A Word in Season: Isaiah’s Reception in the Book of Mormon by Joseph M. Spencer (University of Illinois Press, 11/21/2023) is a scholarly exploration into the interplay between the biblical prophet Isaiah and the narrative fabric of the Book of Mormon.
At the heart of Spencer’s work lies a meticulous analysis of the Book of Mormon’s engagement with Isaiah. Drawing upon his expertise in both biblical studies and Mormon theology, Spencer skillfully traces the ways in which key passages from Isaiah are woven into the fabric of the narrative (specifically through the stories of Abinadi, the resurrected Lord, and Nephi), shedding light on their significance within the broader theological framework of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, Spencer’s work offers valuable insights into the interpretive strategies employed by the authors of the Book of Mormon as they engage with Isaiah’s text. He demonstrates how these individuals (whether seen as ancient writers or characters in an 1830 production) creatively recontextualize Isaiah’s prophecies, infusing them with new layers of meaning that speak directly to their concerns and their own prophecies.
I worried that A Word in Season: Isaiah’s Reception in the Book of Mormon might have too much overlap with Dr. Spencer’s previous work on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon—The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record. The two books, however, offer distinct yet interrelated perspectives on the prophet Isaiah and his influence within the Book of Mormon. A Word in Season examines Isaiah’s reception across the entirety of the Book of Mormon, highlighting the intricate connections and reinterpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies by the three main individuals who cite the ancient prophet. It also works to put those interpretations in dialogue with other interpretations of Isaiah, particularly in the time period around 1830. What is also unique about the approach used in A Word in Season is that it addresses the authors of the Book of Mormon in the order that the current text was dictated—putting Nephi at the end rather than the beginning—which brings out insights about the overall Book of Mormon in a different light.
In contrast, The Vision of All delves into a deeper exploration of how Nephi uses Isaiah in his writings, offering insights not only on Isaiah but also on the larger themes and theological implications found within Nephi’s record. Thus, while both works engage with Isaiah’s prophetic message, A Word in Season covers Isaiah in the entire Book of Mormon and is addressed to a scholarly audience while The Vision of All is more focused more deeply on Nephi’s records and addressed more to a Latter-day Saint audience.
In conclusion, A Word in Season: Isaiah’s Reception in the Book of Mormon is a notable work that offers fresh insights into the rich tapestry of biblical interpretation found within the Book of Mormon. Throughout the book, Spencer’s meticulous attention to detail is evident in his thorough analysis of the text, as well as his careful consideration of alternative interpretations and scholarly debates. It will be useful to both scholars interested in Isaiah’s reception history and Latter-day Saints looking to engage more deeply with the Book of Mormon.