Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book of Mormon Sources and Abridgment and iPhones. What does Helaman or even "Deutero-Isaiah" Show?

We take up the Book of Helaman and, starting with its ancient title page, see in the very last line: "the record of Helaman and his sons, even down to the coming of Christ, which is called the book of Helaman, etc." (The 1830 edition shows an ampersand; in today's edition we see "and so forth.") The Book of Helaman, and so forth? The very last verse of the work significantly answers, in ring composition, to the end of that title page: "And thus ended the book of Helaman, according to the record of Helaman and his sons."

There's still more to that et cetera: Helaman, and so forth, is not only full of Mormon's summarizing comments, it is a "book" "according to the records of Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, and also according to the records of his sons, even down to the coming of Christ--wonderfully down to Christmas! (The last phrase is part of the ancient title, and states the thesis of the whole: the Christ is coming.) Helaman was the governor and Chief Judge of the Nephites. Who were his sons? Nephi and Lehi. Nephi clearly wrote, but here we learn that Lehi likewise kept his records and that either Nephi or Mormon added what Lehi wrote to his father's book. All this detail comes from the short but labored and repetitious--and marvelously informative--title page. Such headings and subheadings found in the various books that are easy to overlook: Helaman, for instance, includes two ancient subheadings introducing both the prophecies of Nephi and those of Samuel.



And note how the pairing of Nephi and Lehi and that of Nephi and Samuel (in the divisions of the Book of Helaman, son of Helaman), matches the book's pairing of such ancient prophets as Zenos and Zenock, Ezaias and Isaiah (Nephi and Jacob, Mosiah and Abinadi, Alma and Amulek). Ezaias and Isaiah? What's that all about? What we see is clearly the name Yesha'yahu given in two forms as a simple matter of differentiation; in other words, we see Isaiah and Isaiah, which answers--does it not?--to First and Second (Deutero-) Isaiah, both of which were seemingly and surprisingly available to the Nephites. Might not these Isaiahs, both prophets, have also been father and son? and perhaps also prophet and prophetic editor? When we consider the prophetic naming of Helaman's two sons (in Helaman 5), we should also bear in mind how two of Isaiah's sons, Shear-Jashub, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, bear names of sign and prophecy. Shear-Jashub refers to the Return, which is the burden of the second half of the book, or the "Second" Isaiah. "The Book of Isaiah the prophet, and so forth."

That's one way to look at things, a rather unitary way, and it's very much in line with what Hugh Nibley says in Since Cumorah: "If others than Isaiah wrote about half the words in the book, why do we not know their names? The answer is, because of the way is which they worked. They were (as it is now explained) Isaiah's own disciples or students," sons, grandsons, and so forth. "If anything," says Nibley, "the Book of Mormon attests the busy reshuffling and reediting of separate pages of sacred writings that often go under the name of a single prophet."

The form of the name Ezaias, Ezias, Esaias, etc., in Greek, English, or whatever linguistic cast or spelling we may choose to present, functions merely as a semiotic pointer--this Isaiah, not that. Each is absolutely swallowed up in the other anyhow, etc. One of the Nephite chosen Twelve bears the name Isaiah. Doctrine and Covenants 84 tells of yet another Isaiah, in this case semiotically, and thus simply, differentiated as Esaias, who "lived in the days of Abraham." Again, when Doctrine and Covenants 76 addresses all professing partisans, including "some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah," it helps to read the words as being a critique not only of an undue--even a nitpicking--sectarian devotion to a particular prophet or gospel dispensation or book of scripture or even spelling of a name, but also as a critique of overzealous devotion to some kinds of higher criticism: these are the true words of Isaiah, these not; this is genuine Peter, this not; Romans is Pauline, 2nd Timothy not; John is Johannine, the Revelation not; Nephi quotes Deutero-Isaiah and is therefore in error, Joseph Smith mistakenly refers to Elias as other than Elijah, etc. In other words, some are partisans of such-and-such a theory; some of another. As disciples progress toward sainthood, we shed the partisan line, however learned it may seem, however we may have learned it, and no matter how much we have been draped in "all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto." And let's stop boasting about knowledge of biblical languages, as if some kind of badge of supremacy. By the way, Brother Joseph's differentiation of Elias and Elijah is another instance of a metalinguistic and semiological indicator of difference for two men having the same name, Eliyahu, but different roles to play. How many stumble, or parade, over such matters!

