David B. Ridge and Dr. Shon Hopkin, Ancient Scripture
In the academic year 2012–2013 I received an ORCA Grant from BYU. Under the mentorship of Dr. Shon Hopkin of the Department of Ancient Scripture, I began working on a project to create a textual harmony of four different versions of the Book of Isaiah; the King James Version, the Joseph Smith Translation, the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, and the various manuscripts of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Our intention was to create a manuscript of this textual harmony suitable for publication as a textbook for classes on the Book of Isaiah.
My main role in the project was to complete the section of the harmony dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Isaiah. The first step was to compile a comprehensive list of the variant readings of Isaiah found in the twenty different manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which survive only in partial form. I was able to utilize previous scholarship, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible and the relevant volumes of the series Discoveries in the Judean Desert, but even so, this proved to be an enormous undertaking that required detailed precision and methodical repetition. The experience was very beneficial in that I was able to work directly with photographs of the primary text of the scrolls and engage in transcribing the ancient text which prepared me for more work with primary texts in the future.
Since our text is intended for lay readers who do not possess a knowledge of the ancient Hebrew language, my next task was to translate the semantically significant variants into English readily comparable to the King James Version of the text of Isaiah with which most students are familiar. This task required the consultation of lexicons, dictionaries, and other scholarly translations of the scrolls. It was rewarding to utilize my Hebrew language skills which I have developed over ten semesters of ancient Hebrew courses here at BYU. During this stage the mentorship of Dr. Hopkin helped me improve my translation skills as we discussed particularly challenging questions together. Working side by side with a professional helped improve my knowledge of the language and what resources are available to assist in translation.
Results & Discussion
Dr. Hopkin and I are in the final editing and proofing stages of our work on the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Isaiah and the project as a whole. This summer we intend to finalize our manuscript and seek out a publisher interested in producing a textbook suitable for college-level courses on the Book of Isaiah. I am extremely grateful that I was awarded an ORCA grant for this project. The project itself has produced a useful harmony of several of the different versions of Isaiah that will facilitate critical thought and investigation of the prophetic text, in addition to helping me develop skills that will help me in my academic and professional life.
There are sixty-six chapters in Isaiah, and 1284 verses. There are over 1500 variant readings among the Dead Sea Scrolls, more than one per verse. They range from less significant variants such as added or omitted conjunctions to more significant changes or additions. There are also numerous variant readings among the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Book of Isaiah.
This project has made clear that the message of the prophet Isaiah has been transmitted through time with varying levels of detail and with omissions, subtractions and additions in each version of the text that exists. Unraveling the mystery of the prophet’s original message is no small task, and not one that should be taken lightly. Rather, paying attention to the small variations among differing traditions that recorded the prophet’s work gives insightful details about the way different religious communities in different times and places valued and understood the prophet’s work. The fact that at least three different religious communities, including the Nephites in the Americas just after 600 BC, the community that copied and preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls around the turn of the eras in ancient Israel, and the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took such great pains to preserve, record and maintain a correct record of the writings of Isaiah is a solemn testimony to the value of the work throughout the generations of time that has passed since the prophet’s ministry.