Barker Part 3

You note that the Book of Mormon doesn’t contain the El=Yahweh parts of Second Isaiah, but isn’t the fact that it contains any of (post-Exilic) Second Isaiah problematic enough? Can you comment further on this?

Part I

Part II

Not everyone accepts the idea of a second Isaiah. So, if the hypothesis seems a threat, we can turn to scholars who do not accept it. We get a choice in deciding whether we even have a significant problem. In dealing with problems, we all get to choose whether to treat the them as potentially productive puzzles, or as counter instances. And when we face problems we get to decide whether we have to solve them now, or whether to leave it for later, or even for a later generation. Finally, in dealing with problems, we also get to balance them against the existing solutions. One thing we should not do it to treat LDS scripture like a fragile bubble that totally disintegrates if we poke it anywhere.

Before reading Barker’s The Older Testament, I tended to lean towards Gileadi’s arguments for a unified Isaiah, though I also liked Nibley’s discussion in Since Cumorah, which made some room for the possibility of a Second and Third Isaiah. Nowadays, I like Jack Welch’s minimalist suggestion, that we don’t have to assume that the Brass plates contained anymore of Isaiah than it quotes from the Brass plates. And we should leave room for Joseph Smith to participate with his own understanding, as Nibley and Ostler have suggested. I personally see the Isaiah sitation as promising and fruitful. There have been some very good studies and observations on the issue. I’d be interested in seeing more. For instance, what happens to Abinadi’s message if we replace Joseph Smith’s King James dependent translation of Isaiah 53 with Margaret’s independent one?

Part 4: El Elyon; Barker’s Methodology; Joseph Smith


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Here is footnote 68 to my Documentary Hypothesis article, in which I briefly comment on this issue:

    [68] A more significant dating issue for the Book of Mormon relates to the proper dating of Second and Third Isaiah. A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this essay. Most Mormons have responded to the issue by insisting on the unity of Isaiah; for a brief survey of this position, see John W. Welch, “Authorship of the Book of Isaiah in Light of the Book of Mormon,” in Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds., Isaiah in the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1998), 423-37. I will simply point out, as Nibley first observed (in Since Cumorah, 137-43), that the Book of Mormon text does not itself necessarily require such a conclusion. Indeed, in certain ways the Book of Mormon supports a multiple authorship view, particularly by beginning with Isaiah 2 rather than the later Isaiah I, and by not quoting from Third Isaiah (with the possible exception of Jacob 6:14, which may allude to Isaiah 65:2; however, as David Wright himself observes, the allusion is only indirect, and seems to be directly based on Romans 10:20-21). This observation does not completely resolve the problem because the Book of Mormon still quotes from Second Isaiah, but it does provide a foundation for a scholarly resolution, as one could posit a Second Isaiah dating to the end of the 7th century or, possibly, the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E. See William Hamblin, ” Isaiah Update’ Challenge,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17, no.l (Spring 1984): 4-7. David Wright insists that Second Isaiah must date to no earlier than 540 B.C.E., thus, leaving a remaining gap of a minimum of about 60 years; see his “Does ‘and upon all the ships of the sea’ (2 Ne. 12:16 // Isa. 2:16) Reflect an Ancient Isaian Variant?” Mormon Scripture Studies at n34. While the issue has not yet been fully resolved, it seems to me that working with critical scholarship, as Nibley and Hamblin do, rather than butting heads against it, as most have tried, is the most promising avenue for an acceptable resolution.

    I like the idea of not feeling pressured to resolve it right now. And I ultimately would be ok with Joseph participating in the text, as Kevin mentions. So for me that’s the backstop argument.

  2. I believe that David Bokovoy at the last FAIR conference suggested that those sections of “Second Isaiah” that are quoted in the BofM were revelatory insertions (I was not present for his presentation, and I haven’t seen a full transcript). Blake’s expansion theory seems to allow for a similar process. And Bill Hamblin–although I don’t necessarily believe he intended this comment as necessarily an answer to the problem when he wrote his response to the issue in Dialogue–notes that sometimes a prophet “will use the writings of a former prophet as a catalyst for revelation and develop phrases and concepts into new theological ideas”; it seems this suggestion could perhaps be applied to the situation of “Second Isaiah” as well.

