I used to think, “I wonder why Nephi takes the time and space to record all those chapters of Isaiah when he already saw that the future peoples would have the Bible? And his own people have the brass plates, which is where he’s getting those chapters from anyway.” I’ve answered that in the past by thinking that maybe having them right in his record meant he was able to explain them and emphasize them. Then this round through the scriptures with one of my kids, we thought, “Nephi saw the future in vision, and he saw that the Bible would be changed and covenants and plain things removed, so maybe he finds it very important to write down all these chapters of Isaiah because he doesn’t know if they’ll still be in the collection of scripture by the time the Book of Mormon is translated!” Fortunately, it was, but I guess Nephi might not have known that.
Can you imagine if it hadn’t been, and here we were getting chapter after chapter of some forgotten prophet? I’m grateful Nephi cared that much about Isaiah to record all of those chapters for us. And I’m anxious to see Joe’s book on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon finished and published and read!
1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.
I have understood for some time that Joseph clearly and unworrisomely added the words “or out of the waters of baptism.” The early documents are all there and clear that it was added in 1840. That doesn’t bother me at all that he did that — he was a prophet too! — but the question is: Why?
The original sense of the verse seems to me to be to narrow House of Jacob, name of Israel, to those specifically of Judah. But why “waters”? I did a little research and it’s possible to read this as “loins.” So the idea would be those literally descended from Judah. But since through Nephi’s eyes, Isaiah has a lot to say to the remnant of Joseph as an important redeemer of the whole house of Israel.
So that makes me rethink this idea of water and baptism. At baptism you receive a new name. In our case, we take on ourselves the name of Christ. I am wondering if it is possible to think that by the time that Isaiah is writing these words, anyone who has been baptized (not that I know even a smiggin of what that meant in the Biblical world) was then considered part of Judah. By the time that the Northern Kingdom had been scattered, was anyone still associated with the covenant, the prophets, the temple, and so forth, considered Judah? Something like those in the Book of Mormon being grouped into “Nephites” and “Lamanites” even though they weren’t all literally Nephi’s or Laman’s descendants. Whether or not Isaiah meant that, it seems to me to be the sense of what Joseph Smith is saying. There is something that has caused them to be called Judah when they weren’t all originally Judah. The entire House of Israel has been reduced to Judah, but not because that is all that remains; those that remain have been renamed, or baptized, as part of Judah. Thus we get the idea that there are only “Jews and Gentiles” and the word “Jews” remains today as the only real group the world associates with the Old Testament. The rest of Israel has been either “lost” or simply “dissolved” into Judah.
I think Nephi would have understood this verse in this sort of way, even if he didn’t need to think of it in terms of baptism. And whether or not baptism has anything to do with it, Joseph’s addition made me rethink this verse in terms of names, titles, rituals, etc. rather than literal descent.
I want to give Laman and Lemuel the benefit of the doubt as I read through 1 Nephi. But then I go and read Isaiah and he is so clear that there will be destruction and scattering and then a restoration. He is so clear: how could you miss it?
That makes me wonder how much access everyone had to scripture. Lehi apparently didn’t know exactly what would be on the brass plates until he got them. Had he ever touched them before? Were they only read out loud to the people, and if so, how much of it? Who decides what to read? My brain has images of scrolls being read in synagogues. Could everyone copy passages on to scrolls or was that a priest’s job? I know so little! I have conatations but those are probably all from Church videos in seminary so that’s probably not a great source for information! 🙂 I should do some research on that.
At any rate, I can see why Nephi wants to read Isaiah over and over and over again to his brothers. And, I see part of his task in his book to convince us, the future readers, that Isaiah was right that there would be a destruction but also a return. We are sort of like Laman and Lemuel (we, as in, the general modern population of the world). We can believe Jerusalem was destroyed because we know from historical documents and artifacts that there was indeed a time where Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon. Laman and Lemuel knew that the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed, just as Isaiah had said. But, we modern readers (like Laman and Lemuel) won’t necessarily believe the prophet about the future. Even if a modern reader has the Bible and believes it, it has been reinterpreted so that the covenants to Abraham have been obscured (as Nephi points out). Isaiah has been reused as only or mainly prophesying of Christ’s life, and perhaps some ending final battle that sounds really exciting and scary. But the work of the covenant to Israel, the gathering in, the peaceful yielding up of weapons, the recognition by the nations that the truth lies with Israel; that’s not the part that is held on to and looked forward to. I think Nephi has a big job to convince us future readers — Gentiles! — that Isaiah’s prophecies of the covenant are going to be fulfilled literally.
Sp Nephi has a similar task with us that he did with his brothers: convincing us that Isaiah is clear, very very clear, about a future restoration of the House of Israel.
I have been rereading 1st Nephi over this past month and I feel like I’ve understood it much, much better than I ever have before. I guess over the past few years of talking with Joe about Israel, the Abrahamic Covenant, Nephi’s work on Isaiah, etc., all prepped me for a very different experience. As I read it this time, for whatever reason I really zoomed in on how the characters in the story are trying to figure out how to understand the Abrahamic Covenant themselves. It’s not just that we latter-day Saints are supposed to think about it and pick up on little details for our own private understanding, but rather that even Nephi was trying to understand it and how to teach it to Laman and Lemuel. And for good reason: prophets were coming to say that Jerusalem would be destroyed. How could God destroy the city, the home, of his covenant people? You can see why so many people didn’t believe Lehi, Jeremiah, and whoever else was prophesying at the time. This seemed to go against the covenant they had with God.
So Lehi, Nephi, and others have to learn to re-interpret the covenant with Israel. This happened through visions, like Lehi’s, and then when they got the brass plates, they found prophets had explained the covenant in ways that could help them grapple with what was going on. Nephi also receives his vision which gives a grand sweeping historical understanding of how the covenant to Israel will play out, at least from the perspective of one branch of Israel. (Not just for that branch, because it includes roles for those all over the world, including Gentile, lost tribes, and Jews!) Nephi reads Isaiah to his brothers over and over again, and this time I went in with this question: how does this help Laman and Lemuel understand their place in the covenant to Israel?
This makes me want to encourage Joe to write a book titled “Nephi’s Prophecy and the Book of Isaiah.” He’s already working on one Isaiah book for a non-Mormon, academic press. I know he’s busy but I would love to see this book written. He told me I should go ahead. 🙂 (haha.)
I feel like writing more than I have for a few years so I might put together my own thoughts post-by-post, just to get them permanently saved somewhere. I think it’s a very helpful way to look at 1st Nephi, myself. I’d love to see others write up a book about it, but I don’t mind sharing my own thoughts in the meanwhile!
It’s fun to look at scriptures.lds.org page for 2 Nephi, with all of the headings (original and added) all in a row. It gives a sense of what the message of the book is and how the different parts build on each other.
For example, if Nephi is concerned with making the Abrahamic Covenant known to his descendants, and he does this by quoting Isaiah, then it’s helpful to see, even at a glance, what themes and topics Isaiah talks about.
I get the idea that a gathering and a restoring of Israel is primary here. But how is that accomplished? That’s the sort of question I have in mind. (That I’m only starting to think about.)
On a related note, it was helpful to see the sermon of Jacob summarized chapter by chapter. He reads Isaiah, then talks about atonement/resurrection, and then back to the Jews relationship to Christ and the fulfillment of the Covenant. Why detour to the atonement in chapter 9? Or rather, I should probably realize it’s not a detour at all and crucial to his conversation about the Abrahamic Covenant.
Again, just leads in my short study time this morning, but at it’s fun to even see a few leads.