This is part of the DR Book Collection.
Philosopher Joseph M. Spencer has already made some incredibly impressive contributions to Mormon Studies, including Book of Mormon research. For example, his An Other Testament is one of the most engaging and enlightening books on the Book of Mormon I have ever read. And yet, his latest from Greg Kofford Books–The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record–surpasses it. Spencer is one of the most careful readers of scripture in Mormon Studies and this book puts his skill on full display. While a stellar combination of close textual analysis, biblical scholarship, and theology, Spencer nonetheless makes the subject(s) accessible to a wider audience by writing in lecture format rather than a line-by-line commentary (which he believes “gets dull fast and alienates most readers”). Spencer spends multiple chapters dissecting the sections of Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon and follows them up with how various prophetic voices within the Book of Mormon–namely Nephi, Lehi, and Jacob–interact with Isaiah’s text. One of the major strengths of Spencer’s analysis is his willingness to let the different voices (and textual variants thanks to Royal Skousen’s work) speak independently, even if they are sometimes in conflict. He also allows Isaiah to speak for Isaiah, placing his writings in their proper historical context (he mentions the problem of Deutero-Isaiah, though he doesn’t necessarily seek to resolve it).
“[T]he whole point of Nephi’s record,” according to Spencer, “is to get us to read Isaiah carefully” (pg. 47). But why? Spencer beautifully summarizes:
The purpose of the Book of Mormon, according to Nephi’s vision, is to refocus Christianity on its Abrahamic foundations, to restore to Christianity the idea that the Gentiles aren’t a kind of replacement Israel, but that they’re to be grafted into the everlasting covenant that’s still vouchsafed to Jacob’s children…Take a look at what the very title page of the Book of Mormon has to say about its primary purpose. It’s “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers, and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” …It’s this vision of the Book of Mormon’s purpose (to save Christianity from itself!) that drew Nephi’s attention to Isaiah. Nephi found…the most brilliant available biblical explanation of the complex relationship between covenantal Israel and non-covenantal Gentiles. The book that bears Isaiah’s name is nothing if it isn’t a kind of systematic attempt to make sense of Abraham’s covenant in the richest way possible (pg. 11).
The Vision of All is easily one of the best books in the genre. Not only is it top-notch scholarship, but it’s also a profound and enriching theological treatise on the role of the Restoration in covenantal history as well as an implicit call to the responsibilities associated with this role. In short, it is a reminder of why we study the scriptures in the first place.
I recently penned a more detailed review of the book over at Worlds Without End (I pretty much borrowed everything above from it). Check it out and be sure to pick up Spencer’s book, which came out today.
UPDATE: You can listen to a podcast with Spencer discussing Isaiah at LDS Perspectives.