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Why Is Isaiah In The Book Of Mormon?


consiglieri

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I would like to begin a thread on the subject of Isaiah, which is almost from the very beginning a death-knell to interest, I fear.

And yet, that is part of the mystery.

We know the Book of Mormon quotes copiously from Isaiah.

We also know that the Isaiah chapters are frequently seen by Mormons as the opposite of illuminating.

So why are they there?

Are they just meaningless filler to pump up the page count?

Or is there a reason found within the text itself?

I will argue here that there is a profundity in the choice of Isaiah texts quoted in 1 Nephi 20 and 21 that is frequently overlooked.

Nephi himself gives us the key, I think, when he says immediately before beginning his Isaiah transcription: "I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning." (1 Nephi 19:23)

I fear that we too immediately jump to the conclusion that we are supposed to liken the scriptures unto ourselves while overlooking the obvious fact that Nephi is saying that he is going to liken the scriptures in Isaiah unto himself.

In the immediately ensuing verse, Nephi appears to tell us exactly what he sees in the Isaiah passages he will cite:

"Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written." (1 Nephi 19:24)

From this, I understand the main point Nephi wishes to stress from the Isaiah chapters (48 and 49) is that the Nephites are to liken them unto themselves, because they are a "branch who have been broken off," and that they may have hope in their ultimate return to Jerusalem and rejoining with their Israelite brethren.

The reason this is significant to me is this is precisely what the Isaiah chapters now quoted seem to indicate, up to and including a reference to those of the house of Israel who have been "broken off," who are now upon the "isles of the sea," who will nevertheless not be "forgotten" of the Lord, and who will be preserved and ultimately returned to their home.

Whether this is what Isaiah actually meant by these prophecies may be disputed, but there can be little dispute, I think, that this is what Nephi sees in these prophecies when he likens them unto himself.

I will quote just a little here to make the main point.

1 Nephi 21:1--And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

Nephi would see this prophecy as having specific application to himself and his people, whom he also saw as being upon an "isle of the sea," having been "broken off" because of the wickedness of the "pastors" of the Jews.

In applying the scriptures to the Nephites, Nephi would also have seen a promise of the Lord that, though broken off and scattered, the Nephites would not be forgotten.

1 Nephi 21:14-15--But, Behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me--but he will show that he hath not. For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.

Not only would the broken branch not be forgotten, Isaiah saw they would be "preserved."

1 Nephi 21:8--Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, O isles of the sea, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee; and I will preserve thee, and give thee my servant for a covenant of the people.

The final verses of 1 Nephi 21's quotation of Isaiah would be understood by Nephi that they are broken off, but not forgotten; not only remembered, but preserved; and not only preserved, but in the Lord's time, they would be gathered once more to their home land. (1 Nephi 21:17-25)

I think there is much more that could be said on this subject, but posting about Isaiah is risky enough without trying to start with too lengthy an opening post, so I will leave it at that for now, and see if anybody else wishes to comment.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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The conclusion I have drawn concerning the Isaiah passages in the BofM (talking mostly about 1 and 2 Nephi), is that Nephi included them because they contain instruction that is pertinant to us in our day - if we can understand it through the Spirit.

So what? Isn't that what the whole BofM is supposed to be about?

It is interesting to note that Nephi sees the same vision that John will see later on - and is commanded not to write much of the vision dealing directly with events in our day. John is given the task of writing about those events later on. I get the feeling, from the way Nephi talks about it, that he really wishes he could write more.

Later on, Nephi starts quoting whole passages of Isaiah in the context of what the Lord is going to do in the latter days (our time). It appears that Nephi has found much of what he saw in the vision recorded in the passages of Isaiah he quotes. However, Isaiah writes according to the understanding of the Jews, and is very dualistic in nature, so he can only be understood by study and by the Spirit (in our case). Nephi seems to be saying, in effect, "I can't record what I saw in the rest of my vision concerning your day, but a lot of it is here in Isaiah - if you can figure out how to decode it." So he throws in those passages, and the Lord evidently allows it to happen, because those who have the Spirit will understand it, and those who can't understand it won't come under as great condemnation as if they'd had the rest of Nephi's vision written more plainly.

Anyway, that's my take on it. And I've been able to pull some very interesting things out of those Isaiah passages concerning our day that really make me stop and think.

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If I can offer my naturalistic-leaning questions, they would be these:

- The large-scale importation of Isaiah chapters occurs very near the end of the translation process if you accept the Mosiah-WoM timeline. Could there have been other factors that could have led to Joseph Smith's need to copy from a book instead of dictating by the spirit (and I think David Wright has ably shown that the Isaiah portions were copied from the version of Isaiah found in Joseph's bible).

