Deutero-Isaiah Verses in the Book of Mormon
Overview of the Deutero-Isaiah Problem in the Book of Mormon:
In the Book of Mormon, there are many chapters of Isaiah directly incorporated from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, complete with translation errors that were obviously not possible to have been recorded on the gold plates since the KJV was not available until thousands of years later. This by itself is a massive problem for the Book of Mormon's claim to authenticity, as it contradicts the narrative that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by putting his seer stone in a hat, sticking his head fully inside to block out light, and then writing down the words that appeared from the stone. Only after the words were written down correctly would the words change, so there is no room for Joseph Smith to switch between dictating from the seer stone and then reciting passages from the KJV Bible. It is important to remember that the gold plates were never used in the translation of the Book of Mormon, so it is impossible to change between a tight and loose translation.
While the overall use of chapters and phrases from the KJV is problematic enough for the credibility of the Book of Mormon considering the translation method described above, the use of Deutero-Isaiah is where it turns from a big problem to a smoking gun against the authenticity of Joseph Smith. The problem is that in the time since Joseph Smith, scholars have discovered that there are chapters of Isaiah that are written by a second author (or possibly a group of authors) with an 8th century origin. This means that the chapters would be impossible to be included in the Book of Mormon since they could not have been on the gold plates, which puts the inclusion of them as a massive anachronism. Just as with the Book of Abraham issues, Joseph Smith had no idea that in the years following his death we would have a much better understanding of these texts, and he was clearly unaware that including these chapters would be an issue due to the multiple authorship issue.
Why It Matters:
Critics have long charged Joseph Smith with creating the Book of Mormon using sources available to him, and there are a lot of resources to corroborate that charge. There are a lot of literary elements in The Late War, a book that also is written in the language of the King James Bible, that mirror elements that some claim make the Book of Mormon unique such as chiasmus. The View of the Hebrews contains a lot of similar themes to the Book of Mormon, and there are many other additional writings that talked about the Indians being descendants from Israel before Joseph Smith introduced the Book of Mormon.
Those are all fairly circumstantial ideas since the correlations are more vague with themes and literary styles, however, so apologists tend to mock the idea that Joseph Smith could write the book himself and move on. The problem with Deutero-Isaiah, however, is that we now have an example where Joseph Smith not only copied source material, but copied material that has no place in the Book of Mormon. And to complicate matters further, it also calls into question Joseph Smith's prophetic abilities that he did not know the texts copied were not available to Lehi.
Further complicating the problem for apologists is that the Book of Mormon needs to have either a 'tight' or 'loose' translation, but it can't be both. The witnesses all describe Joseph Smith reading off the stone in his hat, which is a tight translation where the words only changed once written down correctly. Some argue Joseph Smith used a loose translation where he was simply inspired to write the story and thus incorporated other sources into the Book of Mormon that he was familiar with. A loose translation also helps to explain the many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon such as horses, wheels, chariots, bees, silk, steel, elephants, swine, wheat, iron, and more that could be excused away by Joseph Smith just loosely translating based on what he was familiar with.
However, there is no room for a loose translation with the description of how the Book of Mormon was translated, which leaves us with a tight translation. In that context, there should be no KJV errors which were copied from Joseph's 1769 version of the Bible, and there certainly should not be chapters included that were not even written until after Lehi supposedly left. This leaves us with a massive error in the Book of Mormon, which only happened because Joseph Smith was unaware that scholars (both LDS and non-LDS) would discover a lot more about the Bible after his death. Occam's Razor would tell us that there really no way to explain the inclusion of Deutero-Isaiah beyond the Book of Mormon being a 19th century work by Joseph Smith.
Apologetic Claims to Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon:
There are a few different approaches that apologists have taken to the Book of Mormon, and we want to highlight them here and note why we feel it is insufficient to explaining such a difficult problem:
FAIR has a somewhat lengthy write-up of the problem, and a few highlights are below:
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. Third Isaiah is not quoted by the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the only part of 2nd Isaiah we need to account for is Isaiah 48-52.
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.
The problem here is that we are assuming a theory that only complicates the plausibility further. This theory assumes that the writings were done in primitive times, reworked after they left Jerusalem, but still were OK to use because they are based on writings that were done ahead of time? It's an 'ends justify the means' argument except that it still doesn't explain why Joseph Smith used writings in the Book of Mormon that were not available to the authors we are to believed wrote their story on the plates.
FAIR then dives into the tight vs loose translation methods:
"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."
