Abstract: The Book of Mormon contains little information about what the Brass Plates contain. Nephi said it was a larger record than the Hebrew Bible brought to America by the Gentiles. But it could not have contained the records of Old Testament prophets who wrote after Lehi’s party left Jerusalem or the New Testament. We know it contained some writings from Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias, but what else could it have contained? Though the proposal from modern biblical source criticism that the Christian Bible is the product of redactors sometimes working with multiple sources is distasteful to many Christians, this article suggests this scholarship should not trouble Latter-day Saints, who celebrate Mormon’s scriptural abridgement of ancient American scripture. This article also revisits the insights of some Latter-day Saint scholars who have suggested the Brass Plates are a record of the tribe of Joseph, and this may explain its scriptural content. The eight verses from Micah 5, which Christ quoted three times during His visit to the Nephites and which did not previously appear in Mormon’s abridgment, receive close analysis.
Shortly after Lehi and his family departed into the wilderness, Lehi was commanded in a dream to send his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain “the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers … engraven upon plates of brass” held by Laban (1 Nephi 3:2–3). When the sons returned from that mission, Lehi examined the plates of brass, and Nephi recorded the following summary of what they contained:
They did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.
[Page 82]And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;
And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah … [and] a genealogy of [Lehi’s] father; wherefore he knew he was as descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine.
And they were also led out of captivity and out of the land of Egypt, by that same God who had preserved them.
And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records. (1 Nephi 5:11–16)
The Book of Mormon does not directly reveal a great deal more about the contents of those plates save perhaps for Mormon’s editorial comment immediately before he started his account of Christ’s visit to the Americas in 3 Nephi 11. In the preceding chapter, Mormon commented on the destruction on the face of his land which accompanied the death of Christ at Jerusalem as follows:
And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see and behold if all these deaths and destructions by fire, and by smoke, and by tempests, and by whirlwinds, and by the opening of the earth to receive them, and all these things are not unto the fulfilling of the prophecies of many of the holy prophets.
Behold, I say unto you, Yea, many have testified of these things at the coming of Christ, and were slain because they testified of these things.
Yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of all these things, and also Zenock spake concerning these things, because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed.
Behold, our father Jacob also testified concerning a remnant of the seed of Joseph. And behold, are we not a remnant of the seed of Joseph? And these things which testify of us, are they [Page 83]not written upon the plates of brass which our father Lehi brought out of Jerusalem? (3 Nephi 10:14–17)
This editorial statement seems to confirm that the Brass Plates contained records sacred to and preserved by the members of the tribe of Joseph who had escaped the Assyrian invasion of Samaria.1 Several Latter-day Saint authors have suggested that Julius Wellhausen’s 19th century “Documentary Hypothesis” regarding the Pentateuch and the proposal that there were distinct differences between Northern and Southern scripture after the Kingdom divided2 corresponds with the Northern origin of the Brass Plates. Some Latter-day Saint authors even suggest that “the Brass Plates … may have been the official scriptures of the Ten Tribes.”3
While this article is written in that context, its focus is to work out if modern scholarship sheds any light on what we know about the contents of the Brass Plates from the text of the Book of Mormon and collateral comments by the Prophet Joseph Smith and his contemporaries. It [Page 84]seems, for example, that some words of the Prophet Neum were on the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 19:10), but it is not certain that the prophets Neum and Nahum were the same person, as has been speculated,4 since the Old Testament record of Nahum’s prophecies do not include a prophecy that the Messiah would be crucified, which is the principal reason Neum was referred to by the Book of Mormon prophets. This article discusses in four parts the educated speculation about the contents of the Brass Plates and suggests that more can be identified by identifying the source of other biblical allusions which already exist within the Book of Mormon text.
Because the Brass Plates may have Northern Kingdom ancestry and may assist in identifying their contents, Part I begins with a summary of the scholarship and evidence that grounds the theory of a Northern origin of the Brass Plates, including the role of modern biblical source criticism, particularly the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis” involving multiple proposed sources behind the Pentateuch.5 The idea that Northern Kingdom scripture emphasized the fatherhood of Elohim in preference to references to Jehovah in Southern Kingdom scripture is noted as part of the difference in focus of the theoretically different source material. But in Part II, I discuss how the Book of Mormon’s focus on Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of all men influenced what earlier scripture the Book of Mormon referred to; and I explain why Isaiah received so much attention, even though he was a Southern Kingdom prophet.
In Part III, I review the scriptures which Jesus used in his ministry among the Nephites, recognizing that He specifically restored some passages they did not have — for example, two chapters of Malachi (3 Nephi 24:1). But I suggest that Christ may have restored parts of Micah even though he did not explicitly say that, since the Nephite prophets had not referred to or alluded to Micah before Christ’s visit.
In Part IV, I list the Old Testament prophets and summarize the evidence as to whether their prophecies appeared on the Brass Plates or whether they were restored by Christ. In that discussion, I acknowledge other possible explanations for allusions to Old Testament prophets in the Book of Mormon. These include the possibility that the Brass Plates contained ancient source material not referred to by the Book of Mormon [Page 85]redactors or their sources and not provided by Christ during His personal ministry. Such material would not be recognized by modern scholars if they are not familiar with it. I also acknowledge the possibility that similarities between Book of Mormon scripture and Old Testament scripture may be attributed to parallel revelation, the fact that God does reveal the same ideas to prophets in different contexts.
