This post is a summary of the article “‘That They Might Come Again unto the Remnant of the House of Jacob’: Onomastic Allusions to Joseph in 3 Nephi 26:8–10 and 4 Nephi 1:49” by Matthew L. Bowen in Volume 55 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.
Bowen expands on earlier proposals related to the Hebrew word for Joseph, exploring language from Mormon in 3rd and 4th Nephi that could allude to earlier prophecies from Nephi and Isaiah, with those allusions based on the word yāsap or “to do [something] again”. These connections emphasize Mormon’s own role in preparing the Book of Mormon as a record that would be “brought again” to Lehi’s descendants.
In this article, Matthew L. Bowen extends a previously proposed series of onomastic connections related to the name Joseph. These connections rely on that name’s Hebrew meanings: “to proceed”, “to add”, “to take away”, and “to do [something] again”. Bowen argues that this last meaning is (1) used biblically as a wordplay (e.g., in Genesis and in Isaiah), (2) is utilized by Nephi (and Jacob in his own prophecies and in his quotations of Isaiah, and (3) Nephi’s use of this wordplay is alluded to in later passages written by Mormon. Mormon’s awareness of and use of this wordplay helps emphasize the role he would play in restoring knowledge to the descendants of the Nephites, bringing them “again” to the knowledge of the Lord.
Bowen focuses on two passages crafted by Mormon to make his case:
- 3 Nephi 26:8-9, where Mormon states that he writes so that Christ’s words “may be brought again (yôsîpû) unto this people…according to the words which Jesus hath spoken”, which Bowen argues alludes to 2 Nephi 29:1-2, “may set my hand again (*wĕʾōsîp) the second time to recover my people…that the words of your seed should proceed forth” (also see similar phrasing in Moses 1. It also includes the phrase “from the Gentiles”, which may allude to 1 Nephi 22:8-12, which in turn alludes to Genesis 22:18. Verses 9 and 10 in this passage leverage conceptual wordplay to suggest that how they receive those words will lead to further knowledge being added (“then shall greater things be made manifest”) or taken away (“then shall the greater things be withheld”), which Bowen compares to a similar injunction in Deuteronomy, and language in 1 Nephi 13.
- 4 Nephi 1:47-49, where Mormon indicates that records were hidden “that they might come again (*lĕmaʿan yôsîpû) unto the remnant of house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord”, which recalls language from Isaiah 11 (“the Lord shall set his hand again (yôsîp) the second time to recover the remnant of his people”) and 2 Nephi 25 (“that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph”), which Bowen also connects to 3 Nephi 5 (“surely shall he again bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph to the knowledge of the Lord”).
According to Bowen, these passages represent a third “generation” of a family of connected prophecies—all thematically tied to the name Joseph–stemming from the Old Testament through to Mormon and eventually to the work of Joseph Smith. This work is one of gathering and restoration, a work that Mormon was himself called to do, restoring knowledge of Christ to the descendants of Joseph of Egypt—knowledge that would be added unto those who received it with faithfulness.
Bowen’s proposals continue to accentuate both the thoughtful creativity and meaningful intertextuality of the Book of Mormon’s ancient authors. This particular one also emphasizes for me just how much Mormon would’ve been a dedicated student of scripture, and the love that he would’ve had for the prophecies that had been so long under his care. If Mormon could spend his life swimming in the waters of Nephi’s scribal expertise, I could probably spare a few minutes a day doing the same. If nothing else, I might be reminded that I can participate in the work, shared by both the ancient and modern Joseph, in restoring others to the knowledge of God, and in adding to the good and the truth that they already possess.