Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: A Conference on 2 Nephi 26-27 at BYU

Posted by joespencer on March 26, 2009

I thought I would let the whole Feast community know that there will be a conference on 2 Nephi 26-27 at BYU, in the basement auditorium of the Harold B. Lee Library, on April 15th, starting at 9 a.m. It is part of the Mormon Theology Seminar (see here, and is being co-hosted by the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding (a.k.a., Jim F.).

The schedule:

9 a.m. – Jenny Webb, “Slumbering Voices: Death and Textuality in Second Nephi”
10 a.m. – George Handley, “On the Moral Challenges of Reading Scripture”
11 a.m. – Kim Matheson, “Works of Darkness: Secret Combinations and Covenant Displacement in the Book of Mormon”
12 p.m. – break for lunch
1 p.m. – Joseph M. Spencer, “Nephi, Isaiah, and Europe”
2 p.m. – Julie Frederick, “Seals, Symbols, and Sacred Texts: Sealing in the Book of Mormon”
3 p.m. – Heather and Grant Hardy, “How Nephi Shapes His Readers’ Perceptions of Isaiah”
4 p.m. – Sam Brown, Respondent

The conference is the culmination of several months’ online collaborative study of 2 Nephi 26-27 (Nephi’s adaptation of Isaiah 29), all of which can be read here.

Any questions about the conference can be posted here. Feel free to pass this information along to anyone else. If you would like a file of the official poster, simply put a note here, and we’ll arrange that.

15 Responses to “Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: A Conference on 2 Nephi 26-27 at BYU”

  1. douglas Hunter said

    This looks like a good event. I regret that I will miss it by two days. Will the papers, or Mp3s, or video be available on line?

  2. joespencer said

    We will be podcasting the various sessions for those who can’t make it. I really wish you weren’t missing it, Doug, since I’ve yet to meet you in person.

  3. douglas Hunter said

    Actually, there is a chance we *might* be there for it. If I’m there I’ll give you the top secret post structural Mormon hand shake.

  4. joespencer said


    I’m sorry to inform you that your even mentioning the existence of that handshake in a public forum requires me to hand you over to the post-structural Mormon council. Friend though you are, my duty is to the brotherhood.

    With apologies,


  5. Ah joe, your willingness to support the Repressive State Apparatus and its ideological constructs is a crushing blow. Well, the PSMC will never take me alive!!!


  6. Joe et al,

    On a more serious note, I’ve skimmed over the posts and comments over at the discussion blog you put together and I’m wondering why more attention was not paid to basic issues of textuality. For example, of assessing the nature of the BOM text in 2 Nephi. I’m sure that this is an old issues, but its one that I personally do not know that much about. How is it that for the group the remarkable similarity between the BOM and the KJV does not point directly to Joseph Smith as having a significant role in shaping the text of 2 Nephi?

    In this context the nature and meaning of the text and the conclusions that can be drawn from it are very different depending upon the understanding we have of how the text was formed. For example how is it that a metaphor (that of a sealed book) in Isaiah becomes a major historical / theological point in the Nephi text? How does a figurative element of one text become a literal element of another text? More directly, how or why is it necessary or desirable to take a minor metaphor that is used to make a certain kind of point in one text and use it to make a very different kind of point in another text? The strangeness of this movement is truly extraordinary.

    Were such issues discussed and I just missed them? Or was there some agreement that for the sake of the reading it would be assumed that Nephi produced the KJV?

  7. joespencer said

    Good question, Douglas. I don’t know that I have a good answer on behalf of the seminar, but I can answer for myself.

    I suppose that I personally don’t find the question of the “remarkable similarity between the BOM and the KJV” very interesting. This is likely in part because I am a theologian and philosopher, rather than an historian. And it is also likely in part because I think that the most productive things to be said about the Book of Mormon must be said about it on its own terms. (There is a whole lot of theoretical argument behind that rather straightforward claim, argument I won’t provide here—though I will say that it qualifies me as a “post-Continental” thinker, rather than a postmodernist.)

    Which means that I think the question you ask in your second paragraph is very interesting: How does the figurative in Isaiah become literal in Nephi? That question did not come up, I think, simply because it did not come up. We had folks interested in a number of different questions, and none of us seems to have fixed on that particular point.

