David Bokovoy, a PhD student at Brandeis University, has discovered another remarkable Hebraism in the Book of Mormon. John Welch wrote in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon about the amazing fact that as the years go by we just keep discovering more and more scholarly insights into the Book of Mormon. This shouldn’t be happening with a book that is so “obviously” fraudulent as many critics believe it to be. Bokovoy has again added another little gem to the ever expanding treasure trove that is the Book of Mormon.
One of the interesting literary nuances featured in the first half of Isaiah includes the distinct connotation associated with the Hebrew expression, ha‘am hazeh meaning “this people.”
Throughout the first half of the book, the term explicitly appears in reference to Israel whom the Lord declares are an apostate group, who notwithstanding their covenantal relationship with God are a people ripe for destruction.
Examples of this interesting literary device include the following:
“And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” (Isaiah 6:9)
“Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10)
“Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son (Isaiah 8:6)
“For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11)
“Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid” (Isaiah 8:12)
“For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed” (Isaiah 9:16)
“For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11)
“Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 28:14)
“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29:13-14)
For Latter-day Saints, this final example of the expression “this people” used as a reference to apostate Israel, ripe for destruction, proves especially intriguing. Book of Mormon authors show a direct familiarly with the Isaiah prophecy that Latter-day Saints traditionally associate with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (see for example 2 Nephi 27:15-18 )
So all of this now brings me to what I consider a fascinating link between the Isaiahanic tradition regarding the connotation of the term “this people” and the Book of Mormon.
Oh, about a decade or so ago, I remember sitting in the Longfellow chapel in Cambridge, MA listening to Daniel Peterson give a talk on the Book of Mormon. As usual, I was truly impressed with Dan’s insights and enjoyed the presentation.
In one part of the lecture Dan offered what I considered to be a fascinating literary observation regarding Samuel the Lamanite’s discourse. Dan drew attention to the fact that through repetition of the phrase “this people,” Samuel provides an articulate distinction between the Nephites and God’s people. According to Dan, Samuel accomplished this feat through a repetition of the phrase “this people” which ultimately the Prophet contrasts with the expression, “his [the Lord’s] people”:
“Behold, I, Samuel, a Lamanite, do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart; and behold he hath put it into my heart to say unto this people that the sword of justice hangeth over this people; and four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people. Yea, heavy destruction awaiteth this people, and it surely cometh unto this people, and nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people” (Helaman 13:5-6)
I believe that this reading offered by Dr. Peterson is truly insightful. The literary repetition of the expression “this people” in Samuel’s discourse is very Hebraiclike. In addition, when added with the specific nuance of the Hebrew term ha‘am hazeh “this people” as a reference to a chosen people who exist in a state of apostasy, in my mind Dr. Peterson’s astute observation carries even more significance.