The Complexity of the Book of Mormon

During the most recent General Conference, Elder Ted R. Callister (General Sunday School President) spoke about the Book of Mormon, and particularly about its complexity as evidence for its inspiration. All too often, however, I see assertions of the opposite, that almost anyone with some basic familiarity with the Bible or an open copy of the King James version could write it. I came across many such claims during the writing of my thesis, and just the other week found a similar statement in a “Concise Oxford Dictionary of Religions” I came across in a charity shop (namely that the book’s authenticity was doubted because of its “reminisces of the King James version”; I didn’t check at the time, but would be intrigued to know if the contributors had felt the need to make similar statements in regards to other faiths).

These statements typically take the form of sweeping generalizations, with little evidence because few of those making such comments seem to have taken the trouble to examine the book itself closely. In contrast, one very clear finding throughout my thesis was just how exceptionally complex the Book of Mormon’s use of biblical material actually was, far more complex than I’d suggest most actual readers pick up. Furthermore, again and again I found evidence that the authors of the Book of Mormon would have needed to be far more familiar with biblical material than the critics claimed. One example from Chapter 3:

Nephi then proceeds to place a condition upon the fulfilment of this covenant:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

At first glance this appears to be a simple assertion, a claim that this ‘marvelous work’ is to be accomplished by a display of divine power. However, what this misses is that the two halves of this verse are not connected simply by assertion, but by a chain of associated passages:

And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.

(1 Nephi 22:10)

Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.

(1 Nephi 19:17)

The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

(Isaiah 52:10; bold, italicised, and underlined text marks linked passages.)

Thus the reference to the blessing of ‘all the kindreds of the earth’ not only refers to the just quoted covenant with Abraham, but also alludes to the second half of 1 Nephi 19:17, attributed as a quotation of the non-biblical prophet Zenos. In turn, the first clause of 1 Nephi 19:17, ‘and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord’, corresponds to the second part of Isaiah 52:10 (not quoted here, but quoted four times – twice explicitly – elsewhere in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 12:24, Mosiah 15:31, 3 Nephi 16:20 and 20:35). Finally, returning to 1 Nephi 22:10, we find the first half of Isaiah 52:10 supplying the final phrase of the verse.[1] This is extremely unlikely to be coincidental; instead it appears that the various stages by which the author linked these phrases together in 1 Nephi 22:10 have been left out, leaving only the conclusion.

[1]     Grant Hardy appears to have noticed the same connection, see Hardy, Reader’s Edition, p. 58, footnotes f and g.

As I then point out a little further down:

As noted in chapter two, one particular suggestion has been offered to explain this connection: that Joseph Smith had access to a King James Bible in front of him to assist him. While such suggestions face difficulties from eyewitness statements to the dictation process, this idea has been advanced by both critics and believers in different forms.[1] Thus Wesley Walters, holding that Joseph Smith was the actual author, argues that Joseph Smith must have had ‘his KJV Bible open in front of him’, the only alternative being memorization.[2] Sidney Sperry, on the other hand, while regarding Joseph Smith as a translator, has also argued for the possibility that a Bible was used for help in translating when Joseph Smith came across passages that were recognisably from the Bible and when the KJV was considered adequate.[3]

Yet the above example, and others like it, of the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible present such suggestions with substantial logical problems. While the idea of working directly from an ‘open’ Bible might suffice for explicit quotations, it is a less adequate explanation for the situation above in which phrases are interwoven into the text and associated by an unwritten chain in which the intervening steps are omitted.[4] Any author would need substantially more familiarity than Wesley Walters’ scenario appears to grant (that is ‘enough to scatter biblical phrases freely’).[5] Likewise any translator attempting to use the KJV as a mundane aid to fill the gaps of any translation would need extensive biblical awareness simply to find the chain of relevant texts. There are historical reasons such scriptural fluency on the part of Joseph Smith has not been assumed.[6] A range of historical and theological possibilities could be suggested that do not require Joseph Smith to have this biblical familiarity; the book itself claims to be interpreted ‘by the gift of God’ (title page). What is clear, however, is that an open Bible alone is insufficient to explain the evident familiarity with the biblical text and the close connection the Book of Mormon has with the KJV.

