Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2 Nephi 19:1 and the Red Sea

Some students have tried to explain why Nephi’s version of Isaiah 9:1 contains an error. Isaiah 9:1-2 reads “and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” 2 Nephi 19:1 has “and afterwards did more grievously afflict by the way of the Red Sea beyond Jordan in Galilee of the nations.” The Prophet Joseph's New Translation of Isaiah 9:1-2, OT Manuscript 2, shows the same reading: "red sea."

Red Sea makes no sense when the sea in question is Galilee. But Isaiah 9 is not a geography lesson: Scripture teaches its readers about God’s dealings with humankind. Those dealings here unfold as light (miraculous deliverance) to those that walked in darkness (Egypt), and Light (the Messiah) to those who will walk in Judean apostasy. The first reading comes through in the Aramaic version (or Targum) of Isaiah 9:1: “I shall cause them to remember the mighty wonders of the Red Sea, the miracles at the Jordan.”

Some, taking up Mormon’s disclaimer about errors, have too quickly labeled Red Sea a mistake, yet it is precisely where such “errors” occur that Joseph Smith is right on the money.


Notes: For the text of the Isaiah Targum, see the online textual databases found with the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (or CAL), housed at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio. Another source for the targum is Alexander Sperber, The Bible in Aramaic III: The Latter Prophets according to Targum Jonathan (1962). For a summary of Mormon scholarship on the Red Sea in 2 Nephi 19:1, see Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon II, 731-3, and Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon II, 265-7.

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