The occurrence of the unusual--and the pairing of Ezaias and Isaiah is unprecedented--signals that the Book of Mormon has something to tell us. When the Doctrine and Covenants chimes in, it's time to perk up our ears.

The Book of Mormon (that is, ensconced Helaman) thus resolves, with deft plainness, a weighty and long-standing difficulty about quotations from what many consider a Deutero-Isaiah. Helaman's ampersand-plus-c(etera) and the side-by-side naming of two Isaiahs in both Helaman 8:20 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:100 together provide us with sufficient answer for those who dispute one Isaian chapter or another making an appearance in the Book of Mormon. As for a pre-exilic Deutero-Isaiah in Father Lehi's hands, consider the chapters his son Nephi includes in his own double book, and what he leaves out--then get over it. Nephi left Jerusalem with a unitary copy of Isaiah, etc. It's as simple as that. (Nephi includes Isaiah 48-49 in his own first book; Isaiah 2-14, and then 29, in his second book; Isaiah 50-52, 55, in Nephi's brother Jacob's record, again in Nephi's second book. Mosiah and a Third Nephi (Trito-Nephi) include Isaiah 52-54.)

The later 20th Century scholarship confirms, says Hugh Nibley, how "the peculiar practices employed in the transmission of inspired writings in the Book of Mormon, as well as the theory and purpose behind those practices, are the very ones that prevailed in Palestine at the time Lehi lived there." Indeed: "We have come across a great tradition of prophetic unity that made it possible for inspired men in every age to translate, abridge, expand, explain, and update the writings of their predecessors without changing a particle of the intended meaning or in any way jeopardizing the earlier rights to authorship. Isaiah remains [one Isaiah], no matter how many prophets repeat his words or how many other prophets he is repeating. The Book of Mormon explains how this can be so, and its explanations would seem to be the solution to the Isaiah problem toward which the scholars are at present moving" (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah). When Brother Nibley further cites Hans Wildberger about how Isaiah and Micah, in prophesying of the Mountain of the Lord's House, the Salt Lake Temple, may be quoting from "archaic ritual texts" (or a single ancient text?) might not the Book of Helaman also afford a solution to the "problem toward which scholars are at present moving?" Could that archaic source perhaps be Helaman's Ezaias? or yet another of the name?

That's the sort of thing for which readers should forever be on the lookout, for the Book of Mormon continually invites our awareness as it awakens and enlarges our memories. Just so, the Brass Plates, a supersized and up-to-date Library of Hebrew Scripture in Lehi's hands, once served "to enlarge" "the memory of [his] people" (see Alma 37).



As Professor James Sanders would tell his students: 'Scripture is full of itself''--consciously so. It's kaleidoscopic, with built-in intertextuality that serves a crucial purpose. If otherwise, "it were not possible," as Benjamin tells his sons of Lehi, that he [or we] could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children" (Mosiah 1:4). I'd add that "Scripture is also full of the latest world report and abounding in politics"--a BBC of sorts. (I'm thinking of the well-informed Prophets here--they were Prophets to the World.)

The wee but rich Book of Helaman, compressing 51 years into 38 columned pages, cites as vital sources and guiding points of reference: Amulek, Zeezrom, Alma, Nephi, Lehi, Joshua, Zenock, Zenos, Ezaias, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Abraham, Lady Wisdom, Ether, Moses--and Messiah. Hugh Nibley, who labeled Helaman "the Book of Crimes," while also calling it the most spiritually charged book in the entire collection, further noted surprising correspondences between Helaman and the apocryphal Enoch literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. He filled the margins of his own copy with such references.

All that's not going to make for a once-over or easy reading. Helaman's going to require effort, its going to require checking the footnotes and reviewing other stories, so turn the TV off. Yet take away the words and deeds of these prophets, and the authorial expectation that the reader will know what he is referring to--the Red Sea, the Brazen Serpent, Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal, imprisoned Jeremiah--and the message of Helaman falls flat. We'll need Bible literacy to understand the Book of Mormon. On the other hand--so turn the tube back on--too much quoting from these prophets, and Helaman's own delicate narrative line would be lost. So when we speak of Mormon and abridgment, much of his work had to do with pruning citation, and ever more quotes and citation.

