“Their Works Are in the Dark”

Brant Gardner

Comparison: Verse 27 reworks Isaiah 29:15–16: “Wo unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? And they also say: Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: But behold, I will show unto them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that I know all their works. for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?”

Translation: The changes in this verse show greater similarities to Joseph Smith’s translation of the longer Isaiah passages. For Nephi, it is a return to his previous mode of using Isaiah’s texts—entering the text in full (1 Ne. 20–21, 2 Ne. 12–24). From here to the end of the chapter, Nephi follows the original Isaiah text closely with only minor variations. This pattern suggests that Nephi has finished recasting the Isaianic passages that interest him most and that he is now, more typically, simply completing his quotation of large units of text. Having recast the first section, he finishes the quotation (and it is still applicable), but he has completed the purposes for which he recast the earlier passages.

The phrase “turning of things upside down” is an error in intent. In KJV Isaiah, Yahweh speaks this phrase to Israel. It is a continuation of his same idea as “Shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not?” In Isaiah, the sequence communicates the insolent questioning of the creator by the creation. In the translation, Judah speaks to Yahweh, thus disconnecting the question from phrases that follow. This type of “error” is typical of changes caused by Joseph’s participation in the translation but not of Nephi’s care in constructing his pesher on Isaiah’s text.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2