Question: Why does 2 Nephi 19:1 change the word "sea" in Isaiah 9 to "Red Sea"?

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Question: Why does 2 Nephi 19:1 change the word "sea" in Isaiah 9 to "Red Sea"?

Joseph deleted the word "her" and added the word "Red" to the quote of Isaiah 9 in the Book of Mormon

Although the King James Version of the bible contains the word "her" in Isaiah 9, the standard Masoretic Hebrew (MT) text from which the KJV derived does not contain this word. Therefore, this particular change by Joseph matches the original text more precisely than the KJV does. John Tvedtnes explains:

9:1 (MT 8:23) = 2 Ne. 19:1

KJV: "afflict her by the way of the sea"

BM: "afflict by the way of the Red Sea"

The deletion of italicized "her" is understandable, since it is not in MT. (I) However, BM [Book of Mormon] must be wrong in speaking of the "RED Sea", which is certainly not "beyond Jordan, in Galilee", nor near the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. This appears to be a case of scribal over-correction, due to prior mention of the Red Sea in the BM text.[1]

In other words, Tvedtnes suggests that the addition of the word "red" is an example of Oliver Cowdery "over-hearing" (hearing "sea" and adding "red" in error).

Jeff Lindsay: "there are a couple of reasonable possibilities consistent with the concept of the Book of Mormon being an authentic ancient text translated by divine aid (but still going through fallible human hands in the process)"

The following response is provided by Jeff Lindsay,

In the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 19:1 reads:

Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations. [emphasis added]

This verse is a quotation of Isaiah 9:1, which reads in the KJV as follows:

Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

The Book of Mormon deletes "her" from the KJV and changes "sea" to "Red Sea." Based on verse 1 in light of verse 2 from Isaiah, many people conclude that the sea is the Sea of Galilee, not the Red Sea. The KJV for Isaiah 9:2 is:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

So yes, these verses do appear to be a prophecy of the ministry of Christ, and the Sea of Galilee would make sense. So why does the Book of Mormon have the puzzling reference to the Red Sea? Here is a possible explanation offered by D. Charles Pyle in e-mail received June 2004:

There are those who say that this is an error. It is possible that it is a scribal error on the part of Oliver Cowdery in copying the printer's manuscript from the original manuscript. The problem is that this cannot be proven or disproven because this portion of the original manuscript no longer is extant. It also is possible that the Egyptian textual translation of the Hebrew is in error and that Joseph Smith translated it, error and all. On the other hand, it also is possible that it is not an error at all.

The King's Highway also was part of what was known in ancient times as the Way of the Red Sea, which led out of Egypt along the shores of the Red Sea, passed through Edom and changed direction after meeting with the Way of the Sea, in Galilee, to go into Mesopotamia. It is possible that Joseph journeyed this way, or at least part of this way, to avoid going through Judaea when he took Jesus into Nazareth as a young child. If so, it would be quite correct in that the light would pass into the region of Naphtali via the Way of the Red Sea. Joseph sought to avoid contact with Archelaus and a back route would be one of the best ways to avoid contact.

We also know that Jesus went into the wilderness for his temptation after being baptized in a region on the other side of the Jordan. The English Book of Mormon has Bethabara as do several versions of the Bible while [several other translations have] Bethany beyond Jordan. He would then have come down from Galilee to be baptized on the other side of the Jordan (east of the river; 'beyond Jordan' meant to the east of the Jordan River), and come down around the Way of the Red Sea and around the Dead Sea to the Wilderness of Judaea. Remember, Jesus' wandered the wilderness for forty days, plenty of time to travel around the Dead Sea in that manner, that region being one the most inhospitable in the main. There are possible hints that Jesus came through Edom or Idumea. One way that he could have done so is to travel the Way of the Red Sea, which passes through Edom. The records of Jesus' life and travels are scanty at best and it is impossible to know for certainty at this time. In any case, I am not willing to state without good evidence that this passage is in error with any degree of certainty, for in my opinion there is no certainty either way. I have sifted through much contradictory 'evidence' and have formed no solid conclusion on this textual matter.

Bottom line: we're not really sure, but there are a couple of reasonable possibilities consistent with the concept of the Book of Mormon being an authentic ancient text translated by divine aid (but still going through fallible human hands in the process). There is a plausible basis from the ancient world for referring to the sea as the Red Sea. On the other hand, if Joseph were relying on his knowledge of the Bible and fabricating the text, changing "sea" to "Red Sea" would make no sense. What would motivate a Bible literate fabricator to make such a change?[2]

Notes

  1. John Tvedtnes, "The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon," FARMS Preliminary Reports (1981).
  2. Jeff Lindsay, "Why does 2 Nephi 19:1 incorrectly change 'sea' in Isaiah 9 to 'Red Sea'?", LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers.