Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mormonism and Isaiah: There Are No Other Gods

When I became a Christian, I had quite a bit of interaction with my Mormon friends. Vegas was originally an old Mormon mining town, and at one time boasted a greater population of Mormons than Salt Lake City (so I’ve heard). So many of my friends were Mormons.
One of the most prevalent arguments they would make when I read them a Bible verse that didn’t accord with Mormonism was that the Bible had been corrupted sometime after the apostles had died.
Of course, the apostles had the right Old Testament, but both the Old Testament and their writings soon fell to both corruption of the manuscripts and misinterpretation.

The text that got me this response more than any other was that of Isaiah. Although many scholars try to shove certain exclusive claims concerning God’s superiority to other gods as monolatrous language, rather than monotheistic language, I have argued before that this is a fallacious ignorance of context defeating the implicatures. The assumption, “other gods must exist in order for the imagery to work” is simply linguistically na├»ve. Hence, what we have below are clearly monotheistic texts, and anyone reading them in the ancient Near East would have understood them as such in this context (I'll likely post on this further at another time).

"You are My witnesses," declares the Lord, "And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God  formed , And there will be none after Me. "I, even I, am the Lord; And there is no savior besides Me. "It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange [god] among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the Lord, "And I am God. "Even from eternity I am He; And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?" (Isa 43:10–13)

"Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. 'And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. 'Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any [other] Rock? I know of none.'" (Isa 44:6–8)

Now, it needs to be understood that these statements are all in a global context of God assuring Israel that the nations will not destroy them, because there is no other god that exists. Since God, who has all knowledge, declaring all things from the beginning, does not know of any god being formed or existing besides Him, there is nothing for Israel to fear but their own disobedience and rejection of God.

Hence, if God does not know of any other god, it is because no other god actually exists. His knowledge encompasses eternity, so that when He says, “no god was formed before Me and there will be none [formed] after Me,” it means that there is simply no other god that has existed, exists now, or will exist in the future besides YHWH God.

Now, as I stated before, my Mormon friends would simply dismiss these texts by saying that the Scriptures were corrupted after the death of the apostles. This is what Joseph Smith declared as well, and thus, he sought to work on a corrected Bible (that the LDS church of course does not use, but you can get one from the RLDS).
But the point I want to make is this. We have a first to second century BC Isaiah Scroll. In fact, we have two (in fact, if we include all of the fragments we have quite a few; but we have at least one almost complete ms and one that has a lot left to it). When I was at Moody, I used to love to go to Ex Libris, which was this biblical/theological bookstore by the University of Chicago (probably the best place I’ve ever lived in terms of theological bookstores), and I was lucky enough to pick up a facsimile of the Isaiah scroll (it’s of 1QIsaiaha). Now, I also have Brill’s volume that contains the texts, so I’m going to take a look at them here. Remember, these are manuscripts from before the apostles died. In fact, at least, one of them is from before they even lived (all of them are either before or during the apostle's lifetimes), so if they essentially contain the same message, the claim of my Mormon friends in this regard is a broken reed falsely relied upon. So here is the MT as we now have it first followed by the Isaiah A and B scrolls’ (the other Isaiah mss from Qumran are largely identical in terms of content to these two mss.) witness to this text (keep in mind that the importance of these texts, even the one that is more fragmentary than the other, is that they are able to show us whether what is said in the text we have today is what was said in the texts that Mormons do not hold as having been corrupted, since they predate the apostles).

The Masoretic Text (AD 950-1050)


 Wnyb!t*w+ yl! Wnym!a&t^w+ Wud+T@ /u^m^l= yT!r+j*B* rv#a& yD]b=u^w+ hw`hy+-<a%n+ yd~u@ <T#a^
  .hy\h=y] aO yr~j&a^w+ la@ rx^on-aO yn~p*l= aWh yn]a&-yK!
 .u~yv!om yd~u*l=B^m! /ya@w+ hw`hy+ yk!n{a* yk!n{a*
 hw`hy+-<a%n+ yd~u@ <T#a^w+ rz` <k#B* /ya@w+ yT!u=m^v=h!w+ yT!u=v^ohw+ yT!d+G~h! yk!n{a*
 .la@-yn]a&w~
 .hN`b#yv!y+ ym!W lu^p=a# lyX!m^ yd]Y`m! /ya@w+ aWh yn]a& <oYm!-<G~
(Isa 43:10–13)


 /orj&a^ yn]a&w~ /ovar] yn]a& toab*x= hw`hy+ w{la&g{w+ la@r`c=y]-El#m# hw`hy+ rm^a*-hK)
 .<yh!Oa$ /ya@ yd~u*l=B^m!W
 rv#a&w~ toYt!a)w+ <l*ou-<u^ ym!WCm! yl! h*k#r+u=y~w+ h*d\yG]y~w+ ar`q+y] yn]omk*-ym!W
 .oml* WdyG]y~ hn`ab)T*
 H~ola$ vy}h& yd`u@ <T#a^w+ yT!d+G~h!w+ ;yT!u=m^v=h! za*m@ aOh& Whr+T!-la^w+ Wdj&p=T!-la^
 .yT!u=d`y`-lB^ rWx /ya@w+ yd~u*l=B^m!
(Isa 44:6–8)


