There are 31 thoughts on “Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective”.

  1. Hello Daniel,

    I’m Brazilian LDS and I liked very much your paper. I’d like to add just my 2 cents over your work. Have you noticed that the expression ““Oh wretched man that I am!” is similar to the expression ” Wretched am I and foolish ” or “wretch that I am” that appears also in the translation of the
    apocryphal book Joseph and Asenath of E. W. Brooks and David Cook respectively? It’s said that the book came from a jewish tradition and was written between 1st century AC and 1st century AD, which rules out a St. Paul influence, unless that we assume that the american translators were influenced by Paul expression. Source: and

  2. Pingback: Was Isaiah Written Later Than The Book Of Mormon Claims? | Conflict of Justice

  3. Thanks Daniel! Excellent insights. It will certainly be interesting to find out how it all actually happened and who wrote what, but you have strengthened my faith and my affinity for Isaiah with your insights.

  4. Thanks Jim for the heads up on FPR’s rejoinder to the article. Here is what I wrote in response:

    Thank you for your response to my article. It is definitely an accurate characterization of my position that I see no reason to question the pre-exilic dating of the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. My interest in this issue led me initially to Blenkinsopp, then to Schultz’s The Search for Quotation, where he dives into the methodologies employed by Sommers, Willey, and others. I admittedly don’t have the background in Hebrew necessary to engage the work of Sommers, and I hope someone with better credentials in Hebrew will take that torch and run with it.
    Regarding Aramaic influences on DI, we must be reading different scholarship; Avi Hurvitz is quoted as saying “the language of ‘second Isaiah’ is well anchored in classical Hebrew and the imprints of late biblical Hebrew are quite scanty.” He further says of Aramaic influence on Biblical texts: “The study of Aramaic has achieved impressive results in the last few decades. The discovery of new texts, reflecting previously undocumented stages in the history of Aramaic, has paved the way for a more profound knowledge of the Aramaic dialects and their linguistic history. Naturally, this development directly illuminates the issue of ‘Aramaisms’ within BH (cf. Kutscher 1970: 358). For our purposes, it is particularly important to note here the discovery of Aramaic inscriptions dated as early as the beginning of the first millennium BCE—that is, the First Temple period. Such findings have completely overturned the older view that every ‘Aramaism’ is necessarily indicative of the late biblical era. This mistaken view, which—as already noted—was especially common among nineteenth-century scholars, was fostered by the absence of written sources testifying to the vitality of Aramaic in the early biblical period. However, since it has become clear from these new sources that Aramaic was widespread and enjoyed high prestige already in the pre-exilic period, it could no longer be maintained that the ‘Aramaisms’ encountered in BH must reflect later linguistic usage.” (both quotes in Biblical Hebrew: Studies in Chronology and Typology, ed. Ian Young, 2003)
    I have seen other things put forward as evidences for DI, such as Isaiah’s belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem, or chapters 24-27 constituting apocalyptic literature (and therefore of a later stage in Judean literary development): Blenkinsopp emphatically rejects both of these characterizations. And the idea that the break in the Great Isaiah Scroll at Qumran somehow represents a scribe’s view of a break in authorship- is there a single critical scholar besides Marvin Sweeney who agrees with that? He even goes so far as to find (ahem) a parallel structure between chs 1 and 34 to support his theory (see his Eerdman’s commentary). How it appears to me as an outsider is that critical scholars use late dating and maps of thematic structure to minimize their own cognitive dissonance with the text, the way believers use millennial fulfillment for prophecy, or other mechanisms, to minimize our own cognitive dissonance. As a believer interested in gaining a better sense of the historical and literary features of scripture, I have no interest in trading one sloppy set of tools for another. If that makes me an “apologist” or some other label, I could’t care less.
    I am all for appropriating the findings of critical scholarship when a theory is based upon sound assumptions and evidence (as with the DH), but what I see in this theory is a chaotic mess of competing interpretations of evidence. I’m open to making major adjustments to my thinking on this and other matters, but at the moment, JJM Roberts’ Hermeneia commentary provides the assessment I most agree with:
    “I have deep reservations about many of the underlying assumptions undergirding this quest. I am not convinced that the ancient Judean and Jewish audiences that heard or, in rarer cases, read the oracles in the Isaianic collection in whatever edition were as enthralled by elaborate book-length literary coherence as modern scholars and contemporary readers are, and I am amazed at the confidence with which scholars can reconstruct the editorial growth of a biblical book over the centuries with the barest minimum of actual evidence. It is not that I consider this process unimportant or uninteresting; it is more that I consider the details of this process to be largely unrecoverable. In general, in the absence of a trail of early datable and evolving manuscripts, the editorial process behind a particular book is both private and largely unrecoverable. Even with modern books that go through several editions, where each datable edition is available for comparative study, it is often difficult to determine why certain changes to the books took place. The confidence with which many modern scholars, who lack any datable manuscripts earlier than the final form of Isaiah, reconstruct hypothetical redactors living at particular periods, who make particular editorial changes in the service of some equally hypothetically reconstructed theological interest, strikes me as extreme hubris. If it were true, how could one know it? Even when it comes to the rationale and history behind the structure and shaping of discrete smaller units consisting of more than one oracle, whether of Isaiah 2–4 (Sweeney), Isaiah 1–12 (Peter Ackroyd, Yehoshua Gitay), Isaiah 2–12 (A. H. Bartelt), or any other extended unit, such reconstructions are often mutually exclusive and seldom convince more than a small circle of adherents.” (
    My feeling is that we can and should do better.