    But now let me be provoked a bit: Did Nephi produce the KJV? I don’t know that the believer needs to assume that. One could, of course, go the Blake Ostler direction and suggest that Joseph expanded on a Nephite original. One could, moreover, suggest that the Lord gave Joseph to translate any borrowings from the Bible in continuity with the KJV for whatever cultural purposes or effects. And I imagine that there are other ways of being a relatively traditional faithful Latter-day Saint without assuming that Nephi produced the KJV. Perhaps that’s why I don’t find the question too interesting: I’ve got this text to deal with, and it itself doesn’t raise that question.

    Or something along those lines.

  8. Joe,

    Your answers always surprise me. I too am more concerned with theology and philosophy (far more concerned with theology than anything else really) but its difficult for me to conceptualize them as being divorced from historicity, history, historical context so completely. Specifically when such historical issues are writ large. It seems to me that they necessarily bear upon one another, at least in a context that is inclusive of this kind of disjunction. Anyway, isn’t the theological potential of the text conditioned by how one comprehends and works with historical and textual issues? Doesn’t Blake’s understanding lead one to a different type of theological investigation / understanding than does an understanding that says for example, Nephi was familiar with Isaiah?

    “I’ve got this text to deal with, and it itself doesn’t raise that question.”

    How does the text not raise such a (textual / historical) question? The form and the content (to use out-dated and uncomfortable terms) of the text both insist upon this question. The question of mine that you liked in my second paragraph arises directly from the way the text insists upon the question. There is a great deal more to it than that of course, but for me that was the starting point. I was drawn to the question of transformation through what I perceive as a historical / textual disjunction. The implications of examining transformation may be far reaching and theologically meaningful but they are inclusive of the historical and textual.

  9. joespencer said

    Interesting. I suppose I assume that the “out-dated and uncomfortable” feel of the text is very much a twentieth- and twenty-first-century affair: almost no one (in America) would have seen the text as raising the questions you see it raising, and the text asks to be taken on its own terms at least in part in the sense that it asks for its translation to be considered an 1829 affair, not a 2009 affair. Were Joseph Smith to translate it today by borrowing from the KJV, it would be an entirely different affair.

    Which means: my assertion that the text doesn’t raise the particular historical question you raise is itself historically informed, but perhaps somewhat differently?

    Anyway, see you in two days?

  10. “Out-dated and uncomfortable” refered to the terms “form” and “content” not to 2 Nephi.

    Also you have mentioned taking the text on its own terms twice now. I admit that I have used exactly that language myself from time to time, but not without the recognition that taking a text on its own terms is an impossibility, and the claim of doing so is tricky because it frequently functions ideologically, in some contexts doing so is its very purpose. Not that it necessairly does so here, but I admit that giving the 19th century context higher priority over the contemporary context in this way looks like an attempt to dismiss a certain type of inquery. I have a hard time not seeing it as apologetics.

  11. Rob said

    Good luck tomorrow. Will be cheering you on from Germany and looking forward to the podcasts.

  12. seconding Rob’s comment. I’m baby sitting today so I hope it all goes well. We are there in spirit.

  13. joespencer said

    Thanks for the support. The conference went very well, I think. It was well attended, discussion was good, and I think much was learned by those involved.


    I have a whole lot to say in response and almost no time to say it. With two weeks or so to finish my semester, finish up my year of seminar, finish a first and second draft of my thesis, pack up, and move to Utah, I’m racing to get things done. We’ll have to pick up with this conversation later.

  14. Douglas Hunter said

    I completely understand, usually I’m the one who has to give up posting because of my schedule. So the tables are turned. Good luck with everything.

  15. Robert C. said

    Douglas, sorry you weren’t able to make the conference. Below are a few reference links you might be interested in.

    You might want to check out a couple of the essays in the Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah book, esp. those by George Handley and Jenny Webb (and perhaps even the one by Julie Frederick on textual seals).

    Also, here’s one more place to look for a bit more of Joe’s thoughts on topics of historicity and bracketing in his response to Bill Hamblin’s post, from a few months ago. And/or see Joe’s follow-up post (sort of) at the Peculiar People blog, giving more nuanced thoughts about historicity, phenomenological bracketing, etc. (This last post might be the best place to start.)

    Anyway, I’d love to hear more discussion and thoughts on these issues, if you happen to feel sufficiently inspired to write a new post on this topic….

    [Oops, I think I opened this post in an effort to remove recent spam, but then got confused and thought it was posted recently with reference to the recent “Opposition in All Things” Mormon Theology Seminar. Apologies. Though, the links are still a good P.S. to this discussion.]

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