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The "Isaiah Problem" in the
The Book of Mormon quotes twenty-one complete chapters of Isaiah and parts of others. In the light of modern Biblical criticism these quotations raise problems that have a serious bearing on the integrity of the Nephite record as a whole. It is believed, therefore, that a presentation of the literary problem of Isaiah and its bearing on the Book of Mormon will be of general interest.
As Professor A. B. Davidson pointed out many years ago, for nearly twenty-five centuries no one dreamed of doubting that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who lived in the eighth century B. C., was the author of the whole book that goes under his name. That is to say, the literary unity of Isaiah was not doubted until comparatively recent times. There is no evidence that the ancients who lived a few hundred years after Isaiah's time knew of any problem in connection with the great prophet's writings. The Greek translator of Isaiah whose work is part of the Greek Bible (Septuagint) probably made this translation about 200 B.C., but betrays no sign that the sixty-six chapters of the book are not all Isaiah's work. Nor do the copyists of the texts of Isaiah among the recently found Dead Sea Scrolls seem to know any author of them other than Isaiah, son of Amoz.
Jesus Ben-Sirach (see Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 48:2025), who wrote about 180 B.C., referred to Isaiah as one of the great characters of Hebrew antiquity and quoted enough from the prophecy to indicate that by the beginning of the second century B.C. it had reached the form in which we now know it.
Among the first to doubt the unity of Isaiah was Ibn Ezra, who lived in the twelfth century A.D.; not much was said about it again until the eighteenth century, when the critical breaking down of the book began. Koppe in the year 1780 expressed doubt as to the genuineness of chapter 50. In 1789, Doederlein threw suspicion on the Isaianic origin of chapters 40-66. Then Justi, and after him Eichhorn, Paulus, and Bertholdt enhanced the suspicion that it was not genuine.
The result claimed by these scholars could not help reacting upon the first part of Isaiah. Rosenmueller, who, as Professor Franz Delitzsch points out, is everywhere very much dependent on his predecessors, was the first to deny to Isaiah the prophecy against Babylon in chapters 13:1 to 14:23. In this judgment Justi and Paulus concurred.
At the beginning of the last century Eichhorn denied the genuineness of the prophecy against Tyre in chapter 23, and together with the great Hebraists, Gesenius and Ewald, denied the Isaianic authorship of chapters 24-27 Eichhorn's reason for denying the genuineness of the latter four chapters was that they contained plays upon words unworthy of Isaiah; Gesenius found in them an allegorical proclamation of the fall of Babel. Ewald transferred them to the time of Cambyses (c. 525 B.C.).
Gesenius also ascribed chapters 15 and 16 to some unknown prophet. Rosenmueller then quickly disposed of chapters 34 and 35 because of their relationship to chapters 40-66. In 1840 Ewald questioned chapters 12 and 33. It will thus be seen that by the middle of the nineteenth century some thirty-seven or thirty-eight chapters of Isaiah were rejected as being no part of that great prophet's actual writings.
In 1879-80 the famous Leipzig professor, Franz Delitzsch, who for many years had vigorously defended the Isaianic origin of the whole book, yielded to the modern
critical position. But he did so "with many hesitations and reserves" in a manner unsatisfactory to the divisionists, "unbiased, and indeed unaffected by critical considerations." (See translator's statement in the third edition of Delitzsch's Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah.)
Shortly after this time (1889-90), Canon S. R. Driver and Dr. George Adam Smith did much to popularize the new critical position in Great Britain.
Since the year 1890 the divisive criticism has become more vigorous and microscopic than ever. The work of such prominent scholars as Cornill, Marti, Stade, Guthe, Hackmann, and Duhm on the continent, and of Cheyne, Gray, and others in Great Britain and America has still further served to throw doubt in some quarters on the unity of Isaiah. Fifty years ago chapters 40-66 were admitted to be a unity (to use the terminology of the Biblical scholar) though not from Isaiah. They were designated as "Deutero-Isaiah" or better, "Second Isaiah," the unique product of some wise but anonymous sage who lived in Babylonia.
