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Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Biblical/Deutero-Isaiah
Multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of MormonSummary: The "Deutero-Isaiah" theory is the claim that parts of Isaiah were written later than others. This theory claims that there were three individual authors, whose works were later compiled together under the name of the first author Isaiah (referred to as "Proto Isaiah"). The critical issue raised is that the Brass Plates of Laban quote from sections of Isaiah that this theory ascribes to Deutero-Isaiah, so how could the Nephites have these writings if they weren't written until after they left Jerusalem?
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: How do we explain multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of Mormon?
- John W. Welch, "Authorship of the Book of Isaiah in Light of the Book of Mormon"
- Marc Schindler, "Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?"
Question: How do we explain multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of Mormon?
The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it
As part of the record Nephi creates for his people, he quotes heavily from the prophet Isaiah. The source for Nephi's text are the brass plates that he and his brothers obtained from Laban before leaving Jerusalem. Traditionally, the Book of Isaiah has been understood to be the composition of a single author living before Nephi, and before the Babylonian exile. However, modern scholars have found evidence in the Book of Isaiah that it was written by multiple authors spanning periods of time before and during the Babylonian exile, including before and after Nephi and his brothers obtained the brass plates. Nephi quotes from some of the passages of Isaiah that scholars believe were written after Nephi and his family left Jerusalem, creating a conundrum for students of the Book of Mormon.
The general division of Isaiah chapters according to this view looks like this:
- Ch. 2-39, First Isaiah (Proto-Isaiah), written about 100 years before Lehi left Jerusalem, and so available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
- Ch. 40-55, Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah), written, at the earliest, 20-30 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so allegedly not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
- Ch. 56-66, Third Isaiah (Trito-Isaiah), written at least 60-70 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and so not available to Nephi on Laban's brass plates.
The challenge to the Book of Mormon is that Nephi quotes several chapters from Second Isaiah, who allegedly had not yet written his material in time for Nephi to quote from it. The key question is, "Were those passages available to Nephi on the plates of brass?". If some parts of Isaiah were not written until after Nephi obtained the brass plates then they obviously would not be available for Nephi to quote from. This criticism/question is not new to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The semi-official encyclopedic work Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992, 2007) broached it in their entry on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Among the Latter-day Saints who are familiar with this issue there is more than one approach taken. Some argue for single authorship of Isaiah, disagreeing with multiple authorship theories of Isaiah. Others agree that the Book of Isaiah was authored by more than one person and look for ways to resolve that with the Book of Mormon. We will consider the latter position first.
Many Latter-day Saint scholars and students have come to agree with mainstream biblical scholars who suggest that parts of the Book of Isaiah were written by multiple authors and at different times. There is no doctrinal or "official" LDS teaching that requires Latter-day Saints to see Isaiah as having been written by one author. Therefore, Latter-day Saints are free to form their own opinions of this issue. Hugh Nibley summarizes the main reasons why many believe Isaiah was written by multiple authors:
“The dating of Deutero-Isaiah rests on three things: (1) the mention of Cyrus (Isa. 44:28), who lived 200 years after Isaiah and long after Lehi; (2) the threats against Babylon (Isa. 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 suggests a historical background commonly associated with a later period than that of Isaiah.”
Latter-day Saints who agree with this view do not do so because they don't believe that Isaiah could not prophecy of future events. Certainly it is within God's power to have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, or for Isaiah to write as if he were experiencing the Israelite exile to Babylon which would not happen for a couple hundred years. However, it would be very unusual for these things to happen. Those who accept the multiple authorship of Isaiah ask questions like, "Why would God have Isaiah predict the name of Cyrus, which would have been meaningless to his audience, and not predict the name of the Jesus?" In other words, if God is going to reveal the future name of an important person, it would seem that Jesus' name would have priority over Cyrus' name. The same question could be asked about why God would have Isaiah write as if he were experiencing the Babylonian exile. It would make little sense to his contemporary audience, and would not be very helpful to them. They would be long dead before any of those prophecies made sense. Could it be written like that to be a sign to future audiences that God has predictive power? Perhaps, but to some that seems like an unusual and trivial thing for God to do.