This, as we discussed above, does not work. First, FAIR talks about the text of the gold plates without mentioning that they were never used in the translation. The only translation method used for the Book of Mormon was the seer stone in Joseph's hat, which is not in dispute even though the church and apologists continue to use the above narrative for missionary work or lessons. Thus, there is no way for the loose translation to work, which is why this theory by apologists just does not make sense. FAIR goes on to give a proposed scenario to try and make this work:
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.
It is understandable why FAIR is creating this scenario, but it is one that goes against both history and a key reason for needing the Book of Mormon itself. FAIR wants you to believe that Joseph Smith noticed that Isaiah was being quoted and switched over to the Bible to copy it down to save time. This means that although Joseph Smith made comments about how the Bible had been so poorly translated over time, he decided to use it when he could to save time. That makes no sense at all - if the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on Earth, why is 10-20% of it copied from the Bible?
Next, this theory relies on the loose translation theory, which is a popular theory of apologists when they need to brush away Joseph Smith's errors in translation. This is the same tactic used to explain why the Book of Abraham is completely wrong and the original papyri have nothing to do with Abraham whatsoever. Effectively a loose translation allows Joseph Smith to completely get things wrong, because he's not actually translating material, he's just summarizing it in an inspired fashion.
Last, FAIR goes back to assume that the plates actually had the primitive writings on there but that Joseph Smith just missed it by copying from the KJV. This means that Joseph Smith was lazy in his translation efforts and didn't notice the differences, which again goes against the translation method as described in the church history. No where in church history is the loose translation validated. It would really require the gold plates to have been used to explain how Joseph Smith could switch between source materials. It also contradicts the statement from Emma Smith that he never used any other materials to write the Book of Mormon, which is the same statements these same apologists use to refute those who claim Joseph Smith created the book by using other sources.
2 Nephi and the Deutero-Isaiah Problem in the Book of Mormon, By Common Consent:
One other apologetic argument was featured in an article in By Common Consent, and focuses on a theory from LDS apologist Grant Hardy. In his book Understanding the Book of Mormon, Hardy concedes that the Deutero-Isaiah problem is more crucial than many apologists will admit, but "that a more promising avenue for faithful Latter-day Saints “is to acknowledge that we probably know less about what constitutes an ‘inspired translation’ than we do about Ancient Israel. Once one accepts the possibility of divine intervention, the theology can accommodate the (always tentative) results of scholarship.”" (By Common Consent)
This is a common conclusion reached in the LDS Gospel Topics essays. Effectively they admit there are some serious issues with the history of a given topic, but that since Joseph Smith was a prophet of God it must be true. It is true that we can not understand things we can't see, but the problem with Joseph Smith is that there are a lot of areas where we can see what he worked with and know why it is wrong. It is deceptive to tell members that they need to just accept it as divine intervention when we have a pattern of Joseph Smith using other materials that he passes off as translated scripture, but there is no other way to explain what clearly is a mistake by Joseph Smith.
Explanation of the Deutero-Isaiah problem by LDS scholar David Bokovoy:
In addition to the details we wrote about above, David Bokovoy wrote a two part blog post about the Deutero-Isaiah issue that really highlights why the common apologetic responses do not work. While some contend that it is merely a few words that make scholars believe this section of Isaiah was by a different author,Bokovoy explains that it is also the language and themes that illustrate a distinct change in writing. I highly recommend reading both posts to get a fuller picture of why this is such a problem for the Book of Mormon's credibility of being a historical work.
Conclusion and Deutero-Isaiah as Part of a Larger Problem:
This development, once again, sheds light on a common problem with Joseph Smith's works as prophet: many of the scriptures and doctrines that compose the foundation of the Mormon church are heavily borrowed from other sources and are riddled with anachronisms from Joseph Smith's life.
Beyond the Deutero-Isaiah issue, the Book of Mormon borrows directly from the King James Bible with many of the translation errors intact, which should not exist in a book that was written centuries earlier. The Book of Mormon is written in the style of the KJV, which seems unlikely to match what Joseph Smith claims was 'Reformed Egyptian' on the gold plates. That issue is compounded by the fact that we know Joseph Smith also copied KJV passages and phrases from Revelations, Acts, Matthew, Malachi, 1 Corinthians, and John.
The Book of Abraham also suffers from the same issues. Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from the apocryphal book of Josephus and even Adam Clarke's Bible commentaries, and many of the astronomical concepts and phases are lifted directly from Thomas Taylor's book. All of these details are well documented in our Book of Abraham annotated essay.
Joseph Smith did not introduce the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods until almost 1835, and that is because he was unaware of them until Sidney Rigdon brought them to Joseph. Those two priesthoods were largely discussed by the Campbellite movement of which Rigdon was a preacher. (BYU Studies) The introduction of these priesthoods also coincides with the retrofitting in the Doctrine and Covenants of John the Baptist being involved, which was never discussed or recorded prior. These issues are highlighted on our Priesthood Restoration page.