    I too find this issue difficult to resolve if we do not allow for Joseph’s Smith’s influence in the text as Kevin Christensen has here suggested in the post (even if less expansive than Blake’s or David’s proposal). However, I also agree with Kevin that there are promising suggestions by LDS scholars that don’t simply appeal to unified authorship. For instance, Nibley’s noticed that the Book of Mormon doesn’t quote from “Trito-Isaiah” or chapter 1, and he goes on to suggest that perhaps what Nephi does quote is quoted because that’s all he had access to (as Kevin has mentioned in the post). Moreover, Kevin himself has added that the stronger monotheistic arguments that characterize some of “Second-Isaiah,” and which are often seen as evidence of exilic/post-exilic composition, are missing from the BofM, and Kevin additionally notes some ties to pre-exilic festivals in some passages that are quoted in the BofM. As Kevin has said elsewhere, “The seven chapters containing the Second Isaiah’s arguments for monotheism do not appear in the Book of Mormon Isaiah quotations. And most of the Second Isaiah chapters that do appear in the Book of Mormon have ties to preexilic festival liturgies and could, therefore, be older, even if parts of Isaiah 40–55 had been edited, composed, or reinterpreted later.” Keith Norman had also noted that the Cyrus prophecies are conspicuously missing from the Book of Mormon, which prophecies are often brought forth by scholars as solid evidence of exilic/post-exilic authorship. Like Nibley, Norman notes that the Book of Mormon significantly does not quote from Third Isaiah, which he affirms is quite surprising given that the focus of Third Isaiah is often on the “future and final restoration of Israel”–a theme held in common with important Book of Mormon authors such as Nephi or Moroni. He notes this as a “striking argument” from silence in favor of a Third Isaiah theory. Finally, Norman implies that having a proper understanding or adequate theory of the mode of revelation could be critical to resolving some of these issues, as Blake and others (including Kevin, I believe) have also suggested. Blake Ostler additionally adds that Jesus himself quotes some of Isaiah to the Nephite people’s after his resurrection, and this should perhaps indicate to us that the Isaiah as we have it wasn’t complete at the time of Lehi’s departure. There are other scholars and suggestions which could be added. For instance, I would additionally note that the Isaiah Apocalypse is missing from the Book of Mormon, a piece which many scholars take to be late, and this may be significant as well. However, even if there is a pre-exilic core in each of the “Second-Isaiah” chapters quoted in the Book of Mormon which were then later edited and redacted, it seems difficult to separate that material from the exilic/post-exilic material also found therein since Joseph’s translation relies on the KJV.

    Thus I agree with Kevin that there are good suggestions from a critical perspective. However, I currently don’t see any way to resolve the issue without mentioning translation theory for the BofM. . I think it is also good to note the spectrum of views that have been taken by LDS scholars on the issue who still remain faithful (as Kevin mentioned in another post).

  3. I forgot to mention Kevin’s article as well, sorry! I will say for good measure though that Kevin’s article is a must-read and everyone should go read it!

    Best wishes,


  4. This is really fascinating. I have heard of the multiple authors of Isaiah theories out there, but I have little more exposure than that. If I wanted to get a couple of books/articles and get up to speed so I can understand this conversation better, where should I start?

  5. Great discussion, Kevin and Yellow Dart as well.

  6. I like the idea of not feeling pressured to resolve it right now. And I ultimately would be ok with Joseph participating in the text, as Kevin mentions. So for me that’s the backstop argument.

    I think there is some pressure to resolve things now better than we have them resolved. The deutero-Isaiah problem of the Book of Mormon is, along with horses, one of the more problematic areas of apologetics. That is while we have answers it’s hard to be fully happy with them and they certainly are not terribly persuasive to many.

    Certainly Blake’s model can explain this. However with the quotations from 2 Isaiah it’s hard to explain the structure as an expansion by Joseph Smith (IMO). If you let Blake’s model explain anything as a 19th century addition you’ve made it so expansive that it’s impossible to falsify. Further while an expansion or paraphrase here or there seems plausible I think applying it to extended quotes is more difficult to accept.

    The move to making the Book of Mormon heavily midrashic ala the JST certainly has an attraction when beset by foes. However go too far and the distinction between the midrash and modern revelation of the whole thing independent of any underlying text becomes problematic. I think it’s more justifiable with the Book of Abraham given the nature of that text although I think one can go too far there. With the Book of Mormon and the importance of the plates, the claims to be written by Mormon, and so forth, then too little connection to the text is as bad as saying no text at all.

