Wordplay, “Intertextuality,” Archaisms, and Other Book of Mormon Subtleties

Wordplay, “Intertextuality,” Archaisms, and Other Book of Mormon Subtleties April 16, 2021


HC Pageant 2011
Nephi’s vision, as it was depicted at the 2011 Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)




Two new items appeared today in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.  The first is by Matthew L. Bowen, while the second is by Jeffrey Thayne:


““The Messiah Will Set Himself Again”: Jacob’s Use of Isaiah 11:11 in 2 Nephi 6:14 and Jacob 6:2”

Abstract: In sermons and writings, Jacob twice quotes the prophecy of Isaiah 11:11 (“the Lord [ʾădōnāy] shall set his hand again [yôsîp] the second time to gather the remnant of his people”). In 2 Nephi 6:14 and Jacob 6:2, Jacob uses Isaiah 11:11 as a lens through which he interprets much lengthier prophetic texts that detail the restoration, redemption, and gathering of Israel: namely, Isaiah 49:22–52:2 and Zenos’s Allegory of the Olive Trees (Jacob 5). In using Isaiah 11:11 in 2 Nephi 6:14, Jacob, consistent with the teaching of his father Lehi (2 Nephi 2:6), identifies ʾădōnāy (“the Lord”) in Isaiah 11:11 as “the Messiah” and the one who will “set himself again the second time to recover” his people (both Israel and the righteous Gentiles who “believe in him”) and “manifest himself unto them in great glory.” This recovery and restoration will be so thoroughgoing as to include the resurrection of the dead (see 2 Nephi 9:1–2, 12–13). In Jacob 6:2, Jacob equates the image of the Lord “set[ting] his hand again [yôsîp] the second time to recover his people” (Isaiah 11:11) to the Lord of the vineyard’s “labor[ing] in” and “nourish[ing] again” the vineyard to “bring forth again” (cf. Hebrew yôsîp) the natural fruit (Jacob 5:29–33, 51–77) into the vineyard. All of this suggests that Jacob saw Isaiah 49:22–52:2 and Zenos’s allegory (Jacob 5) as telling essentially the same story. For Jacob, the prophetic declaration of Isaiah 11:11 concisely summed up this story, describing divine initiative and iterative action to “recover” or gather Israel in terms of the verb yôsîp. Jacob, foresaw this the divine action as being accomplished through the “servant” and “servants” in Isaiah 49–52, “servants” analogous to those described by Zenos in his allegory. For Jacob, the idiomatic use of yôsîp in Isaiah 11:11 as he quotes it in 2 Nephi 6:14 and Jacob 6:2 and as repeated throughout Zenos’s allegory (Jacob 5) reinforces the patriarch Joseph’s statement preserved in 2 Nephi 3 that this figure would be a “Joseph” (yôsēp).


“Understanding Covenants Anew: Using Ancient Thought to Enrich Modern Faith”

Review of Jennifer C. Lane, Finding Christ in the Covenant Path: Ancient Insights for Modern Life (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University / Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020). 188 pages. Hardcover, $29.99.

Abstract: In the first half of her book, Lane takes us on a tour of ancient worlds by introducing us to ancient words, such as bĕrît (covenant), gā’al (redemption), pānîm (presence of the Lord), and so forth, while deftly weaving linguistic and historical insights with personal narratives that ground these insights in the practical affairs of day-to-day living. In the second half of the book, Lane takes us on a tour of medieval art and images, centering on how art has been used to portray the Savior and His mission. Throughout the entire book, Lane centers the attention of the reader on Christ, inviting us to take upon ourselves His image and likeness and to more fully appreciate the images crafted of Him by artists of prior centuries.




And here, in case you missed them or have forgotten about them or want to think about them again, are some links to articles from a previous issue of Interpreter:


Stanford Carmack, “The Case of the {-th} Plural in the Earliest Text”

Abstract: The earliest text of the Book of Mormon employs the {-th} plural — for example, “Nephi’s brethren rebelleth” — in a way that is substantially similar to what is found in many writings of the Early Modern period. The earliest text neither underuses nor overuses the construction, and it manifests inflectional variation and differential usage rates typical of Early Modern English. The totality of the evidence tells us that the Book of Mormon is most reasonably classified as a 16th- or 17th-century text, not as a 19th-century text full of biblical hypercorrections.

Editor’s note: Because of the complex typesetting of this article, the rest of it has not been reproduced on this webpage. The reader is referred to the PDF version to view the entire article.


Stanford Carmack, “The Case of Plural Was in the Earliest Text”

Abstract: Because it is primarily an Early Modern English text (in terms of its English language), the earliest text of the Book of Mormon understandably employs plural was — for example, “the words which was delivered” (Alma 5:11). It does so in a way that is substantially similar to what is found in many writings of the Early Modern period ­— that is, it manifests the syntactic usage, variation, and differential rates typical of that era.

Editor’s note: Because of the complex typesetting of this article, the rest of it has not been reproduced on this webpage. The reader is referred to the PDF version to view the entire article.