1QIsaiaha (carbon dated between the mid-fourth century BC and the beginning of the first century BC, i.e., between the mid 300’s–the early 100’s BC, and dated by paleography between 100–150 BC, i.e., second century BC).

wnybtw ayl wnymatw wudt /uml yTrjB rva yDbux hwhy <awn ydu hmTa
  hyhx awl yrjaw la rxwn awl ynpl hawh yna ayk
 uyvwm ydulbm /yaw hwhy ykna ykna
 hwhy <awn ydu hmtaw rz hmkb /yaw ytumvhw ytuvwhw ytdgh ykna
 la ynax
 hnbyvy ymw hlwupa lyxm ydym /yaw hawh yna <wYm <g
(1QIsaa 43:10–13)


/wrja ynaw /wvxyr yna wm# twabx hwhy wylawgw larcy Klm hwhy rma hwk
 <yhwla /ya ydulbmw
 rvaw twYtwaw <lwu <u wmycm ayl hhkwruyw hdygyw arqy ynwmk aymw
 wml wdygy hnawbt
 hwla vyh ydu hmtaw ytdghw hkytumvh zam awlh waryt law wdjpT la
 ytudy lb rwx /yaw ydulBm
(1QIsaa 44:6–8)


Now, the following scroll is fragmentary. It makes up 1QIsaiahb, dating to the turn of the era (Eugene Ulrich, “Isaiah, Book of” in EDSS, 385). The importance of what we have here in fragmentary form is just to show that the text follows along the same content as the texts above. Unfortunately, Isaiah 44 is not preserved in 1QIsaiahb, and even in 4QIsaiahc, the only other fragment that preserves it, what is there is nothing to call home about. However, what is there is consistent with what we have in 1QIsaiaha  and the MT upon which all of our major English translations of the Bible are based.


]ybtw yl wnymatw wudt /uml ytrjb rv[a                   ]a
  hyhy al wyrja[
 ] hwh[y] ykna ykna
 ]u [<]taw[    ]b /yaw ytumvhx yt[
       [                                  l]upa lyxm ydYm /y[
(Isa 43:10–13)


So let’s look at the differences before we look at the similarities. I’ve highlighted the differences between these texts and the MT in red. The main differences are (1) spelling issues, as earlier Hebrew mss. often used what is called matres lectionis, which are vowel letters, since vocalizations of the vowels had not yet been invented for the language. One who knows Hebrew can read it without the vowels, but the vowel letters were often there to help vocalize and identify the form correctly. (2) In a couple of instances, the waw conjunction, what we usually translated as “and,” is left out, since it is seen as being unnecessary in those parts. (3) the big differences, if you want to call them “big,” is the change from the Qal Imperfect 3ms (hyhy) to the Qal Perfect 3ms (hyh), and even though I’ll translate these according to the traditional (and false) understanding that the Hebrew verb denotes time (i.e. past, present, and future), it likely just conveys a different aspect (wholistic/whole picture rather than progressive), meaning that no god was every formed at any time, before, during, or after the existence of the Eternal God, YHWH. The other “big” differences are in Isaiah 44, and they are: the addition of wm# after twabx hwhy , which just functions as a harmonization with other texts, the change of  /wvar to /wvyr, which is just a spelling difference between older and later “Aramaizing” Hebrew, and the change from  whrt to waryt, which is just a change from the less common hry “to be terrified” to the more common ary “to be afraid.” in Isaiah 44 (the change from ymwcm to wmycm is likely due to orthography, as the yod and waw can look identical in many texts). So all of the “big” changes are actually in Isaiah 44, with one exception in 43, and even those are insignificant.
What this means is that 1QIsaiaha has only spelling differences in its use of the maters (think of the difference between writing potato and potatoe, or savior and saviour), along with a couple places where the conjunction is omitted where deemed unnecessary.
However, even the few differences of of Isa 44:6–8 would still make the text read as follows:

"Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts is His Name: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. 'And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. 'Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any [other] Rock? I know of none.'"

And, of course, Isaiah 43:10–13 still reads:

"You are My witnesses," declares the Lord,” x My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God  formed. x Neither was there ever [one] after Me. "I, even I, am the Lord; And there is no savior besides Me. "It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange [god] among you; So you are My witnesses," declares the Lord,” x I am God. "Even from eternity I am He; And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?"

Hence, the excuse to get out of this text that appeals to some corruption after the death of the apostles is completely without basis. Mormons will have to appeal to other scholarly ways of attributing this text to some sort of monolatry rather than monotheism; but I have argued before that this sort of argument is linguistically fallacious. Ergo, the Mormon claim that there are many gods, there have been many gods, and there will be many gods, is flatly contradicted by these passages, which are not corrupt even according to Mormon thinking.

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