While we will not publish the temple ordinances out of respect for believing Mormons, the temple ceremonies in both wording and signs are heavily lifted from the masonic ceremonies. This can be confirmed by searching elsewhere for those who want to compare.
In 1784 Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about his beliefs about heaven and the afterlife. Swedenborg taught that "there are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." These writings were completed before Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine to the church, and directly parallels Joseph's vision on the degrees of glory as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76. And as with the JST, we now know that Joseph Smith was familiar with Swedenborg's work. Joseph Smith "apparently mentioned Swedenborg by name during an 1839 conversation with Edward Hunter, a student of Swedenborg-ianism who later became a Latter-day Saint... Joseph Smith stopped at this Nantmeal Seminary in Pennsylvania during a return trip from Washington DC, Hunter reported this exchange: “I asked him if he was acquainted with the Sweadenburgers. His answer I verially believe. ‘Emanuel Sweadenburg had a view of the world to come but for daily food he perished.’” (Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76: Importance of the Bible in Latter-day Revelation, BYU) Again the apologetic conclusion in this BYU article is that both Joseph Smith and Swedenborg received revelation from studying the Bible with regards to the tiers of heaven, which of course begs the question of why is it that Joseph Smith claimed to be the only person authorized by God to receive such doctrine. How is it that so much of what Joseph Smith restored is either directly borrowed from other sources or completely mired in nineteenth century anachronisms/science?
The bottom line is that Joseph Smith's work over time has been found to be inaccurate in both the idea that the Book of Mormon is a historical record, or that the Book of Abraham was an ancient Egyptian story written by the hand of Abraham. Most of Joseph Smith's writings prove to be a product of his time by reviewing the anachronisms, inaccuracies, DNA evidence, language, and understanding of astronomy/America/nature. The question I keep coming back to is this: Why would God set Joseph Smith up to look like a false prophet by having him incorrectly translate the Book of Abraham, lift passages from Adam Clarke in the JST, or copy passages from Deutero-Isaiah that were not even available upon leaving Jerusalem?
There is an apologetic argument that if Joseph Smith was proven correct there would be no need for faith, but that theory implies that God is so devious that he wants his prophet to look like a fraud incapable of doing any of the things he is supposed to be followed for doing in order to bring us closer to Him. Even if we are to entertain this theory, that would mean God wants a small church constantly under attack by the discovery of new evidence proving his chosen messenger is incorrect, which has led to a decline in growth as more and more research both church history and issues with the scriptures on the internet. We continually mention "Occam's Razor" in the annotated essays, and this is yet another instance where the most obvious conclusion is that these issues put together leave no other explanation besides these writings being a product solely of Joseph Smith and not of God.
This research also raises another concern that extends beyond Deutero-Isaiah: We have been told repeatedly that Joseph Smith did not use source material when working on translation, yet we now can point to many instances where Joseph Smith directly lifts from other sources in the material he has been responsible for: The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith Translation both now have direct use of text, which means the "tight translation" method that has been the LDS narrative is no longer possible. But the history of the church also makes the loose translation method impossible, which leaves many apologists trying to mix and match depending on the circumstance. That is a problem when there is no consistency because both translation methods contradict key issues.
It is important to take the Deutero-Isaiah issues in consideration with the other issues that stem from Joseph Smith's writings, and when combined together it is impossible to not see a pattern of deception with regards to his ability as a prophet. There is no source material that Joseph Smith has produced that has withstood the test of time, and even the Book of Mormon leaves a trail of issues even without having any of the 'gold plates' to compare to. Deutero-Isaiah is just one of many problems with the Book of Mormon, but is important because the timing is impossible to excuse with any credibility, and as FAIR notes is a problem accepted by both LDS and non-LDS scholars.
As I have stated at the end of our annotated essays, I know it is very difficult to read these things that were previously unknown to almost all LDS members. I hope that you will continue to research this issue and that you will be willing to research from both LDS and non-LDS sources to get the full picture. Beyond the use of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, there are just too many questions that arise from the problems within the other materials written by Joseph Smith to believe they could be from the revelations of God. That is a painful conclusion to arrive at, but it is better to find the truth than to ignore it, as difficult as it might be at first. There are many resources to help those going through a faith crisis, so please email us if you would like any help. While the church tells us that we will be miserable without it ("where will you go?"), the reality is that people who do learn the truth and move on are just as (if not more) happy and healthy afterwards - that includes my own experiences as well (and I didn't run out committing sins as so many would like to tell you), so please email me if you would like any advice or to hear more about how life can be better after going through the faith transition.
Thanks for reading and please contact us anytime!