:5), and that Nephi understands because he knows their cultural and historical setting: “I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about” (2 Nephi 25:6).

If the process of transmission from the brother of Jared to Moroni seems fabulously long, there is evidence that the system was a very old and persistent one in the Old World as well as in the New. It has been shown that the identical system used by Isaiah was used by Jeremiah 200 years later. Twelve years ago we showed in The Improvement Era what others of more authority have since confirmed: that the sealing and laying away of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls consciously carried on the same tradition and used the same techniques, in the same confidence that the record would come forth as a witness in a later time.39 Thus the tradition and practice survived from the time of Isaiah right down to the end of the Jewish nations. And in the other direction it goes back to ages long before Isaiah, when the Torah itself was deposited in the ark for the very purpose of providing a written witness for later ages. In Israel the transmission of the sacred records went hand in hand with the transmission of the crown itself, “just as Joash is handed the ‘eduth with his crown when he is made king,” the ‘eduth being “the covenant or the tablets or the book as something deposited and therefore palpably present to be a witness” and not merely by an intangible teaching or tradition.40 The transmission of the records with the crown is established procedure in the Book of Mormon ( Omni 1:11, 19—20; Moroni 10, etc.).

In explaining Isaiah to his people, Nephi makes some important points. Much remains of Isaiah’s words to be fulfilled, he tells them, and in whatever age a fulfillment takes place his words stand as a witness, each fulfillment guaranteeing the validity of the prophecies whose fulfillment yet remains (2 Nephi 25:7); hence his writings are of peculiar “worth unto the children of men” in general (2 Nephi 25:8). We are concerned here with a repeating process: “They [have] been destroyed from generation to generation,” but never without warning (2 Nephi 25:9); Nephi confirms the destruction in his day that Isaiah had foretold long before (2 Nephi 25:10), foretells the restoration to follow (2 Nephi 25:11), only to lead to another catastrophe when “Jerusalem shall be destroyed again” (2 Nephi 25:14), to be gathered again, however, “after many generations” (2 Nephi 25:16) in much the same manner as Israel was brought out of Egypt—for the Exodus is another installment of this repeating story (2 Nephi 25:20) to which a long line of written reports bears witness as they too pass down “from generation to generation” (2 Nephi 25:22).

Hence Nephi is witness to the same things that Isaiah himself is: “And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you” (2 Nephi 25:28). He joins his words to those of Isaiah in a common declaration, “for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him” (2 Nephi 11:2), and makes the remarkable announcement that since his brother Jacob “also has seen him as I have seen him” (2 Nephi 11:3), Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah stand as three witnesses to their common teaching—they are contemporary, for all teach the same thing—”all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4).

All the prophets teach the same thing; that is why the pious Jarom says he need not bother to write down anything: “I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation?” (Jarom 1:2). We have to do here with a story already told, with a history of characteristic and repeating events recounted in a formulaic language of set terms and expressions that cannot be limited to any time or place.

When Jesus himself finally came to the Nephites, he again reedited the whole corpus, recommended the words of Isaiah (3 Nephi 23:1), filled in the gaps of the record (3 Nephi 23:8—13), corrected all defects (3 Nephi 23:4, 6), brought the Nephite scriptures up to date (3 Nephi 24:1), and then “expounded all the scriptures in one,” as a single, unified work (3 Nephi 23:14, 6; italics added). Just so, in the New Testament, when the Lord appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, “he opened . . . the scriptures” to them (Luke 24:32). “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:44—45).

It has often been objected that a plan that is already agreed on and a story that is already told are more depressing and repellent to the eager and inquiring mind than the thrill of exploring the unknown. But is a journey any less interesting because we have a map to go by? On the contrary, the scouts with the map not only learn more but have a more exciting time.

Since all the prophets tell the same story (2 Nephi 9:2), any prophet is free to contribute anything to the written record that will make that message clear and intelligible. The principle is illustrated throughout the Book of Mormon and indeed by the very existence of the book itself—a book that shocked the world with its revolutionary concept of scripture as an open-ended production susceptible to the errors of men and amenable to correction by the spirit of prophecy. But the classic illustration of this principle is to be found in Isaiah’s own writings. In 1880, writes H. Wildberger, there was hardly a scholar alive who did not believe that Isaiah lifted the passage (Isaiah 2:2—4) from Micah (4:1—3), the two being almost word for word the same. But now it would appear that both prophets are quoting “archaic ritual texts.”41 Isaiah is simply exercising his prophet’s prerogative of clothing his own message in the inspired words of his predecessors when those words suit his purpose.