But in the hands of the critics the unity of "Second Isaiah" was also doomed to vanish. Deutero-Isaiah was limited to chapters 40-55, and a new division, "Trito-Isaiah," comprising chapters 56-66, was invented.
More recently Dr. Charles C. Torrey has written of the partition of Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-66):
After giving a brief history of the disintegration of Isaiah 40-66 in his book, The Second Isaiah, which all interested in the subject should read, Dr. Torrey continues:
Torrey accordingly proceeds to show in a very scholarly way that chapters 34, 35, 40-66 of Isaiah are a unity. (There is food for thought in the fact that his views are so out of harmony with those of other radical critics who partition "Second" Isaiah.)
Those scholars who in time past have denied the unity of the book of Isaiah may be divided into two groups, moderates and radicals. For convenience, as well as for its inherent interest, I present herewith a list of chapters and verses in Isaiah rejected by the moderates as having come from the pen of that prophet. The scholars represented in
this group are Driver, G. A. Smith, Skinner, Kirkpatrick, Konig, A. B. Davidson, and Whitehouse. They throw out 11:10-16; 12:1-6; 13:1 to 14:23; 15:1 to 16:12; 21:1-10; 2427; 34-35; 36:39; 40-66. Of a total of 66 chapters they believe some 44 were not written by Isaiah. If we look over the results of the radical wing of the critical school we find it more convenient to list the verses they believe were genuinely Isaiah's. The radicals are represented by such men as Drs. Cheyne, Duhm, Hackmann, Guthe, and Marti. They accept 1:2-26, 29-31; 2:6-19; 3:1, 5, 8, 9, 12-17, 24; 4:1; 5:1-14, 17-29; 6:1-13; 7:1 to 8:22; 9:8 to 10:9; 10:13, 14, 27-32; 14:24-32; 17:1-14; 18:1-6; 20:1-6; 22:1-22; 28:1-4, 7-22; 29:1-6, 9, 10, 13-15; 30:1-17; 31:1-4. Only about 262 verses of a total of 1292 in Isaiah are considered to be the genuine product of Isaiah. The above-named scholars were by no means the only ones who helped to dismember Isaiah, but they were probably the most influential.
Having now indicated the course and amount of the dissection of Isaiah it will be well to point out some of the reasons why the critics have dismembered the work of the great prophet. No attempt will be made to be exhaustive because the literature is too vast.
1. A twofold postulate is made to the effect that a prophet always spoke out of a definite historical situation to the present needs of the people among whom he lived; and that a definite historical situation shall be pointed out for each prophecy.
One scholar has said: "It is a first principle that the historical horizon of a prophet belongs to his own time. He takes his stand in his own generation and looks onward from it." Put into plain English, this scholar meant that a prophet cannot see beyond the horizon of his own times. With some exceptions the critics who dismember Isaiah openly or tacitly deny the predictive element in prophecy. In the third edition of his commentary mentioned above, Professor Delitzsch says:
According to the radicals it would be impossible for Isaiah, living about 700 B.C., to speak of Cyrus, who lived about 540 B.C. Consequently those sections of Isaiah connected in any way with Cyrus (44:28 45:1) are dated late, i.e., during or after the Persian King's lifetime. And in general, since chapters 40-66 appear to the critics to have the exile as their center of interest, with a change of place, time, and situation, they cannot possibly have come from the pen of Isaiah. Therefore "The Great Unknown" is invented to take his place. As we have already pointed out, even he has subsequently to share his glory with other unknowns as ingenious and plausible theories were invented to explain the Biblical text.
2. The literary style of those chapters held not to be from Isaiah is very different from those which are admitted to be that prophet's.
Professor S. R. Driver explains the significance of this point as follows:
3. The theological ideas of the non-Isaianic portions of the prophecy differ from those of Isaiah. To quote Driver again:
4. Some other governing criteria which lead certain critics to reject various portions of Isaiah as having been written subsequent to the prophet's own age are summed up by Dr. G. L. Robinson as follows:
Now how do the "critical' views of the authorship of the book of Isaiah create a problem in connection with the Book of Mormon? This we shall briefly point out.