I conclude that there are many more connections between Book of Mormon and biblical scriptures than casual readers may have perceived and that the questions that come to mind when possible connections are perceived can be the beginning of new and independent revelation for those who search diligently.
Part I: Biblical Source Criticism and the Book of Mormon
Modern biblical scholars employing “source criticism” have explored the various sources that may have been used in creating biblical texts. Of particular importance in this field is the rise of the Documentary Hypothesis proposing that the Pentateuch was patched together by redactors from multiple related sources, giving us, for example, two versions of the Creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. Such scholarship holds that Old Testament scripture has more sophisticated theological and political origins than is apparent to casual readers. The Documentary Hypothesis holds that the literary process behind the Pentateuch involved multiple sources with a variety of inconsistencies that were redacted to give us the first five books of the Bible. Many scholars believe that this occurred in a process that likely took place after the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity. At least four major Hebrew narrative traditions have been identified, each of which had its own agenda.6 John Sorenson says this view is the result of the triumph of the evolutionary view of history at the end of the 19th century.7 That view contradicts the fundamentalist view that the books of the Bible were dictated perfectly by God, and holds instead that they were the result of human record keeping and like all writing, they manifested the foibles and biases of the different authors. Other ways of looking at the Documentary Hypothesis and the findings of biblical source criticism focus less on the agenda and foibles of the original traditions and [Page 86]redactors and consider that scripture is cumulative and that prophets interpret what they receive from God in familiar cultural terms.8
The findings and proposals of source criticism are generally unpopular among those Christians who hold that biblical scripture is the inerrant word of God “written by … identified author[s] who wrote as if ‘God breathed’ the words onto the page.”9
Scholars typically describe four separate sources for the Pentateuch; they label them J, E, D, and P. The Yahwist/ Jahwist author(s) from the Southern Kingdom (“J”) wrote a narrative epic story in the tradition of Homer’s Iliad. God was referred to as Jehovah or Yahweh or by some derivative of those names. David, as a descendant of Judah, was the hero of the Jehovists.
The “Elohists” rewrote the ancient history in the Northern Kingdom after the David/Solomon empire split under Rehoboam and Jereboam, and those writers referred to God as Elohim. The heroes of this “E” tradition include Jacob and Joseph in particular.
The “Deuteronomist” version of biblical scripture (“D”) probably originated in the book claimed to have been found in the temple early in the reign of Josiah, which led to his modernizing reforms. But those who advocate the Documentary Hypothesis hold that the book of Deuteronomy always had a reform agenda, and that agenda is said to have eventually colored the version of the old history behind the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.
The “Priests” (the authors of “P”) are often said to have written during the Babylonian captivity to keep the captives on the strait and narrow path (P) and to preserve Jewish identity and culture through careful religious observation. As noted earlier, some argue for a pre-exilic origin of at least some of the material often said to be from P. There may be a complex combination of early and late material behind the P source.
Skeptics of the Documentary Hypothesis observe that none of these alleged source documents exist as distinct, ancient documents except in the minds of their hypothesizers.10 But others have been more guarded, [Page 87]recognizing that the process of reducing revelation to writing is as individual as the personalities of the prophets involved. Brigham Young, for example, who lived most of his life before Wellhausen’s version of the Documentary Hypothesis was settled in 1878, observed that Moses obtained his information from those who went before him and “picked out what he considered necessary” when he compiled his canon.11 While some of those who advocate the Documentary Hypothesis would take issue with the assumption that Moses’s name should appear in the Pentateuch at all, it is disingenuous to deny that Brigham Young was alert to the issues that faced ancient scriptural editors.
David Bokovoy has observed that some faith-based modern scholars have suggested that the Documentary Hypothesis is dead, while reasserting the inspired unity and inerrancy of the original biblical texts beginning with Moses.12 While Bokovoy acknowledges that recent continental scholarship has “adopted a ‘Fragmentary’ or ‘Supplementary’ Hypothesis” to explain Pentateuchal sources, those scholars are simply striving to understand Pentateuchal composition “in the most appropriate terms,” which include its documentary elements.13 In relation to the Book of Mormon, Bokovoy suggests that the references to the five books of Moses are “clearly anachronistic” since “the concept of five Mosaic books” did not eventuate until well after the exile.14 The reference to “five” books of Moses in 1 Nephi 5:11 may be anachronistic and a result of a gloss or translation choice by Joseph Smith, but could also include a handful of earlier versions of documents related to the Pentateuch, possibly including a text related to the Book of Moses in our Pearl of Great Price. Based on textual analysis — akin to the literary analysis behind much of source criticism — Noel Reynolds’s view is that the Brass Plates may well have contained material related to the Book of Moses which Joseph Smith later translated and which now forms part [Page 88]of the Pearl of Great Price in the Latter-day Saint scriptural canon.15 Bokovoy’s view that the Book of Mormon concept of a personal devil and a redemptive Christ are also anachronistic before the 2nd century BC16 is also answered if a version of the Book of Moses which now forms part of the Pearl of Great Price were part of the Brass Plates.