  5. Thank you for writing this important essay. I read it the other day and enjoyed it. I got an email earlier this morning to read this essay, it looks like it’s responding to you.

  6. Nathan, that is what I am trying to get at. We do need to have our own approach to thinking about the authorship of scripture, and our approach can engage the critical community in some areas, while in others we are simply never going to be able to adopt their assumptions. To be blunt- now that I have taken a deep dive into critical scholarship on Isaiah and seen how much wild conjecture passes for sober, methodologically sound analysis in that community, I hope we never adopt their assumptions and their approaches. That said, we can’t just point out the problems of critical scholarship and give ourselves a free pass to carry on a mostly inerrant approach. We need to be exemplify a better way and getting to that point is going to take some work on our part.
    Thanks for the feedback!

  7. To start, I find it obvious that all of Isaiah is both valuable and inspired. An initial concern I have is that if chapters 40-66 were by another prophet why didn’t the prophet take credit for his work? I am of the mind currently though that most of the book of Isaiah can be comfortably attributed to Isaiah son of Amoz.

    One interesting note on the third person issue is that ALL 16 occurrences of Isaiah in the third person are in Isaiah 1-39; not a single time is Isaiah referred to in the third person in deutero-Isaiah.(see Isaiah 1:1 2:1 7:3 13:1 20:2-3 37:2,5-6,21 38:1,4,21 and 39:3,5,8.)

    I like to think that all of the chapters of Isaiah that are quoted in the Book of Mormon were authentically and literally in the Brass Plates. Were all 66 books contained in the Brass Plates? That is yet to be determined. It is interesting that Isaiah is always referred to as the ‘words of Isaiah’ in the Book of Mormon (See 1 Ne 15:20; 2 Ne 6:4; 12:2,8; 25:4-5; 3 Ne 20:11; 23:1 as well as 1 Ne 19:23-24), never as the Book of Isaiah. From this I believe there was a traditional Words of Isaiah (WI) that was available in Nephi’s time. In this at least are contained Isaiah chapters 2-14, 29, 48-49, 52-55. This would of been the Isaiah that Lehi and Jeremiah would have had access to.

    On a different note, I don’t find the name Cyrus being in Isaiah a problem at all. Josephus speaks of the tradition that Cyrus new of Isaiah’s prophecy of him and was inspired by Isaiah: “Thus saith Cyrus the King:- Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets; and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea.” . .. ‘This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God has spoken thus to him in a secret vision:- ” My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land and build my temple. “… ‘Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written[.]’ (Josephus Antiquities 11.1.1-3)

    I can’t seem to find the source, but I remember Avraham Gileadi making a good point on the unity of Isaiah.

    • Levi, the use of “words of Isaiah” in the BoM is a fascinating insight; thanks for pointing that out.
      Gileadi sees the book as having a giant bifid (divided in half) structure, with themes in one half having corresponding elements in the other half (see his book The Literary Message of Isaiah). He may be right, but I’m naturally skeptical of those arguments for structure mainly because I think scholars often see what they are expecting to see in questions of structure.
      I’m not bothered by the Cyrus reference either, but I’m a firm believer in predictive prophecy. I have seen it argued that the Cyrus reference does not refer to Cyrus the Persian ruler, but rather a member of the Babylonian delegation in ch. 39. I think that’s a stretch; I prefer to think of it as a predictive prophecy or a later scribal interpretive emendation. I’m comfortable with either explanation.