The Book of Mormon quotes from the following chapters of Isaiah: 2-14 (2 Nephi 12-24); 29 (2 Nephi 27); 48, 49 (1 Nephi 20, 21); 50, 51 (2 Nephi 7, 8); 52 (3 Nephi 20); 53 (Mosiah 14); 54 (3 Nephi 22); 55 (2 Nephi 26:25).
If the reader will take the trouble to compare this list with the tables given above, which indicate the portions of the book of Isaiah not generally accepted by the critics as being the genuine work of the great eight century prophet, he will at once discover a sharp conflict. The Book of Mormon not only quotes extensively from those chapters (40-55) called "Deutero-Isaiah," but also from portions of "First" Isaiah which are regarded by the critics as late and not the genuine product of the son of Amoz. The Nephite
record accepts all of its Isaiah chapters as the authentic words of that great prophet. In fact, the Savior said:
If the critics are right, the Book of Mormon quotes extensive portions of the sayings of unknown prophets who lived sixty years or more after the Nephites were supposed to have left Jerusalem, and mistakenly attributes them to Isaiah. This is the intellectual jam in which students of the Book of Mormon are supposed to find themselves and constitutes the main problem concerning Isaiah in that record. A lesser problem, but one that should be thoughtfully considered, is that of explaining why most of the text of Isaiah in the Nephite scripture is in the language of the Authorized Version. We shall say more about this later.
Is it possible for a sincere and honest believer in the Book of Mormon to give a satisfactory answer to the problems centering around its text of Isaiah? I believe that a satisfactory answer can be given. The Germans have a very convenient word that I may use at this point. It is Weltanschauung, which means conception of the world or world-philosophy. If one's Weltanschauung rigidly embraces the ideas that there are no men who, under divine inspiration, can foretell the future, and that purely naturalistic explanations of phenomena in this world are the only acceptable ones--then my attempts to solve the problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon will not be wholly satisfactory. If on the other hand, (and this is stating the conditions positively) one's Weltanschauung is such that
he may concede the possibility of "the supernatural reality of prophecy," and acknowledge the possibility of the Book of Mormon's being a true record translated by divine aid -- then I can give a reasonable answer to the Isaiah problem as stated above. On this basis let us proceed to the task.
In the first part of this chapter I confined myself to the problems of tracing the history of the critical dismemberment of Isaiah and of indicating the degree thereof. No attempt was made to present at length the views of scholars who opposed the critical dissection of the book of Isaiah. Now the first part of my answer to the Isaiah problem in the Book of Mormon is this: Many great scholars through the years have held that the book of Isaiah is a unity, and have shown that the "critical" hypothesis is far from being proved. Unless criticism can prove beyond reasonable doubt that Isaiah is not a unity, Latter-day Saints are justified in assuming that the traditional views held in the Book of Mormon with respect to its authorship are on the whole correct.
The Isaianic authorship of the book has been maintained by Hengstenberg, Havernick, Stier, Keil, Loehr, Himpel, Strachey, W. Urwick, Naegelsbach, Barnes, Douglas, W. H. Green, J. Kennedy, W. H. Cobb, F. Delitzsch (who half-heartedly departed from his original convictions late in life), Vos, Thirtle, W. Kaye, M. Rosenthal, Lias, R. R. Ottley, G. L. Robinson, E. J. Young, Kissane, Allis and Mrs. L. D. Jeffreys. Klostermann and Bredenkamp took a middle course in the criticism. These scholars held that Isaiah 40-66 arose in exilic times, but consisted in a considerable measure of ancient prophecies of Isaiah, which were reproduced by an author of Isaiah's school living in the exilic period, because the events of the day were bringing the fulfillment of the prophecies.
The above-named scholars form impressive opposition to the divisive criticism of Isaiah. Many other names might be added to the list.
It may be of interest to quote two or three representative conclusions of these scholars in relation to the problem, before proceeding to specify in detail reasons why their school of thought holds to the unity of Isaiah.
