Multiple Isaiah Theory and Stylometry

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Do You Have an Isaiah Problem? The Book of Mormon Might!

Matthew Roper and Paul J. Fields recently finished a stylometry analysis of the Book of Mormon and the Multiple Isaiah TheoryRecently we reported on a presentation by Matt Roper and Paul Fields where they captivated the audience with their study of Book of Mormon authors using stylometry. Using computers for statistical analysis, they produced a “wordprint” (sometimes compared to a fingerprint) that is unique to authors. During their presentation, they mentioned previous studies they have completed on the Pauline Epistles and the Book of Isaiah, which helps with the “Multiple Isaiah Theory.”

Of course, I was intrigued with what Fields said they had done with wordprint analysis, using stylometry to look at Isaiah. You see in the months of studying Isaiah for my Discover column  I keep coming across this Multiple Isaiah Theory; the notion of a Second and Third Isaiah.

Many scholars claim that the Book of Isaiah is a compilation of the work of several authors over the centuries. They assert that some of the prophecies in the book are too specific concerning the future and that no one person could have known these things. Things like the birth of Christ 700 years in advance, or the Cyrus prophecy 150 before he came to the throne, these among others point to the fact that they had to be written looking back rather than forward. This is the “Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem.”

In personal correspondence with Paul Fields after the conference he wrote:

“There have been a few stylometric studies over the years starting with the earliest that I am aware of in 1970.  To interpret the results, it is important to realize that none of the studies can establish that there was more than one writer of the text.  Although there is evidence of more than one writing style in the text, factors other than the identity of the author must be considered.

“More than one style does not necessarily indicate multiple ‘hands hold the pen.’  The same author can express himself or herself differently when writing at different times, to different audiences, on different topics, or for different purposes.  So, the presence of multiple writing styles cannot be asserted as indicating multiple people as authors of a text.”1

 The statistical results … strongly support single authorship of the book [of Isaiah]. The divisions of the book most often claimed to have been written by different authors were found to be more similar to each other in authorship style than to any of the control group of eleven other Old Testament books. The book of Isaiah also exhibited greater internal consistency than As any of the other books when authorship style was analyzed. …The results of this research bear witness that the book of Isaiah has a literary unity characteristic of a single author. These results, therefore, confirm the claims made in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament by later prophets and by “the Savior that Isaiah was the author of the book bearing his name.—L. La Mar Adams, “A Scientific Analysis of Isaiah Authorship 

Stylometry and the Multiple Isaiah Theory

Stylometry, “the statistical analysis of variations in literary style between one writer or genre and another”is as a field of research that uses various statistical methods to detect linguistic patterns. It is very well suited to addressing the multiple Isaiah problem and it is especially useful in helping to detect authorship in disputed in documents like the Federalist Papers and Shakespeare’s plays. 

As long ago as 1984, L. La Mar Adams in “A Scientific Analysis of Isaiah Authorship” which was one of the first scientific approaches to the multiple Isaiah theory wrote, “The disputed authorship of Isaiah is one of the most popular textual biblical issues and appears to be the father of all Old Testament authorship problems of the same nature.”

“The majority of biblical scholars divide the book of Isaiah into multiple authorship. The problem of identifying authorship for the book and parts of the book is known as the “Isaiah problem,”or what we are calling the “Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem.”

Adams explained, “A few years ago, our group of thirty-five specialists in Semitic languages, statistics, and computer science at Brigham Young University devised a literary style analysis to test the claims of these biblical scholars. This study, which spanned several years, in the end used more than 300 computer programs, analyzed several hundred stylistic variables, and obtained more than 4800 statistical comparisons.

“…The results of the study were conclusive: there is a unique authorship style throughout the various sections of Isaiah. The rates of usage for the elements of this particular style are more consistent within the book of Isaiah, regardless of the section, than in any other book in the study. This statistical evidence led us to a single conclusion: based on style alone, the book of Isaiah definitely appears to be the work of one man. The two parts of Isaiah most often claimed to have been written by different authors, chapters 1–39 and 40–66, were found to be more similar to each other in style than to any of the other eleven Old Testament books examined.”4

It has also been shown that even after an author’s works have been translated from language to language, stylometry can detect the author’s unique wordprint.For example, in that same correspondence mentioned above, Fields wrote:

The idea that there is more than one Isaiah and that they all tell different things. Since there is only one message and one audience, this is a mere quibble. The message is a happy one: “Repent—and all will be well—better than you can ever imagine!” Only to those who do not intend to repent is the message grim. Isaiah does not distinguish between the good and the bad but only between those who repent and those who do not. He does not ask where we are—he knows that—but only the direction in which we are moving. Of course, only those can repent who need to, and that means everybody—equally. Does not one person need repentance more than another?—“Great Are the Words of Isaiah”, Hugh Nibley, The Old Testament, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 177–195.

