LDS Discussions discusses the problem of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.
"Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon," ldsdiscussions.com, accessed on July 27, 2023
Deutero-Isaiah Verses in the Book of Mormon
In the Book of Mormon, there are many chapters of Isaiah directly incorporated from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, complete with translation errors that were obviously not possible to have been recorded on the gold plates since the KJV was not available until thousands of years later. As we've covered in the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon overview, this by itself is a massive problem for the Book of Mormon's claim to authenticity, as it contradicts the narrative that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by putting his "seer stone" in a hat, sticking his head fully inside to block out light, and then dictating the words that appeared from the stone. Only after the words were written down correctly and exactly would the words change, so there is no room for Joseph Smith to switch between dictating from the seer stone and then copying passages from the KJV Bible.
Yet when the Isaiah chapters appear in the Book of Mormon, they are undoubtedly from the KJV as we've illustrated in the King James Bible section. The first Isaiah chapters are believed by scholars to be from 1-39, while the Deutero-Isaiah (or second Isaiah) cover chapters 40-55, and Trito-Isaiah (or third Isaiah) cover 56-66. Scholars believe, for reasons we will outline below, that the historical (first) Isaiah lived in the 8th and 7th century BCE while the Deutero-Isaiah material would not be written until after the exile into Babylon, which was 586 BCE. Because the brass plates were taken from Laban at 600 BCE, this is problematic as the Book of Mormon cites extensively from the Deutero-Isaiah chapters, which were not composed until after the brass plates were taken from Laban.
Lehi cites the Deutero-Isaiah material in 2 Nephi 1:13-14,23, and then Jacob reads the words of Deutero-Isaiah into the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi chapter 8. Not only does this Deutero-Isaiah material appear in the Book of Mormon, but it contains the exact King James Bible language that, as we have discussed in previous sections, includes mistranslations, italicized text, and, especially in this case, late additions.
Furthermore, the themes that come out of this Deutero-Isaiah influence the Book of Mormon beyond just the words of Lehi and Jacob. The following verses from 2 Nephi (8:24-25) are copied from the King James version of Isaiah 52 (52:1-2), which is identified in the Deutero-Isaiah chapters:
24 Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.
25 Shake thyself from the dust; arise, sit down, O Jerusalem; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
This material is not limited to just 2 Nephi either, as much of Isaiah chapter 52 is spoken by Jesus Christ in 3 Nephi as well as Isaiah 52:24 being cited in Moroni 10:31. If this material was not composed prior to Lehi leaving, it presents another instance where the author of the Book of Mormon is using material that anachronistic to the Book of Mormon narrative, which dates the Book of Mormon not as an ancient text, but a 19th century book written by someone with access to the King James Bible.
While the overall use of chapters and phrases from the KJV is problematic enough for the credibility of the Book of Mormon, the use of Deutero-Isaiah is where it turns from a big problem to an irreconcilable one for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. These chapters could not historically be incorporated in the Book of Mormon since they could not have been on the plates that Lehi left with, which puts the inclusion of this material as a very problematic anachronism. Just as with the Book of Abraham issues, Joseph Smith did not have the foresight that in the years following his death we would have a much better understanding of biblical history, and did not realize he was including a late addition throughout the Book of Mormon.