Dr. W. H. Green, one of the finest Hebraists America ever produced, observed that a noted critic, Dr. H. E. Ryle, had concluded that chapters 1-39 of Isaiah were compiled a short time before the period of Nehemiah (444 B.C.), but that chapters 40-66, though not of so late a date as some of the preceding chapters, could only have been added a century and a half later, "when the recollection of the authorship of this section having been forgotten, it could, not unnaturally, be appended to the writings of Isaiah." Dr. Green in answer said:
Dr. R. R. Ottley, the famous English Biblical critic, in the notes of his valuable work, Isaiah According to the Septuagint, briefly reviews the critical position in reference to Isaiah and then continues:
Dr. George L. Robinson, a venerable American Hebraist, sums up his attitude toward the critical problem as follows:
Let us now proceed to indicate in greater detail the reasons why so many scholars have held that the book as we have it is essentially Isaiah's.
1. The Jewish and Christian Churches (apart from the gently hinted doubts of Ibn Ezra in the twelfth century A.D.) have until the last one hundred and fifty years unhesitatingly assigned the whole to Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Such a strong and persistent tradition cannot honestly be set aside without positive and compelling historical evidence. Such is missing. Subjective analysis of the text of Isaiah, the results of which are disputed, cannot be accounted sufficient grounds upon which to put aside the ancient tradition.
2. The Septuagint and other ancient versions of scripture give absolutely no hint of the multiple authorship of Isaiah. It is a most surprising fact that the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Isaiah which was made from the Hebrew about 200 B.C. does not give us the name of a single one of the ten or more "prophets" that are assumed by various critics to have contributed to Isaiah's book. "Singu-
lar . . . that history should have lost all knowledge of this Isaianic series of prophets. Singular . . . that it should be these prophets whose names had the common fortune of being forgotten, although in point of time they all stood nearer to the collector than the old prophet who was their model, and after whom they had formed themselves." (Franz Delitzsch, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 13; italics ours.)
3. Christ and His Apostles assigned the book to Isaiah. The New Testament quotes from thirty-two chapters of Isaiah. Many of these chapters are quoted several times. Fourteen chapters from 1-35 are represented and eighteen chapters from 40-66. The distribution is excellent. There is not the slightest hint anywhere in the New Testament that any other prophet than Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author of the quoted passages. In fact the emphasis is the other way. Notice that Christ quotes the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1, 2 and expressly states that it was fulfilled at that time (see Luke 4:18-21). Luke, a capable historian, writes that Christ was given "the book of the prophet Isaiah" (Luke 4:17) from which he quoted the fulfilled prophecy. Observe also that the learned and critical Paul, who quotes Isaiah so often and from so many different places (see especially Romans), knows of no equivalent to "Deutero" or "Trito" Isaiah.
In fact, it seems passing strange that three minds so penetrating and spiritual as Christ's, Paul's and Luke's could not see a little of what modern critics see--even presuming the latter were correct. Most critics will concede the great powers of mind and heart of Christ, Paul, and Luke even when denying them any supernatural powers of inspiration or revelation. Nor are these three the only ones who quote Isaiah in the New Testament.
4. Jesus Ben-Sirach, about 180 B.C., when recounting the history of Hezekiah's day, recorded that Isaiah the prophet
Saw by an excellent spirit what should come to pass at the last;
Ben-Sirach thus also reveals that in ancient times Isaiah was regarded as the sole author and that he prophesied concerning the future.
5. Josephus says that Cyrus the king was especially impressed by a prophecy of Isaiah to the effect that God had chosen him (Cyrus) to send Israel back to their own land and to build the temple. There then follows a rather extended description of how Cyrus helped the Jews to go to their native land and begin the reconstruction of the temple. (Antiquities, XI, 1, 2.) Josephus also makes the following interesting statement concerning Isaiah:
Even after discounting Josephus for his weaknesses as a historian it is hard to believe that he would deliberately manufacture letters purporting to be from Cyrus that confirm Isaiah's prophecies made nearly two hundred years before the Persian king's time. We can be certain, however, that Jews in the days of Josephus believed the book of Isaiah to be a unity and that the prophet could see into the future.
