pdf Insights 30/2 (2010)  >  "He Shall Add": Wordplay on the Name Joseph and an Early Instance of Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon

"He Shall Add":
Wordplay on the Name Joseph and an Early Instance of Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon

In explaining the prophecies of Isaiah in which his soul delighted, Nephi sets up an intriguing wordplay on the name Joseph.1 On several occasions he combines segments of Isaiah 11:11 and Isaiah 29:14 to foretell the gathering and restoration of Israel at the time of the coming forth of additional scripture. The most discernible reason for Nephi’s interpretation of these two specific texts in the light of each other is their shared use of the Hebrew verb yāsap, which literally means “to add” but can have the more developed senses to “continue” or “proceed to do” something and “to do again.”2 This verb is also the source of the name Joseph, which means “may He [the Lord] add,” “He shall add,” or “He has added.”3 Rachel, the mother of the patriarch Joseph, is said to have explained the giving of this name to her son with that basic sense in mind: “And she called his name Joseph [yôsēp], and said, The Lord shall add [yōsēp] to me another son” (Genesis 30:24; emphasis in all scriptural citations is mine).4 Thus when Nephi combined these two prophecies together through their common use of yāsap, he was also using a wordplay on the name Joseph both to remind us that it was the seed of Joseph that would be gathered and to foretell the involvement of another Joseph, Joseph Smith, in the gathering and in the coming forth of scripture.

Isaiah 11:11 states: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again [yôsîp] the second time to recover the remnant of his people,” while Isaiah 29:14 declares: “Therefore, behold, I will proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder.”5 Nephi’s joining of these two passages is most noticeable in 2 Nephi 25:17, where he foretells the latter-day gathering of Judah: “And the Lord will set his hand again [yôsîp] the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.” Here Nephi states that the Lord “shall bring forth his words unto [his people]” words they have not previously had, “for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah” (25:18) and “that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph [yôsēp]” (25:21).

Those who remember Lehi’s prophecy earlier in the same book of 2 Nephi will see the subtle connection Nephi may have been making between the Lord setting his hand again [yôsîp] and proceeding [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work and the name Joseph [yôsēp], both Joseph of old and his descendant Joseph Smith.

Lehi cites prophecies of the patriarch Joseph to his youngest son Joseph, in which the patriarch foretells that a “Joseph” would bring about the gathering and restoration of Israel (see 2 Nephi 3:13—16). This “Joseph” would be raised up “in that day when my work shall commence among all my people unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel” (2 Nephi 3:13). Joseph said he was “sure of the fulfilling of this promise” (3:14), the “promise” that Nephi said would “be fulfilled unto Joseph [yôsēp]” (2 Nephi 25:21) when the Lord would “set his hand again [yôsîp] the second time” and “proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work and a wonder” (2 Nephi 25:17).

Nephi prefaces another treatise on the coming forth of additional scripture with an oracle that joins the same two Isaiah passages together but reverses the order of their quotation: “But behold, there shall be many—at that day when I shall proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work among them [Isaiah 29:14], that I may remember my covenants which I have made unto the children of men, that I may set my hand again [*weʾōsîp yādî] the second time to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel [Isaiah 11:11]” (2 Nephi 29:1). This joining together of biblical texts from isolated passages on the basis of a shared word was an interpretive technique known in later rabbinic times as Gezera Shawa.6

Jesus uses Gezera Shawa in Matthew 22:36—40,7 joining the commandment “And thou shalt love [weʾāhabtâ] the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5)8 to the lesser-quoted commandment “but thou shalt love [weʾāhabtâ] thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), declaring that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”9 Jesus’s Gezera Shawa makes one commandment of two. Nephi’s technique similarly makes one prophecy from two separate prophecies. For Nephi, the coming forth of the sealed book (Isaiah 29) meant the gathering of Israel (Isaiah 11).

Nephi explains additional prophecies of Isaiah to his brothers using the verb yāsap in 1 Nephi 22: “And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles” (22:8); “Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed [yôsīp] to make bare his arm in the eyes of all nations” (22:11; citing Isaiah 29:14 and 52:10); “Wherefore, he will bring them again [yôsîp] out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together [*wayyēʾāse] to the lands of their inheritance”10 (1 Nephi 22:12; compare Isaiah 11:11—12). Nephi envisaged the Lord’s “adding” to do a marvelous work as a summation of Isaiah’s prophecies regarding the gathering and restoration of Israel, including his brothers’ and his own posterity as descendants of Joseph.