The important question to ask for the purposes of this study is not "Who wrote the text of Isaiah", but rather "When and how was the text of Isaiah written?".
Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
The primary Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon, along with the suggested author according to the multiple authorship view, are illustrated in the following table:
2 Nephi 12-24 quotes 1st Isaiah. This is not a problem because it is agreed by scholars that this author wrote before Nephi obtained the brass plates. 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 7-8, and 3 Nephi 16:18-20 all quote from 2nd Isaiah, which is a problem if those chapters were not written by 2nd Isaiah until after Nephi had obtained the brass plates. Along with the quotations from the above table, Third Isaiah is quoted—yet only in Jacob 6:3 by the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the only part of 2nd Isaiah we need to account for is Isaiah 48-53 and the only part of Trito-Isaiah (it should be remembered that some scholars reject trito-Isaiah) being the one verse from Isaiah 65 (Isaiah 65:2). Thus we have four chapters and four verses to account for.
The development of the text of Isaiah
There are a few important key points about the development of the text of Isaiah that may help resolve this challenge:
- 1st Isaiah wrote during a time when a powerful nation, Assyria, threatened the destruction of Israel. While this was the immediate issue in 1st Isaiah's mind, he also may have been inspired to make general prophecies about a more future destruction of Israel. While not specifically mentioning "Bablyon" or "Cyrus", this 1st Isaiah may have made broad prophecies about a future threat to Israel separate from the immediate Assyrian threat.
- LDS scholar Sidney B. Sperry has suggested that we pay attention to the research of several non-LDS scholars who "held that Isaiah 40-66 arose in exilic times, but consisted in 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 fulfillment of the prophecies." In other words, our current Isaiah 40-55 (or 40-66) may originate in primitive writings of 1st Isaiah, but which were reworked and reinterpreted by 2nd Isaiah. This is very likely the best approach and one the easily accounts for the both the essential unity of the text of Isaiah and the presence of material from other chapters. Marc Schindler described this approach in detail in this article from FairMormon papers.
- In that same vein, LDS scholar Brant Gardner writes:
- Rather than seeing the specificity of "Cyrus" or "Babylon" as denying Isaiah's authorship because they must have been written later, those same techniques of analysis suggest that others added those names later when fulfillment made the intent of the prophecy obvious. Cyrus might not have been named when Isaiah ben Amoz [1st Isaiah] wrote, but anyone living after the fact would certainly recognize the name and perhaps "improve" the original Isaiah text by adding the specifics of the fulfilled prophecy. If the earliest versions of Deutero-Isaiah were actually written by proto-Isaiah, they were later redacted on the basis of the similar historical facts of destruction and hope of return from exile that were part of both the earlier Assyrian and later Babylonian captivity."
Issues of Translation
However, this doesn't quite settle the issue yet. The question is asked, "What text was available to Nephi?" Nephi would have had available to him only the text of 1st Isaiah, a text which possibly included broad and perhaps vague prophecies of a future exile of Israel. The prophecies on Laban's plates of brass which Nephi was quoting from may not have specifically mentioned "Babylon" as that threat. Thus, what Nephi quoted as he inscribed on his plates was the original, early, 1st Isaiah version of Isaiah 48-52. However, the text that we have in the Book of Mormon of Isaiah 48-52 quotes from the later, 2nd Isaiah material (which is a reworked version of 1st Isaiah's earlier material) as found in the KJV Bible. How can this be?
The answer to this question will involve a brief consideration of the translation process of the Book of Mormon. There are two major methods that have been proposed for the translation of the Book of Mormon. The first is a "tight-control" method in which the text of the English version strictly matches the text of the gold plates, often right down to the spelling of names. The second method of translation is "loose-control", in which the English translation is a bit more fluid and matches the general meaning of the original reformed Egyptian text but may not strictly follow every word. Latter-day saint scholars and students fall into both camps, and some believe that both methods could have been used throughout the translation of the Book of Mormon. This is relevant to the question of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon because a "loose-control" theory, or something similar to it, would help account for why we have the KJV of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, as discussed below.