Thus we see that all of the external evidence is in favor of the unity of the book of Isaiah. Now let us proceed to a consideration of some of the internal evidence.
The following striking characteristics common to the entire book plead strongly for its unity (in the discussion from points 6-13 I have freely adopted much from an article by Rev. J. J. Lias, "The Unity of Isaiah," Journal of the Transactions of the Victorian Institute, Vol. XLVIII, pp. 65-84.):
6. The very marked detachment of Isaiah's personality from his prophecies. Only once (chapter 6) does Isaiah relate a vision and tell the circumstances under which his prophecy was delivered. Contrast this usage with such books as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
7. Every chapter in the book--yes, nearly every verse-- is characterized by the majestic imagery in which the writer revels, the poetic elevation of style and the love of nature. Even the limited Isaiah of the critics has no monopoly on these qualities. The style of the book throughout is unique in literature.
8. The tendency to repetition. Notice the use of "woe," in chapter 5, as an instance. It reappears in chapter 45, which is ascribed to "Second" Isaiah. In "Second" Isaiah repetition often assumes such forms as "Awake, awake," "Cast ye up," for the sake of emphasis.
9. The tendency of the prophet to quote his own words. This habit is not quite peculiar to Isaiah but is much more common with him than any other prophet. Notice Isaiah 11:6-9 and compare 65:25.
10. The abundant use of paronomasia or the repetition of the same sound. It is necessary to resort to the Hebrew text, of course, to illustrate such usage. Paronomasia is occasionally found in other books, but in Isaiah it stamps the whole book as one written by a man who has the ear as well as the mind and heart of a poet.
11. Expressions peculiar to Isaiah. The most remarkable of these is "the Holy One of Israel." Dr. G. L. Robinson writes:
Observe other expressions as "Lord of Hosts," "Mighty God of Jacob," or "Israel," "The Mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," "Set up an ensign," and so forth.
12. The tendency to break suddenly into song. This feature is common to all the portions of the book and altogether peculiar to Isaiah. See Isaiah 5:1-7; 12:1-6; 26:14; 35:1-10; 36:10-20; 44:23; 48:20; 51:11; 54:1.
13. The piling up of ideas or imagery is a peculiarly Isaianic feature--the building up of ideas, sometimes of a similar and sometimes of a contrary nature, with a most powerful effect. The reader may consult Isaiah 2:10-17; 24:2; 65:13-14 for instances from undisputed Isaiah, from the "fragments," and from "Second" Isaiah, respectively. Shorter passages of a similar kind occur very frequently throughout Isaiah. No writer but Isaiah supplies us with such examples.
It is seen that the later portions of Isaiah are by no means devoid of literary characteristics found in other parts of the book. Even so, I am willing to admit a somewhat different style in chapters 40-66 as contrasted with most of what precedes. There is a note of triumph in these chapters not so apparent in other sections of the book--a
brighter and more comforting tone throughout. But all of the supposed differences do not necessarily argue a different author. A writer may vary his style from one time to another as he writes under different conditions and on different subjects.
In chapters 40-66 Isaiah deals with the great theme of Israel's redemption. This accounts for the difference in style (or should we say mood) between them and most other chapters in the book. With clear prophetic eye, Isaiah saw the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, the atoning sacrifice of the Christ, the gathering of scattered Israel in the latter days, the eventual glorification of Zion, the Millennial era--yes, and even "new heavens and a new earth." No wonder the poet-prophet strikes a triumphant note and comforts his people with his wondrous message. Only those who approach his book with a strongly naturalistic bias can fail to see the reason for the poet's change in style (or mood).
14. In "Second" Isaiah and in "Trito" Isaiah there is no real difference in the prophet's theology as compared with other chapters--what we find is rather an extension or more complete expression of his theology. What Professor Driver and other writers of his persuasion fail to see is that a writer may not exhaust his theological ideas on a given theme in thirty-nine chapters--some may be left for chapters forty to sixty-six. Authors usually claim the privilege of emphasizing different doctrines and topics as occasion requires.