- We often refer to two defining characteristics of the Book of Mormon. 1) It was written "for our day", meaning the abridger new what "our day" would be like. And 2), the abridging process was timeful and energy consuming, with a need to conserve space and efficiently use engraving resources (even to the point that a new language had to be developed because regular egyptian would take too much room.)

Now, if both of these are true, I can't imagine how it makes sense that an abridger would include pages and pages of scripture that not only would be available to the future readers, but would hardly be referenced in the translation process. Modern Book of Mormons have chapter summaries which are able simply point out "Compare Isaiah 5". As an abridger faced with 1,000 years of history (and even extensive teachings of Jesus that wouldn't be available to Latter-day Saints) and using limited time and resources, it seems highly unusual that Mormon would have chosen a highly redundant, wasteful, and ultimately unneeded method to convey the Isaiah portions of the BoM.

Also keeping in mind that Joseph was more than capable of redacting Biblical passages as needed, as shown by his later Bible-editing project.

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Now, if both of these are true, I can't imagine how it makes sense that an abridger would include pages and pages of scripture that not only would be available to the future readers, but would hardly be referenced in the translation process. Modern Book of Mormons have chapter summaries which are able simply point out "Compare Isaiah 5". As an abridger faced with 1,000 years of history (and even extensive teachings of Jesus that wouldn't be available to Latter-day Saints) and using limited time and resources, it seems highly unusual that Mormon would have chosen a highly redundant, wasteful, and ultimately unneeded method to convey the Isaiah portions of the BoM.

My impression was that the Isaiah part of the Book of Mormon was on the small plates of Nephi -which were not abridged by Mormon at the end, but just 'added to' the whole abridgement after it was finished.

Thus said, after buying my copy of The Book of Mormon, A Reader's Edition where the Isaiah chapters are formatted into the poetry that they are, I finally got a glimpse of why Nephi delights so much in it. I think if more people saw it written that way instead of our standard 2-column with verses format, they'd understand Isaiah better.

It's been a while since I read that part of the Book of Mormon, but Nephi was always concerned about his descendents and what would happen to them in the future. My thought is that any prophesy about the last days would be important to us in the latter days. Which is why Mormon, if he read it when he was putting the small plates with the larger abridgement plates, decided to leave it all in there.

True, much of it is exactly like the KJV of Isaiah, but there are differences, which I think would not be there if Joseph were just copying it from his Bible without any inspiration at all. Maybe the changes aren't that significant - as I said, it's been a while since I read it, but the Reader's Edition shows what is in the KJV and what is different so it's easy to see. I'll have to pay more attention the next time I read it.

Jane

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When I first read the Book of Mormon as a youth the Isaiah chapters were a total puzzle to me, I had no idea why they would be put in a book that we were encouraged to read daily. As a result I spent a lot of time rereading the first several chapters of 1 Nephi, and I particularly liked the dream of Lehi. When I got older I would plow through those pages like reading poetry...I got very little out of them. When I went on my Mission I tried to understand them more but got discouraged when I read that they were easy to understand if one "had the spirit of prophecy and revelation." For the most part I treated the passages like the book of Revelation in the Bible, I would pick out selected parts that I could comprehend. It wasn't until I had a 24 hour fast on my Mission for the express purpose of understanding what I was reading and I was reading in 2 Nephi 27 (Isaiah 29) where I had a "revelation" or a spiritual insight where I could understand the chapter so completely and I could "see" the meaning so plainly that it was beyond belief. It was thrilling and I wished I could have retained that "vision" but it has faded some over the years. But I have no doubt it happened and it is just another strengthening pillar of my testimony of the Book of Mormon. Since that time I have read the words of Isaiah and over the years have understood them a little better than I did when I was younger. But the truth is these words can only be understood by the "spirit" and through "revelation" just as Nephi said. Also take note what the Savior said:

(3 Nephi 23:1-3) "And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles. And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake."
Overall I believe these words (of Isaiah) were included as a spiritual test, to see if we will seek the spirit in order to understand them. If they were as plain as all the other words in the Book of Mormon, then there would really not be a "test" so to speak, to see if we would "hunger and thirst" after His words.
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- We often refer to two defining characteristics of the Book of Mormon. 1) It was written "for our day", meaning the abridger new what "our day" would be like. And 2), the abridging process was timeful and energy consuming, with a need to conserve space and efficiently use engraving resources (even to the point that a new language had to be developed because regular egyptian would take too much room.)

Now, if both of these are true, I can't imagine how it makes sense that an abridger would include pages and pages of scripture that not only would be available to the future readers, but would hardly be referenced in the translation process.

Thank you, cinepro, for taking the time to respond to this thread, and you, too, jwhitlock.

