I begin by quoting verses 7-8 (with letters added for reference purposes):
7 And he spake also concerning a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord— 8 a Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: b Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; c for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. d And much spake my father concerning this thing.
The “prophet who should come before the Messiah,” of course, is John the Baptist. The words of verse 8 allude to Isaiah 40:3, and Monte Nyman claims that “Isaiah is the obvious source of Lehi’s teachings since he uses almost the verbatim language of the present text of Isaiah.” However, the wording of the quotation from Isaiah 40:3 demonstrably derives directly from the Synoptic Gospels. Notice the precise parallel of the entire statement attributed to John between the Book of Mormon quotation and the Synoptics (differing only in adding the superfluous “and,” not found in any of the biblical versions), as compared to the different wording of the statement in the KJV (and Hebrew text, as more accurately represented by the NRSV) and the LXX:
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight” (1 Ne. 10:8b).
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4).
“Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3 KJV).
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (NRSV).
“Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight the paths of our God” (Isa. 40:3 LXX).
As the NRSV indicates, in the Hebrew text the phrase “in the wilderness” is actually part of the “cry,” an exegesis supported by the Hebrew parallelism (“in the wilderness…in the desert”). There is nothing wrong with the Greek and English translations that do not include the phrase in the cry; the point is that the Book of Mormon quotation does the same thing, reflecting its dependence on the NT. This dependence is strongly supported by the fact that the second line is quoted as “make his paths straight,” a wording closer to the LXX than to the Hebrew but identical with the wording of the Synoptics’ quotation.
Immediately following the quotation from Isaiah 40:3 as it appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the Book of Mormon describes John the Baptist in language that has no precedent in Isaiah, or anywhere else in the OT, and that clearly comes from both Mark and especially from John:
“…for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (1 Ne. 10:8c).
“There cometh one mightier than I after me…” (Mark 1:7 KJV).
“I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:26-27 KJV).
The verbal parallels to Mark and especially to John are enough to establish a literary relationship, but there is more evidence of a completely different kind that further confirms this relationship and proves that the Book of Mormon is dependent on the NT Gospels for this statement. John’s description of Jesus as someone so superior to him that John considered himself unworthy to loosen his sandal reflects a very specific cultural context in the Palestinian Judaism of the first century. Removing a man’s sandals was an important and menial task in that culture, in particular because of the physical geography of the land. Palestine was characteristically extremely dusty, and one’s sandals would quickly become filthy from normal walking outdoors. Removing another man’s sandals was a task routinely assigned in that culture to household servants or slaves. There is evidence that such responsibilities were assigned to servants in the broader Hellenistic world—so that John’s statement would be meaningful to Gospel readers outside Palestine—but in the environment of Palestine the practice was a commonplace. Rabbinical statements later recorded in the Talmud, which reflected that same culture and environment as John and Jesus, refer to the practice and even comment that it is too menial a task for a rabbi’s disciple to perform (e.g., b. Ketub. 96a; b. Pesah. 4a). Some rabbis argued that even a Hebrew slave should not be asked to perform the task; it was so demeaning that it was to be relegated to a Gentile slave. John the Baptist’s statement, then, means that he was so inferior to Jesus that he was unworthy even to perform the most menial, demeaning task for Jesus—that is, that the difference between them was even greater than the difference between a master and his slave. John’s self-description presupposes that the role of slaves in taking care of their masters’ shoes was a commonplace in his culture.
We have no reason to think that this cultural allusion would be meaningful to Lehi’s family, who left Palestine more than 600 years before John the Baptist would make his statement. 1 Nephi 10:8 is one of just two references to shoes in the Book of Mormon (the other, 2 Nephi 15:27, is unrelated). All of the evidence that we have for this cultural convention dates from half a millennium or more after the time of Lehi. Not only is the convention not mentioned in the Old Testament, but removing someone else’s shoe in the Old Testament would have a decidedly different connotation, as it was part of an action intended to show disrespect to the shoe’s owner (Deut. 25:9-10)!