John Sorenson has probably gone furthest in explaining the implications of the Documentary Hypothesis for Book of Mormon readers:
There appears good evidence that the Book of Mormon contains elements which are congruent with what scholars of the Old Testament distinguish as the E or Elohistic source. To biblical scholars this congruence should invite serious attention to the Book of Mormon for what it may reveal to them about Old Testament sources. To Latter-day Saints, the presence of E materials in the Book of Mormon should serve as a challenge and stimulus to examine more carefully [Page 89]the scriptures entrusted to them, and to participate actively and cooperatively in elucidating both the texts and their interpretations.17
The E elements in the Book of Mormon that got Sorenson’s attention included Josephite rather than Jewish genealogy; the prophecies and counsel of Northern prophets who did not refer to or focus on Jerusalem or the Davidic covenant, but who did reference God’s special covenants with Joseph that are not mentioned in the Old Testament; an emphasis on Egyptian tradition and language that corresponds with the experience of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh in that country; the use of Jacob’s personal name in preference to the more nationalistic “Israel”; and the preference for derivatives of El rather than Yahweh as the name for God.18
Relying on Richard Elliott Friedman, BYU Student Allen Kendall thought it possible that the Brass Plates contained elements of the D tradition, since that tradition stemmed from northern priests centered in the original tabernacle complex at Shiloh.19 But I believe the attribution of the D source to northern priests needs further research. While priests who relocated to Jerusalem from Shiloh may have become ardent supporters of the centralization programs of successive kings [Page 90]out of political expediency, they must have been aware of the localized worship Moses and Joshua intended when they entered their promised land without a capital city.20
When he was a University of Utah student, Colby Townsend hypothesized that the Pentateuch account upon which the Book of Mormon relies came straight from Joseph Smith’s King James Bible.21 But from what follows it will be clear that his analysis, like that of this author, is incomplete.
John Welch’s suggestion that the Brass Plates were likely prepared in Jerusalem at the direction of King Josiah between 620 and 610 BC, because metal plates would not “wear out or become illegible through extensive use”22 by itself does not account for their northern orientation.
Given that the Book of Mormon is the unashamed product of redactors with an agenda,23 the abridgements underlying the [Page 91]Documentary Hypothesis and other aspects of source criticism should not challenge the faith of Latter-day Saints or impede identification of the contents of the Brass Plates. Indeed, if modern scholars are able to identify scriptural material that originated in the Northern Kingdom, and if the Brass Plates and the Book of Mormon do have a Northern pedigree, then some aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis and source criticism may assist in identifying material in the Book of Mormon that came from the Brass Plates. On the other hand, one should recall that the dating often proposed for the various sources of the Old Testament are not established with certainty, and there may be reasons to question the tendency of some scholars to favor late, post-exilic dates for much of the Old Testament text and to deny the historicity of events such as the such as the Exodus, which plays a prominent role in the Book of Mormon.24 Likewise, perhaps “P” includes pre-exilic material or was largely composed before the exile, as argued by Richard Elliot Friedman and others.25
Part II: The Agenda of the Book of Mormon Prophets
Even though the not-so-subliminal prejudices of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon may be detected by latter-day readers,26 there can be no doubt about the primary agenda of the Book of Mormon editors. When writing the specially prepared title page,27 Moroni explained that the purpose of the abridgement was
[Page 92]to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever —And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations
That summary affirmed Moroni’s exhortation to all who would read the abridgement his father Mormon had prepared, and which Moroni had completed. Moroni prayed that latter-day readers
might come unto Christ … and be perfected in him, [that by] deny[ing them]selves of all ungodliness, and lov[ing] God with all [their] might, mind and strength … by his grace [they might] be perfect in Christ … [and be] sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ … that [they might] become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:30, 32–33)
Mormon’s focus was the same:
I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and prayers, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved. (Omni 1:26)
And more than 800 years earlier, when Nephi redacted his father Lehi’s record and oral account into his own new “N” account, he said that “the fullness of [his] intent [was] that [he might] persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4).
Like Mormon and Moroni, Nephi did not consider that his record was just for the Lehite remnant of Jacob. It was prepared for “as many of the Gentiles as w[ould] repent [and become] the covenant people of the Lord” (2 Nephi 30:2). For the Messiah was not only to be God’s servant “to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel.” [Page 93]The Messiah was also given “for a light to the Gentiles, [that he might be God’s] salvation unto the ends of the earth” (1 Nephi 21:6).
Hence Nephi’s final call and testimony, like those of Mormon and Moroni after him, “as the voice of one crying from the dust” (2 Nephi 33:13), was that all the world might “hearken unto these words and believe in Christ” (2 Nephi 33:10).
But before I review the scripture used among the Nephites by the resurrected Christ in an effort to identify what was new and what was already familiar from the Brass Plates, I review Nephi’s 1 Nephi 13 comparison of the Brass Plates and the book of Jewish scripture which he saw in vision among the Gentiles and which he saw brought to the American continent by the Gentiles of the last day.