What I am trying to do with the analysis of Isaiah 48 and 49 at the end of 1 Nephi is challenge the first of what you call "defining characteristics of the Book of Mormon"; that it was written "for our day."

In these chapters, I see Nephi as quoting Isaiah not because it has any particular relevance to "our day," but because he saw it as having extreme relevance for Nephi's day.

If I put myself in Nephi's shoes, he has been forced by divine command to abandon the land of his birth, go on a long voyage across the ocean to what Nephi no doubt saw as an "isle of the sea," and subsequently marooned and abandoned by God, so to speak.

Homesickness is probably too small a word for what Nephi and his tribe felt.

I could see Nephi as deriving great comfort in his understanding from these chapters of Isaiah that: (1) God foresaw that this would happen from before Nephi's birth; (2) The Nephites are not forgotten of God; and, (3) Ultimately, the Nephites would be restored to their homeland.

In this way, I see Isaiah 48 and 49 as being intimately linked with what the Nephites were experiencing at precisely that point in their history.

Accordingly, I also see here a subtlety in the Book of Mormon text I would not expect were it the production of an early 19th century American farm boy.

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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And 2), the abridging process was timeful and energy consuming, with a need to conserve space and efficiently use engraving resources (even to the point that a new language had to be developed because regular egyptian would take too much room.)

1) A new language wasn't developed; an already-existing script was altered. Though we shouldn't assume that Nephi was writing in that script.

2) The copious Isaiah excerpts are from Nephi, who, at the time of his writing them, was not abridging anything and was not trying to conserve space. This record was written on separate plates and several centuries before Mormon informs us that he is writing his abridgment in reformed Egyptian.

As far as I know, Nephi wasn't abridging anything, and he wasn't trying to conserve space.

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In these chapters, I see Nephi as quoting Isaiah not because it has any particular relevance to "our day," but because he saw it as having extreme relevance for Nephi's day.

Because we read the BofM for ourselves, you're correct in that we tend to miss the fact that Nephi was expounding Isaiah for the benefit of his brethren. A couple of observations:

If the only emphasis had been on Nephi's people, they had the brass plates and there was no need to record Isaiah on the small plates. Nephi just could have expounded on the scriptures from the brass plates and left it at that.

Isaiah is very dualistic in nature, and I think Nephi recognizes that. Hence, he includes 1 Ne 22, which is his explanation of part of what is going on (including what he tells his brethren), but is very much a description of the future - and, in fact, far in the future. Because Isaiah is dualistic, it can be applied both to Nephi's current situation, and also to the future people he is writing to. It is, indeed, relevant to both. What we have recorded is Nephi talking to both peoples.

If I put myself in Nephi's shoes, he has been forced by divine command to abandon the land of his birth, go on a long voyage across the ocean to what Nephi no doubt saw as an "isle of the sea," and subsequently marooned and abandoned by God, so to speak.

Homesickness is probably too small a word for what Nephi and his tribe felt.

So why does Nephi concentrate so much on the future in ch 22? Perhaps the answer can be found in the fact that the Jews placed great emphasis on posterity, and the comfort they would find would be in knowing that they, as a people, would prevail in their identity in the end - as you commented in your next quote.

I could see Nephi as deriving great comfort in his understanding from these chapters of Isaiah that: (1) God foresaw that this would happen from before Nephi's birth; (2) The Nephites are not forgotten of God; and, (3) Ultimately, the Nephites would be restored to their homeland.
In this way, I see Isaiah 48 and 49 as being intimately linked with what the Nephites were experiencing at precisely that point in their history.

Indeed - especially when it concerns the destruction by Babylon, and the redemption of the Jews as a people. Nephi and those who were with them probably needed to be reminded of why they were there, away from their people.

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Consig-

We started reading the Isaiah chapters last night, and I came to the same conclusion as you, that Nephi was likening the scriptures to his group, and he was putting Isaiah in there precisely because it was talking about his people, who had "broken off" from the rest of the Israelites.

Great minds do think alike!

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Consig-

We started reading the Isaiah chapters last night, and I came to the same conclusion as you, that Nephi was likening the scriptures to his group, and he was putting Isaiah in there precisely because it was talking about his people, who had "broken off" from the rest of the Israelites.

Okay, now that we have a plurality seeing these chapters of Isaiah, at least in some measure, as present in the Book of Mormon because Nephi sees them as having applicability to his own people (both in the there and then, as well as in the far distant future), does this say anything at all about the Book of Mormon as an authentic text?

I see it as bringing forward a complexity and subtlety inconsistent with the humble origins assumed by those who think Joseph Smith the author.

What do you think?

All the Best!

--Consiglieri

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