  8. The resurrected Jesus commanded the Nephites to search the Book of Isaiah diligently, “for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Nephi 23:1) We may therefore assume that the Book of Isaiah the Nephites had was in fact the words of Isaiah. Then Jesus added, “therefore it must needs be that he [Isaiah] must speak also to the Gentiles.” The implication is that basically the same book of Isaiah that the Nephites had would also go to the Gentiles (with of course translation variations).

    The Marvin Sweeny quote states:

    “chs. 40–55 are the work of an anonymous prophet of the Babylonian exile identified only as Deutero-Isaiah; and that chs. 56–66 reflect the work of a postexilic prophet identified as Trito-Isaiah.”

    Jesus in the New Testament quoted from Isaiah 51, 53, 54, 56 and 61. It is not reasonable that Jesus would endorse any passage of scripture that was falsely attributed to Isaiah. I don’t see how any believing Christian could entertain the idea that the complete Book of Isaiah was not written by Isaiah.

    • I’m not so sure. Chapters 36-39, for example, comprise a sequence of stories written about Isaiah, and I can’t imagine he wrote those about himself in the third person, where in other passages he feels perfectly comfortable narrating the events of his life in the first person.
      Hugh Nibley said “What we have in Isaiah is a lot of genuine words of the prophet intermingled with other stuff by his well-meaning followers. Every chapter, including those in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah, contains genuine words of Isaiah and every chapter, including all those in the early part of the book, contains words that are not his.” (Since Cumorah)
      That position describes the book as I see it.

      • I could accept the idea of Isaiah having the assistance of a scribe in writing his book and the scribe sometimes referring to Isaiah in the third person. However, Isaiah would still be the author. Many authors today have assistant writers. What I have trouble accepting is someone else adding to his words centuries later, attributing their words to Isaiah, and Jesus endorsing the fraud.

        This was an unacceptable practice in ancient times as it is today. It would be like you forging a copy of the Gettysburg Address, adding a couple of paragraphs, and claiming it was the original transcript written by Lincoln. Both Moses (Deuteronomy 12:32) and John (Revelation 22:18-19) commented on their writings and forbid anyone to add to or to take away from the words of their books. I cannot imagine Jesus putting so much emphasis on writings in which that had happened.

        • Theodore, far from being an unacceptable practice, it was extremely common for other people to adopt a more famous name for their work. We see it in the attribution of all of the Torah to Moses (including the description of his death) and in the New Testament (epistles attributed to Paul, but stylistically incompatible with Paul). Using Jesus’ words as proof of Isaianic authorship compounds the historical issues immensely, since we don’t have them from Jesus himself. We have what was reported. Then, moving away from issues of authorship and validity of the quotations, we have the assumption that Jesus’ mortal understanding necessarily extended to a critical understanding of the precise authorship of all scriptures–something that wasn’t really an issue. What do we do when Jesus cites, not scripture, but the oral law–as he does in the Sermon on the Mount. I doubt he was suggesting that the oral law was inerrant.

          As for Isaiah, there would have been no reason for Christ to have doubted Isaiah since we have the Dead Sea Scroll evidence that it was in the form we know it for at least 200 years by Christ’s time (if I remember correctly). That is still a 400-year gap from Lehi’s time, and anything that might have been attributable to the Exile, let alone post-Exilic, is necessarily post-Lehi/post-Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon use of Deutero-Isaiah had a simple solution, we wouldn’t still be working on understanding it.

          • Along the lines of what Brant said, I don’t see evidence of Jesus showing any preoccupation with issues of textual transmission or authorial strands in scripture, or discussing the merits of the Septuagint text in comparison with others. His engagement with scripture seemed to be very focused on its function.
            Whether a particular passage came from Isaiah himself or an Isaiah “school” seems not to have mattered much to him. I don’t believe Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch, but it doesn’t bother me that Jesus referred to the law saying things such as “What did Moses command you?” (Mark 10:3). Perhaps Jesus was aware of a Mosaic tradition and was simply comfortable working within that concept.

          • Brant, you wrote:

            “Theodore, far from being an unacceptable practice, it was extremely common for other people to adopt a more famous name for their work.”