In this contextual discussion of source criticism, one thing memorable about Nephi’s comparison is his continued use of the term Jews as the originators of the book of scripture he saw coming to the American continent with the Gentiles.28 In 2 Nephi 33:8, which the current publishers of the Book of Mormon suggest was written as many as 40 years after his 1 Nephi 13 account, Nephi says that he uses the term Jew to describe “them from whence [he] came.” While it is possible that the intervening years had caused some separation in his mind, it seems more likely that he always differentiated between the descendants of Jacob/Israel who descended from the tribe of Judah, and his own ancestors who descended from Joseph. If that is so, then it may be that it is not just the Book of Mormon that Latter-day Saints should see as “the stick of Joseph” that would become one with “the stick of Judah,” as seen by Ezekiel in vision (Ezekiel 37:15–20). The Brass Plates should be recognized as providing the foundation of that “Josephite stick” and kingdom in the last days. If that is so, then a larger book of scripture encompassing the Brass Plates, the existing Book of Mormon, and the sealed and as yet untranslated portion of the gold plates will be compiled during the millennium and will comprise the whole of the stick of Joseph, which will re-establish the Josephite kingdom that will become one with the record and kingdom of the Jews in that day.
Regardless of when Ezekiel’s vision of scriptural and Israelite unity is completely fulfilled, Nephi’s vision in 1 Nephi 13 let him know that [Page 94]there were two separate scriptural records or traditions, and they were compared for him by his instructor:
The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord which he hath made unto the house of Israel. (I Nephi 13:23)
The angel instructor then explained to Nephi how the Jewish record became corrupted, and he placed that corruption at the doorstep, not of ancient redactors of the Pentateuch suggested in the Documentary Hypothesis,29 but of redactors within the Christian church after the departure of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.”30 That corruption would be cured by the things to be written by Nephi’s seed and by “other books” that would come forth from the Gentiles to “the remnant of the seed of [Nephi’s] brethren.”31 Together, the two separate scriptural traditions would “make known to all kindreds, tongues and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.”32
While verse 23 of 1 Nephi 13 is a little ambiguous as to whether the Brass Plates record or the Jewish record was larger, it seems that Nephi and his instructing angel intended us to understand that the Brass Plates contained more scripture. But it is not clear whether that was a comparison of the overall size of the Bible as carried to the New World by the Christian Gentiles (including the New Testament), or a comparison of the size of the record of the Jews as it existed, albeit uncompiled, at the time Nephi took the Brass Plates from Laban around 600 BC. Either way, the Brass Plates contained significantly more.
The comparison draws attention to how many of our current Bible’s books of scripture existed in 600 BC. Though that question will be discussed in more detail in Part IV, it is appropriate here to observe that [Page 95]the relative size of the Old Testament (as it existed in 600 BC) depends on whether or not we attribute the records of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (and the books of Joshua and Judges) to scribes working on earlier materials during the Babylonian captivity. The “Jewish Old Testament” canon in 600 BC certainly excluded parts of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy,33 as well as the entire books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. But there are other uncertainties, since the authorship of Isaiah is such a vexed question for non-Latter-day Saint biblical scholars who do not accept that prophets can be inspired with noncontextual information.34
[Page 96]Though the Book of Mormon editor redactors acknowledged they had faults which they did not recognize,35 they still wrote to persuade the latter-day world that Jesus Christ was the Son of God sent by the Father as the Promised Messiah to redeem all men from the consequences of sin and physical death. To the extent that the Book of Mormon editor redactors and their source prophets shared this vision, they likely used only material from their existing scriptural canon (the Brass Plates) when it contributed to that goal.
In the parts of this article which follow, we cannot often detect allusions to an unknown text when the Book of Mormon authors and editors have not identified that text. But some allusions to known biblical texts can be identified, and they may confirm the existence of the relevant texts on the Brass Plates.
However, even strong allusions to earlier texts after Christ’s visit do not confirm the existence of those texts on the Brass Plates, since Christ gave the Nephites new scriptures,36 and it is not clear if the Nephite recorders acknowledged all He gave them.37 Though I will identify the texts Jesus used or alluded to in the Nephite record of His resurrected ministry in Part III, the purpose of the following parts will be to identify Old Testament scripture held by the Nephites before Christ’s coming. If Mormon (writing in the 4th century AD) referred to scriptures to which his earlier source writers did not have access, those references could undermine my analysis, but his editorializing is generally easy to identify and does not appear to interfere with the task of identifying the contents of the Brass Plates.