  7. BTW – to go along with Dart’s comments. I do think viewing 2cd Isaiah as itself a revision of existing texts is itself quite an interesting approach.

  8. Clark #7,

    As far as I can tell, it was Keith Norman who first suggested that “Second Isaiah” may be a redaction of earlier texts. I think this suggestion is definitely worth consideration, since many important texts in the Old Testament seem to be the products of redaction and editing over long periods of time. Michael Coogan has suggested concerning chapters 13-14 in his comments on chapters 13-23 in his “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” that “This section includes oracles against Babylon (chap. 13) and its king (14.3-21). A late eighth-century BCE oracle against Babylon by Isaiah of Jerusalem is not inconceivable, given the diplomatic contact between Hezekiah and the Babylonian king Merodach-baladan, as both rebelled against Assyrian control…”. However, as Coogan goes on to note, parts of these chapters do appear to reference to exilic/post-exilic events; but given Joseph’s translation relies on the KJV, this I think could be accommodated. The real questions I think are, how do we really separate the underlying text that Nephi would have had access to (presuming a model not as robust as Bokovoy’s or Blake’s) from the translation that we have that uses the KJV predominately? And, if we agree that there are parts of the text that are exilic/post-exilic because of the method of translation, at what point do we stop? I mean, how much of a text can be exilic/post-exilic before God would no longer allow its insertion into the BofM text? Maybe you have some clarifications/suggestions.

  9. I don’t have good answers. I think that we have to accept that Joseph often uses the KJV text to quote for passages from the Bible, sometimes quoting errors. (I know some, such as Royal Skousen argue against this but I don’t find them ultimately persuasive)

    But I agree we have to find some way of limiting Blake’s expansion model or it simply explains too much. It’s an important principle but needs revised.

  10. David Clark says:

    So, if the hypothesis seems a threat, we can turn to scholars who do not accept it. We get a choice in deciding whether we even have a significant problem. In dealing with problems, we all get to choose whether to treat the them as potentially productive puzzles, or as counter instances.

    If you are going to do this, why bother with scholarly work on the Bible and the ANE at all? This turns the whole enterprise into cafeteria style apologetics where you get to choose everything you like and nothing that you don’t. Also, this route leads to a patch work of ideas with no coherent overarching structure because you have simply picked and chosen what you want. The only commonality running though it is, “That agrees with the commonly held Mormon view on things.” But then I am brought back to the question, if you are only going to end up with stuff you already know and agree with why bother at all?

  11. Re #10

    I think Kevin is saving that problem for another generation. It also relates to other conversations he’s left unfinished:

    Perhaps this will be addressed in Pt. IV?

  12. Kevin Christensen says:

    When we are comparing paradigms, all you can do is ask which is better, and which problems are more significant to have solved. That is the nature of the comparisons. It’s messy, but it is what we have to work with.

    Like it or not, the cafeteria exists, the marketplace of ideas is out there. We have McMurrin’s ideas, and Ostler’s and Nibley’s and Brodie’s and Metcalfe’s, and many others. Kuhn also observes that among the pragmatic criteria for choosing between paradigms are comprehensiveness and coherence. But until we’ve managed to circumscribe all truth into one coherent whole, I think it’s alright to tolerate a bit of messiness. That’s just pragmatically acknowledging that we don’t know everything yet, that the final answers aren’t in. A coherent over-arching structure is an ideal to work towards. And that is exactly appealed to me in Margaret’s work. Not just a few doctrinal gems we could snuggle up with, but a comprehensive over-arching structure that explained a great deal with respect to a key question: Why is does the Book of Mormon seem too Christian before Christ? It is because Joseph didn’t know enough, or that we know too little?

    I’ve published a number of things that did not agree with the commonly held Mormon view of things, and I’ve had my own thoughts changed by scholars (LDS and not) who offered attractive alternatives to commonly held LDS views. (Mark Ashurst-McGee, Brant Gardner, John Sorenson, Blake Ostler, Kevin Barney, Daniel Peterson, Alyson Von Feldt, Hugh Nibley, John Welch, etc.) So I don’t think that all I am doing is picking what fits what I already thought. It certainly doesn’t feel that way in my head when I run across something as mind-expanding as, say, Daniel Peterson’s “Nephi and His Asherah” or Brant Gardner’s “A Social History of the Early Nephites” or Margaret’s “Hezekiah’s Boil.” It that kind of experience that motivates me to keep reading.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  13. #12 – Wonderful comment, Kevin.

