Before Victor Ludlow served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Central German Mission – now the Germany Dusseldorf Mission – Victor went to boot camp. Having grown up on military reserves all over the United States, he was accustomed to the atmosphere. While it is typically difficult to find time for spiritual meditation, he was fortunate to have a private room. Victor spent much time on his knees seeking answers to what he should pursue next. Math and science had always been his favorites, and he had an interest in becoming an astrophysicist. During his teen years, he’d watched Sputnik and the space race with the rest of the world and dreamt of joining NASA. But each time, the Lord’s response came back loud and clear, “That’s nice, but no.”
Eventually, he received the answer that teaching was the path he should take. Over the next 11 years, Victor attended Brigham Young University for his undergraduate and Harvard and Brandeis Universities for his graduate work. He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. In 1972, he began his teaching career back at BYU as a religion teacher.
At the start, he was hopeful of teaching ancient scriptures and Judaic studies, especially to support students returning from the studies abroad programs to the Holy Land. One of the classes he was asked to teach was on the Prophets of the Old Testament.
“As I taught that for a few years, it seemed like every semester my students wanted to spend most of the time on one prophetic book, and it was Isaiah. So, I started teaching that, and it was always full, and I had a lot of undergrads that wanted to take the class but the dean said it was just for the graduate students. So, I petitioned for a separate undergrad class on the writings of Isaiah,” said Ludlow.
His undergrad class went so well that it expanded from one hour to two-hours with a separate course number. The then Church Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey R. Holland, granted Ludlow a commissioner research fellowship to advance his studies and resource development of Isaiah.
Ludlow then began writing his first book on Isaiah.
“What I wanted to do was take these few little multi-page handouts on different chapters on Isaiah and expand it to cover the whole book of Isaiah with some introductory chapters and so forth. Deseret book was interested but not excited.”
Using 17 different English translations of the book of Isaiah, Ludlow alternated English interpretations of each of the Isaiah chapters into the book. While it wasn’t scholarly, Ludlow wanted to challenge his readers the way he challenged his students.
“I do not apologize for asking students to stretch out of their comfort zone. It might be a difficult thing, but in the long run, they would feel like they got something out of it.”
Ludlow wrote the book for returned missionaries and college-educated members of the Church who had studied the scriptures a lot and wanted to learn more.
“Deseret Book was pleasantly surprised when all 5,000 copies sold in five weeks. It was the late 70s and “Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet“ is still in print today.” His purpose for this book was to offer Chruch curriculum writers a resource covering Isaiah, but it soon became a full-time project. When complete it was an 1100 page manuscript. Deseret Book wanted to print a condensed version of this study and with the help of their editorial team, the result was this classic.
Explaining Isaiah’s poetic form, he said the repetition we find in Isaiah is a classic Hebrew poetic form. Then he explained how we don’t need two eyes to see, but using two eyes gives us depth perception. The parallelism Isaiah uses gives readers the same kind of “depth perception” to understand his message.
When asked to describe Isaiah in one word, Victor said it was profound.
“Isaiah is to Hebrew like Shakespeare is to English. He has a vocabulary that far stretches beyond any other Old Testament writer. He’s a visionary man, and I think it’s highly unusual that out of dozens of writers and prophets of the bible he is the only one that Jesus has specifically identified and given us the commandment to search.”
As a Professor of Ancient Scripture, Victor is passionate about teaching Isaiah and recognizes that it is not something you can understand by “casually putting it under your pillow at night.” Because of its profoundness, it takes work.
“It’s like searching for a pearl of great price. We might have to turn a lot of dirt or go through a lot of effort, but there is great visionary wisdom in Isaiah’s writings. If we can appreciate the great visionaries’ vision and insight, then we can be a little more motivated.”
Isaiah Scholar Skim
- High honors student for undergraduate at Brigham Young University
- Recipient of the “Danforth Fellowship” for graduate work
- Harvard and Brandeis University for masters and doctorate
- Ph.D. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies
Sparked focus on Isaiah
- Witnessing the demand from undergraduates at BYU to learn about Isaiah
Isaiah in one word
Peers he admires
- “Unlocking The Old Testament” (1981)
- “Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, And Poet” (1982)
- “Principles And Practices Of The Restored Gospel” (1992)
- “Unlocking Isaiah In The Book of Mormon” (2003)