[1]     All eyewitness statements to the dictation process deny the presence of other texts. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 132; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 70; Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, pp. 30–32.

[2]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 36.

[3]     Welch, The Sermon at the Temple, p. 135; Sperry, ‘The text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon’, pp. 80–81.

[4]     Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, pp. 67–68.

[5]     Walters, The Use of the Old Testament, p. 13.

[6]     For instance, Emma Smith’s report that at one point during the dictation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith expressed concern as to whether Jerusalem had walls. John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, ‘Book of Mormon Translation by Joseph Smith’, Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. by Daniel Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 210; See also Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, p. 13.

Obviously, like Elder Callister, I’d attribute this complexity and familiarity with the biblical text not to Joseph Smith, or any other 19th century figure, but to far older figures and ultimately divine inspiration. However, what is clear are that repeated claims that the Book of Mormon simply copies the Bible, and that anyone with an open Bible could have written it, are simply not true.


More examples of this complexity, and much else, can be found in my book, The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, which is available as a free PDF from this site, or may be obtained in paperback or in kindle format (including from Amazon.com here and Amazon.co.uk here).

2 Nephi 23

And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.

It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.

And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces; and her time is near to come, and her day shall not be prolonged. For I will destroy her speedily; yea, for I will be merciful unto my people, but the wicked shall perish.

(2 Nephi 23:19-22//Isaiah 13:19-22)

It’s not been unknown for believers in Western nations to see their nation as inheritors of or as a new Israel. This is perhaps best known in the case of the United States (so much so that commentators have assumed – wrongly – that the Book of Mormon is in the same tradition), but it’s also appeared in different forms in England (such as during the Commonwealth).

Yet I can’t help but feel (and believe the Book of Mormon’s own passages support this) that when the Book of Mormon quotes such passages of Isaiah as above, it is treating Western nations not as the new Israel, but the new Babylon or Assyria. Which cities, after all, are the Babylon or Nineveh of our times? Which cities are “the glory of kingdoms” today?

Such passages should and must be taken as a warning, especially against placing any confidence or finding any security in such current greatness. Nineveh and Babylon were glorious and mighty in their day, but such worldly glory and power were fleeting. It will be fleeting for us, too.

2020 Edit:

It may be of interest to note that one of the basis by which many biblical scholars claim to distinguish between “first” and “second” Isaiah (chapter 40 onwards) is that in the first the enemy is Assyria, and in the second it is Babylon. Yet in both this chapter and the chapter following, it is Babylon that receives the most prominent mention.

There are some passages here too that speak more in terms of a cosmic disaster, of the sort that is perhaps more clearly associated with the second coming:

Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.

For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay down the haughtiness of the terrible.

I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.

Therefore, I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of Hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.

(2 Nephi 23:9-13//Isaiah 13:9-13)

The textual variations in verse 15 likewise push interpretation to a wider setting (and place, as is typical for the Book of Mormon, a greater emphasis on pride):

Every one that is proud {found} shall be thrust through; yea, and every one that is joined to the wicked {unto them} shall fall by the sword.

(2 Nephi 23:15//Isaiah 13:15, underlined text is substituted in the BoM for text in curly bracked as found in the KJV)

All of which points to this prophecy having wider application that Babylon alone (although Babylon is indeed in ruins, and has been for many centuries). As I indicate in my original post, this is a warning not just for Babylon, but one we should take seriously too.

2 Nephi 15

This chapter includes one of the few places where the KJV reading of Isaiah is undoubtedly superior to what we find in the Book of Mormon; most of the time the textual differences serve to make the text more understandable, or emphasise some particular element or interpretation. In 2 Nephi 15:8, however, we find the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8)

The correct meaning of this can be inferred, but it is plainer when we turn to the KJV. A textual comparison of the two shows the following:

Wo unto them that join house to house <that lay field to field>, till there can be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(2 Nephi 15:8//Isaiah 5:8, where bold indicates text found only in the BoM, and <triangular brackets> text found only in the KJV)

Thus the KJV reads:

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!

(Isaiah 5:8)

That crucial line “that lay field to field” makes clear that we’re not talking here of some specific condemnation of buying the neighbouring property and knocking it through, but rather the accumulation of property, especially at the expense and displacing of others (“that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth”). That’s something we definitely see in the Bible – perhaps the most gratuitous example being the murder of Naboth so that Ahab could seize his ancestral inheritance (1 Kings 21) – and in our time too. And this is not just a danger for the rich and powerful. Covetousness and heaping up of possessions are a spiritual danger, especially when they come by means of diminishing others.

