“Hearken and Hear This, O House of Jacob”

Brant Gardner

Isaiah’s tone is confrontive. He contrasts this covenant people’s current behavior with what they should be doing. They “swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.” In other words, they are uttering the proper words but without conviction. They may claim their rights by lineage, but not by righteous merit.

Text: 1 Nephi 20 corresponds to Isaiah 48. Isaiah says that his audience is the descendants of Jacob. He then places that lineal designator in the context of the covenantal name Israel. Israel was also the name for the northern kingdom about which Isaiah has so much to say. Perhaps this is some evidence of the hypothetical late redaction of Isaiah I suggested in the “Excursus: Textual/Higher Criticism and Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (following 1 Nephi 19), Isaiah would have prophesied about Israel, but the later redactor recontextualized the prophecy to the Babylonian exile. Thus, the redactor might have retained the original Israel but been required by the new context to more specifically declare that the prophecy was for Judah.

Variant: Daniel H. Ludlow notes:

The term “or out of the waters of baptism” did not appear in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. It first appeared in the edition of 1840 on page 53, and the sentence in which it appeared was punctuated as follows: “hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, (or out of the waters of baptism,) who swear by the name of the Lord,” etc. It is not absolutely clear who was responsible for the insertion of this phrase, although the title page of this edition indicates that it was the “Third Edition, carefully Revised by the Translator” and was published in Nauvoo, Illinois.
In the “Committee Copy” of the Book of Mormon that was used by Elder James E. Talmage and his committee in making the changes for the 1920 edition, the words “or out of the waters of baptism” were not printed in the text although they had been inserted in red ink in parentheses. However, the parentheses were crossed out by red pencil. These words are printed in the current edition of the Book of Mormon without the parentheses.

Skousen notes that it was Joseph Smith himself who made the addition for the 1840 edition, though it was not consistently inserted. It was originally a marginal note, and included in parentheses.

Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich translate this passage from the Great Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls as: “Hear this, house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel and have come forth from the loins of Judah.… ” The notes on their translation of “loins” indicates that the original text (presumably that translated as “waters” by the King James Version) is “misspelled in both 1QIsa and MT [Masoretic Text].” This misspelling suggests a copyist’s error, but there is no evidence that allows scholars to date when that error may have entered the textual tradition. It is perhaps significant that Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich give a reconstruction, as the extant texts supply only the “misspelling.” Joseph Blenkinsopp, professor emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, reads ûmmimme’ê for the Masoretic Text’s ûmimmê and suggests that the “waters” are to give the sense of amniotic fluid accompanying childbirth, hence harmonizing with the Great Isaiah Scroll’s “loins.” Blenkinsopp’s translation is “who came forth from Judah’s womb.”

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1