“There have been studies showing that the original author’s ‘wordprint’ comes through the translation process to a certain extent, the original author’s style as evident in the translated text is still affected by the translator’s style.  Further, we have shown that the “scribe effect” — the extent to which a scribe’s wordprint can be detected in a dictated text — can range from a trivial amount (10-15%) to a large amount (70-80%).  Consequently, the accumulated effect of a sequence of translators and a sequence of multiple scribes (copyists) will result in substantial changes to the writing styles in a text, even if the translator effect and the scribe effect are small for each step in the sequence.

“Also, unlike the Book of Mormon which had one translator (Joseph Smith) who had one scribe (Oliver Cowdery), the Bible has gone through innumerable hands over the last 2000 years.  It has been translated and retranslated by translators after translators, and written and rewritten by scribes after scribes.  While we can show that the modest changes to the text of the Book of Mormon have not made a meaningful difference in the writing styles in the Book of Mormon, we cannot show that to be the case for the Bible.  In fact, it should actually be surprising if only one writing style was found in a Biblical text.

“Finally, stylometric studies must be conducted in the context of established historical facts that set the framework for the analyses and their interpretation.  The results of stylometric studies can provide evidence for our against a research conjecture that is founded on historical and biographical information external to the stylometric analyses.  Proceeding in the opposite direction by just ‘fishing around’ for different writing styles in a text and then trying to assert historicity or identity based on the results is an excellent way to arrive at nonsense conclusions or at least non-scientific conclusions.

“In sum, whatever someone wants to assert about the number of people who were ‘Isaiah,’ that assertion must be based on evidence other than stylometric evidence.”6

The Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem in the Book of Mormon

Many non-LDS scholars who go after the multiple Isaiah theory, also find fault with the Book of Mormon. In claiming there are two or three authors to the book of Isaiah, they point to the fact that those chapters would have been written after Nephi and his brothers got the Brass Plates, which included the Book of Isaiah.

Since the Book of Mormon contains material from both First and Deutero-Isaiah and to them this is evidence against Joseph’s translation.  That is the Book of Mormon’s “Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem.”

One of the more remarkable linguistic evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a translation from an ancient text lies in the Isaiah variants found in it.— John A. Tvedtnes

John Tvedtens in explaining how one associate used “analysis of the frequency of changes made in the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon” and then concluded, “that because there are more such changes earlier on than later, this indicates that Joseph Smith wearied of making alterations as time went by.”

Tvendtens listed his objections to the study:

“My objections to the study are basically twofold: First, some of the changes made by the Prophet fit the reading found in some ancient versions of Isaiah. Secondly, the study did not take into account that some of the changes were not in the first edition of the Book of Mormon but were added later. I contend that these changes have no bearing on Joseph Smith’s translation. Moreover, many of them were stylistic or grammatical, such as the change from ‘which’ to ‘who’ or ‘whom’ when the referent is human. To my way of thinking, it makes more sense to examine substantive differences between the texts of the King James and Book of Mormon versions of Isaiah.”7

John Tvedtens went on then to identify the 207 variants in the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages that I mark in red in my Discover column on this blog. He concluded with this thought: “It has long been my contention that the best scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon is not archaeological or historical in nature, as important as these may be, but rather linguistic. This is because we have before us a printed text which can be subjected to linguistic analysis and comparison with the language spoken in the kingdom of Judah at the time of Lehi.”

“One of the more remarkable linguistic evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a translation from an ancient text lies in the Isaiah variants found in it.”8

The second problem after the Multiple Isaiah Theory problem in the Book of Mormon Isaiah chapters is that even before the Book of Mormon was published skeptics proposed theories about who had written it saying that much of it had been plagiarised from the King James Bible.

To my delight this year when Ann Madsen and Shon Hopkin published “Opening Isaiah—a Harmony” where they compared every change to the King James Version of Isaiah, with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the modern New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Many times the Book of Mormon differs with King James but agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For example, Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, both BYU professors, list several changes in the Book of Mormon that support the Great Isaiah scroll. A few include:

  1. In many cases, passages in the Isaiah scroll and in the Book of Mormon contain the conjunction and, which is lacking in the corresponding KJV text. Compare the following:“and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not” (KJV, Isaiah 3:9)
    “and they declare their sin as Sodom, and they hide it not” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 3:9)
    “and doth declare their sin to be even as Sodom, and they cannot hide it” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 13:9 = Isaiah 3:9)
  2. Second Nephi 24:32 lacks the word one, which appears in Isaiah 14:32. The Book of Mormon version thus makes messengers the subject of the verb answer. The Hebrew Bible uses a singular verb, but the Isaiah scroll uses the plural, in agreement with the Book of Mormon:“What shall one then answer [sing.] the messengers of the nation?” (KJV, Isaiah 14:32)
    “What shall then answer [pl.] the messengers of the nations?” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 14:32)
    “What shall then answer [pl.] the messengers of the nations?” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 24:32 = Isaiah 14:32)
  3. In the KJV, Isaiah 48:11 reads, “for how should my name be polluted?” while 1  Nephi 20:11 reads, “for I will not suffer my name to be polluted.” The Isaiah scroll supports the Book of Mormon by having the verb in the first person, as follows:“for how should my name be polluted?” (KJV, Isaiah 48:11)
    “for how can I be polluted” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 48:11)
    “for I will not suffer my name to be polluted” (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 20:11 = Isaiah 48:11)
  4. In the KJV, Isaiah 50:2 reads, “their fish stinketh, because there is no water,” and the Isaiah scroll reads, “their fish dry up because there is no water.” Second Nephi 7:2 essentially preserves the verb stinketh from the KJV and the phrasal verb dry up from the Isaiah scroll: “their fish to stink because the waters are dried up.”
  5. Often a singular noun in the KJV is represented by a plural noun in the Book of Mormon. One example of this appears in Isaiah 9:9, where the KJV reads “inhabitant” and 2 Nephi 19:9 reads “inhabitants.” The Isaiah scroll supports the reading of the Book of Mormon with its reading of “inhabitants”:“and the inhabitant of Samaria” (KJV, Isaiah 9:9)
    “and the inhabitants of Samaria” (Isaiah scroll, Isaiah 9:9)
    “and the inhabitants of Samaria” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 19:9 = Isaiah 9:9)

Parry and Ricks concluded: “These examples of variant readings in which the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon agree with the Isaiah scroll but not with the KJV could be multiplied.”

The multiple Isaiah theory arguments continue to be refuted by BYU Scholars time and again. Still, this remains a troublesome notion for some. However, by now our readers can clearly see that the Isaiah Chapters have an important place in the Book of Mormon. When compared side by side, better understandings of the meaning of many verses emerge.

The articles below may be helpful to those who need to understand the Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem in the Book of Mormon

Other Related Articles


Personal correspondence between Paul Fields and Darryl Alder, April 13, 2018
Online Dictionary
3 L. La Mar Adams in “A Scientific Analysis of Isaiah Authorship
4 L. La Mar Adams, Questions and Answers, Ensign, OCT 1984
Aylin Caliskan and Rachel Greenstadt, “Translate Once, Translate Twice, Translate Thrice and Attribute: Identifying Authors and Machine Translation Tools in Translated Text,” Sixth IEEE International Conference on Semantic Computing presentation, September 20, 2012.
correspondence, ibid.
John A. Tvedtnes, “Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon,” in Isaiah and the Prophets: Inspired Voices from the Old Testament
Tvedtnes, ibid.
Parry, Donald W. and Stephen D. RicksThe Dead Sea Scrolls: Questions and Responses for Latter-day Saints. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000.

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I am a retiree from Scouting. There I blogged for VoiceOfScouting.org, a site with more than 250,000 readers. During 42 years in the workplace, I've had many years senior level management with the BSA, professional associations, and high tech user groups. My background includes capital fundraising; outdoor adventure program development; property and construction management; event/conference planning; risk management and safety; lobbying federal, state and local government agencies; public relations; strategic planning; member advocacy and staff/volunteer training. Along the way, I have also taught Gospel Doctrine Classes and been both the ward and stake Sunday School President. In these settings, I have seen teachers and class members minimize Isaiah, a book Christ has commanded us to "search diligently." (3 Ne 23:1) With that in mind, I will do my best to explore and post my discoveries about the book of Isaiah. I am not a Bible scholar; like you, I read Isaiah in the Old Testament cycle of study in LDS Gospel Doctrine Classes and again in the Book of Mormon Cycle, so this is a whole new scripture adventure for me.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I find this topic and this specific article very interesting. It confirms my testimony of the Book of Mormon and the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Good Job Darryl

  2. I find it interesting as well Jim, the Deutero-Isaiah Theory has big ripples for me as a Mormon. If I understand right – there’s no way there could be two Isaiah’s because Nephi took the record of Isaiah with him to the Promised land and it contained the book of Isaiah – as manifested in our Book of Mormon today. Very interesting. It’s cool to see the world catching up with God (:

  3. I cannot claim to be really knowledgeable as most of you are, but I was intrigued with the theory and methods of research. I hope to continue learning and glad that the conclusion points to just one
    Isaiah.
    Joyce

    • Yep! We have asked Paul Fields to do a stylometry study on Deutero- and Trito-Isaian chapters compared to the other chapters of the book of Isaiah, but don’t hold your breath, it will be months in the making.

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