Part III: The Scripture that Jesus Used
During His Nephite Ministry
Christ’s primary texts during His Nephite ministry were His own Sermon on the Mount, chapters 52 and 54 of Isaiah, and Micah 5:8–15. The post- 1830 editors of the Book of Mormon have added many helpful [Page 97]footnotes that highlight allusions to other scriptures, but those references do not present as Christ’s primary reference material, since He did not refer to them directly.38
The Nephite restatement of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount has occasioned analysis for other reasons, including criticism because it is so similar to the King James Bible version. While that discussion does not contribute to this analysis of the known contents of the Brass Plates, it is significant to note that Stanford Carmack’s recent work on Book of Mormon grammar raises other possible reasons for the similarity.39
Christ’s quotations from Isaiah likewise do not greatly assist identification of the contents of the Brass Plates, since they came from sections of that prophet’s work which had already been quoted by others.40 Earlier reference to Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon text is also a strong argument for the presence of all the so-called First (chapters 1–39) and Second Isaiah (40–55) chapters on the Brass Plates. The current Book of Mormon footnote references to the so-called Third Isaiah chapters (56–66) are unhelpful in identifying neither their [Page 98]authorship nor their presence on the Brass Plates, since Christ may have provided them to the Nephites, even though Mormon’s text does not say so in our current translation.41
But the eight repeated verses from Micah raise different questions. Not only are they in part repeated and expanded twice on the second day of Christ’s Nephite ministry,42 but Christ does not identify the words of Micah as material the Nephites did not already have.43 While this may suggest that Micah’s words did appear on the Plates of Brass, it is odd that they are not quoted, referred to, and, arguably, not even alluded to in the earlier part of our current Book of Mormon.44
The absence of references to Micah before Christ’s ministry is striking for two reasons. First, it is reasonable to think the emphasis of Nephite writers on so-called E materials from the Pentateuch and their proposed Northern Kingdom affinities would have made Micah’s prophecies about the latter-day ascendancy of the remnant of Jacob a natural focus of their prophesying, even though Micah lacked any obvious Northern Kingdom connections.45 And second, if Micah’s fifth chapter appeared [Page 99]on the Brass Plates, one would have expected Alma2 to have made reference to Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’s birth in Alma 7 rather than the more generic “land of Jerusalem,” which he chose in Alma 7:10. Of course it is possible that the Northern Kingdom roots and influences on the Book of Mormon writers or their lack of Davidic ancestry may have occasioned the omission of a reference to the Messiah’s Davidic lineage and the specific Davidic place of birth; but again, that seems unlikely, given the Nephite prophets’ near obsession with all the details they could obtain about the coming Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection. I include below two tables (Table 1 and Table 2) to help readers identify where Christ quoted or alluded to Micah in His teaching at Bountiful. In Table 1 I identify the passages where the quotes were given. In Table 2 I show the extended quotation from 3 Nephi 21 and Micah 5 side-by-side.
Christ’s quotations from Malachi are less remarkable, since unlike Micah, Malachi prophesied great things about the future of Israel but only after the departure of the Lehite colony around 600 BC. Thus no one suggests that Malachi could have had a place on the Brass Plates, and Christ expressly confirmed the contrary.46
Table 1. Related passages in the Book of Mormon and Micah.
|Book of Mormon Passage||Related Passage in Micah||Notes on the Relationship to Micah|
|3 Nephi 16:15||Micah 5:8||An allusion, referring to members of the House of Israel being among the Gentiles and treading them down.|
|3 Nephi 20:16–17||Micah 5:8–9||Fairly close quotation of the KJV.|
|3 Nephi 20:18–19||Micah 4:12–13||Fairly close quotation of most of the KJV passage.|
|3 Nephi 21:12–18||Micah 5:8–14||Fairly close quotation of the KJV, with some changes.|
|3 Nephi 21:21||Micah 5:15||Fairly direct use but with some changes.|
|Mormon 5:24||Micah 5:8||An allusion to remnants of the House of Israel being among the Gentiles as a lion, tearing in pieces, and none can deliver.|
[Page 100]If the words of Micah, or at least chapter 5, were not a part of the Brass Plates record, why not? And does the answer to that question suggest reasons for the presence or absence from the Brass Plates of other scriptural material that did exist by 600 BC?
Micah lived southeast of Jerusalem in the 8th century BC and may have been politically unpopular in Jerusalem. He was a contemporary of Isaiah, and these two prophets either had access to the same source material, or they quoted from one another.47 They both prophesied of the last days and they both prophesied about the remnant of Jacob in those days; and both anticipated the Messiah’s Davidic lineage. While there is no obvious reason why Micah’s writings should not have appeared on the Brass Plates, perhaps Micah’s references to the Messiah’s Davidic ancestry and birthplace were omitted to conform to Northern Kingdom traditions related to the E source for the Pentateuch. But that does not explain the absence of references to the remnant prophecies later in Micah chapter 5, which would surely have appealed to all the Nephite prophets, including Nephi and Jacob. The reference to the “mountain of the Lord’s house” prophecy from Isaiah 2, which Jacob quoted in 2 Nephi 12, would surely also have benefitted from reemphasis if Micah’s adjustments48 were added.
Table 2. Related verses in 3 Nephi 21 and Micah.
|3 Nephi 21||Micah 5|
|12 And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.||8 And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver.|
|[Page 101]13 Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.||9 Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.|
|14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;||10 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots:|
|15 And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds;||11 And I will cut off thy cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strong holds:|
|16 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land, and thou shalt have no more soothsayers;||12 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shall have no more soothsayers:|
|17 Thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands;||13 Thy graven images also will I cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee; and thou shalt no more worship the work of thine hands.|
|18 And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee; so will I destroy thy cities.||14 And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee; so will I destroy thy cities.|
|19 And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away.|
|20 For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel;|
|21 And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.||15 And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.|
|22 But if they repent and hearken upon my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;|
|23 And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.|
[Page 102]The best reason for Micah’s possible omission from the Brass Plates record that presents itself to me is that the custodians and recorders on the Brass Plates included only material they considered Josephite in its focus and teaching. Isaiah and Jeremiah did not exclude the descendants of Joseph from their exposition of Israel’s destiny, but other Judahite prophets, including Micah, may have had that reputation.