A Proposed Scenario
When considering the large quantity of KJV Bible quotations in the Book of Mormon many LDS scholars have proposed a scenario like this:
- As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he would find himself translating something that he recognized as being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah.
- Instead of translating Nephi's quotations of Isaiah, Joseph, deferred to the KJV translation of those chapters. This may have been done to save time and to respect the quality of the KJV Bible. The chapters of Isaiah that we find in the Book of Mormon were taken largely by Joseph Smith from the KJV Bible, instead of being translated from Nephi's version of that text. In other words, why reinvent the wheel when the work has already been done?
- If Joseph Smith did this while translating the Book of Mormon, it would fall under the broad contours of the "loose-control" theory of the Book of Mormon.
- As a result of this, the Isaiah chapters on Nephi's plates would have looked slightly different from the Isaiah chapters that we have now in the Book of Mormon. Remember, the only 2nd Isaiah chapters that show up in the Book of Mormon are Isaiah 48-52. Nephi's version of Isaiah 48-52 that he quoted on his plates was the primitive, early version written by 1st Isaiah which did not include specific references to Babylon. The version of Isaiah 48-52 that we have now in the Book of Mormon is not taken from Nephi's plates, but rather copied from the KJV Bible for reasons suggested above. That version of Isaiah 48-52 is the older, reworked material of 2nd Isaiah which inserted specific references to Babylon.
One final observation should be made. Scholars believe that Isaiah chapter 1 was not part of 1st Isaiah's original book, but was a later addition by a later writer, perhaps 2nd or 3rd Isaiah. It is noteworthy that Nephi begins quoting Isaiah 2 and continues until Isaiah 14 without break, and never quotes Isaiah 1. If Isaiah chapter 1 was not yet a part of the record of Isaiah when Nephi obtained it would make sense that he would not quote Isaiah chapter 2.
A Single "Isaiah" and the Book of Mormon
Some take a conservative view and argue for the unity of Isaiah, suggesting that theories about multiple authorship are not correct. This approach was taken by one author in an old article in "The Ensign". The following represents part of that answer that was given (the full text may be read at the link on lds.org below):
Many non-LDS scholars claim that the second half of the book of Isaiah was written after the time Lehi left Jerusalem, Yet the Book of Mormon contains material from both halves. How do we explain this?
Literary style in Hebrew is much more accessible to computer analysis than is English. This is partly because the Hebrew characteristic known as the function prefix can help identify speech patterns of a given author. For example, how an author uses Hebrew function prefixes, such as those that translate into “and in this,” “and it is,” and “and to,” are expected to be unique with him. Thus, comparing parts of an author’s work with other parts, as well as comparing his work with work by other authors, can yield statistical evidence for claims of authorship.
Accordingly, we coded the Hebrew text of the book of Isaiah and a random sampling of eleven other Old Testament books onto computer tape. 3 Then, using a computer, we compared rates of literary usage (such as unique expressions and idiomatic phrases including the function prefix and other such literary elements) from text to text. Since any author varies within himself, depending on context, audience, his own change of style, and so forth, variations for a given author were compared with variations between authors for any literary element.
The results of the study were conclusive: there is a unique authorship style throughout the various sections of Isaiah. The rates of usage for the elements of this particular style are more consistent within the book of Isaiah, regardless of the section, than in any other book in the study. This statistical evidence led us to a single conclusion: based on style alone, the book of Isaiah definitely appears to be the work of one man. The two parts of Isaiah most often claimed to have been written by different authors, chapters 1–39 and 40–66, were found to be more similar to each other in style than to any of the other eleven Old Testament books examined.
L. La Mar Adams, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 29
Eliminating the Crticism
Thus, to eliminate the criticism we should recognize that:
- We have four chapters and four verses to account for. We don't need to have the entire book of Isaiah date to a certain time—just those passages in the Book of Mormon.
