So I’m preparing for lesson #9, which is the Isaiah lesson, and doing some of the reading. I come to 2 Nephi 12:16, which reads as follows:
And upon all the ships of the sea,
and upon all the ships of Tarshish
and upon all pleasant pictures.
As I read this verse, I recalled that there is supposed to be some sort of evidence from the Septuagint favoring the first line, which does not appear in KJV Isaiah 2:16, as a restoration of the original text. (There is actually a footnote in the 1981 edition of the BoM to this effect.) I also knew that the argument concerning that LXX evidence was questionable somehow. But I simply could not remember the details. So to refresh my recollection, I re-read Dana M. Pike and David Rolph Seely’s article on this subject from JBMS 14/2 (2005), available here. It’s a great article and I highly recommend it. Basically, years ago Sidney Sperry made the argument that the BoM preserves the original form of text. The MT preserves only lines 2 and 3, the LXX only lines 1 and 3, but the BoM preserves all three (original) lines. (Although Sperry does not use the word, he clearly meant to suggest that the MT and LXX had each lost a line due to haplography caused by the repetitive structure of each line.) The tl;dr of it all is that, pace Sperry, this is not a restoration of the original text; rather, the first line, which does indeed derive (presumably indirectly) from the LXX, is actually just a translation of the same MT Hebrew that gives rise to line 2 (IE the Hebrew word Tarshish was sometimes taken to mean “sea” in Greek texts).
So I get to the end of the article, and I’m thinking, “Great, that all makes sense to me. Now if that line is not restoring the original text, where did it come from?” And the article doesn’t really answer that question. At the end they give three possible approaches, none of which is compelling (as they themselves concede). They then comment:
People who do not accept the authenticity of the Book of Mormon will likely accept the primacy of the synonymous couplet found in the Masoretic Text and Septuagint over the three-line form of 2 Nephi 12:16 and will suggest that Joseph Smith erred or accepted outside influences when he “composed” this verse.
So at the conclusion of the article I was confused. If it was not original, where did that extraneous first line come from? The authors suggest but then reject (in my view, correctly) three possible alternative approaches Mormons might take. They then likewise reject the possibility of any outside influence on the text. So where did the line come from? They simply don’t say, but seem to take it as a given based on faith commitments that those words must have been on the plates. I was quite confused by the conclusion of what was otherwise a terrific article.
So then I went back to re-read the pieces by David Wright and Ronald Huggins that inspired their article in the first place. (I had read all of this material in the past, but I just couldn’t recall the specifics of the arguments, so a re-reading was necessary. I’m getting old.) And both Wright and Huggins suggested that the extraneous first line came from another source that was available to Joseph. Not the LXX directly, since Joseph didn’t read Greek, and probably not even a translation of the LXX, but a secondary source that would have been available to Joseph (and even then perhaps not directly, but as mediated through a minister). The possible sources they mentioned included:
- “vpon all shippes of the see [sea]” from Coverdale’s 1535 translation.
- “V. 16 Tarshish—The ships of the sea, as that word is used” from John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the Old Testament (1765)
- ‘ships of Tarshish’ signify in Scripture any trading or merchant ships. Accordingly, here the Septuagint render the words, ‘ships of the sea,’ as our old English translation does, Psal. xlviii 6 (from William Lowth’s Commentary, 1727 [the “old English translation” mentioned here is Coverdale]. Lowth’s comment was repeated in many pre-1829 editions of Thomas Scott’s The Holy Bible and in Matthew Poole’s Annotations.
- “Ships of Tarshish signify, in scripture, any trading or merchant ships. The Septuagint translation is ‘ships of the sea.'” from John Fawcett’s Devotional Family Bible (1811) [based on Lowth]
- Luther’s German Bible (as mediated through the Whitmers)
- Adam Clarke’s Commentaries.
Now here’s my point. I’m not offended in the least by the suggestion that Joseph picked up this line from some source that was available to him in that time and place. In fact, such a suggestion to me makes more sense than just saying it inexplicably was on the plates or Joseph just happened to divine it somehow.
It’s common today for Saints to take the view that Joseph actually had very little influence on the textual form the BoM took. His role was simply that of a reader; he himself had no input into the text at all. (I call this the “divine teleprompter” theory.) I acknowledge that there is some evidence that seems to point in this direction. That notwithstanding, I continue to hold to the older B.H. Roberts/Blake Ostler view, which holds that Joseph was very much involved in the production of the text. Yes, it was authentically ancient, but as translator he had a role in shaping that translation. And under such a contributive theory of translation, I don’t see it as any problem at all to acknowledge that Joseph picked up that line somewhere and reflected it in the text.
This brings us to the much bigger issue of what passages from Deutero-Isaiah are doing in the BoM, since by scholarly consensus those texts date to a time after Lehi and family left Jerusalem and so would not have been on the Brass Plates. It’s an interesting question, and I’ve never taken the time to try to fully wrap my mind around it (and I still haven’t). In my Documentary Hypothesis article in Dialogue I gave this footnoted introduction to the question, which was my way of simply punting to another day:
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 1, 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. 1 (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 http://mormonscripturestudies.com/ at n. 34. 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.
Someday I would like to explore this issue more deeply. But until that day comes, my working assumption is that Joseph himself added the Deutero-Isaiah material to the text. Which to me seems like an entirely responsible thing to do. Yes, there has been a lot of focus on the authorship of Isaiah. But whoever authored what portions, as a coherent work of scriptural literature it is clearly divided into two parts: the first half focusing on judgment, and the second half focusing on restoration. I think one can make the argument that as a Prophet himself Joseph would have been negligent not to balance the judgment material from Proto-Isaiah with some of the more hopeful restoration material from Deutero-Isaiah.
Because I accept Joseph as a Prophet, I’m not bothered by the possibility that he played more of a role in shaping the text than that of simply being a reader to a scribe. If our people can somehow get acclimated to such a possibility, that may be the best path forward to making sense of the presence of the Isaiah texts in the Book of Mormon.
 Dave is an old friend of mine from when we (and Todd Compton, among others) studied classics together at BYU in the early 80s. A scholar and a gentleman he.
 That the LXX used a singular “every ship” but the BoM plural “ships” matches the putative English sources is a significant argument favoring English source influence.