Problems with Deutero-Isaiah and the Book of Mormon
The problem with Deutero-Isaiah, just as we saw with late additions to the Sermon on the Mount and the long ending of Mark in previous sections, is that we have more examples where Joseph Smith not only copied source material, but copied material that has no historical basis to be in the Book of Mormon. For a brief overview of the Deutero-Isaiah problem, I highly recommend reading biblical scholar and former CES instructor Dr. David Bokovoy's two part write-up on Deutero-Isaiah from 2016. Those two articles can be read at:
The Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah: A Response to Kent Jackson (part 1)
The Truthfulness of Deutero-Isaiah: A Response to Kent Jackson (part 2)
From Dr. Bokovoy:
"One of the most insightful perspectives held by mainstream biblical scholars involves the historical development of the book of Isaiah. Since the 20th century, all mainstream scholars have held the position that chapters 40-66 were written after the Jewish exile into Babylon (c.a. 586 BCE). Scholars typically identify the exilic material in 40-55 by the title Deutero-Isaiah, and the post-exilic material in 56-66 by the title Trito-Isaiah (though these works may have been written by multiple authors). This means, of course, that the second half of the book of Isaiah was not written by the historical Isaiah, a prophet who lived in Jerusalem during the eighth century BCE. For Latter-day Saints, this presents a direct challenge for traditionally held paradigms concerning the Book of Mormon, since some of this material is not only attributed to Isaiah, it has had a significant impact upon the Book of Mormon. If mainstream scholars are correct then this material would not have been available to Lehi’s family as something they could have taken with them to America."
The reasons that scholars can date this material to the post-exilic time frame are multiple, and I want to quickly summarize them here:
Chapter 45 of Isaiah mentioned Cyrus, the king that would liberate the Jews, by name. This indicates that the writer of this material was aware of this historical event, which is why they could give such specifics such as writing Cyrus by name.
In 1879, the Cyrus Cylinder was discovered in the Middle East, which was created sometime between 539-538 BCE. It is written in Akkadian, the language of the Babylonians, and gives more historical context to the material in Deutero-Isaiah. In Dr. Bokovoy's Deutero-Isaiah piece, he outlines how the context allows scholars to see that Deutero-Isaiah was written after the Cyrus Cylinder was created, as Deutero-Isaiah serves as a "polemic that belittles other gods and vindicates Israel’s deity Yahweh is one of the main themes that ties Isaiah 40-55 together as a literary unit."
As Dr. Bokovoy explains, the historical Isaiah believed in the “the inviolability of Jerusalem.” He did not believe Jerusalem would ever be destroyed as it was sacred. Yet "Isaiah 40 begins as a message of comfort to the Judean people since Jerusalem had been destroyed. But this was not something that the historical Isaiah believed would happen." Furthermore, "Surely, if his theology switched so drastically we would expect some sort of statement that explained how he came to know that his earlier oracles were incorrect. In reality, chapters 40-66 never speak of the Babylonian period as a distant future reality, as if someone were prophesying about it. Instead, the Babylonian period is described as the present, historical condition."
The influence of Jeremiah on Deutero-Isaiah material presents a timeline issue as Jeremiah lived after the historical Isaiah. This is an anachronism that allows scholars to date the Deutero-Isaiah material as the author was aware of Jeremiah's teachings, and the writings of Jeremiah make clear that Jeremiah did not know of the events in Deutero-Isaiah.
The use of Aramaic language begins in the Deutero-Isaiah chapters, whereas it is absent in the first 30 chapters. From Dr. Bokovoy: "Unlike what we find in the first half of the book of Isaiah, Aramaic has heavily influenced the language in Isaiah 40-66. Not only does this fact provide compelling proof that the material in 40-66 was written by other authors, it shows that these authors were living in a time when Jews were speaking Aramaic."
Similar to use of Aramaic, the Deutero-Isaiah material is written in a form of Hebrew that dates to the postexilic times. From Dr. Bokovoy: "Unlike what we encounter in the historical oracles of Isaiah, the material in Isaiah 40-66 contains many, many examples of Hebrew words and phrases that appear solely in the exilic and postexilic periods."
I highly recommend reading Dr. Bokovoy's two part response on Deutero-Isaiah as linked above as they are not long articles but give a more context an details on the bullet points above as to why scholars are near universal in acceptance of both Deutero and Trito-Isaiah writers.
One final bonus reason that reveals that the writer of Deutero/Trito Isaiah are from a later time than the historical Isaiah is that the first 39 chapters of Isaiah never mention Abraham, yet Abraham is mentioned multiple times in the Deutero-Isaiah material. As we mentioned in earlier sections, the book of Genesis was not composed until likely the 6th century, but Isaiah was believed to have lived in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.