- The Book of Mormon uses KJV Language. There are perhaps a few reasons for it: (1) Joseph's model of revelation is one in which the Lord speaks after the manner of their language. King James vernacular was their's (D&C 1:24), (2) The end of that verse in Doctrine and Covenants suggests that he does this so that they can come to understanding. So when we have King James language in the Book of Mormon, it is to point out clearly what theological issue is being engaged. The Book of Mormon teaches that this is one of its purposes in 2 Nephi 29; (3) When you get King James language, it usually doesn't plagiarize it wholesale. It takes allusions and phrases so that it can fulfill purpose 2 as described before. The Isaiah chapters, for instance, match less than half of the time the Book of Mormon quotes them. Footnote 2a in 2 Nephi 12 of the Book of Mormon reads that: "Comparison with the King James Bible in English shows that there are differences in more than half of the 433 verses of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon, while about 200 verses have the same wording as KJV." 4) If we didn't get any language from the Nephites that matched or alluded to King James Language, we would be closer to thinking that they were trying to communicate an entirely different message or teach something else entirely.
- Literary arguments for dating a text are often highly subjective and most prone to disagreement. Many scholar use narrative criticism to establish the dating of a text. It's one of the trickiest ways to date a text and several scholars have pointed out the fallacies of doing so.
- All it would really take to eliminate the argument would be to find a copy of Isaiah—either in its wholeness or even just a couple of fragments that had portion(s) of deutero and trito Isaiah on them— within 7th century strata. The problems with this are that:
- The texts themselves, if preserved, would most likely be contained within temple deposits. These would have been ransacked by the Babylonians when they took Israel captive circa 600 BCE. Upon taking Israel, their temples, records, and other belongings would have been pillaged and destroyed. This is actually recorded in the Old Testament itself. The most likely temple to find the texts from Isaiah in would be the Temple of Solomon which is buried under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is archaeologically inaccessible by law for religious and political reasons.
- The texts, if they survived outside temple deposits and survived destruction, would have been placed in locations in which it may be doubted that they survived deposition. For example, K.A. Kitchen commenting on arguments against the historicity of the Exodus narratives in the Bible wrote the following:
Egyptian gods gave only victories to kings —and defeats indicated divine disapproval, not applause! It is no use looking for administrative registers giving the Hebrews "customs clearance" to clear out of Egypt. In fact, 99 percent of all New Kingdom papyri are irrevocably lost (administrative and otherwise), the more so in the sopping mud of the Delta; the few survivors hail from the dry sands of Sawwara and Upper Egypt, far away from Pi-Ramesse's total of our administrative texts so far recovered from Pi-Ramesse!
- Thus if conditions are right, the papyri or scrolls upon which such a document was written may be lost. But even in good conditions, it may be years before the document is uncovered. Consider that one archaeological excavation took some 30 years to uncover a Philistine cemetery in southern Israel. These processes take time, and we shouldn't expect everything to come to us so easy. We should remain patient on the Lord (1 Nephi 21:23) and know that sometimes we may never find remains of what we're looking for. That this argument against the Book of Mormon is an argument from silence is the most damning point against it and one that should provide all of us pause when evaluating how problematic this is for the Book of Mormon. In light of the foregoing analysis, we really don't have much to worry about.
- Joseph M. Spencer, "The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record" (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford, 2016). This book is remarkable in demonstrating that the selection of Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are not chosen at random but that there is a unifying theme that drives Nephi's selection of passages to quote to his brothers.
- Sperry, Sidney B. “The ‘Isaiah Problem’ in the Book of Mormon.” In Book of Mormon Compendium, 493–512. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968.
- Jackson, Kent P. "Isaiah in the Book of Mormon" in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 2016)
- David Carr, “Reaching for Unity in Isaiah,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 18, no. 57 (1993): 61–80. There is a large bibliography of scholars who see unity in Isaiah in notes 3-5 of this article.
- Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament, 371–78. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969.
- LaSor, W. S., D. A. Hubbard, and F. W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
- Donald Parry and John W. Welch, "Isaiah in the Book of Mormon" (Provo: FARMS, 1998).
- Adams, Larry L., and Alvin C. Rencher. "A Computer Analysis of the Isaiah Authorship Problem." BYU Studies 15 (Autumn 1974):95-102.
- Anderson, Francis I. "Style and Authorship." The Tyndale Paper 21 (June 1976):2.
- Gileadi, Avraham. A Holistic Structure of the Book of Isaiah. Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1981.