Of course, possessions are not the only thing that can be a danger – we can also be distracted by our pleasures, our entertainments and the vain things of the world:

Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!

And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.

Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

Therefore, hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.

(2 Nephi 15:11-14//Isaiah 5:11-14)

While it’s drink and music and feasting that are mentioned here it can surely apply to any pleasure or luxury that can consume our time and our mental attention to the extent that we “regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands”.

2020 edit:

It’s such a shame to rush over these chapters.

Anyway, one striking thing that occurred to me as I was reading today came as I was reading the latter part of the chapter, that I seriously begin to wonder means something quite different from the way many of us have taken it. I’m referring here to verses 25-30. Verses 26-27 are often taken as a reference to the gathering of Israel, as indeed the chapter heading does. But while there are plenty of references to the gathering of Israel in Isaiah, and the phrase “ensign to the nations” used in that context (see 2 Nephi 21:12//Isaiah 11:12), reading over these verses today in that context seemed to communicate something very different.

That passage in question:

Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth; and behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be weary nor stumble among them.

None shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken;

Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.

They shall roar like young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver.

And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea; and if they look unto the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.

The Lord’s “hand” being “stretched out still” is also oft misunderstood, as I’ve heard a number of people express the opinion that it is an expression of his mercy. And sometimes it does have that connotation, as in Jacob 5:47. But not here, since his hand is stretched out still because despite the judgments that have already been imposed upon his rebellious people, “his anger is not turned away”. That is, the Lord’s hand here is stretched out still in judgment.

Likewise when we read this passage as a whole, the “ensign to the nations” here is not summoning the outcasts of Israel; it is summoning an army “whose arrows shall be sharp, and their bows bent”, who “shall roar like young lions; yea they shall roar, and lay hold of their prey, and shall carry away safe, and none shall deliver”. This is akin to the warning that is given in Deuteronomy 29:49, that if Israel were not faithful to the covenant:

The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;

In other words, this passage has less to do with the gathering, and more to do with the scattering. As is true for much of Isaiah, it is likely this doesn’t have one singular fulfilment. Indeed by the time Nephi quotes it it has already been fulfilled in the Assyrians who’d come in Isaiah’s day and also the Babylonians who Lehi and family narrowly avoided. There may be other fulfilment yet to come. But in any case this particular passage – unlike others – is not one of joyous redemption, but of God using the nations to punish those who rebel against his covenant.

2 Nephi 12

And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, {shall be} upon every one; yea, upon the {that is} proud and lofty, and upon every one who {that} is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.

Yea, and the day of the Lord shall come upon all the cedars of Lebanon, for they {that} are high and lifted up; and upon all the oaks of Bashan;

And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills, and upon all the nations which {that} are lifted up, and upon every people;

(2 Nephi 12:11-14//Isaiah 2:11-14, bold indicates text not found in the KJV, underlined text indicates substitutions for text in curly brackets)

Pride is a major theme of the Book of Mormon, which depicts pride as the pre-eminent source of evil. Much of the narrative of the Book of Mormon shows the dangers of pride. But the book not only warns against pride – it also warns that the time left for such pride is limited, and a reckoning is coming. It is little surprise that the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah so much, since that too warns of God’s judgment upon the proud. When one looks at the textual differences between Isaiah as quoted in the Book of Mormon and in the King James Version, however, its striking that many of the textual differences stress this impending judgment: both the imminence (“soon cometh upon all nations”) and the universal scope (“upon all the nations” and “upon every people”) of this divine wrath are emphasised above.

While there’s obviously a personal application to this, and maybe personal pride is what I and maybe others should be most concerned about, in my current sombre mood I can’t help but reflect on our culture as a whole. When I read Isaiah, and read (as I will once again in forthcoming chapters) of divine judgment coming upon rich and proud cities, I can’t help but see not ancient Babylon or Tyre, but our own cities and our own wealth. Even in the recent political commotion, when people are perhaps shocked a little out of complacency and the assumption that nothing bad can happen to us, the response seems to be one of rage and enmity. Humility is derided and mocked. Yet perhaps there’s more to be learned personally from this too: that in all these things, big and small, grand or personal, salvation will come from humble acceptance of the Lord’s will. Angry striving and proud self-assertion will not change our fate, but will only bring upon us the Lord’s judgment. And that applies to any of us, for:

O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways.

