Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: A Literary Analysis (pt. 2)

Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: A Literary Analysis (pt. 2) April 30, 2014

In the previous post exploring the literary use of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, we witnessed that Lehi, the initial prophetic figure in the work, made use of imagery that appears in Isaiah 52:1-2 to inspire his sons to rise up and be leaders.  This Isaianic text became a pivotal religious creed for the Nephite nation.  Nephi instructed his brother Jacob to deliver the inaugural Nephite sermon on this same Deutero-Isaiah passage.  As a result of these two sermons, Isaiah 52:1-2 seems to have served as a type of foundational Nephite declaration of faith.

Continuing an exploration of the use of Deutero-Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, we find that Jesus drew upon this same passage in his sermon in 3 Nephi 30:36-37:

Awake, awake;

    put on thy strength, O Zion;

 Put on thy beautiful garments,

   O Jerusalem, the holy city:

for henceforth

    there shall no more come into thee

              the uncircumcised and the unclean. 

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down,

   O Jerusalem:

 loose thyself from the bands of thy neck,

   O captive daughter of Zion.

In this instance, Jesus seems to use this famous Nephite creed as a rallying cry encouraging the people to rebuild their cities from the dust following the great destructions that occurred at the time of the crucifixion.  Isaiah 52:1-2 serves as a call for these descendants of Lehi to awake spiritually, rise from the dust, and establish a Zion society.  The Nephites responded to this charge to the point that we read “they did build cities again where there had been cities burned (4 Nephi 7),” and that these cities were a Zion society with “all things common among them” so that “there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 3).

Jesus’ words reflect the use of Deutero-Isaiah at the beginning of the Book of Mormon in Lehi and Jacob’s sermons (see the previous post). Yet this use of Isaiah 52:1-2 is not the final attestation of the passage.  It also appears at the conclusion of the work.

Closure is an important matter for any literary work.  It often provides the frame that an audience uses to conceptualize the entire composition.  On the topic of closure, I appreciate the way Grant Hardy has framed Moroni as a “reticent author,” trying to create an appropriate ending for the record of his people.[1]  As a literary character/narrator, Moroni truly faced a formidable challenge.  He was responsible for producing the final frame to this tragic narrative of destruction that would transform this tragedy into a literary work that would inspire audiences to live better, happier lives.

As Hardy notes, Moroni tired several times to conclude the work before finally settling on the conclusion that now appears at the end of the Book of Mormon.  And significantly, when concluding this narrative, Moroni returned to the same text Lehi used to inspire his sons in his farewell sermon; and the same text that marked the beginning of the Nephite nation; and the same text that Jesus himself quoted in his sermon designed to inspire the remnants of that nation to rebuild and establish the type of royal Zion community depicted in Deutero-Isaiah’s vision of restoration.

Moroni drew upon Isaiah 52:1-2:

Awake, and arise from the dust,

      O Jerusalem;

yea, and put on thy beautiful garments,

      O daughter of Zion;

and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever,

     that thou mayest no more be confounded,

     that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee,

          O house of Israel,

  may be fulfilled (Moroni 10:31)

Isaiah 52 is a passage of hope and restoration.  And via this echo from Deutero-Isaiah, Moroni finally found his conclusion.  In Moroni’s refrain, the Deutero-Isaiah imagery seems to reflect the Book of Mormon itself, a royal work that will rise from the dust in order to strengthen the stakes of Zion in direct fulfillment of the covenants God has made with his chosen people Israel.

[1] Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 218-247.

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