That 1 Nephi 10 is dependent on the Gospel of John is further confirmed by the next two verses:
“9 And my father said he should baptize in Bethabara, beyond Jordan; and he also said he should baptize with water; even that he should baptize the Messiah with water. 10 And after he had baptized the Messiah with water, he should behold and bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world” (1 Ne. 10:9-10).
“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:28-29 KJV).
Having clearly alluded to John 1:26-27 in 1 Nephi 10:8c, the Book of Mormon immediately goes on to allude just as clearly (if not more so) to John 1:28-29 in 1 Nephi 10:9-10. This is not a matter of a few words or groups of words in one text that happen to parallel words in another text. The connection between 1 Nephi 10 and John 1 cannot be dismissed as arbitrary or happenstance (as one might, hypothetically, dismiss verbal parallels between the Book of Mormon and Shakespeare). 1 Nephi 10:8-10 is indisputably talking about the same subject matter as John 1:26-29 (John the Baptist’s ministry) and does so using some very distinctive language found only in John 1 and in texts dependent on John 1. Two specific verbal elements stand out in this regard.
First, the expression “Lamb of God” only appears in the Bible in John 1:29, 36, and as far as I have been able to determine does not appear in any extant ancient literature pre-dating the Gospel of John. Of course, one might suppose that God simply revealed to Lehi and Nephi the exact words that John the Baptist would say and that the apostle John recorded in John 1:29. One might further argue that Lehi and Nephi might have had enough background information in the Old Testament to make sense of the expression. Such background is found notably in the reference to the sacrificial lamb in the account of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Isaac, in the Passover lamb in the book of Exodus, and in the reference in Isaiah 53 to the suffering Servant who would go as a lamb to the slaughter on account of our sins. If this were the only parallel between 1 Nephi 10 and John 1, it would be plausible, from the LDS perspective, to explain the parallel in this fashion.
Second, however, the reference in 1 Nephi 10:9 to the coming prophet baptizing “in Bethabara, beyond Jordan,” is certainly dependent on the KJV of the Gospel of John. Bethabara was a variant reading of John 1:28 that gained ascendancy following the third-century Christian scholar Origen, who favored this reading (against what he admitted was nearly all of the manuscript evidence known to him). Contemporary translations overwhelmingly agree that the correct reading is “Bethany beyond Jordan” (of the dozen translations I consulted only the NKJV, an updated version of the KJV, had “Bethabara”). It is the reading of the earliest manuscripts and has the strongest overall support from a text-critical perspective. The qualification “beyond Jordan” (i.e., in the region known as the Transjordan, on the eastern shore of the river) evidently identifies this Bethany as a different place than the well-known Bethany “near Jerusalem” (John 11:18). Nyman is aware of the problem and offers no rebuttal to the arguments favoring “Bethany” instead of “Bethabara.” In a footnote, he quotes Joseph Smith’s claim that “the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence” (TPJS, 267) and comments, “The evidence of Bethabara will fall into this category.” Nyman therefore indirectly acknowledges that at present the evidence of the place-name is evidence against the Book of Mormon, though he holds out hope this situation will somehow be reversed. Similarly, Sidney B. Sperry asserted dogmatically, “The inspired Book of Mormon, you see, says that ‘Bethabara’ is the correct reading and that our modern scholars are wrong in choosing the reading ‘Bethany.’”
John Tvedtnes admits that the Greek manuscript evidence weighs heavily in favor of “Bethany” but suggests that “some early manuscript of the gospel of John accidentally replaced the name Beth-abara with the more familiar Beth-aniah, known as the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha,” and that “subsequent scribes copied the error.” While one cannot prove this suggestion to be impossible, it remains highly unlikely. A reading which has the support of the earliest manuscripts is the presumptively correct reading, and the qualification “beyond Jordan” (which no one questions was part of John’s Gospel) shows that John himself was careful to distinguish this location from the town of Bethany.