We only get the thousandth part of citation and of story, or something like that, for a hundreth part," of these and many other matters, "cannot be contained in this work [the entire abridgment of the plates of Nephi]" (Helaman 3:14). Editing Mormon, who ultimately has access to "many books and many records of every kind" (v.15), including "many records," "which are particular and very large" (v.13) gives us a list of the 99%: wars, contentions, dissensions, preaching, prophecies, shipping, building of ships, building of temples, building of synagogues, sanctuaries, righteousness, wickedness, murders, robbings, plundering, abominations, whoredoms. The shipping and craftsmanship intrigues the acolyte of Rick Steves, but you'd want to avoid interacting with the tense, preachy, even violent, locals. Note how righteousness is hopelessly outnumbered: 1 to 6; note the ceaseless building, the restless troublers of civility.) Mormon still cannot help but include in his abridgment of Helaman's record, what Mormons today might paradoxically call an "Omni-sized" but endlessly compelling note about far-reaching explorations into lovely, long since abandoned but yet timberless lands of lakes and rivers, the consequent building of houses, temples, synagogues, sanctuaries, and "all manner of their buildings" with cement, and the necessary shipping of timber. The description reminds us of Chaco Grande's timber-consuming construction--an ecological disaster. (Hugh Nibley would mull over this verse.)


To get a feel for Mormon as condenser, pick up a library copy of Ibn Ishaq, the first editor-biographer of the Prophet Muhammad, then scroll through a version online. The unabridged copy in the library, which stuns us with its prolixity, being "particular and very large," preserves the sourcing. It gives each particular isnad, or connecting chain tracing who reported what to whom, etc., while the online version frees the casual reader of that ponderous chain of reference. What readers have, thanks to prophetic and judicious pruning, may be called the online Book of Mormon. It's all preset for ready reading on iPads and iPhones, and during TV commercials. . .
(For the uses of abridgment in packaging literary works for the media, ponder the following: http://grammarist.com/spelling/abridgment-and-abridgement/ .)

So find a chair--you'll need one--link to Helaman 1, and safely turn it over to your favorite news channel: politics and political theater, campaigns, disputed elections, accusations, curtailment of freedom of speech, growing skepticism, detection, elitism, corruption, collusion, gangs, crimes, assassinations, intense famines, ecological disasters, financial collapses, surprise attacks on urban centers, and ordinary people "visited with terror"--everything you get when the shield of protection slips from an America of favor and promise (see President Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, April 2004; Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report October 2001). Such applies equally well to Venezuela or to the United States.

Keeping up with Helaman? You'll need a 24/7 cable news network.





Notes

Though I know no instance of it in print, likely others, perhaps even many other readers have noted the possibility of an Ezaias/Isaiah authorship or dual editorship of what we call the Book of Isaiah. My own thoughts on such a relationship, with the one prophet's name, identity, and book completely enveloped in the other's, simply derives from reading and thinking about Helaman 8 yesterday and today--30 June 2017, yet the idea builds on what Hugh Nibley presents in Since Cumorah, ideas I've mulled over since the age of 10 or 11. The Scriptures of the Restoration give us so many prophetic doubles, double books, "and so forth's." There are so many possibilities in the Holy Scriptures. The Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament all know but one Isaiah. The Book of Mormon, that great Scripture of the Restoration, with Ezaias and Isaiah, like Urim and Thummim, a double-Isaiah, or Isaian figure, likely father and son. It's moments like these in which Scripture enlarges our memory.

As a child, I often read from George Reynolds's Dictionary of the Book of Mormon, which describes Ezias (or Ezaias) as "An ancient Hebrew prophet, referred to by Nephi." Exactly! Because there are multiple kings and prophets in the Book of Mormon who are named Nephi, even Zenephi (Egyptian for "son of Nephi," z3-nb-hy), one particular Nephi might have talked about one Ezaias, another about another; one Isaiah may have spoken about a particular Nephi, an Esaias of another--and so forth.


I will add that I accept without question that Isaiah's prophecy addressed to Cyrus by name came by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation and was recorded long before the great Cosmocrator appeared on the scene. Here is one of the great moments of prophecy in the history of the world. It is God who appoints a Cosmocrator--Cyrus himself recognized that (see the Cyrus Cylinder). As the Coffin Texts state: God knows every name.
See the various forms of the Ezaias name in the helpful: https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/EZIAS


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.