The very first Isaiah passage cited in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 20:1) differs radically, as we have seen, from both the Masoretic and the LXX versions, which by their own disagreements show that the original text had been corrupted.42 But that is not all, for the second edition of the Book of Mormon contains an addition not found in the first: “out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism.” It is said that Parley P. Pratt suggested the phrase, and certainly Joseph Smith approved it, for it stands in all the early editions after the first. Those added words are not only permissible—they are necessary. If a translation is, as Wilamowitz-Moellendorff defined it, “a statement in the translator’s own words of what he thinks the author had in mind,” then surely that phrase about baptism cannot be omitted. Isaiah did not have to tell his ancient hearers that he had the waters of baptism in mind, but it is necessary to tell it to the modern reader, who without such an explanation would miss the point—for him the translation would be a misleading one without that specification. Where continued revelation is accepted and where all the prophets are speaking the same piece, this sort of thing makes no difficulty at all.

We have spent too long on an issue that will probably remain unsettled in our generation, but the net result of our little filibuster is not without justification. The indications are that a thorough study of the rapidly changing Isaiah problem may well leave the Book of Mormon in a very strong position indeed. The dating of either the whole or any part of the Deutero-Isaiah must remain uncertain as long as there is no agreement among the experts as to the relationship of the parts to each other or as to the nature, authorship, or background of the whole. And as long as no one has produced or can produce irrefutable proof that any single Isaiah verse quoted in the Book of Mormon could not have been written before 600 B.C., or indeed has not been defended by reputable scholars as the product of a much earlier time, the chronological question remains wide open.

On the other hand, impressive positive results have been gained. We have discovered that the Book of Mormon is actually way out in front in proclaiming the unity and explaining the diversity of scripture in general and of Isaiah in particular. We have discovered that the peculiar practices employed in the transmission of inspired writings in the Book of Mormon, as well as the theory and purpose behind those practices, are the very ones that prevailed in Palestine at the time Lehi lived there. We have come across a great tradition of prophetic unity that made it possible for inspired men in every age to translate, abridge, expand, explain, and update the writings of their predecessors without changing a particle of the intended meaning or in any way jeopardizing the earlier rights to authorship. Isaiah remains, no matter how many prophets repeat his words or how many other prophets he is repeating. The Book of Mormon explains how this can be so, and its explanations would seem to be the solution to the Isaiah problem toward which the scholars are at present moving.43


1.   Samuel L. Clemens, Roughing It, 2 vols. (New York: Harper, 1913), 1:142.

2.   Evelyn Howell, ”St. Paul and the Greek World,” ET 71 (1959—60): 330—32.

3.   Isidore Lévy, “Sur I Corinth. II 9 et l’Apocalypse d’Elie,” Revue des études Juives 82 (1926): 161—63, shows that 1 Corinthians 2:9 is quoting an old Jewish apocryphal writing.

4.   Richard Reitzenstein, Nachrichter von der königlich Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen (1916): 362, 416, and (1917 Heft 1): 130—151, and “Die Entstehung der Formel ‘Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung,’ ”Historische Zeitschrift 116 (1916): 189—208. Nils W. Lund, “The Literary Structure of Paul’s Hymn to Love,” JBL 50 (1931): 266—76; cf. Alfred Resch, Der Paulinismus und die Logia Jesu, in TU 12 (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1904), 415—19. In the magazine version, IE 69 (March, 1969): 197, it was further stated: “Also considered an anachronism in the Book of Mormon is the reference to faith, hope, and charity, a formula on which the Coptic texts cast some light, and which was known to be a Pauline invention but a well-known expression in every ancient times; most recently the Dead Sea Scrolls have amply shown that many supposedly unique Pauline expressions were actually borrowed by Paul from much older sources. Henri-Charles Puech and Gilles Quispel, ‘Les écrits gnostiques du Codex Jung,’ VC 8 (1954): 13—14.”

5.   Wesley P. Walters, “Mormonism,” Christianity Today 5 (1960): no. 6, p. 8 [228].

6.   Frank M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Garden City: Doubleday, 1958), 133, cf. 128—44.

7.   Ibid., 132.

8.   Ibid., 133—35.

9.   Theodor H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956), 29.

10.   Alfred R. C. Leaney, A Guide to the Scrolls (London: SCM, 1958), 69—71.

11.   Georg Fohrer, “Zehn Jahre Literatur zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie (1951—1960),” Theologische Rundschau 28 (1963): 1—75, 243. This study is an exhaustive survey of Isaiah literature between 1953 and 1963.