            You are correct that the practice was common, but it was certainly unacceptable to the Prophets and therefore to the Lord. So unacceptable in fact, that the Apostle John pronounced the plagues of his book on anyone who tampered with it. (Revelation 22:18-19)

            You also wrote:

            “…we have the assumption that Jesus’ mortal understanding necessarily extended to a critical understanding of the precise authorship of all scriptures…”

            I believe this to be a most valid assumption, as He “knew all men,” and, “what was in [them].” (John 2:24-25) I find to be absurd the suggestion that Jesus may not have known nor cared about the authorship of the words he was quoting.

  9. Contrary to the Talmudic grandfather’s opinion, many revelations are dictated word for word, as in:

    And now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee…and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak…write the words which I speak… “In the beginning I created the heaven and the earth…And the earth was without form, and void; [etc, etc].” ) Moses 1:40; 2:1-2)

    It appears that most of the revelations given to Joseph Smith, which we have in the D&C, were dictated word for word as it is the Lord who is mostly speaking. Paraphrases would probably not be acceptable when quoting the Lord.

    In other places prophets were commanded to “write the vision” as in D&C 76:28, and presumably in those cases they had some latitude in the words they chose. Even so, D&C 78 is mostly quotes from the Lord. It wasn’t just what they saw. They also quoted the words they heard.

    • “It appears that most of the revelations given to Joseph Smith, which we have in the D&C, were dictated word for word as it is the Lord who is mostly speaking. Paraphrases would probably not be acceptable when quoting the Lord.”

      This claim is fraught with difficulty. Joseph Smith edited all of his early revelations before republishing them in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Some of these revelations were extensively modified (D&C 5 being a prime example).

      Rather than taking “divine dictation,” I would argue that revelation is a dynamic process involving the Holy Spirit and the best efforts of the prophet to express the message of the revelation in his own limited language. Joseph Smith, therefore, had both the right and obligation, as the prophet who received the revelations, to improve the accuracy of the words and the clarity of the message.

  10. So after reading this I find no suggested solution (under the authors proposed framework) to the critical problem of Deutero Isaiah writings in the Book of Mormon. Maybe I missed it some how? Please address. Thanks

    • The solution is that there is no problem. The reason critical scholars have to believe in multiple authorship is, they operate with a completely different set of assumptions that necessitate the invention of multiple authors. I have no reason to believe that the Isaiah material in the BoM is post-exilic.

      • Yeah, I didn’t quite get that from your article. I understand that different assumptions are being made, and your summary list of assumptions for LDS at the bottom clearly makes your point, but in the end you propose that neither an all or nothing take is necessary without going into the nuances you suggest for the BOM itself.

        I enjoyed your article and would have more so had you taken the time to explain the DI content in the BOM directly. Is there no post-exilic content in Isaiah? If not, I didn’t get that from your writing. And if there is, how did it get into the BOM? Pretty straight-forward.

        • I don’t see any reason to believe that any of the BoM Isaiah material is post-exilic. I can’t take the critical scholarly view at face value, because I reject the assumptions that require late dating of that material. If those Isaiah passages were written in late Biblical Hebrew or had some other compelling reason for late dating, I might chalk their BoM presence up to some brilliant midrash on the part of Joseph Smith, or some similar explanation. But I simply don’t see a need to. To get more specific- I firmly believe that Isaiah 53 is a response to a vision of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. If I am comfortable with the idea that Isaiah saw Jesus’ day, of course I am going to be comfortable with the idea that Isaiah saw the return from exile and could speak to it in his prophetic capacity. I am open to rethinking my interpretations of those passages in the face of some compelling textual or other evidence, but I don’t see it. Most things that I have seen presented as critical scholarly “evidences” for DI fall apart shockingly easily under scrutiny, and that scrutiny is from other critical scholars.

          • Well said!

            I think you point about the arguments for DI falling upon “shockingly easily” under scrutiny is nicely illustrated by Richard Schultz, Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, in “Isaiah, Isaiahs, and Current Scholarship,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), Kindle edition, chapter 10.

          • Thanks Jeff. I started my research for this paper by checking out 2 books from the library: the Anchor Bible Isaiah series and Schultz’ book The Search for Quotation. TSQ was valuabe in that it provided a fairly in-depth review of literature to discuss how critical scholars approach the issue of borrowing between authors. I just bought the book you mentioned, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    • Dan Ellsworth (the author) said, “The solution is that there is no problem. The reason critical scholars have to believe in multiple authorship is, they operate with a completely different set of assumptions that necessitate the invention of multiple authors. I have no reason to believe that the Isaiah material in the BoM is post-exilic.”