(2 Nephi 12:5//Isaiah 5, bold as above)

Yet while much of this chapter warns all of us about the Lord’s forthcoming judgments, it does also promise an age of peace. The Lord will “rebuke many nations”, but after that – and I believe this must apply to our own personal conflicts and the weapons of our pride as much as it does actual weapons – “they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks – nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (2 Nephi 12:4//Isaiah 2:4).

2020 Edit:

This is the beginning of a 13 chapter-long quotation of Isaiah, by far the longest of the explicit quotations. Some of the quoted chapters exhibit greater variations from the KJV (& Masoretic Text) than others, so 2 Nephi 21//Isaiah 11 is identical to that found in the KJV, while 2 Nephi 12//Isaiah 2 – today’s chapter – shows a number of significant variations, beyond that spoken about above.

Some, as mentioned above, emphasise this theme of judgment, as in verse 10 (bold are additions relative to the KJV, text in triangular brackets is omitted from the Book of Mormon):

O ye wicked ones, enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for the fear of the Lord and <for> the glory of his majesty shall smite thee.

Others emphasise other elements, such as the changes in verse 9:

And the mean man boweth not [ET/1830 omit: not] down, and the great man humbleth himself not [ET omits: not], therefore, forgive him {them} [ET: them] not.

The insertions of not here are interesting, because it changes the problem from the mean and great man bowing themselves (presumably to idols, in keeping with verse 8), to one of they not bowing themselves (a problem of pride). Both elements are a concern of Isaiah, and the textual differences here may leave verse 9 less consonant with verse 8, but they do leave it more in keeping with some of the passages that follow:

And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

(2 Nephi 12:11//Isaiah 2:11)

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

(2 Nephi 12:17//Isaiah 2:17)

And especially:

And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled.

(2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15)

With the changes to 2 Nephi 12:9//Isaiah 2:9, 2 Nephi 15:15//Isaiah 5:15 becomes the perfect counterpoint: the mean man shall be brought down and the mighty man humbled after all. It should be noticed that both idolatry and pride are condemned in Isaiah and in the Book of Mormon; what the Book of Mormon variant does here is shift some of the emphasis more towards a condemnation of pride, but it is not introducing nor removing either strand of Isaiah’s critique.

One thing I did find striking in reading this chapter today, however, was that despite all the emphasis the chapter places on the forthcoming judgment and destruction to come upon the proud and idolatrous, that the chapter opens instead with what comes after that, with a description of the Temple in its rightful place (for surely “top of the mountains” and “exalted above the hills” has a social meaning, not merely a geographical one), with all peoples looking towards it for guidance, and being blessed with peace:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.

And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

(2 Nephi 12:2-4//Isaiah 2:2-4)

It is this vision of righteousness and peace that the quotation begins with, rather than the process by which it will get there, even if it ultimately devotes more textual space to the latter. It begins not by describing the way things are, and what needs to be done about that, but by describing how things should be, the ideal that is God’s design. And perhaps that’s what we need to accomplish anything: to start in the first place with a vision of what things can and should be.

 

 

2 Nephi 8

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.

(2 Nephi 8:6//Isaiah 51:6)

So much of what I find myself worried about, or thinking about or even simply curious about is in the grand scheme of things so impermanent. As the Lord speaks through Isaiah here, even the earth and the heavens are fleeting and will pass away. So why do I expend so much energy and so much thought and so much emotion of that which does not last, good or bad? While some of those things must take their proper place, surely what I should be most worried about is those things which are permanent, such as the Lord and the salvation he offers?

Edit 2020:

This chapter continues the quotation from Isaiah, now covering Isaiah 51 and 52:1-2. Much of this chapter seems to be offering reassurance, that despite any present trial or suffering Zion (and by analogy us) will be redeemed, and emphasising both the ephemerality of those things that trouble us, and the power of God in contrast. Thus in addition to the verse quoted above there’s some other powerful passages along the same lines:

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart I have written my law, fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.