- Kissane, E. J. The Book of Isaiah, 2 vols. Dublin, Ireland, 1941, 1943.
- Ludlow, Victor L. Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet. Salt Lake City, 1981.
- Tvedtnes, John A. "Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon." In Isaiah and the Prophets, ed. M. Nyman. Provo, Utah, 1984.
- Young, Edward J. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1949.
Book of Mormon Central KnoWhys (including article and video):
- Why did Jesus mix together Micah and Isaiah?
- Why did Jesus quote all of Isaiah 54?
- What Vision Guides Nephi's Choice of Isaiah Chapters?
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective"Daniel T. Ellsworth, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (September 15, 2017)
For Latter-day Saints, the critical scholarly consensus that most of the book of Isaiah was not authored by Isaiah often presents a problem, particularly since many Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are assigned post-exilic dating by critical scholars. The critical position is based on an entirely different set of assumptions than most believers are accustomed to bring to scripture. This article surveys some of the reasons for the critical scholarly position, also providing an alternative set of assumptions that Latter-day Saints can use to understand the features of the text.
Over the years, biblical scholars have raised questions about the authorship of the book of Isaiah, often viewing it as a compilation os scripture written by more than one author. In the opinion of many text-critical scholars, the disputed chapters (mainly chapters 40-66) were written or edited after the time Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem, after the Babylonian destruction and the resulting deportation of Judah to Babylon in the sixth century B.C. Because most of Isaiah 48-54 is quoted in the Book of Mormon with specific attribution to the prophet Isaiah, biblical scholarship and the Book of Mormon diverge in this regard. Although many fundamentalist anti-Mormons do not raise this point as an issue against the Book of Mormon because they accept the literal integrity of the Bible and hence the single authorship of Isaiah, this discrepancy has been noted by several liberal critics of the Book of Mormon. This chapter briefly outlines and documents the basic nature of the so-called Isaiah question regarding the Book of Mormon and describes the answers given by Latter-day Saints in respect to this matter.
The “Deutero-Isaiah” theory is the claim that parts of Isaiah were written later than others. Specifically this theory claims that there were three individual authors, whose works were later compiled together under the name of the first author, the “real” Isaiah (known as Proto-Isaiah by adherents to the theory). The problem this presents for LDS is one of authorship dating: according to this theory, Proto Isaiah was written about the time traditionally ascribed to the book: namely ca. 700 BC. Deutero-Isaiah (“Second Isaiah”) was allegedly written around 545 BC, and Trito-Isaiah (“Third Isaiah”) around 500 BC. The big problem, of course, is that the Brass Plates of Laban quote from sections of Isaiah that this theory ascribes to Deutero-Isaiah, so how could the Nephites have these writings if they weren’t written until after they left Jerusalem?
- Legrande Davies, "Isaiah: Texts in the Book of Mormon", Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel Ludlow (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992 and 2007). Worthy of mention is that two current apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and one future apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, were advisors for the encyclopedia and its editorial board. They are recognized in the acknowledgements to the encyclopedia.
- Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), "Chapter 5: The Bible in the Book of Mormon", subsection "The Book of Mormon Explains Isaiah". ISBN 0875791395.
- Scholars have proposed reconciliations of both views. See Neal Rappleye, "'Dynamically Equivalent' Translation and the Book of Mormon" <http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/2017/11/dynamically-equivalent-translation-and.html> (accessed 29 March 2019)
- John Barton, Isaiah 1-39 (London: T&T Clark International, 1995), 25–26. See also Michael Fallon, "Introduction to Isaiah 40–48," in Isaiah School in Exile—Isaiah 40–55 (accessed 6 September 2014), 194.
- Benjamin D. Sommer, "Dating Pentateuchal Texts and the Perils of Pseudo-Historicism" The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research eds., Thomas B. Dozeman, Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 85-108.
- Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, MA: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 311.
- "Philistine cemetery uncovered in archaeological dig in Israel, Goliath's people were 'normal sized'" ABC News. July 10, 2016. <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-11/old-bones-cast-new-light-on-goliath-people/7584904>. Accessed November 4, 2019.