Laban’s Brass Plates provided Lehi’s colony to the Americas vital connections to the God of Israel’s teachings and to their to their heritage. Nephi loved to quote Isaiah from those plates. His brother Jacob joined him as well as Abinidai and the Savior Himself.
According to the LDS “Guide to the Scriptures,” these Brass Plates contained “many writings of the prophets (1 Ne. 5:10–16).” The record had been kept by Laban who was “one of the Jewish elders in Jerusalem. While Lehi and his family were in the wilderness, Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain this record (1 Ne. 3–4).”
While Lehi used these plates for some of his teachings, its Nephi’s use of the Brass Plates in his teachings that really makes the most impact. The plates helped secure their Jewish belief, culture and they shaped the doctrine of the Nephites for generations
In a book titled Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, Robert L. Millet joined with 22 other scholars to explore a variety of themes within Second Nephi. Their essays recall the prophetic words of Isaiah, Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob as given in 2 Nephi.
Millet’s chapter turns to Nephi’s use of the Brass Plates in his teachings where he explained “the power of scriptural records” in helping to a nation preserve faith and literacy (1 Nephi 4:13; Omni 1:17). He stated that the Brass Plates were used as scripture throughout the Book of Mormon. For example, to his sons, King Benjamin explained:
“My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these [brass] plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God” (Mosiah 1:3).
Similarly, in speaking with Helaman, Alma explained that the brass plates “have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls” (Alma 37:8).1
Contents of the Brass Plates
The brass plates, as we understand included the first five books of the Old Testament or Law of Moses (1 Ne. 5:10–11); a genealogy linking Lehi’s family to Abraham through Joseph (1 Nephi 5:14); and the plates include missing parts to our King James Old Testament (1 Nephi 13:23). Throughout the Book of Mormon, authors quote Isaiah, Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias. Millet made a sampling of how the plates directed Lehi’s family toward Christ:
- With a total of 433 verses from his Old Testament writings, Isaiah is foremost among contributing prophets quoted from the Brass Plates. Millet writes, “the record keepers of the brass plates saw to it that Isaiah’s words were included in their volume of scripture” and Christ is often at the center of his message.
- “Neum spoke prophetically of the crucifixion of the Son of God (1 Nephi 19:10).”
- Ezias “prophesied of the coming of the Messiah (Hel. 8:20).”
- “Zenock bore repeated witness that redemption would come only in and through the atoning sacrifice and death of Christ (Hel. 8:18–20; 3 Nephi 10:16); that he would be lifted up by wicked men (1 Nephi 19:10);
that the anger of the Father was kindled against those who do not recognize the cost of the Lord’s atonement; and that he was put to death because of the poignancy of his messianic witness (see Alma 33:15–17).”
- “We have more details of the oracles of the prophet Zenos than any of the other nonbiblical prophets of the brass plates. Nephi and Jacob quoted Zenos extensively (1 Nephi 19, 22; Jacob 5), and Alma utilized his words on worship and prayer in speaking to the Zoramites (Alma 33:3–11). Nephi called him simply ‘the prophet’ (see 1 Nephi 19:11–16), much as we refer to the Prophet Joseph Smith today. Nephi, the son of Helaman, explained that because of his testimony of the Redeemer, Zenos also was slain by unbelievers (Hel. 8:19).
The Book of Mormon Uses Isaiah to Teach of Christ
Four major Book of Mormon authors quote Isaiah, Nephi, Jacob, Abinidai and the Savior Himself. For example, in his own vision, Nephi saw a “virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins … bearing a child in her arms” (1 Nephi 11:15, 20). Then in 2 Nephi 17:14 as if to use Isaiah as a second witness, he quoted from Isaiah 7:14, where he saw that “a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son.”
“Isaiah was prepared from birth—and of course we would say from before birth—to testify of the Messiah and bear such witness of the divinity of Christ’s coming.”—Elder Jeffrey R. Holland 2
Nephi goes on to cite Isaiah 7 “A virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (2 Nephi 17) and then rejoices in Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (2 Nephi 19:6; ).
Nephi read Isaiah to his people so that he “might more fully persuade [them] to believe in the Lord their Redeemer” (1 Nephi 19:23). In his own vision, Nephi saw that the Savior “went forth ministering unto the people, in power and great glory” but that He was cast, “out from among them” (1 Nephi 11:28); He was “taken by the people” and “judged of the world” (1 Nephi 11:32). Again as a second witness, Nephi cites Isaiah where he spoke of the people rejecting their Messiah, saying “this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah” (2 Nephi 18:6; Isaiah 8:6). Isaiah wrote that they will reject Him because He is “a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 18:14; Isaiah 8:14).
In 2 Nephi 6, Jacob predicts Christ’s coming and his rejection by the Jews, then in 2 Nephi 7–8 he cites Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to the asmiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from bshame and spitting,” as part of his second witness of the Savior’s suffering. In 2 Nephi 10:14, Jacob also designated Christ the “King of heaven” as did Isaiah in 6:5. Like Nephi before him, Jacob quoted full chapters of Isaiah (see Isaiah 50, 51 and 52:1–2).