For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool. But my righteousness shall be forever, and my salvation from generation to generation.

(2 Nephi 8:7-8//Isaiah 51:7-8)

It can be natural to worry about what other people think or say about us or to us, but these are likewise temporary things, and it is God’s opinion, and the consequences that flow from that, that are of lasting import. Verse 12-13 likewise touch on this point.

Verses 9-11 are particularly interesting:

Awake, awake! Put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days. Art thou not he that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?

Art thou not he who hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

This is mostly a reference to the Exodus, Rahab being Egypt and the dragon (Hebrew: תַּנִּֽין tannin, lit: sea monster/serpent) can be seen as standing for Pharoah (although it has a whole host of other allusions, to the widespread – indeed near ubiquitous – myth of the chaoskampf and ultimately, I believe, to the pre-Earth struggle against the original “dragon”). The Exodus, due to its scale and spectacular nature, has become the preeminent example of God using his power to deliver his people, and so is used here as reassurance that God can and will deliver Zion in the end. Indeed, Jeremiah 16:14-15 makes an even more striking point in this regard:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

That is God’s work in gathering and delivering Israel in the last days will be so spectacular and miraculous that it, and not the Exodus, will henceforth become the example of God’s power.

There’s some interesting and significant differences between the passage as quoted in this chapter and as found in the Bible in verses 19-20 (underlined is text that is substituted for text in curly brackets, while bold text is found only in the BoM):

These two sons {things} are come unto thee, who shall be sorry for thee—thy desolation and destruction, and the famine and the sword—and by whom shall I comfort thee?
Thy sons have fainted, save these two; they lie at the head of all the streets; as a wild bull in a net, they are full of the fury of the Lord, the rebuke of thy God.

As these verses read in the bible, the two “things” that come to Israel are “desolation and destruction”, and “the famine and the sword” (two pairs). A couple of small differences make the verses here read quite differently: it is two sons who come to Israel, who shall be sorry for the desolation and destruction that have happened to it, and shall be a means of God to help Israel. These two, unlike the other sons, will not faint in the face of these perils. These two may well be connected to the two witnesses of Revelation 11. It’s an interesting example of how some fairly small insertions and substitutions can communicate new meanings (as for where such differences come from, I find it quite funny that commentators tend to ascribes such differences either to an original text – which for reasons I outline here and in tBoM&irwtB I find quite unlikely – or to Joseph Smith. It doesn’t seem to cross many minds that it might be the likes of Jacob and Nephi – and in a sense, God himself – doing it).

 

2 Nephi 6

And now, the words which I shall read are they which Isaiah spake concerning all the house of Israel; wherefore, they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel. And there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel.

(2 Nephi 6:5)

This refrain can be found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (for instance in 1 Nephi 19:24, or Jesus himself in 3 Nephi 23:1-2): the people of the Book of Mormon are members of the house of Israel, and as Isaiah prophesied concerning the entire house of Israel, his words are applicable to them too. This is likewise true of modern Israel, by blood or adoption, and the Gentiles also (3 Nephi 23:2). Isaiah, and many of the other prophets, prophesied concerning us. If Isaiah’s words are applicable to Jacob’s audience, they are also applicable to us. Sometimes we read the scriptures as if they are purely about people long ago. Sometimes we do seek to learn some lesson from them, but in too general a fashion, failing to recognise that Isaiah and others speak about us too, being blessed by the Almighty to see our day. We should be able to read to read the scriptures and recognise ourselves in them, to place ourselves in them and to feel and understand those words as they are spoken to us, even if they were first uttered many years ago or “from the dust”.

2020 Edit:

This chapter is the beginning of a sermon by Jacob, given in 2 Nephi 6-10, and which is included with little apparent context. The sermon includes an extended quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi 6:16-8:25//Isaiah 49:24-52:2, making Jacob one of the four voices in the Book of Mormon (alongside Nephi, Abinadi and the risen Christ) to engage in giving extended, chapter-length quotations. What’s interesting about Jacob, however, is that he appears to be doing so principally because Nephi’s asked him to speak about Isaiah. Thus he introduces the first of the (briefer) quotations in this chapter with the following:

And now, behold, I would speak unto you concerning things which are, and which are to come; wherefore, I will read you the words of Isaiah. And they are the words which my brother has desired that I should speak unto you. And I speak unto you for your sakes, that ye may learn and glorify the name of your God.