Just as we saw with Adam and Eve, we can look at the earliest writers in the Bible to know that they were simply unaware of some of the stories and characters in Genesis, and Abraham is another example of that. In the historical Isaiah's 39 chapters, there is no mention of Abraham because the story of Abraham is not yet known, but in Deutero/Trito Isaiah, Abraham is mentioned almost immediately in chapter 41 and then again in chapters 51 and 63. In other words, we can date this Isaiah material to the 6th century because this author, writing as Isaiah, is citing Abraham, who was not known of until this time.
As we've covered on this site before, the problem for apologists is that the Book of Mormon needs to have either a 'tight' or 'loose' translation, but it can't be both. The witnesses all describe Joseph Smith reading off the stone in his hat, which is a tight translation where the words only changed once written down correctly. As we covered in the KJV section, apologists also argue Joseph Smith used a loose translation where he was simply inspired to write the story and thus incorporated other sources into the Book of Mormon that he was familiar with. A loose translation also helps to explain the many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon such as horses, wheels, chariots, bees, silk, steel, elephants, swine, wheat, iron, and more that could be excused away by Joseph Smith just loosely translating based on what he was familiar with.
However, there is no room for a loose translation with the description of how the Book of Mormon was translated, which leaves us with a tight translation. In that context, there should be no KJV errors which were copied from Joseph's 1769 version of the King James Bible, and there certainly should not be chapters included that were not even written until after Lehi would have left. This leaves us with a massive anachronism in the Book of Mormon, which makes clear that Joseph Smith was utilizing his Bible when composing the Book of Mormon, and not an ancient text preserved for well over a thousand years on plates of gold.
Apologetic Claims to Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
There are a few different approaches that apologists have taken to the Book of Mormon, and we want to highlight them here and note why we feel it is insufficient to explaining such a difficult problem:
FAIR has a somewhat lengthy write-up of the problem, and a few highlights are below:
"2 Nephi 12-24 quotes 1st Isaiah. This is not a problem because it is agreed by scholars that this author wrote before Nephi obtained the brass plates. 1 Nephi 20-21, 2 Nephi 7-8, and 3 Nephi 16:18-20 all quote from 2nd Isaiah, which is a problem if those chapters were not written by 2nd Isaiah until after Nephi had obtained the brass plates. Third Isaiah is not quoted by the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the only part of 2nd Isaiah we need to account for is Isaiah 48-52.
1st Isaiah wrote during a time when a powerful nation, Assyria, threatened the destruction of Israel. While this was the immediate issue in 1st Isaiah's mind, he also may have been inspired to make general prophecies about a more future destruction of Israel. While not specifically mentioning "Babylon" or "Cyrus", this 1st Isaiah may have made broad prophecies about a future threat to Israel separate from the immediate Assyrian threat.
LDS scholar Sidney B. Sperry has suggested that we pay attention to the research of several non-LDS scholars who "held that Isaiah 40-66 arose in exilic times, but consisted in considerable measure of ancient prophecies of Isaiah, which were reproduced by an author of Isaiah's school living in the exilic period, because the events of the day were bringing fulfillment of the prophecies." In other words, our current Isaiah 40-55 (or 40-66) may originate in primitive writings of 1st Isaiah, but which were reworked and reinterpreted by 2nd Isaiah."
The problem here is that we are assuming a theory that only complicates the plausibility further. This theory assumes that the writings were done in primitive times, reworked after they left Jerusalem, but still were integrated into the Book of Mormon because they are based on writings that were done ahead of time? This is a repeat of the apologetics about the long ending of Mark, where apologists argued that the "long" ending was originally written, lost in the earliest manuscripts, but then reattached later by a scribe who realized it was missing.