What case can be made for the presence of the writings of other Old World prophets on the Brass Plates?
Part IV: What Scriptures Did the Brass Plates Contain?
I have already explained why Micah chapter 5 may have been missing from the Brass Plates, and I have said the likely reason is that Micah was too Jewish in emphasis for the tastes of those charged with maintaining the Brass Plates record in Laban’s custody.
Some other Old Testament books certainly did not appear on the Brass Plates. Malachi was not there, because Christ said so in 3 Nephi 24:1 and because we know historically that he lived nearly two hundred years after Lehi and his party left Jerusalem and the Old World.
The words of many other Old Testament prophets could not have been included in the Brass Plates record for the same reason — that is, because those books were not composed until after Lehi’s party departed around 600 BC. As mentioned above, those include some parts of Jeremiah and Lamentations, as well as all of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. But did the Brass Plates contain Joshua, Judges, and both books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and if so, how close was the Brass Plates version of those books to that familiar to modern Latter-day Saints from the King James Bible?
Kevin Barney suggests that the books of Moses on the Brass Plates may have been there in a different configuration than we are familiar with today.49 He makes that suggestion for two reasons. First, in several places in the Book of Mormon the reference is to “the books of Moses” rather than to “the five books of Moses,” and even where there is now reference to “the five” books of Moses, he suggests that Joseph Smith may have added the number “five” because he felt he independently knew there were five books of Moses, and he was justified in being more specific.50 Second, he notes that the version of the Ten Commandments [Page 103]which Abinadi quoted to the priests of King Noah varies a little from our King James version in Exodus 20.51 We ought not be surprised, since there is variation between the version of the Ten Commandments familiar to modern-day Protestants and Catholics. Barney’s point is that there may have been separate E (Brass Plates?), P (Exodus 20), and D (Deuteronomy 5) versions of the Ten Commandments, and we do not know which version Abinadi memorized, presumably with the Brass Plates as his source.
It also seems to me that the Brass Plates contained some version of Joshua and Judges, since the Nephites were familiar with the history canvassed by those books, and because King Mosiah2 appears to have reflected on the difference between kingdoms and judicial republics in the light of the Brass Plates record, before he recommended a form of judicial republic to his composite Nephite/Mulekite people in Mosiah 29.
We know that the Brass Plates also contained at least four other books of (Northern-sourced?) scripture which were unknown to the Jews, or which they chose not to include in their scriptural canon: Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias. The Nephite prophets quoted them to highlight aspects of the Messiah’s life and redemptive mission.52 The Nephite prophets did not focus on Messiah’s Davidic ancestry in those references, but it is possible that Jewish nationalism (perhaps related to the traditions behind the J source) may explain why those scriptures did not appeal to those who compiled the Jewish scriptural canon. Specifically, it is unlikely that the Jews would have appreciated hearing northern E prophets declare that the Israelite Messiah would be raised on a cross and crucified by adherents who relied on the J source and associated traditions.53
[Page 104]Table 3 summarizes the contents of the Brass Plates using our existing King James version of the Old Testament as the comparator.
Table 3. Summary of the contents of the Brass Plates.
|Book of Scripture||Included in the Brass Plates||Comment|
|Genesis||Yes||Likely an “E” version, which included more material about Joseph than KJV.|
|Exodus||Yes||Likely an “E” version, in which the Ten Commandments were expressed differently than in Deuteronomy;54 Moses at Meribah incident treated more favorably.55|
|Leviticus||Yes||An “E” version?|
|Numbers||Yes||An “E” version? Note the difference between the “P” tradition of the Meribah incident.56|
|Deuteronomy||Yes||Again, the account of the Ten Commandments is different from the accounts in Exodus 20 and 34.57|
|Joshua||Yes||A Northern Kingdom version?|
|Judges||Yes||A Northern Kingdom version?|
|Ruth||Probably not||Likely from a Southern Kingdom document that establishes Christ’s Davidic ancestry.|
|1 Samuel||Perhaps||A Northern Kingdom version?58|
|[Page 105]2 Samuel||Perhaps||A Northern Kingdom version?|
|1 Kings||Perhaps||A Northern Kingdom version?|
|2 Kings||Perhaps||A Northern Kingdom version?|
|1 Chronicles||Probably not||This is history told from a Southern Kingdom perspective.|
|2 Chronicles||Probably not||This is history told from a Southern Kingdom perspective.|
|Ezra||No||Composed after Lehi’s departure.|
|Nehemiah||No||Composed after Lehi’s departure.|
|Esther||No||Composed after Lehi’s departure.|
|Job||Probably not||Job’s assurance of a glorious resurrection was not shared by the wicked priests of King Noah.59|
|Psalms||Probably||Dating the Psalms is difficult; some clearly post-date the exile and were not included.60|
|Proverbs||Probably||Some may have been included; for example, Lehi appears to have quoted from Proverbs 22:6 in 2 Nephi 4:5.61|
|Song of Solomon||Probably not||Joseph Smith noted in the JST that this book is not inspired,62 and there do not appear to be any obvious quotes from or direct allusions to this work in the Book of Mormon.|
|[Page 106]Isaiah||Yes||Note that the Book of Mormon contains no direct quotes from so-called Third Isaiah, chapters 56–66.|
|Jeremiah||Yes, part||Jeremiah continued to live and write after Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem. His words after that date could not be on the Brass Plates.|
|Ezekiel||No||Composed after Lehi’s departure.|
|Daniel||No||Composed after Lehi’s departure.|
|Hosea||Perhaps||Though Hosea was a Northern Kingdom prophet before the Assyrian invasion, there are no direct quotes from his writings in the Book of Mormon.63|
