There are 10 thoughts on “How Not to Read Isaiah”.

  1. I’ve actually read most of Spencer’s book twice now. I felt I got a lot out of it. I felt like it was well balanced. So it surprised me to see that Spencer had not mentioned the issue of Hezekiah’s age.
    I notice that Victor Ludlow book mentions Hezekiah as well. On of 155 of “Isaiah: Prophet, Poet, and Seer” he writes, “when the Israelites heard of Isaiah’s prophecy, they knew it applied to Hezekiah.”
    Of course Victor Ludlow goes on to state the full realization (reference to Christ) was only noted by some. Ludlow also states the titles in Isaiah 9:6 could apply to Hezekiah but they seem better applied to Christ. I think it is not fair to say that Spencer’s read is an “impossible read.”
    There is certainly an ongoing discussion about how to interpret Isaiah 9:6. Discussion over a thousand years old, even Rashi comments on this and seems to put the prophecy in the past tense “For unto us a child has been born” (Sefaria). I don’t speak Hebrew and even if I did I am sure I would not know all the textual variants that exist. So perhaps my comment doesn’t add much. I just think that Spencer was trying to share and consolidate multiple perspectives. I agree with you that he tended to revert to the non-messianic perspective.
    I appreciate how you obviate the need for scholarly consensus; you state, “There is little (if any) scholarly consensus on anything in biblical studies.” Spencer did mention consensus a lot.
    Spencer mentions that Nephi reads the work as messianic. I do wish there was more on that.
    Others point out that Isaiah is called to be intentionally confusing (Isaiah 6). So if the verse is messianic (which I think it is) are there aspects that lead some Jews to interpret it differently?

    I digress as this was not the most interesting part of his book for me. I liked Spencer’s reading of the “children” of Isaiah as signs and wonders. I understood him to mean that Nephi could be fitting in that role. Therefore Nephi see it as his goal to bind up a testimony (of signs?). This is how Jacob characterized his words, “things which are and things which are to come (2 Nephi 6:3). Also this seems to be why Mormon values the small plates (WoM 1:4); they contain prophecies of Christ and also prophecies of scattered Israel.

    Ironically it seems Spencer is trying to build faith by stating Isaiah 9:6 is about Hezekiah. He points out that a strategy of God is to show signs and then make them come about. God the places alongside these immediately-realized prophecies new information so that we can have faith in that as well. To me this lets me know how God works. I like that.
    So the interpretation with Hezekiah is still problematic because presumably Ahaz would’ve died before witnessing Hezekiah achieve the descriptions in verses 6-7.
    I believe I am to understand am the immediate prophecies that were fulfilled (Maher-Shalal-Hazbaz) placed along side long-term prophecies is God’s strategy.
    In that light Jacob’s description of the words makes sense “things which are and things which will be”. Also Mormon’s description makes sense, “as many things as have been prophesied… have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass.” These prophets losing civilization could with certainty rejoice knowing that their people would be saved.

    Ultimately I think Isaiah 9:6 points to the millennial Messiah. I wonder if people think that verse applies to Christ’s earthly life.

    In sum, Spencer’s actual point seems to be uncovering God’s strategies generally. The controversy behind Isaiah 9:6 makes it not the best example of His strategy. However, the whole point of Isaiah 9:6 is so that we know someday the millennial Messiah will come.
    Linked together; from our perspective the fulfillment of the virgin birth prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) and others solidify our ability to trust the millennial reign (Isaiah 9:6) will come and good will triumph.
    This leads to Spencer’s title, “The Vision of All.”

  2. I very much appreciate the attention John Gee has drawn in this article to the Targum Jonathan/Jerusalem. That is a great find for me.

    However there is an irony here given all the discussion of context. In 2 Nephi 25, Nephi tells us that he did NOT teach his people the ways of the Jews on purpose because there was much of darkness and abomination in those ways. Nevertheless, he taught his people extensively with Isaiah as text and instructed his younger brother Jacob to do likewise. This was not a problem because they could understand Isaiah’s words in what John Gee describes as “another way”.They could understand these words by the Holy Ghost because “the words of Isaiah…are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy”. I am not sure John Gee intended to limit Nephi’s explanation of this other way to understand Isaiah, but his suggestion that we can only receive revelation for our stewardship implies that when we read Isaiah in the Book of Mormon that we can only understand it if that understanding is necessary to fulfil our calling.

    I do not think that was Nephi’s intent when he taught this second way to understand Isaiah to the rank and file among his people, and I do not think that was the intent of either Alma the Younger or John the Revelator when they taught that the ‘spirit of prophecy’ and the ‘testimony of Jesus’ were virtually synonymous phrases.

    Scholars are a wonderful asset, but they are not a class between the rank and file and those whom we rightly revere as prophets, seers and revelators. As Moses hoped and Jeremiah envisioned, all of the saints can know these things by the gift of prophecy of which Nephi wrote.