Another hypothetically possible response to the problem would be to acknowledge that the place-name is wrong and dismiss the inaccuracy as unimportant, on the grounds that Mormons do not view the Book of Mormon as inerrant. However, the real problem here is not merely that the Book of Mormon uses the wrong place-name, but that the place-name it uses is clearly dependent on the postbiblical tradition that Joseph Smith received in the KJV. This makes it certain that 1 Nephi 10 is dependent on the Gospel of John in the KJV. It is not an independent reference (by way of prophetic revelation) to the future coming of John the Baptist.
A further difficulty with regard to this reference to “Bethabara, beyond Jordan” concerns the lack of any plausible reason for the inclusion of this geographical reference in 1 Nephi. The apostle John clearly had reasons for referring to the specific location where John the Baptist was baptizing. For one thing, John (the apostle) was there—he was the unnamed disciple who was with Andrew as disciples of John the Baptist when they met Jesus and began following him (John 1:35-42). The apostle includes numerous specific place-names in his account, often references to places not mentioned in the other Gospels or elsewhere in the Bible, such as Cana (2:1, 11), Aenon (3:23), Sychar (4:5), Tiberias (6:23), the pool of Siloam (9:7, 11), Solomon’s porch (or portico, 10:23), and the Kidron Valley (18:1). These locations were personally meaningful to him and presumably to many of his earliest readers. John also uses the two locations named Bethany to frame his narrative of Jesus’ ministry movements, with Jesus beginning in “Bethany beyond Jordan” (1:28) and climaxing at “Bethany near Jerusalem” (11:18) where he raised Lazarus from the dead. John 1-11 is the first major section of the Gospel, focusing on the “signs” that Jesus performed prior to his Passion, whereas John 12-21 focuses on the Passion and Resurrection as the final, redemptive “signs” that reveal Jesus as the life-giving Son of God (cf. 20:30-31).
While the place-name of the location where John met Jesus was meaningful to him and has a meaningful role in the narrative of his Gospel, there is no plausible purpose for the reference to “Bethabara, beyond Jordan” in 1 Nephi 10:9. The location did not have that name (as this was a later variant, as explained above) and was not called Bethany in the time of Lehi. The Greek form used in John 1:28, Bethania, was apparently a Hellenized and Latinized name for what the Old Testament called “Bashan.” Had 1 Nephi used the Hebrew form “Bashan,” of course, there would have been no need for the qualification “beyond Jordan,” which clearly comes from the Gospel of John. Since Lehi and his family were leaving Palestine and never returning, the reference to a relatively obscure geographical location that would have no symbolic or religious significance to them, by a place-name that did not yet exist, would serve no plausible purpose for Lehi, Nephi, or the ancient readers of Nephi’s record.
One might speculate that the geographical reference was miraculously included for the benefit of future readers, as evidence of the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon. Such an explanation would first of all be ad hoc because the passage says nothing to suggest that the information was not supposed to be meaningful to Lehi or Nephi or his ancient readers. In fact, there are statements in 1 Nephi 10 that indicate it was supposed to be meaningful to Lehi and his family. Nephi says that Lehi was “exhorting them to all diligence” (1 Ne. 10:2) with his words and was speaking specifically to Nephi’s “brethren” (vv. 11, 15). This explanation also fails because if the specific place-name was revealed in order to show modern readers that the Book of Mormon contained supernatural knowledge one would expect that it would get the name right!
If “Bethabara, beyond Jordan” would have no particular significance for Lehi, for Nephi, or for Nephi’s ancient readers, and if a Book of Mormon use of this place-name turns out not to be good evidence of the inspiration of Lehi or the Book of Mormon, then why is it in the Book of Mormon? The simplest answer is also the most obvious. Joseph Smith claimed to be producing an inspired translation of an ancient book that was produced by inspired prophets who had specific prophetic knowledge of the future (even knowing the name “Jesus Christ,” for example). In keeping with this concept of what the Book of Mormon was supposed to be, Joseph Smith wrote into the narrative stories about Lehi, Nephi, and the later Nephite prophets having all sorts of explicit knowledge about the future. The account of Lehi predicting the ministry of John the Baptist and even some of the words that John would say (as found in the NT Gospels) is an obvious example.