      Thank you for summarizing that so succinctly; I wish it had been stated that clearly in the text of the article.

      Great article. I agree that we have unique premises in the Restored gospel that put us in a unique scholarly position. Like other Christians, we accept that predictive prophecy is possible. So we don’t feel compelled to the critical scholars’ conclusion of deutero-Isaiah. But unlike many other Christians, we accept that the Bible has been corrupted and/or tampered with in some ways. So we don’t feel compelled to the common Protestant conclusion of extreme inerrancy. We’ll have to forge our own take on Isaiah.

      Jeff Lindsay, that book sounds very interesting.

      • A perfect example is Cyrus. A naturalistic view (i.e., no predictive prophecy) leads to the conclusion that Isaiah couldn’t have written about Cyrus. A Protestant extreme inerrantist view (i.e., the scriptures stand exactly as they were originally penned) leads to the conclusion that Isaiah must have written about Cyrus.

        A Latter-day Saint view has no problem with Isaiah predicting Cyrus, but is also open to the idea of that particular passage being a later insertion, without necessitating that the rest of the book also be post-exilic.

        Jeff Lindsay, is it possible for me to view that chapter anywhere online? I live in the Middle East and an unreliable (non-existent?) postal system means I can’t get books shipped.

  11. In a long-forgotten essay enititled “Joseph Smith in Literature,” Bishop Orson F. Whitney, soon to be called to the Quorum of the Twelve, offers this opinion: “It may be objected that these revelations are God’s utterances, and therefore, not the words nor the works of Joseph Smith. I answer that they are God’s and Joseph’s combined. The prophet was not a mere machine, a mere speaking trumpet, in the process of giving and receiving the word of God. He still had his agency, and was an intelligent, self-acting being, though the inspired instrument and mouthpiece of Deity. The word of God that came to him was independent of him, and yet his mind was the mold in which it was formed; his vocabulary the earthly vehicle of expression. That which is divinely begotten may have human conception and delivery.” (Improvement Era, July 1905, p. 143.)

    If we are to allow a human being to become a co-revelator with God, as one might call a prophet, then Whitney’s statement, in my opinion, makes it much more difficult to talk about the word of God as available to us in any other form than human language and human conception. Unless we subject ourselves to the bold heresy of scriptural inerrancy, then we are left to unpack the language with the best inspiration and methodology we can find.

    I find the idea of such a challenge very invigorating indeed. I think it is one of the aspects of the foundation of continuing revelation upon which the Resoration of the Gospel rests.

  12. “The statement in our Articles of Faith that “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” is an expression of how the Bible can serve as the word of God in influencing the life of the believer, and not an assertion that the Bible was authored or even compiled by God.”

    There’s big problems with such a position. It’s extremely unlikely to be the way Joseph Smith intended the phrase to be taken, nor does it account for the Book of Mormon’s frequent defence of biblical inspiration (meaning that authors were inspired by God, as opposed to readers being “inspired” by something they happened to read), as in 1 Ne.13, 3 Ne. 23 and Mormon 7 and so on. It’s also difficult to see how such a concept can retain a coherent definition of scripture as something different or indeed any more special than other works readers may find “inspirational”.

    • It’s definitely a more naturalistic approach than we are used to, and I’m not the first to articulate it. See Robert Millet’s article on inerrancy:

      “The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that it is the spirit of revelation within the one called of God that is the energizing force. In most instances, God places the thought into the mind or heart of the revelator, who then assumes the responsibility to clothe the oracle in language. Certainly there are times when a prophet records the words of God, directly, but very often the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) whispers to the prophet, who then speaks for God. In short, when God chooses to speak through a person, that person does not become a mindless ventriloquist, an earthly sound system through which God can voice himself. Rather, the person becomes enlightened and filled with intelligence or truth. “What makes us different from most other Christians,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained, “in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation.” [24]

      Nothing could be clearer in the Old Testament, for example, than that many factors impacted the prophetic message—personality, experience, vocabulary, literary talent. The word of the Lord as spoken through Isaiah is quite different from the word of the Lord as spoken through Luke, and both are different from that spoken by Jeremiah or Mark.”

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This