The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Follow-up on Lehi's route and Isaiah 18

Astute readers have noticed that Winchester modified his views on Isaiah 18.

In my earlier post, I quoted his comments from the Gospel Reflector, which he published in 1841. In 1843, Winchester published his book, History of the Priesthood. In the interim, he had more time to think and write, and he explains his reasoning in much more detail in the book.

I don't agree with Winchester's alternative translation where he suggests "shadowing with" means "in the symbol of." I think that's his effort to make the passage fit with his idea of a hemispheric Book of Mormon setting. I won't take the time to go through my analysis, but basically I agree the passage could be translated as "Hail to the land on the wings (extremities) of the world," which is one of the options proposed by Victor Ludlow in his book. It more likely means something such as "Hail to the land obscured in extremity," meaning it is so far away no one knows about it. It's an unknown land to Isaiah's people. I've written about that elsewhere.

The main points of my blog post were:

1) Isaiah told his readers that the ensign of the Lord would be lifted up on the mountains in a land far away, "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia."

2) Nephi would have been familiar with this, so he would know he would be sailing around Africa to reach the promised land.

3) Although he didn't directly quote the chapter, Nephi alluded to Isaiah 18 in several places.

4) Hyrum Smith's famous (and oft-quoted) statement that "North and South America are the symbols of the wings" originated with Benjamin Winchester.

5) This is one example of many of Winchester's influences on LDS thinking. As Victor Ludlow put it, "Although other interpretations of Isaiah 18 are possible, the remarks of this mouthpiece of the Lord provide a basis for the view that this pronouncement is directed to America and deals with missionary work and the gathering of Israel."

So Winchester's alternative translation of Isaiah 18 becomes quasi-canonized because Hyrum Smith adopted it. The end result--that Isaiah 18 refers to the promised land--is sound, IMO. But the gloss that Isaiah was referring to all of North and South America is problematic.

At any rate, here's what Winchester had to say in History of the Priesthood, starting on p. 117. I don't have time to comment any more on this right now.


I will now invite the attention of the reader to the xviii chap. of Isaiah, which certainly contains an account of a most pleasing view that he had, of not only the establishment of the before mentioned kingdom; but of the place or land upon which it was to be commenced, which he thus describes: "Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia; that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying go ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to at people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled! All the inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when He lifteth up an ensign upon the mountains; and when He bloweth the trumpet hear ye."

Now any person who is acquainted with the Hebrew language, knows that an improvement in the translation of the above can he made with propriety: -- It should read thus: "Ho! to the land shadowing with (or in the symbol of,) wings, that lies beyond the rivers of Cush. This by no means changes the sense; but reduces it to the modern style of phraseology, which I trust will greatly assist the reader in understanding the true meaning of the prophet.

But now the question is, what land does the prophet address these words to? In order to correctly come at this, we must first consider that the prophet resided at Jerusalem, or somewhere near that city; secondly, to find the land that he speaks of, it is necessary to be certain as to the location of the land of Cush or Ethiopia.

The general name that the Jews gave to all the north-part of Africa was, "the land of Cusheam." Ethiopia proper, is situated south, and south-west of, Egypt, and is now called Abbysinia; but according to Herodotus, the Ethiopian nations were very numerous; and it is evident that the Greeks, and Romans, called the most of. the African nations Ethiopians.