The internal evidence, therefore, is strongly in favor of the unity of Isaiah. Certain it is that the critics' arguments for the division of Isaiah are far from being compelling and conclusive. Lacking that, their case must be labeled "not proved." The most serious problem in connection with the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon therefore disappears.
The second part of my answer to the Isaiah problem in
the Book of Mormon arises from the results of a careful textual examination of the Isaiah chapters in it. These chapters reasonably well fulfil the technical requirements of a text assumed to be really ancient.
A Biblical expert might venture such questions as these:
1. Is the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon word for word the same as that of the King James version? If it is, the claims made that the original on the gold plates harks back to the time of Isaiah can be denied. In other words, the Book of Mormon should be thrown out of court as a witness to the original text of Isaiah. This would be a reasonable action because every Biblical scholar knows that the Hebrew text of Isaiah upon which the King James version mainly depends has been corrupted somewhat in the course of transmission through the ages. If the Book of Mormon reproduced all these corruptions, there would be plain evidence that Joseph Smith did not translate from a really ancient text of Isaiah.
2. What is the testimony of the ancient Greek, Syriac, and Latin versions of Isaiah respecting that in the Book of Mormon? These versions have also become corrupted in the course of transmission through the centuries, but by the laws of chance they ought to agree in some instances with the readings of the Book of Mormon where the latter differs from the Hebrew. That is to say, each occasionally preserves a true reading of Isaiah where the Hebrew fails us, and in such places where the true text of Isaiah appears the Book of Mormon should agree. In general we should be prepared to admit that the science of textual criticism will throw great light on the asserted antiquity of the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Critical tests can be most subtle and powerful in probing for slips on the part of unlearned impostors who offer amended Biblical texts for the examination of the public.
Now let us consider the Isaiah text of the Nephite record in the light of these questions and observations.
The text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is not word for word the same as that of the King James version. Of 433 verses of Isaiah in the Nephite record, Joseph Smith modified about 233. Some of the changes made were slight, others were radical. However, 199 verses are word for word the same as the old English version. We therefore freely admit that Joseph Smith may have used the King James version when he came to the text of Isaiah on the gold plates. As long as the familiar version agreed substantially with the text on the gold plates, he let it pass; when it differed too radically he translated the Nephite version and dictated the necessary changes. Let us study some examples.
In 2 Nephi 12:16 (cf. Isaiah 2:16) the Book of Mormon has a reading of remarkable interest. It prefixes a phrase of eight words not found in the Hebrew or King James versions. Since the ancient Septuagint (Greek) version concurs with the added phrase in the Book of Mormon, let us exhibit the readings of the Book of Mormon (B.M.), the King James version (K.J.), and the Septuagint (LXX) as follows:
B.M. And upon all the ships of the sea,
and upon all the ships of Tarshish
and upon all pleasant pictures.
The Book of Mormon suggests that the original text of this verse contained three phrases, all of which commenced with the same opening words, "and upon all." By a com-
mon accident, the original Hebrew (and hence the King James) text lost the first phrase, which was, however, preserved by the Septuagint. The latter lost the second phrase, and seems to have corrupted the third phrase. The Book of Mormon preserved all three phrases. Scholars may suggest that Joseph Smith took the first phrase from the Septuagint. The prophet did not know Greek, and there is no evidence that he had access to a copy of the Septuagint in 1827-29 when he translated the Book of Mormon.
2 Nephi 12:20 (cf. Isaiah 2:20) has a reading of special interest for the reason that it is supported by only one of the three greatest manuscripts of the Septuagint, namely, the Codex Alexandrinus, which is represented as C.A.:
B.M. In that day a man shall cast
his idols of silver,
and his idols of gold, which he hath made
for himself to worship, to the moles
and to the bats;
Our interest is, of course, centered on the third phrase of the verse where the Book of Mormon parts company with the King James text. The Nephite text in terms of Hebrew grammar has a third person masculine singular verb which we translate "he hath made," in contrast to the King James text (so the Hebrew) which reads "they made." The Codex Alexandrinus supports the Book of Mormon reading at this point, though the other great Septuagint manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, do not. This emphasizes the point made above that all of the great manuscripts of the Bible have "become corrupted in the course of transmission through the ages, but by the laws of chance they ought to agree in some instances with
the readings of the Book of Mormon where the latter differs from the Hebrew."