What this argument attempts to do is give plausibility that the text of Deutero-Isaiah was originated earlier but changed as prophecies were fulfilled, but the more obvious answer is that the author of Deutero-Isaiah is writing in his own time with the knowledge of events happening around him. It is similar to how the Book of Mormon prophecies of both the arrival of Columbus and the founding of America, but is noticeably vague on prophecies that go beyond the years it was produced.
I also want to note the use of "several non-LDS scholars" in FAIR's write-up, because as we noted in the long ending of Mark section, this is a common apologetic move to ignore the consensus by cherry-picking the few scholars who agree with the church's foundational truth claims. You can find "several scholars" who will agree with you on anything, but Occam's Razor would tell us that if you have to ignore the consensus on issue after issue, it's because your truth claims are not holding up to the evidence.
FAIR then dives into the tight vs loose translation methods:
"The answer to this question will involve a brief consideration of the translation process of the Book of Mormon. There are two major methods that have been proposed for the translation of the Book of Mormon. The first is a "tight-control" method in which the text of the English version strictly matches the text of the gold plates, often right down to the spelling of names. The second method of translation is "loose-control", in which the English translation is a bit more fluid and matches the general meaning of the original reformed Egyptian text but may not strictly follow every word. Latter-day saint scholars and students fall into both camps, and some believe that both methods could have been used throughout the translation of the Book of Mormon. This is relevant to the question of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon because a "loose-control" theory, or something similar to it, would help account for why we have the KJV of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, as discussed below."
This, as we discussed above, does not work. First, FAIR talks about the text of the gold plates without mentioning that they were never used in the translation. The only translation method used for the Book of Mormon was the stone in Joseph's hat, which is not in dispute even though the church and apologists continue to use the above narrative for missionary work or lessons. Thus, there is no way for the loose translation to work, which is why this theory by apologists not only can't work, but would be contradicted by other responses on FAIR's site.
I brought this up in the long ending of Mark section, but again I want to point out how apologetics will jump between theories as necessary to answer individual problems, but when they are taken in totality will contradict themselves repeatedly. In the case of a loose vs tight translation theory, you can see it here where they argue that Joseph Smith must have a loose translation because of the obvious use of the King James Bible, but in the earlier King James Bible section they argue that no Bible was used when producing the Book of Mormon. While apologists want you to look at these problems in isolation, it is very important to look at the issues together to understand not just how irreconcilable they are, but how inconsistent the apologetic responses are in these different topics.
FAIR goes on to give a proposed scenario to try and make this work:
As Joseph was translating the text of the Book of Mormon, he would find himself translating something that he recognized as being roughly similar to texts from the Bible. This would occur most prominently when Nephi quotes from Isaiah.
Instead of translating Nephi's quotations of Isaiah, Joseph, deferred to the KJV translation of those chapters. This may have been done to save time and to respect the quality of the KJV Bible. The chapters of Isaiah that we find in the Book of Mormon were taken largely by Joseph Smith from the KJV Bible, instead of being translated from Nephi's version of that text. In other words, why reinvent the wheel when the work has already been done?
If Joseph Smith did this while translating the Book of Mormon, it would fall under the broad contours of the "loose-control" theory of the Book of Mormon.
As a result of this, the Isaiah chapters on Nephi's plates would have looked slightly different from the Isaiah chapters that we have now in the Book of Mormon. Remember, the only 2nd Isaiah chapters that show up in the Book of Mormon are Isaiah 48-52. Nephi's version of Isaiah 48-52 that he quoted on his plates was the primitive, early version written by 1st Isaiah which did not include specific references to Babylon. The version of Isaiah 48-52 that we have now in the Book of Mormon is not taken from Nephi's plates, but rather copied from the KJV Bible for reasons suggested above. That version of Isaiah 48-52 is the older, reworked material of 2nd Isaiah which inserted specific references to Babylon.