p. 118          

The writer of the celebrated voyage of Hanno, (which is to be found in Mr. H. Murray's Encyclopedia of Geography,) a Carthagenian navigator who attempted to sail round Africa, gives an account of Ethiopians near the Straits of Gibraltar, or Pillars of Hercules; also that he sailed twelve days along the western coast of Africa, which he says, was then inhabited by Ethiopians, who were very numerous. This coast in now called the coast of Morocco; hence, the ancient Moors were called Ethiopians or Cushites. Indeed, after a careful research into the history of this people, I have come to the following conclusion. -- Cush was the son of Ham, and his progeny, soon after the flood, settled somewhere in the neighborhood of the river Euphrates; but at a very early period, some of them emigrated to Africa, and at first, located somewhere about the head waters of the Nile. According to Josephus, these Ethiopians were a powerful nation in the days of Moses; and also, that they inhabited the country that lies south, and south-west of Egypt; but they were a warlike people and had a great desire for conquest; hence, they soon spread over the north part of Africa: and in consequence of their inhabiting the greatest part of this continent, which was then known to the civilized nations, the Jews called it the land of Cush or Cusheam; but the Greeks, and Romans gave it the general name of Ethiopia, and the people they called Ethiopians, the same as we give the inhabitants of all Europe, the general name of Europeans; although, they are divided into many nations; therefore, it is evident that in the days of Isaiah, the north part of Africa was called Cush, and the rivers that the prophet alludes to, are those that flow into the Mediterranean sea along the coast of the Barbary states; and also those that flow into the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Morocco. Now I presume that from the foregoing, the reader will readily discover that the prophet alludes to a land that lies directly west of Jerusalem, which

p. 119

course strikes the Atlantic somewhere on the coast of Morocco; but still beyond this, is the land in the symbol of wings, which must certainly be America; for this reason, no other land will answer the description of the prophet. Indeed, if the prophet does not speak of this land, then he has wrote a mess of incomprehensible nonsense.

But there is also another view, that may be taken of this subject, which perhaps will reflect new light upon it. The word -| |-| _| Nahar not only means river, but has another signification, which is, light or knowledge. In Isaiah's day, the Carthagenians were the greatest navigators of the world, and it is asserted, that they considered as exclusively theirs, all the Mediterranean sea, west of a line stretched across from Carthago to Sicily, and that they captured all the vessels, and put to death the crews, of all other nations that were found navigating within these forbidden precincts. They were also the first that navigated about the Pillars of Hercules, the south western coast of Europe, and the western coast of Africa. In a word, in these ancient times they had the most extensive knowledge of the sea, coasts, and islands, in these parts, of any other nation; therefore, as the word Nahar signifies light or intelligence as well as river, perhaps, the prophet alludes to a land that is beyond the extreme knowledge of the Ethiopian or Cushite navigators. However, either of the above explanations, makes the idea perfectly plain, that the prophet points to America.

Again, North and South America, as will be seen from a miniature drawing of them on a map, in form and shape, very much resemble the wings of a bird; hence, it is a land in the symbol of wings, and in this respect, no other part of the globe will answer this description of the prophet. Some writers however, contend that the prophet alludes to the eagle with outspread wings upon the American ensign or flag;


but let this be as it may, the case is equally plain if we take it either way.

"That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, go ye swift messengers of the nations," &c. From this it appears, that ambassadors or the servants of the Lord, are to be sent from this land to the nations of the earth; but the idea of their being transported over the sea in "vessels of Bulrushes," is a novel affair indeed; however, it is probable that the prophet did not intend to convey any such idea. The Hebrew word gomey which is here rendered bulrushes, has at least three significations; the first, is to drink or swallow hastily; the second, is to impress; it is also a general name for certain species of the vegetable kingdom, such as reeds, bulrushes, and papyrus. But in my opinion the second import of the word should be used; for it makes the passage read intelligibly, and seems to convey the intended idea of the prophet. Job speaking of the war horse, says, as it is translated in the bible: "He (yegomey) swalloweth the ground with the fierceness of his rage:" * a horse does not swallow the ground; therefore, it should be rendered, "he impresseth the ground" that is, he maketh pits in the earth with his feet, deep impressions or tracks with his hoof, by which he prevents any retrograde motion; but rusheth or propels himself forward with force, and great velocity; therefore, it is certainly more sensible to read the above, "vessels impressing the face of the waters," instead of "vessels of bulrushes:" for it is not probable that vessels will ever be made of such material to escort the servants of God over the sea.

Indeed, does not the prophet aptly describe our steamvessels or ships: for it is by the action of the wheels upon the water, that propels the vessel swiftly forward; or in other words, the prophet saw in vision swift running, or rushing vessels, that move speedily

* Job. xxxix, 24.

