A new podcast I’ve been listening to from time to time is the Naked Bible Podcast hosted by Bible Scholar Mike Heiser. I don’t quite yet understand Heiser’s views exactly, but I guess he is conservative relative to Bible scholars and liberal relative to Evangelicals, which he self identifies as.
This episode was on the multiple authorship theory of Isaiah. If you study Book of Mormon issues, you know the Deutero-Isaiah issue is one of the biggest problems for BOM historicity. The theory goes that Isaiah was likely not all written by Isaiah. Isaiah lived in the 8th century BC and died about 700 BC. But some of the writing seems obviously more recent, so the theory is that Isaiah wrote a portion of it (chapters 1-39). Then another person wrote another chunk (Deutero-Isaiah: chapters 40-55) and maybe another person wrote a third portion (Trito-Isaiah: chapters 56-66).
For Evangelicals, the argument is critical. They believe the Bible is perfect and the supernatural aspects of Isaiah prophesying some very specific details related to Israel’s Babylonian exile and return is one proof the Bible is “true” and consistent with the view that God managed the Bible creation in a very tight process. For Mormons, though we don’t get that hung up on Bible inerrancy, it’s also critical because of the problem that Nephi had access to and is quoting Deutero-Isaiah before it was possibly written.
Dr. Heiser lays out the evidence. He thinks there is reasonable evidence for the single authorship theory. But also very overwhelming evidence for the multiple authorship theory. So, he goes with a middle ground theory of a unified text, which was heavily edited later. Unfortunately for Evangelicals, much of what Dr. Heiser acknowledges was edited later is related to the supernatural prophesying aspects.
He than lectures literal minded, fundamentalist type religionists that the only reason they should have a problem with this is because of their false paradigm of inspiration (LDS would use the term revelation).
We’re taught that inspiration means a mind dump of information. We’re taught this paranormal view of inspiration. Where God just downloads information. And the prophet or the writer really isn’t a significant part of what is going on. They are more or less a flesh puppet. Just start waving the hand and out comes a biblical book. Without any choice on the part of the writer. I got news for you. If that’s your view of inspiration and chances are somewhere along the line you’ve been taught that view, ABANDON THAT VIEW. Because the phenomenon of scripture itself, the nuts and bolts stuff that you find in the text itself will not conform to that view…You’re articulating things that way because you’ve been taught a view of inspiration that doesn’t allow for any kind of editorial activity… How we think about how we got scripture needs to align with what we actually see in scripture.
Is it a bummer for Evangelicals that the evidence of later edits or authorship of Deutero and Trito Isaiah might remove some impressive aspects of the text? Yes. Could the later authorship/edits mean it’s a pious fraud, and could people get angry that they were “lied to”? Yes, maybe. But does it mean there was no original inspiration? No. Does it remove God from the creation of the text? No. Can we still engage the scripture as a body of worshipers to talk about how ancient people and modern people alike relate to God and work to come closer to Him and to make our lives more according to his will? Absolutely.
I believe this concept applies not just to Bible scripture, but essentially nearly everything we in the Mormon Church view as revelation. Nearly everything has been “edited”. The First Vision. LDS Scholars Richard Bushman and Greg Prince both have expressed the idea that the First Vision was likely something much more modest and grew into the official 1838 account through “edits”. Revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants, including the priesthood restoration. Likely something much more modest that grew into a more formal, dramatic account through the “editing” process. Book of Mormon. Same kind of thing.
Is it a bummer that the official version might be a heavily edited version of the actual event or process? Yes. Does it remove some of the certainty we have in some of our doctrine and teachings? Yes. Does it mean there was no original inspiration/revelation involved in these? No. Does it remove the value of the Mormon religion and the good things it provides members today? Absolutely not.