My picture, from the Kidron Valley.
Yes, everyone’s favorite book is upon us. I’m not sure there’s any sarcasm there; I know lots of Mormons who love Isaiah, and even have an uncle who memorized the entire book (in the KJV.) The next 5 Gospel Doctrine lessons cover Isaiah, so I wanted to plug a few things.
Of all the books, Isaiah benefits most from both deep connections to the spirit and being able to read in context. I don’t talk much about the former, it’s not really quantifiable, and I’m instinctively distrustful of people who claim personal revelation for their idiosyncratic understandings of Isaiah. That seems to be wielding personal revelation like some kind of manipulative “trust me and buy what I’m selling” tool. So, a focus on the latter.
If you haven’t yet, my Sperry paper on reading the OT in context might be helpful, get yourself a second Bible translation, and then get informed about why it’s different from your KJV.
The Maxwell Institute has a book entirely free called Visualizing Isaiah, which illustrates the material culture, geography, history, and so on.
I think Joseph Spencer at BYU is doing great work on bringing Isaiah to a lay level right now. Check out his book, his recent LDS Living piece, and his recent podcast with LDS Perspectives.
Note that his book is focused on Isaiah as seen through Nephi’s eyes, which is not quite the same as reading Isaiah through Isaiah’s eyes. Nephi bluntly tells us in the former Scripture Mastery passage of 1 Nephi 19:23 that he’s not providing a literal, contextual reading of Isaiah as much as adapting it to the spiritual needs of his own people.
That Nephi is not telling us what Isaiah “really meant” shouldn’t be a surprise.
Nephi “gave, not a literal, but an inspired and interpreting translation. And in many instances his words give either a new or greatly expanded meaningto the original prophetic word.” “Keys to Understanding the Bible” in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, ed. Mark L. McConkie, 290-291.
Nephi is doing what all practical interpreters and preachers must do, namely
make the past relevant to the present —to find some practical lesson in ancient history, or to reinterpret an ancient law in such a way as to have it apply to present-day situations, sometimes at the price of completely distorting the text’s original meaning.”-Eerdman’s Dictionary of Early Judaism, “Biblical Interpretation.”
I don’t think Nephi “distorts it completely” but it’s a twist, certainly. (See this paper and this summary for what he and Jacob may be doing with Isaiah.)
So although Spencer’s book talks about Isaiah through Nephi’s eyes, it’s still useful.
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