  3. I got held up on the claim that Hezekiah was born before Ahaz commenced his rule, largely because there are claims that Ahaz was born 763 or 762 BCE and became king at the age of 20 years (743 or 742 BCE). And Hezekiah was born 741 or 740 BCE (see William F. Albright) which if these calculations are correct puts his birth after the start of the reign of Ahaz, not before, meaning that Isaiah’s prophecy may have been about Hezekiah, as Spencer claimed.
    I’m not an OT scholar and am happy to be corrected on this.

    • And, World Biblical Commentary states, “Some have objected that Hezekiah must have been older by this time for him to assume the throne when he did. But the chronologies of this period are very uncertain, so no sure statement can be made. The view that the child to be born is a royal heir, and that his mother belongs to the king’s household does justice to the evidence, fits the context, and provides the potential of messianic intention that is needed.” (page 99)

  4. I confess that I don’t understand a lot of the book of Isaiah or the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. I also confess that I don’t see myself studying Hebrew or studying biblical studies of the book of Isaiah or scholarly studies of the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Before I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I studied Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament and also the New Testament at an Episcopal Church high school (actually called Episcopal High School). Thus I know of some of the historical context of Isaiah. Still much of the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are not clear to me. So how do I read the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?

    I read the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon to understand its general meanings, not its specific meanings. By that, I mean that i usually ignore the specific names of persons and places that I didn’t already know. I ignore these specific items because it would take me years to learn all of them. Instead, I try to understand the general meanings. The main 5 general meanings that I get from the chapters of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are the following:

    1) Jesus is the Christ and will come at a future time and do the most important achievement in history: the atonement, which will save us from sin and death. At a time of nations being at war, the greatest conqueror in history is Jesus Christ, who – though living in humble, non-grandiose conditions with no military army to lead – conquered the 2 greatest threats of all time: sin and death.

    2) Obeying God’s commandments leads to peace in this life and eternal life.

    3) Disobeying God’s commandments leads to the destruction of individuals, families, groups, and nations.

    4) Following the prophets will save us in potentially dangerous and destructive situations.

    5) Getting and obeying revelation is essential to being saved in potentially dangerous and destructive situations.

    Thus I agree with Nephi’s using the words of Isaiah to teach his people and to teach us. Thus I agree with the Savior when He said, “Great are the words of Isaiah.”

    • For those that don’t read Latin or are too lazy to Google!Notices put forth anonymously must have no place in any accusation.

  5. I agree with Joe that we often have a tendency to read Christ into places in the scriptures where a modern Christian reading is not warranted by the context. To encourage caution, an example I often point is in Isaiah 53:6, where the Hebrew text says that YHWH laid on Him the iniquity of us all. At a minimum, the text is suggesting to us that Isaiah did not share our clarity about Whose suffering he was witnessing. I also agree with the basic intention of this article, the idea that it’s a mistake to overcorrect and not see Christ anywhere, or defer to a secular scholarly consensus that has decided a priori that an early messianic reading of Isaiah is out of the acceptable realm of scholarly discourse.

    All that said, on a personal note, Joe Spencer’s work was instrumental in bringing me back from faith crisis. At a time when I was no longer sure how to think about questions of historicity of scripture, Joe’s work helped me to see that the scriptures are simply amazing, and that was a hot spark that contributed to my current fire of faith. In turn, I have been able to help a lot of people with their faith challenges. I feel deeply indebted to Joe for what he has done with his gifts.

  6. Your write:

    “The Hebrew term in question is ʾēl gibbôr. However one chooses to translate gibbôr (strong, mighty, etc.), the term ʾēl does not mean hero, or one mighty, but God.”

    But I’m not sure “el” necessarily means God as you say it does. For instance, Ezekiel 32:12, which uses the phrase el-gibbor is translated as “the strong among the mighty”. Thus in this instance “el” does not necessarily translate as God.

    Additionally, a quick reference to a concordance shows that while “el” can refer to God, it can often be used an as adjective (just as it was used in Ezekiel) indicating strong, thus indicating that el does not always mean God, leaving the meaning of “el-gibbor” in Isaiah 9:6 in question.

    • Thank you for providing, under the cloak of semi-anonymity, an excellent example that proves the point I was making.

      (1) You need to read a bit more carefully. I followed the assertion that you question with an analysis of the use of the term ʾēl in Isaiah specifically. In Isaiah ʾēl means “God” or “god.”

      (2) Your appeal to Ezekiel 32:12 is invalid since the term used is not ʾēl gibbôr but gibbôrîm without the ʾēl. Thus it does not matter what translation you happen to be using for the Ezekiel passage.

      (3) Your probable response at this point was that you really meant to cite Ezekiel 32:21, where the plural phrase ʾēlê gibbôrîm is cited and translated (incorrectly) by the King James translators as “the strong among the mighty.” The King James translators are following the tendency of Targum Jonathan (“the powers of the mighty”) and the Septuagint (“the giants”) to correct the text to match their theology.

      (4) Again, thank you for proving the dangers of weighing in on these matters without a basic knowledge of the language.

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