Kevin L. Tolley, “To “See and Hear””


Quinten Barney, “Samuel the Lamanite, Christ, and Zenos: A Study of Intertextuality”

Abstract: During Christ’s mortal ministry at Jerusalem, his teachings often drew upon the writings of Isaiah, Moses, and other prophets with whom his audience was familiar. On the other hand, Christ never seems to quote Nephi, Mosiah, or other Book of Mormon prophets to the Jews and their surrounding neighbors, despite being the ultimate source for their inspired writings. It is because of this apparent confinement to Old Testament sources that intertextual parallels between the words of Christ in Matthew 23–24 and the words of Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 13–15 jump out as intriguing. This paper explores the intertextual relationship between these chapters in Helaman and Matthew and suggests that the parallels between these texts can be attributed to a common source available to both Samuel and Christ, the writings of the prophet Zenos.


Jeff Lindsay, “The Yoke of Christ: A Light Burden Heavy With Meaning”

Abstract: Christ’s famous call to take his yoke upon us in Matthew 11 may merit more analysis than it has commonly received. Taking up the yoke may have connections to other things that are taken upon us as well, including the name of Christ, temple covenants, priestly robes, and sacred anointing. These all reflect a relationship of obedience and service to the Master, who set the example by taking the heaviest yoke of all upon him, including the yoke-like beam of the cross that he carried to Golgotha and the full weight of human sin and misery as he suffered for us. Our yoke is easy, and the burden of the cross we are called to take up (Matthew 16:24; 3 Nephi 12:30) is light indeed relative to what he bore or to bearing the weight of our own sins. However, his call, while rooted in grace, implies actual effort and work, not belief alone. It is a call for faithful service, linked to him in sacred covenants most fully expressed in the sacred temple. A review of ancient scripture, early Christian writing, some Jewish perspectives, and modern revelation gives us insights into the richness of meaning that may be associated with taking upon us the yoke of Christ and entering into his rest.


Stan Spencer, “The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9”

Abstract: Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 is conventionally interpreted as the Lord’s description of the method by which the Book of Mormon was translated. A close reading of the entire revelation, however, suggests that the Lord was not telling Oliver Cowdery how to translate but rather how to know whether it was right for him to translate and how to obtain the faith necessary to do so. Faith would have enabled Oliver Cowdery to overcome his fear and translate, just as it would have enabled Peter (in Matthew 14) to overcome his fear and walk on water.


Matthew L. Bowen, ““They Were Moved with Compassion” (Alma 27:4; 53:13): Toponymic Wordplay on Zarahemla and Jershon

Abstract: As in Hebrew biblical narrative, wordplay on (or play on the meaning of) toponyms, or “place names,” is a discernable feature of Book of Mormon narrative. The text repeatedly juxtaposes the toponym Jershon (“place of inheritance” or “place of possession”) with terms inheritinheritance, possess, possession, etc. Similarly, the Mulekite personal name Zarahemla (“seed of compassion,” “seed of pity”), which becomes the paramount Nephite toponym as their national capital after the time of Mosiah I, is juxtaposed with the term compassion. Both wordplays occur and recur at crucial points in Nephite/Lamanite history. Moreover, both occur in connection with the migration of the first generation Lamanite converts. The Jershon wordplay recurs in the second generation, when the people of Ammon receive the Zoramite (re)converts into the land of Jershon, and wordplay on Zarahemla recurs subsequently, when the sons of these Lamanite converts come to the rescue of the Nephite nation. Rhetorical wordplay on Zarahemla also surfaces in important speeches later in the Book of Mormon.


Matthew L. Bowen, “Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon”

Abstract: The Book of Mormon contains several quotations from the Hebrew Bible that have been juxtaposed on the basis of shared words or phrases, this for the purpose of interpreting the cited scriptural passages in light of one another. This exegetical technique — one that Jesus himself used — came to be known in later rabbinic times as Gezera Shawa (“equal statute”). In several additional instances, the use of Gezera Shawa converges with onomastic wordplay. Nephi uses a Gezera Shawa involving Isaiah 11:11 and Isaiah 29:14 twice on the basis of the yāsap verb forms yôsîp/yôsīp (2 Nephi 25:17 and quoting the Lord in 2 Nephi 29:1) to create a stunning wordplay on the name “Joseph.” In another instance, King Benjamin uses Gezera Shawa involving Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Deuteronomy 14:1 (1–2) on the basis of the Hebrew noun bēn (“son”; plural bānîm, bānôt, “sons” and “daughters”) on which to build a rhetorical wordplay on his own name. This second wordplay, which further alludes to Psalm 110:1 on account of the noun yāmin (“right hand”), was ready-made for his temple audience who, on the occasion of Mosiah’s coronation, were receiving their own “endowment” to become “sons” and “daughters” at God’s “right hand.” The use of Gezera Shawa was often christological — e.g., Jacob’s Gezera Shawa on (“stone”) in Jacob 4:15–17 and Alma’s Gezera Shawa on Zenos’s and Zenock’s phrase “because of thy Son” in Alma 33:11–16 (see Alma 33:4 17). Taken together, these examples suggest that we should pay more attention to scripture’s use of scripture and, in particular, the use of this exegetical practice. In doing so, we will better discern the messages intended by ancient prophets whose words the Book of Mormon preserves.


Posted from Park City, Utah



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