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along against the wind and tide. If this is not the meaning of the prophet, then it certainly should be translated "vessels of papyrus." Historians say, that papyrus, is a flaggy shrub that grows in the marshes about the river Nile; the roots and body of it, were anciently used for fuel, and sometimes for timber, for ships or vessels, (such as were used in early times;) the bark was used as a substitute for paper, (which was not then invented,) for weaving apparel, and for ropes and sails for ships; hence, as the prophet saw our land with all the modern improvements; and also, our majestic maritime vessels, with all their sails spread, and the servants of God on board, he called them vessels of papyrus, perhaps, for the want of a better term; for he had probably seen vessels that were propelled by the action of the wind upon papyrus canvass, and those which he saw in vision, resembled them more than any others that he had ever beheld. Either one of the foregoing explanations, makes the subject perfectly plain; but for my own part I prefer the former.

"To a nation terrible from their beginning hitherto," &c. This certainly alludes to the Jews or house of Israel, who were a powerful people at their beginning; but since that, they have been scattered among the nations, and in a manner trodden down. "All the inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when He lifteth up an ENSIGN upon the mountains," &c. An ensign is a flag or banner having on it figures, and emblematical representations of the nation to which it belongs: for instance, when the noble patriots of America, declared themselves a free and independent people, they hoisted an ensign, upon which was inscribed an appropriate motto, which they carried with them into the field of battle, where they manfully maintained their cause. This ensign was a new one; hence, it signified, that a new nation had, or was just in the act of taking its place in rank of political governments. Therefore, this ensign of

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the Lord, implies nothing more nor less, than His kingdom established on this land, figuratively speaking, with its flag, the banner of truth or the gospel, held up to the world, which plainly indicates, not only its character, but shows that God has established a rallying point for His people: or in short, as the prophetic vision rolled before the prophet's mind, he saw the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter-days upon this continent, from whence the servants of the Lord shall go, and proclaim the fullness of the everlasting gospel to all the nations of the earth. This corresponds with my previous dissertation upon what Daniel says about the "stone of the mountain." Mr. Jackson a Jew by birth, and an excellent Hebrew scholar, and also the editor of a periodical called "The Jew," says, while discoursing upon this vision of Isaiah, that the work of God, will commence in America, that will ultimately effect the restoration of the house of Israel, and prepare the way for the appearance of the Messiah. And to me, the subject is perfectly plain; therefore, I set it down as a fact, which is incontrovertible, that the Lord has foretold by Isaiah, that he would first organize His kingdom in the latter-days upon this land.

The prophet after speaking of this ensign, illustrates by figures, the awful destruction, and calamity that will come upon the wicked soon after this kingdom is organized, and the messengers or servants of the Lord are sent to the nations, which harmonizes with what John says, in the latter part of the xiv chap. of his Revelation. The prophet concludes by saying, that a people that were "scattered and trodden down," shall be brought to Zion, for a present to the Lord.

Isaiah speaks of this ensign in another place thus "And He will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold they shall come with speed swiftly." * The reader will see, by an

* Is. v, 26.

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examination of the context, that the above is a latter-day work, which is evident from the fact, the ensign is to be first raised, and then the work that is to follow immediately after, is the gathering of the house of Israel from their dispersed condition. But it is evident, that the prophet does not allude to any ensign, that ever was, or will be, first lifted up at Jerusalem: for this reason, he says it was to be lifted up "from far," that is, upon some distant land. He certainly would not have said this of anything that was to transpire in his own neighborhood.

Thus far I have commented upon the evidence, that I have presented, upon somewhat of an extensive scale, in order to settle the question with regard to the place where the kingdom of God of the last days, was to be established, and thus to lay a good foundation for my argument; but hereafter, I shall comment upon the testimony in a more general way. Indeed, a prospect of more volubility than I desire at present, admonishes me to pursue this course. 

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