Jacob thus introduces his Isaiah quotations by specifying that his brother has asked him to speak them. His post-Nephi writings seem to bear this out: there are no explicit quotations of Isaiah at all, let alone extended ones, although if one treats Jacob 5 as a quotation (since it’s attributed to Zenos), the habit of chapter-length quotations may not be completely alien to him.

In interpreting the passages he’s quoting, Jacob employs similar methods to that of Nephi, namely using other scripture (in this chapter, another part of Isaiah, Isaiah 11:11 in 2 Nephi 6:14), and reference to his own revelations. That’s worth noting, however: while Jacob may be quoting Isaiah under assignment from Nephi, it is to revelation he has personally received (and not simply that of his brother) that he turns in trying to interpret what he is reading. Thus the following in 2 Nephi 6:8-9 and 11 (my emphasis):

And now I, Jacob, would speak somewhat concerning these words. For behold, the Lord has shown me that those who were at Jerusalem, from whence we came, have been slain and carried away captive.

Nevertheless, the Lord has shown unto me that they should return again. And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me.

Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated; nevertheless, the Lord will be merciful unto them, that when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.

It’s also worth noting that while both Nephi and Jacob quote Isaiah 49:24-26 (in 1 Nephi 21:24-26 and in 2 Nephi 6:16-18 in this chapter), they do so quite differently. To compare:

But thus saith the Lord, even the captives [ET: captive] of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.

(1 Nephi 21:25//Isaiah 49:25, ET is the reading in Skousen’s Earliest text)

But thus saith the Lord: Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered; for the Mighty God shall deliver his covenant people. For thus saith the Lord: I will contend with them {him} that contendeth with thee— <and I will save thy children>

(2 Nephi 6:17//Isaiah 49:25, bold represents text not in the KJV, underlined where text has been substituted for the text in curly brackets, and text in triangular brackets is text in the KJV but not in the quotation).

To quote from The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (pp. 133-134):

Here 2 Nephi 6:17 contains both a substantial addition compared to 1 Nephi 21:25 and Isaiah 49:25, and a substantial omission (‘and I will save thy children’), the combination of which is highly unlikely to be the result of error or memory. Notably, both quotations are described as being read (1 Nephi 19:22, 2 Nephi 9:1). Likewise the Book of Mormon demonstrates elsewhere that it is perfectly capable of quoting the same passage repeatedly with little or no variation (e.g. 1 Nephi 15:18, 1 Nephi 22:9, 3 Nephi 20:25, 3 Nephi 20:27//Acts 3:25) or with the same systematic changes (e.g. 2 Nephi 12:10, 19, 21//Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21). Skousen likewise suggests based on the additional clauses that the differences seen between 1 Nephi 19:25 and 2 Nephi 6:17 are deliberate (Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, pp. 451–52, 576–77). That ‘and I will save thy children’ is omitted in 2 Nephi 6:17 but not in 1 Nephi 21:25 when, as seen, the narrative context of 1 Nephi 20-21 (namely its audience of [p. 134] Nephi’s brothers) makes the theme of the restoration of descendants particularly applicable, further suggests the differences are not accidental.

It is unlikely that both quotations are claiming to be the reading of a more authentic ancient text, and neither version is presented as more correct than the other. That both of these quotations are openly attributed and both in the Book of Mormon likewise suggests that it is hardly concealing the fact that it is deliberately quoting the same passage differently. Again, one is reminded of Christopher Stanley’s observations of Paul, that ‘he takes no pains to conceal from his audience the fact that he has incorporated interpretive elements into the wording of his quotations’ and that he may have assumed – as perhaps the Book of Mormon does – that readers would be ‘unperturbed’ by such changes (Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture, p. 264). In addition, the differences seen here between these two quotations of Isaiah 49:25 are characteristic of the differences we see between Book of Mormon quotations and their biblical sources, including additional text that serves to expand upon a theme found already in the text (in this case once again, God’s forthcoming deliverance of his covenant people). It is therefore likely that a
number of the most significant textual differences are similarly the result of deliberate alterations.