In Mosiah, Abinidai teaches, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; … and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isa. 53:4–5.) John W. Welch explained that the “dominant feature of Abinadi’s teaching is about the Redemption and that it will come through suffering (the words redeem or redemption appear nineteen times in Abinadi’s words). Despite God’s mighty power, He will be ‘oppressed’ and ‘afflicted’ (Mosiah 13:35). Abinadi drew those words from the prophecies of Isaiah that the servant would be ‘despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,”afflicted,’ ‘wounded for our transgressions,’ ‘oppressed, and he was afflicted’ (Isaiah 53:3–7; Mosiah 14:3–7). As Isaiah prophesied, ‘he hath poured out his soul unto death’ (Isaiah 53:12; Mosiah 14:12), and ‘so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death’ (Mosiah 15:7). …There is no literary embellishment or flourish in Abinadi’s speech. That stylistic feature enhances the simplicity and directness of his message, and it also implements the plainness of Isaiah’s vision: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2; Mosiah 14:2).”3
Gaye Strathearn and Jacob Moody wrote that when Jesus visited the Americas following his death, “he spent a significant portion of his sermon on the second day focused on Isaiah’s teachings. He quoted a substantial portion of chapter 52, although in a rearranged order, and all of chapter 54. What is stunning about this rendition is that Jesus did not include Isaiah 53 in his sermon, even though his audience would probably have expected it. Instead he includes a chapter discussing the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It is the purpose of this paper to argue that the discussion on the Book of Mormon was not a digression from his teaching from the Isaianic texts, but rather was Jesus’s interpretation of the servant passage in Isaiah 52:13–15, which he had just quoted in 3 Nephi 20:43–45.”4
The Brass Plates and the Writings of Isaiah
In Millet’s paper, he wrote, “many precious remnants of those things are to be found in the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the King James Bible.” Then he explained:
“Nephi taught his people from the plates of brass ‘that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old’ (1 Nephi 19:22). He read at length from the Pentateuch, but in order that he ‘might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning’ (v. 23). Later, in speaking to his people, he reminded them that ‘there are many things which have been spoken by Isaiah which may be likened unto you, because ye are of the house of Israel’ (2 Nephi 6:5).
Millet suggests the Brass Plates were probably kept by the tribe of Ephraim, but we don’t know exactly when they were crafted. However, when Nephi took the plates, Isaiah’s words were just 100 years old, making what we have from the Brass Plates a significant comparative source for Isaiah today. But as Millet points out, their origin may have been from the “the Northern Kingdom rather than in Judah in the south (1 Nephi 3:3, 12; 5:14–16). In one of the prophecies of Zenos are found these words: ‘And as for those who are at Jerusalem‘ (1 Nephi 19:13; emphasis added), suggesting that Zenos was speaking from somewhere other than Jerusalem.”
So how did these plates end up in Jerusalem? Sidney B. Sperry suggested this:
“The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians when its capital of Samaria capitulated to Sargon II in 722 BC. The forebears of Laban may have fled to Jerusalem to prevent the sacred records from falling into alien hands. Lehi’s grandfather or great-grandfather may have left his northern home for Jerusalem in order to prevent his children from intermarrying and making religious compromises with the foreigners brought into the land by the Assyrians.”5
Millet touched on the Isaiah Problem reminding readers that most scholars “partition the book of Isaiah and assign, at the very least, chapters 40–66 to later authors, the Book of Mormon serves as a historical check and balance against such interpretive extremes. Both Nephi and Jacob, in America, quote from the latter chapters of Isaiah—chapters 48–49 (1 Nephi 20–21) and 50:1–52:2 (2 Nephi 6–7); these are chapters which many Old Testament scholars assign to the period of Babylonian captivity—a period some years after the Nephites left Jerusalem with their brass treasure.”
Millet continues suggests that, “even a superficial perusal of the Book of Mormon (brass plates) text of the Isaiah material reveals many differences from the King James Version, showing that Joseph Smith did not simply copy everything directly from the King James or Authorized Version when he came to these passages. Sidney B. Sperry wrote:
‘The text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon is not word for word the same as that of the King James version. Of 433 verses of Isaiah in the Nephite record, Joseph Smith modified about 233. Some of the changes made were slight, others were radical. However, 199 verses are word for word the same as the old English version. We therefore freely admit that Joseph Smith may have used the King James version when he came to the text of Isaiah in the gold plates. As long as the familiar version agreed substantially with the text on the gold plates [taken from the brass plates], he let it pass; when it differed too radically he translated the Nephite version and dictated the necessary changes.’6
“In regard to the differences between the two texts, Brother Sperry has also noted:
‘The version of Isaiah in the Nephite scripture hews an independent course for itself, as might be expected of a truly ancient and authentic record. It makes additions to the present text in certain places, omits material in others, transposes, makes grammatical changes, finds support at times for its unusual readings in the ancient Greek, Syriac, and Latin versions, and at other times no support at all. In general, it presents phenomena of great interest to the student of Isaiah.’7
When it comes Isaiah, Nephi made the Book of Mormon its best commentary and while the brass plates “enlarged the memory of [Nephi’s] people” and pointed them to Christ, Nephi knew he was leaving the Lamanites, Jews and the Gentiles, the same blessings: “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”
1 Much of post is an excerpt taken from “The Influence of the Brass Plates on the Teachings of Nephi,” in Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 207–25.
2 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland,“‘More Fully Persuaded’: Isaiah’s Witness of Christ’s Ministry,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, p 4.
3 John W. Welch, “Ten Testimonies of Jesus Christ from the Book of Mormon” in A Book of Mormon Treasury: Gospel Insights from General Authorities and Religious Educators, (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003), 316–42.
4 Gaye Strathearn and Jacob Moody, Christ’s Interpretation of Isaiah 52’s “My Servant” in 3 Nephi, BYU Maxwell Institute
5 Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p.43