Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
...and Joseph Smith in Isaiah
David P. Wright
(completed January 1996; initially published August 1998 on the web)
NOTE: This paper, in slightly revised form, has been published in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), pp. 157-234.
Part 1: King James Version Language
Part 2: KJV Italics and the BM Isaiah
Part 3: KJV Translation Errors in the BM Isaiah
Part 4: Disparities with Hebrew Language, Text, and Style
Part 5: The Secondary Nature of Variants in the BM Isaiah
Part 6: Supposed Proofs for the Antiquity of the BM Isaiah
Appendix: Supposed Evidence from Ancient Manuscripts and Hebrew Language and Style
Notes are located at the end of each part or
See note 2 for abbreviations.
Italicized words in the KJV are not only italicized but also marked with a preceding _ (underline mark; e.g., _even) so that these words will still be marked when data is pasted to another program or read as text only.
Transliteration of Northwest Semitic languages (including Hebrew):
Consonants: ' = alef; b = bet; g = gimel; d = dalet; h = he; w = waw; z = zayin; x = het; + = tet; y =yod; k = kaf; l = lamed; m = mem; n = nun; s = samekh; c = ayin; p = pe; & = tsade; q = qof; r = resh; ç = sin; $ = shin; t = taw.
Vowels: â = qamets with he mater lectionis; ä = qamats; a = patah; a = hataf patah; î = hiriq with mater lectionis; i = hiriq; ê = tsere or segol with yod mater lectionis; ë = tsere; e = segol; e = hataf segol or shewa; ô = holem with mater lectionis; ö= holem; o = qamats qatan; o = hataf qamats; û = shureq; u = qibbuts.
(When these letters are pasted to another program, superscripting will probably be lost; the ayin will still be identifiable as the letter "c". Superscripted short vowels will no longer be identifiable as such; but this is not crucial to the argument of the paper. The transliteration will generally not be intelligible when reading in a text only format.)
Behold, I have created the Smith that bloweth the coals in the fire,
and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work
A question of Book of Mormon scholarship is whether the several chapters or passages of Isaiah cited or paraphrased in the book derive from an ancient text or whether they have been copied with some revision from the King James Version.1 The BM2 narrative would have us believe the former, that its citations of Isaiah come directly or ultimately from the Brass Plates of Laban3 or from Jesus' recitation when , according to the BM story, he visited the New World peoples shortly after his death.4 Closer study shows, however, that, despite the intent of the story, the BM Isaiah is a revision of KJV and not a translation of an ancient document. This paper seeks to review and enlarge upon the evidence for this conclusion. It focuses on internal textual evidence where the BM Isaiah appears to reflect or respond to the peculiarities and idiom of the KJV text (Parts 1-5). This analysis demonstrates just how intricately and fully the BM Isaiah is tied to the KJV. The last part of the paper (Part 6, also the appendix) reviews and shows the weakness of arguments that the BM has parallels with ancient manuscripts and translations or that its variants reflect elements of Hebrew style and language.
Notes to the Introduction
1. For a complete list of Isaiah passages cited or paraphrased in the BM, broken down according to verse, see Monte S. Nyman, Great are the Words of Isaiah (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 259-281; another list (though with some typograpical errors) appears in John Tvedtnes, The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon, FARMS Preliminary Report (Provo: FARMS, 1981), 6-19.
2. Abbreviations used in this article include: BHK, Rudolf Kittel, ed., Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart: Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1937); BHS, Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph, eds., Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984); BM, Book of Mormon; BMCT, The Book of Mormon Critical Text: A Tool for Scholarly Reference (3 vols.; Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1984-87); D&C, the Doctrine and Covenants; JB: the Jerusalem Bible; JSR, the Joseph Smith Revision of the Bible (=Joseph Smith "Translation" or the "Inspired Version"); KJV, Kings James Version of the Bible; LXX, the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible; MT, Masoretic Text, the main Hebrew Bible text tradition; NAB, the New American Bible; NEB, the New English Bible; NIV, the New International Version; NJB, the New Jerusalem Bible; NJPS, Tanakh: A New Translatin of the Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985); NRSV, the New Revised Standard Version; O, the Original Manuscript of the BM; P, the Printer's Manuscript of the BM, copied from O; Pc, corrections made to the Printer's Manuscript; REB, the Revised English Bible; RSV, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible; 1QIsaa, the large Isaiah scroll from Qumran; 1830, the first printed edition of the BM (The Book of Mormon [Palmyra, NY: E. B. Grandin]).
3. For the main Isaiah texts that, according to the BM story, come from these plates (explicitly or implicitly), see the chapters in 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Mosiah in the statistical table, below (Part 2). For the problem of the supposed original language of the BM Isaiah texts, see note 53 (Part 4).
4. 3 Ne 16:18-20; 20:32-46; 21:8, 29; 22:1-17.
One point of evidence, usually set aside in considering the source of the BM Isaiah, is the general prevalence of KJV language in it. This must not be ignored. The reality is that, except for relatively small number of variants, the BM text follows the KJV word for word. We do not find significant cases of synonymy, that is, where a BM passage agrees in idea and content with the corresponding KJV passage but employs different words with variations in syntax, much like what can be found between different modern translations of Isaiah and the Bible as a whole.
One might argue that the wording is identical to the KJV because the BM Isaiah sought to maintain biblical style. But this could have been done without word for word correspondence. For example, Isaiah 7:7-9 might be translated independently of the KJV but with a KJV flavor in the following way:
Thus the Lord God hath said,
It shall not prevail
nor shall it be,
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin,
But in yet sixty-five years,
Ephraim shall be dismayed as a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If ye do not trust,
ye shall not be trustworthy.
Here the meaning is very close to that of the KJV, but there is significant difference between them. This is what one would expect to find between the BM Isaiah and the KJV if the BM Isaiah were indeed a translation. The identity between the BM and KJV is thus no small clue that the former derives from the latter.5
Notes to Part 1
5. See the conclusion for the implausability of the theory that Joseph Smith made use of KJV language when it agreed with what the BM Isaiah text said.
Click here for Part 2 of the paper