  14. As far as I can tell, it was Keith Norman who first suggested that “Second Isaiah” may be a redaction of earlier texts.

    I did a really brief search and a surprising number of non-Mormons have talked about this. Obviously not in an LDS context and certainly not in the Book of Mormon context. But it seems that many people consider the possibility that Second Isaiah is a late composition from earlier texts. This isn’t just the idea of Cyrus material being added or reworked but considerable stratification.

  15. BTW – I noticed this post in the latest Biblical studies carnival. It’s on intertextuality but is quite relevant to the above discussion.

  16. I only meant in an LDS context regarding the Second Isaiah issue in the BofM Clark, sorry for not being clearer.


  17. Like it or not, the cafeteria exists, the marketplace of ideas is out there.

    These two metaphors tend to be used in two rather different ways. The “marketplace” usually implies the unfettered association of ideas, where the best ideas are the ones that gain the largest market share, and the bad ideas cannot compete and are put out of business. The “cafeteria” usually implies that one can mix-and-match, or pick and choose what suits them. If I don’t like eating peas, I skip over them. This analogy is usually employed to demonstrate that different people have different tastes, and no food is necessarily better than any other.

    While both these analogies are flawed (as most, if not all, analogies are), they are in conflict at a fundamental level–the cafeteria analogy implies a stronger sense of relativism than the marketplace analogy does. If “good food” or “valid arguments” are a matter of choice, then there really is no “invisible hand” guiding the market. In other words, if we can pick and choose valid positions based on their conclusions rather than the persuasiveness of their line of reasoning leading to their conclusions, then there really is no such thing as “validity”.

    I assume that you agree with this, although I cannot help but arrive at this point based on your statement in the main body of this post. Your #12 I think begins to clarify this, however, quite frankly I’m not sure how it reconciles with the initial comment. If I understand you correctly, comparing paradigms is a messy business; but does it’s messiness justify choice of hypothesis based on “seeming threat”? And are you meaning to suggest that your paradigm is in fact open to modification because it has been changed by the scholars you list out? If so, wouldn’t that be considered eating from a rather small cross-section of the cafeteria?

  18. Kevin Christensen says:


    It is useful to think through the implications of our metaphors, as you do here. I brought in the marketplace metaphor with Quinn’s Sunstone essay flashing through my mind. I can think some authors who bring in other more judgemental metaphors like “snares of the devil” or “philosophies of men” or “unorthodox” or “modern scholarly consensus.” My intent was merely to highlight that we have choices in a way that does not prematurely value them as good or bad, and to vary the metaphor to include a broader view than the cafeteria implies.

    Regarding the question of choosing based on “conclusions,” or merely a “seeming threat” the implication is that people who do that are ignoring unpleasant truths. On the other hand, my experience with scholarship clearly shows that many who surrender their beliefs in the face of some new fact or prevailing opinion turn out to have done so prematurely. From my perspective, William Russell’s 1982 Sunstone essay questioning the historicity of the Book of Mormon is a very good example of this. It has not dated well. Kuhn points out that committment to a paradigm allows its potentialities to be systematically explored. The corrolary to that is that those lack committment to a paradigm do little to explore it. A good example is McMurrin boasting that he’d never read the Book of Mormon. His attitude was since he’d learned when we was younger than he could remember that you don’t get books from angels, “Why bother?” On this kind issue, there is opposition in all things.

    I’m not saying we should ignore questions. But I do think it’s all right to conciously put them on a back burner and let them simmer for a while. And to watch what happens not just to one particular simmering issue, but to a wide range of them. I think about John Clarke’s presentation at the 2005 Joseph Smith Conference, looking at overall trends toward or away from resolution. His approach is a good example of using a broader perspective. I think his approach shows how we don’t have to ignore questions. It’s alright to decide which questions we can attend to now, and which to give time.

    I’ve often repeated that for paradigm choice Kuhn cites the criteria of accuracy of key predictions, comprehensivness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise. There are no rules for making the choice (hence the charge of relativism), but there are values that constrain us (hence, Kuhn’s defense against the charge). Kuhn observes that this circumstance provides for a distribution of risks that no uniform approach could possibly achieve.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

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