Another interesting fact which we should point out about this verse before leaving it is that the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, together with some other manuscripts, have a reading "For in that day" at the beginning of it. The Book of Mormon attests the correctness of the Hebrew, the King James version, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Marchalianus!(Q) in omitting "for."
Let us examine next a verse of Isaiah, in which the corruptions that exist in both the King James (following the Hebrew) and Septuagint versions are beautifully untangled for us by the Book of Mormon. The verse in question is found in 2 Nephi 7:2 (cf. Isaiah 50:2). The respective readings of the Book of Mormon, the King James version, and the Septuagint are as follows:
B.M. Wherefore, when I
came, there was
no man; when I called, yea, there was
none to answer. O house
of Israel, is my hand shortened
at all that it cannot redeem,
or have I no power to deliver
From the standpoint of textual criticism there are many interesting characteristics in this verse. Let us notice just a few. The Book of Mormon reads "their rivers" as against "rivers." This is readily explained on the basis that the letter mem ("their"), which was attached originally to "rivers," accidentally dropped out of the Hebrew text (hence, the omission in the King James version of "their"), because the adjoining letter in the very next word ("wilderness") is also a mem. Such accidents are well known to textual critics. The reading "their fish" farther on in the sentence also argues well for the correctness of "their rivers."
It will be observed that the King James version (so the Hebrew) omits "dried up"; on the other hand, the Greek (LXX) omits "stinketh." The Book of Mormon retains both, indicating that the Hebrew and Greek each lack elements that were in the original text of Isaiah. On the basis of the Book of Mormon reading the textual critic can reconstruct what happened to the original text. By a most peculiar coincidence, the words "stinketh" and "dried up"
in the Hebrew text would have nearly the same sound and appearance. The accidental dropping of one of these verbs from the original text, or a misreading of either, would occasion considerable difficulty and cause scribes to reconstruct the text in different ways. The present Greek and Hebrew readings illustrate the processes of reconstruction. The Book of Mormon version of this verse is so reasonable on the basis of textual evidence as to appeal to every thinking person.
One more illustration of the manner in which the Book of Mormon handles the text of Isaiah must suffice. This example involves a choice of one of two Hebrew words having the same sound but different meanings. 2 Nephi 19:3 (cf. Isaiah 9:3) is the verse in question. The readings of the Book of Mormon and King James version follow:
B.M. Thou hast multiplied the nation,
and increased the joy--they
joy before thee according to
the joy in harvest and as
men rejoice when they
divide the spoil.
The only way in which the Book of Mormon differs from the King James text is in the omission of one word, "not." Most scholars agree that the "not" of the Hebrew and King James versions is obviously unsuitable. Some ancient versions, especially the Syriac and Targums, suggest that originally the Hebrew text did not contain the
word, but rather another having the same sound but a different meaning. It is quite understandable how a scribe, writing down the text as it was dictated to him, might select the wrong word of two having the same sound. The word selected was lo' ("not") instead of lo ("to it"). The Book of Mormon definitely rejects the former and seems to indicate that the latter was the original. The phrase "and increased the joy" in the Book of Mormon has as its antecedent "nation" of the first clause. Literally, we should translate, "Thou hast multiplied the nation, (and) to it thou hast increased the joy." This is essentially what the author believes is the meaning of the Nephite text as far as the word "joy."
The version of Isaiah in the Nephite scripture hews an independent course for itself, as might be expected of a truly ancient and authentic record. It makes additions to the present text in certain places, omits material in others, transposes, makes grammatical changes, finds support at times for its unusual readings in the ancient Greek, Syriac, and Latin versions, and at other times no support at all. In general, it presents phenomena of great interest to the student of Isaiah.