It is understandable why FAIR is creating this scenario, but it is one that goes against both history and a key reason for needing the Book of Mormon in the first place. FAIR wants you to believe that Joseph Smith noticed that Isaiah was being quoted by Nephi and switched over to the Bible to copy it down to save time. This means that although Joseph Smith made comments about how the Bible had been improperly translated over time, he decided to use it when he could to save time. That makes no sense at all - if the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on Earth, why is 10-20% of it copied from a version of the Bible translated in 1611 containing errors, italicized words, and late additions?
This theory, as they admit, relies on the loose translation theory, which is a popular theory of apologists when they need to explain away Joseph Smith's errors in translation. Nowhere in church history is the loose translation validated, and was a theory only born out of necessity. It would require literal gold plates to have been used to explain how Joseph Smith could switch between source materials, because otherwise how else would he know with a stone in a hat where to pick back up? And if you're seeing a translation with the seer stone, how is reading those words slower than reading the King James Bible to a scribe? It just does not add up when you take a step back and think about what FAIR is arguing here.
Last, FAIR goes back to assume that the plates actually had the primitive writings on them but that Joseph Smith only missed including that original, important material because he was copying from the KJV. This implies that Joseph Smith was lazy in his translation efforts and either didn't notice the differences, which again goes against the translation method as described in the church history, or noticed the difference but didn't think the effort of properly translating ancient material was worth the effort.
To put this another way, this scenario implies that God went through such great lengths not just to have Laban killed to get the brass plates, but to preserve the gold plates for over a thousand years with special interpreters only to allow the person chosen to restore the text to use a translation of the Bible that containers mistranslations, errors, and late additions for "convenience?" I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but are we really to believe that God would go through this much effort to allow an ancient record to be corrupted for Joseph Smith's convenience as the gospel topics essay states? Again, when you look at these apologetics in combination with the other problems, these kinds of apologetics not only become impossible, but absurd.
2 Nephi and the Deutero-Isaiah Problem in the Book of Mormon, By Common Consent:
One other apologetic argument was featured in an article in By Common Consent, and focuses on a theory from LDS apologist Grant Hardy. In his book Understanding the Book of Mormon, Hardy concedes that the Deutero-Isaiah problem is more crucial than many apologists will admit, but that a more promising avenue for faithful Latter-day Saints "is to acknowledge that we probably know less about what constitutes an ‘inspired translation’ than we do about Ancient Israel. Once one accepts the possibility of divine intervention, the theology can accommodate the (always tentative) results of scholarship."
This is a common conclusion reached in the official church Gospel Topics essays as well. The church will concede there are some serious issues with the history of a given topic, but that if we look back to our prior feelings and testimony, those problems will go away. It is true that we can not understand things we can't see, but the problem with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is that there are a lot of areas where we can see what he worked with and know why it is historically wrong. It is deceptive to tell members that they need to just accept it as divine intervention when we can outline a pattern of Joseph Smith using other materials that he passes off as translated scripture, but cannot historically be ancient text.
This development, once again, sheds light on a common problem with Joseph Smith's works as prophet: many of the scriptures and doctrines that compose the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are heavily borrowed from other sources and contain many anachronisms from Joseph Smith's milieu.
As we've now covered, we can show that Joseph Smith included vast material from the King James Bible including mistranslations, errors, and italicized words. In addition, scholars have identified late additions to the Lord's Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount as well as the long ending of Mark, both of which make it into the Book of Mormon.
In future sections we will show that this pattern continues, with Joseph Smith borrowing from contemporary sources (along with the King James Bible) for the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Beyond the scriptures, we see this pattern in the First Vision accounts, the priesthood restoration, and even the temple ceremony.
Throughout these sections on biblical scholarship and Mormonism, we've pointed out how the author of the Book of Mormon leaves fingerprints that we can use to trace back to the time it was written along with the surrounding worldview of the person writing it. We can see that problem here as well, as the Book of Mormon not only pulls Isaiah material that comes directly from the King James Bible, but material that scholars can now date as written after Lehi would have left. And as we continue into the Book of Mormon, Abraham, and Moses, these problems will only continue to grow.