12.   “The more the authorship of the Book of Isaiah has been investigated, the more complicated has the question appeared.” Finally “there remained very few long passages of unchallenged authoriticity. . . . It seemed that the entire book was best described as an anthology of the work of many writers, . . . a confusing amalgam of greater or smaller fragments from many sources.” J. Eaton, “The Origin of the Book of Isaiah ” VT 9 (1959): 138—39.

13.   The process is described in the latest extensive survey of the problem, Otto Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 3rd ed. (Tübingen: Mohr, 1964), 408—12. For the English translation, see Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, An Introduction, trans. by Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper, 1976), 304—7.

14.   Ibid., 460; English 341—42.

15.   Ibid., 413; English 307—8.

16.   Ibid., 408; English 304.

17.   J. A. Soggin, “Geschichte, Historie und Heilsgeschichte im Alten Testament,” TL 89 (1964): 724.

18.   Ibid., 723.

19.   Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 420; English edition, 312—13.

20.   Ibid., 416, 424; English edition, 310—11, 315—16. Likewise, the hymns of praise and the satric verses, though completely opposite in tone, belong together and do not indicate separate authorship, 457; English, 339.

21.   Ibid., 431—32, English, 317.

22.   Ibid., 447—55, English, 332—38.

23.   Ibid., 461, 466; English, 342—43, 346.

24.   Ibid., 464—65; English, 344—45.

25.   Ibid., 421; English, 313—14.

26.   Ibid., 447; English, 332—33.

27.   One of the most useful collections of texts on this subject is that of August von Gall, Basileia tou Theou (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926). For a more recent survey, see Hugh W. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” BYU Studies 7 (1966): 3—27.

28.   Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 408; English 304.

29.   “This is the programmatic introduction presenting all the main themes which will dominate the handling and expansion of Isaiah’s oracles.” Douglas Jones, “The Traditio of the Oracles of Isaiah of Jerusalem,” ZAW 67 (1955): 238. L. G. Rignell has argued that ch. 1 is definitely older than the rest of Isaiah to which it is an obvious addition; see Fohrer, “Zehn Jahre Literatur zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” 68.

30.   Eaton, “The Origin of the Book of Isaiah ” 138—41, 149.

31.   Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 466; English edition, 346.

32.   Jones, “The Traditio of the Oracles of Isaiah in Jerusalem,” 227—28.

33.   Ibid., 228. The three witnesses were Uriah, Zechariah and Isaiah himself; ibid., 231. Cf. Isaiah 8:2.

34.   Ibid., 230—31, 237.

35.   Ibid., 228—29, 236. Isaiah 30:8 is another “permanent record of Isaiah’s oracles [to] stand as a witness that his plan had been declared of old.”

36.   Ibid., 245.

37.   Fohrer, “Zehn Jahre Literatur zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” 64—65, notes that the increasingly accepted idea of the book of Isaiah as the work of a “school” is actually an approach to the old idea of single authorship, since all composition was undertaken with strict and devout adherence to a plan and to the teachings of one master. The concept is very conspicuous in the Book of Mormon, in which every longer book, though bearing the name of its original writer, is the work of much editing by later hands.

38.   Jones, “Traditio of the Oracles,” 227, 240—44, shows how this is done. The disciples felt free to update the names of cities and individuals to make their preaching more intelligible to contemporary hearers. Fohrer, “Zehn Jahre Literatur zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” 73, 240.

39.   Hugh W. Nibley, “New Approach to the Book of Mormon Study,” IE 57 (February 1954): 89.

40.   Jones, “Traditio of the Oracles,” 234.

41.   Hans Wildberger, “Die Völkerwallfahrt zum Zion,” VT 7 (1957): 65—67.

42.   See above, pages 115—17.

43.   An exhaustive survey by C. Lindhagen (1953/4) describes present Scandinavian Isaiah studies as pursuing (1) a more conservative and less arbitrary treatment of the text; (2) a tendency to reconcile what had appeared as conflicting ideas in Isaiah; e.g., the Suffering Servant can stand for a number of different individuals and groups; and (3) increasing recognition of the influence of the temple ordinances in Isaiah’s teachings; see Fohrer, “Zehn Jahre Literatur zur alttestamentlichen Prophetie,” 243.