Mormon, perhaps drawing on the words of Lehi, Nephi, and Isaiah, creates the clearest name play on Joseph in this vein: “Yea, and surely shall he again [yôsîp] bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph [yôsēp] to the knowledge of the Lord their God” (3 Nephi 5:23).11 For Mormon and his Josephite ancestors the nomen (name) Joseph was truly the omen of the Lord’s proceeding to do a marvelous work, which was to set his hand again to gather Israel—a sign of “additional” good things in the latter days.

A recognition of Nephi’s repeated combination of Isaiah 11:11 and 29:14 as Gezera Shawa helps us to appreciate how “after the manner of the things of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:5) two disparate prophecies can be seen as fulfilled in a single divine act, or rather, in a single person—a “Joseph.” It also helps us to appreciate how Jacob—Nephi’s brother and protégé—applied this technique to two other prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16) together with Psalm 118:22, based on shared words like ʾeben (Heb. “stone”), to create a single prophecy about Jesus Christ (see Jacob 4:15—17). All of this suggests that we too can increase our understanding and appreciation of the words of Isaiah and other scriptures by adding to our scripture study tools the juxtaposing of different passages sharing the same word(s) and integrating them for our “profit and learning” (see 1 Nephi 13:23; 2 Nephi 4:15).

By Matthew L. Bowen

Nibley Fellow and PhD student in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America


1. For the purposes of my thesis I assume that the small plates of Nephi, when not quoting from the Old Testament, were written in the Hebrew language, whatever script may have been used. I also assume that the quoted and paraphrased Old Testament passages would have retained their Hebrew character.

2. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 2:418. Hereafter cited as HALOT.

3. HALOT, 403.

4. Another explanation offered for the origin of the name Joseph a verse earlier associates the name Joseph with “gathering” (Genesis 30:23), where Rachel says, “God hath taken away [ʾāsap, lit., gathered up] my reproach.” Cf. Isaiah 11:12, “[He] shall assemble [weʾāsap, gather up] the outcasts of Israel.”

5. The morphological difference between the Hiphil (causative) imperfect (yôsîp) and the Qal participle (yôsīp) is slight (vowel quantity î vs. ī). The difference in pronunciation would also have been slight.

6. Or, Gezerah Shawah, literally “equal ordinance” or “equal statute.” See H. L. Strack and Günter Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, trans. Markus Bockmuehl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 18.

7. Luke 10:27 tells this story differently, attributing the joining of the two Torah passages to the “lawyer” testing Jesus. Luke’s account would suggest that this Gezera Shawa was a commonplace in the discourse of the religious leaders in Jesus’s time. Matthew’s account, on the other hand, seems to attribute the genius of this Gezera Shawa to Jesus himself.

8. This commandment is attached directly to the so-called Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear [šemaʿ], O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”), which constitutes Judaism’s most important creedal formulation (translation mine).

9. Jesus’s citation of Leviticus 19:18 here—as a commandment summarizing the whole law (Torah)—may originate with Hillel the Elder, a noted rabbi who lived during the time of Jesus’s adolescence [ca. AD 10]. Hillel is reported to have said, “Whatsoever is distasteful to you, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole Law [dʿlk sny lbrk lʾ tʿbyd zw hyʾ kl htwrh kwlh],” Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a (translation mine). This statement may also be the basis of the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law [Torah] and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12; cf. Luke 6:31). Jesus’s use of Gezera Shawa adds a vertical dimension (“Love the Lord thy God”) to the horizontal obligation (“Love thy neighbor”) stipulated by Hillel. Notably, Hillel is sometimes wrongly said to be the originator of Gezera Shawa. Strack and Hemberger note that Gezera Shawa was “not invented by Hillel” but constituted one of “the main types of argument in use at that time.” See Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, 17. Jesus was employing a technique used before his (and Hillel’s) time.

10. “And they shall be gathered”: possibly a Niphal form of ʾāsap. See HALOT, 1:74.

11. 3 Nephi 5:24 continues: “And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in [cf. (we-)ʾāsap, “assemble,” Isaiah 11:12] from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth.” If the underlying verb is ʾāsap/yēʾāsēp (rather than qibbē/yeqabbē, the name play on Joseph is even richer. Either way, Mormon alludes to Isaiah 11:11—12 (cf. 1 Nephi 22:12).