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Interpreting Interpreter
Scattered JST Wordplay

This post is a summary of the article ““They Shall Be Scattered Again”: Some Notes on JST Genesis 50:24–25, 33–35” by Matthew L. Bowen in Volume 57 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Bowen argues that the Joseph Smith Translation text of Genesis 50 contains wordplay involving the word Joseph—and the concepts of scattering (again) and gathering—with the prophetic bookends of the JST highlighting both Moses’ and Joseph Smith’s roles in gathering Israel.


The Summary

In this article, Matthew L. Bowen presents another study involving wordplay on the name Joseph (yôsēp), this one focusing on the prophecy of Joseph as contained in the JST text of Genesis 50. Comparing it to similar language in places such as 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah, he suggests that term related to gathering (ʾāsap) and “scattering again” (yôsîpû *lĕhizzārôt), as he puts it, “links Israel’s future to the meaning of Joseph’s name”. In conjunction with the Lord’s promise to Moses near the beginning of the JST, Bowen proposes that these bookends to the JST material of Genesis forms an inclusio, further highlighting the role of these prophets in gathering Israel.

At times Bowen’s focus is counterintuitively on the scattering of Israel, which is featured in the blessing of Jacob, and appears phrased in a way that incorporates the name of Joseph. He also connects part of that blessing—of Joseph as a fruitful bough that runs over the wall–to the Book of Mormon which foresages the scattering and subsequent gathering of Israel in the metaphor of an olive tree. Bowen then moves to the Jacob who provides the full allegory of the olive tree, whose sermon in 2 Nephi 6 references the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:11-12, and could also be employing wordplay on the name Joseph. This sermon is an expansion of a similar passage in 1 Nephi 22, and it’s this latter passage, along with its references to Isaiah 29, that Bowen compares to JST Genesis 50, where he identifies his proposed wordplay of “scattered again”, as well as additional shared language. He suggests that Nephi and even Isaiah (albeit less compellingly) may have been aware of this prophecy from Joseph of Egypt.

Bowen also highlights similar shared language between JST Genesis 50:33 and the corresponding reference to the prophecy of Joseph of Egypt in 2 Nephi 3, noting that the name Joseph is especially emphasized in the former. This “future ‘Joseph’” is potentially paired with Moses, a prophecy of which is also detailed in JST Genesis 50 and 2 Nephi 3. The JST makes clear that the names of both prophets were foreordained. Bowen notes that these prophecies may have preserved an Egyptian pun, where the words “rod” and “word” both mean “to speak”, a pun which may also show up elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. Both prophets, it would turn out, would have spokesmen, Aaron for Moses and Sidney Ridgon for Joseph Smith. As Bowen concludes:

“Joseph’s prophecy that Moses would ‘gather together my people’…anticipates the similar role that the future raised-up seer named ‘Joseph’ would fulfill. The pairing of Moses’s and in future Joseph’s roles at the beginning and the ending of JST Genesis…suggests that understanding Moses’s prophetic and seeric roles as gatherer of Israel…is necessary also to understand Joseph Smith’s prophetic and seeric roles.”


The Reflection

For this kind of nuanced wordplay to be in the JST is an interesting expansion of Bowen’s already detailed accounts of Joseph-related connections in biblical and Book of Mormon texts. One could make the argument that these instances in the JST are merely in alignment with what’s already present in scripture—or that these wordplay could arise by chance—but what Bowen highlights nevertheless appears consistent with ancient literary practice and with what we’d expect from prophetic material related to Joseph. I’ll continue to look forward to more of what Bowen has to offer.

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