We have, then, several reasons from this short passage (1 Ne. 10:7-10) to think that it originates in the nineteenth century as a text dependent on the Synoptic Gospels in verse 8 and on John in verses 9-10:
(1) The quotation of Isaiah 40:3 attributed to John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:8 is dependent on the Synoptic Gospels’ quotation of that verse.
(2) The words attributed to John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:9-10 show close verbal dependence on the Gospels, especially John 1:26-29.
(3) The cultural background knowledge assumed in the statement about not being worthy to loosen the Messiah’s shoes was a commonplace in Palestine during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus but evidently not in the time of Lehi and Nephi.
(4) John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as “the Lamb of God” is found only in John 1:29, 36, and that expression (in any context) occurs only there and in literature dependent on that passage, unless 1 Nephi 10:10 is the sole exception.
(5) 1 Nephi 10:9 follows the textually inferior variant “Bethabara” as the place-name of the location where John was baptizing. This name for that location is found only in manuscripts and translations of John 1:28 and in literature dependent on that text, unless 1 Nephi 10:9 is the sole exception.
(6) It is improbable, and would be ad hoc to claim, that God would inspire Lehi, Nephi, or Joseph Smith to use the wrong place-name, leaving the only likely explanation that Joseph Smith was responsible for this mistake.
(7) The place-name (whether Bethabara or the correct Bethany) would have no meaning to Lehi, Nephi, or their ancient readers, and the explanation that the Book of Mormon includes this information for the benefit of modern readers stumbles on its use of the incorrect place-name and is also ad hoc.
It may be possible to suggest creative scenarios to explain away some of this evidence (though I think any such explanations are likely to be ad hoc). However, the multiple and independent lines of evidence make this a strong cumulative-case argument that 1 Nephi 10:7-10 is a nineteenth-century creation dependent on the KJV, rather than an ancient document supernaturally translated in the nineteenth century by divine inspiration.
 Monte S. Nyman, I Nephi, Write This Record: A Teaching Commentary on The First Book of Nephi and The Second Book of Nephi, Book of Mormon Commentary 1 (Orem, UT: Granite, 2003), 130.
 E.g., W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, ICC (London: T & T Clark, 1988), 1:293.
 See Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 130, and the extensive citations given there.
 Davies and Allison, Matthew, 1:315; R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 113.
 On Bethany beyond Jordan, see especially Rainer Riesner, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan (John 1:28): Topography, Theology and History in the Fourth Gospel,” Tyndale Bulletin 38 (1987): 29-63. I am indebted to Riesner’s article for some of the points made in this paragraph.
 Nyman, I, Nephi, 131 n. 7.
 Sidney B. Sperry, “The Book of Mormon and Textual Criticism,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4 (1995):183.
 John A. Tvedtnes, “1 Nephi 10:9. John the Baptist at Bethabara.” Book of Mormon Research, n.d.
 On the identification of the unnamed disciple with “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26-27; 20:2-4, 8; 21:7, 20-25), i.e., the author of the book, see Richard A. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 390-93.
 See almost any New Testament introduction, Bible dictionary, or commentary for this analysis, which does not depend on acceptance of the theory that the Gospel utilizes an earlier “signs source.” For perhaps the most recent example, see C. Marvin Pate, The Writings of John: A Survey of the Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 37.
 See Riesner, “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” for the evidence supporting this identification. All plausible alternate identifications have similar problems for the appearance of the term in the Book of Mormon.
Edited by Rob Bowman, 09 April 2011 - 03:45 PM.