|Joel||Probably not||Though Moroni quoted one of his prophecies to Joseph Smith in September 1823, Joel was a Southern Kingdom prophet, and there are no direct quotes from his writings in the Book of Mormon.64|
|Amos||Probably not||Though Amos was a Southern prophet, he ministered to the Northern Kingdom before its destruction, so the absence of direct quotes from him in the Book of Mormon is surprising.65|
|[Page 107]Obadiah||No||Probably composed after Lehi’s departure, and he prophesied to the Edomites rather than to Israel.|
|Jonah||Probably not||Though Jonah was a northern prophet, he did not prophecy to Israel.|
|Micah||Perhaps in part||For reasons explained above in the text, it is doubtful that Micah 5 was present on the Brass Plates.66|
|Nahum||No||A southern kingdom prophet, Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrian civilization, which had destroyed the Northern Kingdom.67|
|Habakkuk||Probably not||He was a Jewish prophet around the time of Lehi’s departure.|
|Zephaniah||Probably not||He was a Jewish prophet around the time of Lehi’s departure.|
|Haggai||No||He prophesied in Jerusalem after Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity.|
|Zechariah||No||He prophesied in Jerusalem after Judah returned from the Babylonian captivity.|
|Malachi||No||Christ restored two chapters from His writing during his Nephite ministry.|
|Zenos||Yes||1 Nephi 19:10, 12, 16; Jacob 5, 6, Alma 33:33; 34:7|
|Zenock||Yes||1 Nephi 19:10; Alma 33:15; 34:7|
|Neum||Yes||1 Nephi 19:10|
[Page 108]While some of this analysis shares the same speculative methodology as biblical source criticism, the related scholarship, which has recognized different narrative traditions behind the Hebrew Bible, is relevant to understanding what the Brass Plates contained, and why some of it was different from the Old Testament scripture that has come to us through the Jews. But source criticism is not the only explanation of why the scripture provided in the Book of Mormon has a “familiar spirit.” There are at least four other possible reasons for that similarity, some highly speculative.
Other Possible Reasons Why the Book of Mormon Contains Scripture from the Old World
First, even though the Book of Mormon record says that the Mulekite party did not bring scripture with them,68 there may have been other Israelite emigrations to the New World which did bring records. While John Sorenson has shown that there were hundreds and possibly thousands of undocumented ocean voyages between the Old and New Worlds before Columbus, voyages that transported flora and fauna between the two worlds,69 the absence of anything equivalent to the genetic evidence left by transplanted flora and fauna means that we cannot advance this hypothesis.
A second hypothesis that explains the similarity between Old and New World scripture that we can do nothing to advance is the idea that undocumented Old World prophets could have given other Old World scriptural material to New World prophets, material that is not recorded in the existing Nephite abridgement. Nicholas Frederick identifies additional possibilities when he suggests the term “biblical interaction” rather than mere “allusion” to explain intertextuality in the Book of Mormon. His “other possibilities” include deliberate interactions with angelic messengers at various stages in the translation process, including at the time when the Book of Mormon authors were engraving their records.70
A third hypothesis explaining similarity is that since God’s fixed ordinances, covenants, and commandments are intended for all of his [Page 109]children, it ought not surprise us if we find other separated groups who had those same ordinances, covenants, and commandments revealed through their own prophets.71
But a fourth possible reason for similarity between portions of the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon leads us back to the contents of the Brass Plates. And that is the insight that the Brass Plates may contain some material related to early sources of the Pentateuch and other writings, perhaps with particular influence from Northern Kingdom traditions. The Book of Mormon’s emphasis on “remnant prophecies” seems to underscore this possibility. For not only did Jesus quote and explain Micah’s remnant prophecy to the Nephites three times during his ministry among them,72 but Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob used remnant prophecies to reassure their people that they were not forgotten by the Lord.73 In a similar spirit but much more dramatically, Captain Moroni used a lost remnant prophecy of Jacob to motivate the Nephites to defend their homes, family, and native lands from Lamanite aggression74 when the future seemed as lost as Joseph’s when he was sold as a Midianite slave75 and languished as a prisoner in an Egyptian prison.76 While there are other references to a remnant of Jacob in the current Old Testament,77 there is no trace of Captain Moroni’s quote from Jacob.78
[Page 110]But Jacob’s prophecy about the remnant of Joseph’s coat is not the only Book of Mormon reference to source material older or more complete than the Hebrew Bible. The allegory of Zenos is another detailed passage re-recorded in Jacob 5, but Nephi and Alma also quoted that prophet directly,79 and Zenock was variously paraphrased by Nephi1,80 Alma2,81 Nephi2,82 and Mormon,83 and the content of prophecies by Neum and Ezias were referred to by Nephi184 and Nephi2.85 Robert Millet also suggests that additional material was available to the Book of Mormon peoples from the Brass Plates that is not found in the Bible.86 That material includes more detail about the fall of Lucifer, the creation, the Fall, and the Atonement, and Abraham’s knowledge of the Messiah.87 While this material may have been referred to by Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias, it seems more likely, in light of what Joseph Smith learned during his translation of the Bible, along with the revelation of the books of Moses and Abraham, that the additional material which Millet suggests was part of a more complete original version of the first of the five books of Moses (Genesis) which the Brass Plates contained.
In this article, I have explained how concepts and findings from modern source criticism, including the Documentary Hypothesis, may help explain why the Book of Mormon focuses on the Josephite ancestry of Lehite colony rather than the Jewish ancestry of the Mulekites. That is because biblical source criticism suggests that variant versions of ancient records were kept and redacted by Israelite groups with different interests. For example, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms appear to [Page 111]have kept their own records (E and J respectively, for the Pentateuch), but so apparently did the priests who may have kept scriptural records during the Babylonian captivity (P), and the temple priests who discovered the “book of the law” that was used to justify King Josiah’s reforms late in the 7th century BC (D).
I then suggested that while we understand the reason why the Book of Mormon prophets used scripture that focused on the coming and mission of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, when He ministered to the combined descendants of Lehi at Bountiful, He emphasized their identity as a remnant part of the House of Israel, confirming that the Father’s covenants with the ancient patriarchs were extended to them and that they were not forgotten. But He went much further. He referred to their latter-day destiny in the Father’s plans, and He explained that destiny by quoting the words of the Israelite Prophet Micah on three separate occasions: on the second and third occasions, implying that Father had asked Him to tell them again on the second day of His ministry but with even more emphasis. I suggest that even though He did not say those words were missing from their canon, since there are no references or obvious allusions to Micah’s prophecies before Christ quoted them, it seems likely the Nephites did not have Micah’s words before Christ ministered to them in person.
That insight provided context for a book-by-book discussion of what parts of the Old Testament may have been present on the Brass Plates the descendants of Lehi brought with them. But I concluded that analysis with the observation that there were other reasons why the Book of Mormon may have included scriptural material that has a “familiar spirit.” Those reasons included that there may have been other physical contact between the Old and New Worlds which transmitted scripture between them and which is not documented in the Book of Mormon; that unknown scriptural material may have been provided to the new world prophets miraculously, as, for example, by angelic ministers; and that God reveals His ordinances and truths to all men, sometimes in parallel and sometimes as a onetime dispensation.
In his abridgement of the Book of Ether, Moroni explained that the Lord withholds spiritual truth from unbelievers, but that belief manifest by repentant and sanctified individuals and nations unlocks spiritual truth and entitles them to further revelation.88 Even if access to the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon and the Brass Plates themselves is [Page 112]denied until the Millennium,89 Moroni teaches that those who search and ponder with sincere hearts will receive personal revelation that unfolds meaning and can answer their questions ahead of those who do not exert that effort.90
That principle applies to our study of the Book of Mormon. When we feast upon these words as prophets have admonished,91 inspired questions come to our minds.92 My concluding suggestion is therefore that a deeper awareness of the likely content of the Brass Plates will improve the insight of diligent Book of Mormon readers because they better understand the scriptures that inspired those prophets.93
[Editor’s Note: Comments made shortly after the original electronic publication of this paper identified several errors in need of revision. These should have been caught pre-publication. We apologize for the unfortunate gap in our editorial process and are grateful to those who assisted us in recognizing the errors so that needed corrections could be made in this revised version of the paper. We strive for high-quality peer review and editorial processes that will continue to make such errors a rare exception. —J. Lindsay]
[Author’s Note: It is apparent that some readers have misunderstood the point of my paper, so I’ve made a few minor changes to hopefully clear up any ambiguity on the part of readers. I apologize for any confusion that my word choices may have caused. That being said, let me state that I am fully aware of the history and purpose of the Documentary Hypothesis approach to the Pentateuch. The focus of this article, though, is not the Documentary Hypothesis, but the ideas behind the Documentary Hypothesis. The point is that the concepts underlying the Documentary Hypothesis — that ancient authors selected from existing materials to [Page 113]compile later works and that they made selections to suit their agendas — are not unfamiliar and should not be unfamiliar to Book of Mormon readers. All authors, all redactors, and all editors are human and, as humans, make human choices and can make human mistakes. To assert that any theory of textual development — whether the hypothesis be documentary, supplementary, fragmentary, neo-documentary, or any other human conception thousands of years after the fact — is somehow neutral or natural or self-evident is less academic than apologetic and, most of all, very human.]
And as mentioned earlier, some of Bokovoy’s concerns are likely already resolved if Reynolds and Lindsay are correct in their surmise that at least something directly related to the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price formed part of the Brass Plates.
“the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated, the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that said title page is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation.”